To be by the sea (A short, short story)

She had driven through the night to get to her favourite place. The seaside had always held a certain magic for her. Not the beaches of the Mediterranean or the strange English coastal towns that made her hum Morissey’s Everyday is like Sunday. Someone indeed had forgotten to bomb them down. No, she longed for the rough seaside of the far North of Scotland. No amusement arcades, no piers. No sweet rock or salty fish and chips. Normally, just a lone car park, a camper van here and there, out of season rarely anyone.

It had been a moment of madness, she thought now as she was driving on a single track road just after 5 am. It had been a Sunday afternoon and the thought of returning to work the next day had suddenly seemed so impossible. Like her personal Everest and she was not trained, not equipped and yes, not ready to climb it. At the same time, the thought of spending one more hour in her house seemed likewise impossible.

She had packed a small bag. A few changes of clothes. A raincoat. Scotland after all. Walking boots always in the car, as if she prepared to run through the countryside at a moment’s notice. Some snacks purchased from the petrol station. Crisps, chocolate, coke. The three Cs of any successful road trip. There was no Thelma to her Louise. No Clyde to her Bonnie.

Her SatNav indicated an arrival time at 5.30 am. Setting of from the petrol station at 6.30 in the evening, she travelled up the motorway, only stopping occassionally to use service station toilets, replenish the big Cs and once to refill the petrol tank. Now, she was the only car on a narrow single track road that she knew would lead to one of the best parts of the coast in Scotland.

She would have to call in sick. Checking her phone, she realised she had no reception. She should have sent a text when she was in the Inverness area. Was there phone reception in the village? Probably. She threw her phone onto the passenger seat, slightly annoyed with herself that she had not thought about calling in sick, that she was checking her phone while driving and then that she had thrown the phone so hard it ended up in the footwell. She never did things in the right order.

Now, that she was approaching her destination (ETA: 5:35 am), she felt unsure about her decision. A bit late to get qualms about her courage and her longing to be away from it all. It had started Friday night. For once, she had joined a gang from work for their usual Friday night dinner. There was a lot of teasing, that she was joining them. “Oh, Carol, are you now becoming social.” There was also a lot of teasing as the new colleague who had joined the team that Monday was going too. “Carol’s only coming out because Hank is joining us. Carol and Hank sitting in a tree…” It had continued like this all afternoon and Carol almost gave up on the idea on going for the curry, but she knew she had no choice. If she opted out now, the teasing would get worse. She often wondered if her workplace was the only one like that. The teasing, the familiarity where there should have been professional distance. No matter what walls she build around herself, they kept on coming at her. Breaking down any defensive structure she had erected. Making her blush and worse.

She was used to it. She had worked for this small marketing company for years. Office admin and general do-it-all. There were 10 of them including the boss, who was the worst of them all. Now 11 with Hank. They specialised in those glossy brochures, she always wondered if they were not just a waste of paper and no one actually looked at them. An expensive design exercise that allowed her boss to write huge invoices and pay all of their wages. They were proud of their output, it looked good and they wanted you to look at it and compliment them and tell them how well they had done. Like kindergarten kids. Nice colouring in, Steph. That kind of thing. She was not creative. And she was constantly reminded of it.

“Carol, as someone with no creative bone in your body, what do you feel when you look at this brochure.” She hated being put on the spot like that and in all the years, she had never gotten used to it. What she wanted to say was that she felt nothing at all looking at the brochure, other than maybe intense boredom. That their conversations about fonts, colours and paper weights and textures bored her to the point where she wanted to go home and pull the duvet over her head and sleep for three days. The self-importance of these trivial things was everything she felt to be wrong with the world. Instead she said: “It appeals to me.” Or “Very nice.” This usually did the trick and was welcomed with words like “See, it even works on Carol.” As if she was the great litmus test for all design elements.

On Friday morning, she had looked forward to the weekend. Like most employed people. Not that she had great plans, but she wanted to do some grocery shopping, read a book, maybe garden a bit if the weather was nice. Call her mother for the obligatory once a week phone call. Drink a cup of coffee without rush. Friday at the office was always a bit mad. Rushing to get things out to clients, who would not look at stuff until Monday, having meetings where anything that was decided was forgotten by Monday, the usual talk about weekend plans. She did not like most days at the office, but Friday was worst.

She could now not remember what made her agree to join them for the curry. She never went. She did not get asked, not anymore, but really not ever. But Hank had come over to her desk and asked her: “Will you come out for dinner tonight?” He had no idea that she was not part of the gang. She was not quite wearing the right clothes and saying the right things. Always standing at the edge of the party looking in. And really, she had no desire in spending any more time with the lot of them than she had to. But Hank was nice. He was polite. He had made her a coffee during the tea round, the others normally ignored her. When he saw her coming back from the shops with her arms full, he actually opened the door. Little gestures like that. It was nice. That’s why she agreed to go out.

They went to an Indian restaurant around the corner from the office where you could bring your own alcohol. She never drank so she ordered a juice. She wondered when they had added something to her juice. Or maybe it was in the meal. She had gone to the toilet, left her drink and when she came back her starter was on the table. They were all sniggering and she was so used to it, she did not even think about it for a moment.

She felt a hot flash of embarrassement travelling up her neck into her face. A glance in the mirror and she could see herself glow with the shame.

She had no idea what it was that they had given her. But from the moment her main course arrived she had no clear memory of the meal. Flashes popped into her head. Her talking a lot. Them laughing until they wept. Going to a club, Hank looking at her in a strange way. Her dancing on a table. She had come home without her blouse, just in her bra and a T-shirt not hers. Lots of photos were taken and put online. She looked at all of them on Saturday, they sent her links to her mobile phone. In one picture she was licking Ted’s face. She was appalled by this. So disgusting, but it must have been somewhere in her. Hidden and brought out by the drug. There must be a part of her that had wanted to lick Ted’s face and she did not quite know how she could go on with that feeling.

She was now in the small village. She parked the car and hunted for phone. She had just enough reception to send a message to her boss. At first she typed: “Not coming in today.” She then deleted the words and wrote: “I resign my position with immediate effect.” She knew she could. She had so much holiday left that her 4 weeks notice would be covered. And if not, she did not care anyway.

She got back into the driver’s side and drove the last few miles to the beach. The car park was empty. It was 6 am. The morning was bright, it would be sunny. She walked onto the path leading down to the beach. She felt like she was walking into another version of herself.

Friday night had ended with her asleep in the club on a sofa by herself. Just in her bra and her work trousers. She still had her handbag thank god, but all her colleagues had gone. Even Hank. They had just left her there. There were people laughing and pointing at her. She remembered only that she wanted to die in that moment. The effect of the drug was easing off, she was realising that she had no recollection of all the things she had done or were done to her. She was too weak to get up, so she just sat there. Minutes, hours later a girl approached her. She asked her if she was ok. No, she was not ok. She was a 42 years old, alone, working with a bunch of assholes and most definitely not ok. The girl gave her a T-shirt with the name of the club on, called her a taxi and sent her home. Kindness. Maybe. Probably just wanting to remove the embarrassing older woman.

The text messages and emails and tags on social media kept coming all Saturday and all Sunday. “Look at our Coral. Precious.” And each picture got likes and comments. “So funny.” “Ha, that old girl needed a bit of fun.”

For a moment, she thought that the anger and hurt and shame would take over her body, that she would not be able to walk, but then she looked up and saw the sandy length of the beach. The sea ferociously hitting it. Over and over again. It was like the sea could feel her anger and was angry for her. She sat down and did what she had come to do here for. What she traveled for all this way. She sat down and she wept.

 

Waiting Room (A short, short story)

Waiting room

Sat there in the overly warm blue and white room, she wondered how she ended up in this place. At first, it was just a trip to her doctor. Tired she was. Tired of life and tired of the living. “We do some tests,” he said. And so she was dispatched with notes of paper to have blood taken. Not painful. Referred to have parts of her body scanned. Partially painful. Returning back to the doctor, who said something like “The tests were not conclusive, we need to do a biopsy.” So painful.

Later when she got home, she looked the word up. The online dictionary stated that a biopsy is “an examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.” She thought that the Oxford comma was really pleasing in this definition. She approved of those that used it. Correctly. She liked that it was used to describe something that would happen to her. And that it confirmed that she had a living body. Alive still.

She had taken her blue and white plate and placed it on the counter wondering what she should eat. Something healthy. Something comforting. Not the same thing. She settled on cheese and an apple, but when she put it on the plate, it covered the beautiful plate. She could no longer see the complete blue and white pattern. She thought that she was no longer hungry.

The doctor said, she would have to wait for another referral letter for the biopsy. It may be a week or two weeks for the letter to come. Possibly a month for the appointment. He told her not to worry. This made her worry. People only ever told you not to worry when there was something to worry about.

Yet, it turned out that waiting was easy. She had gone about her days. Getting up for work. Shower. Breakfast and then bus. The city traffic edged its way slowly through the suburbs of council houses. Mostly gray but with a dash of colour now and then. A blue garden gate here, a red door, green hedges, yellow flowers. People got on and off the bus. She often wondered who they were. Mothers and fathers, sisters, children, brothers. And what did they do? Work, school, nothing. She left the bus at the bus stop on a corner of two intersecting roads. One road crossing the town centre, the other leading to a car park. She followed the one leading to the car park. She entered the office building, her place of work through a gray door. A gray door in a gray concrete building. 5 stories. She only knew her floor. 3rd floor. 48 steps. Another gray door. Administration was what she did and she was good at it. She sometimes thought that she worked for hundreds of people. Making sure they got paid at the end of the month. Such power. One mistake by her and a wage not paid would cause chaos in someone’s life. Despair. Rage. Broken marriages. At least missed mortgage payments. She sometimes imagined what the people did with their wages. Yes, they had to pay their bills. That mortgage. But then what. What did they spend their money on? Books, holidays, eating out, hobbies? She often wondered. She did not know any of the people she sorted the wages out. Never met any of them. They were just names and yet at times at the bus, she wondered if any of the people queuing with her had the names she printed on payslips every month.

Yet the waiting also lead to questions. Did she like her life? Or her job? This was something you did not think about unless you had to wait. Waiting created space for questions. Questions, you would rather not think about. Rather not answer. What did she do with the money that was left over after she paid her bills. Her sister had accused her once of having no interests. “Susan,” she said, “you need to get out more, you need a hobby.” She had shook her head. Her sister had these kind of notions, felt that she had to rescue her from something. Something that was her, Susan’s life. Her sister did not like Susan’s life. Too boring, too predictable, too lonely.

Susan was just too tired. She said so to her sister. “I am too tired to do anything.” Her sister had made her go to the doctor and now she had appointments to keep. Time to take off from work. Did her sister not understand that she had to do the payroll? It was important that this was done on time. People depended on her to do that. Marriages were saved by her doing her job. Mortgages were paid. Food got onto the table behind those doors she saw from the bus, because she did her job. No, her sister did not see that. Her sister did not see her at all. She looked at Susan and saw things reflected that she did not want to look at.

When the appointment letter came, it came with instructions. Where to present yourself. At what time. Please bring this letter. You can bring a dressing gown or we issue you a hospital gown. Please let us know if you cannot make this appointment.

She did not want to go the appointment. So easy to ring and say, that she was sorry but she had to do the payslips. Her sister was insistent. Calling her. Texting her. Knocking on her door on a Saturday morning. Susan let her in. “Yes, yes, I will go to the appointment.”

So here she was. In a waiting room. A hot room. Someone said “Why is it always so hot in these hospitals.” And the reply came: “So the viruses spread better.” A low chuckle. She thought that it was quite witty. She wondered what virus she would bring home. She had been sitting here for a long time. Enough time for a virus to enter her blood stream. Was that were the viruses went? She had arrived early. Presented her letter. Was asked to sit down and wait. So much waiting. She felt that she had been waiting all her life. Not for this, for sure not for this. But waiting for something. When you have waited for so long, you forget that you are actually waiting. And then you cannot really say what you are waiting for. Not for this blue and white waiting room. Did they try to emulate the sky? Blue and white. A sunny day but some clouds as a warning that the weather may change at any moment.

People were called in one after the other. Most people had someone with them. Her sister had wanted to come. She had not want her sister to come. She had not wanted to wait with her. Her chattering, her knowing everything, her sister talking to strangers as if she knew them. Her sister looking at everyone as if they were a friend. Yet she did not see her, her own sister. No, Susan thought, this was better. Waiting was best done alone. She watched the couples. The Moms brought by their children. The children brought by their moms. She wondered what was wrong with them. Wasn’t this why they were here, because something was wrong. One never ended up in waiting rooms if everything was going right.

“Susan Peters?” Her turn. She got up, carefully picking up her bag and coat. Both gray. Her sister joked that she was trying to blend into the concrete of the apartment building. The concrete of the town. Susan walked to the woman in her blue uniform. With white trimming. Blue sky with white clouds.

She would not remember what had been said. There was no time to tell anyone and who would she tell anyway. Yes, she could have told her sister. Her sister would have demanded it. She remembered a vague pain as a needle was inserted into her left breast. A feeling of heat more than pain. Or pain that is heat? It was hard to be exact. Yet, she was here for an exact diagnosis, so should she not make the effort to be more exact herself? After all the waiting, first weeks, then days, then long minutes in the blue and white waiting room, she was done so quickly. Needle in, needle out, pain, heat, get dressed and good bye. Results with your doctor soon.

She took the bus to work. She was three hours late. She took no notice of the gray houses with their dashes of colour. All those names waiting for the payroll. The printing. The folding. The putting into an envelope. A text pinged. Her sister. I will call her later, she thought. She stepped out behind the bus thinking of the names. All those names waiting for her because she had been made to wait. She could not think of anything other than those names. All the waiting made her rush, there was no time now to look left and right, left and right. Just cross the street and get to the door behind which all those names are waiting.

She saw a blue thing coming towards her and stopped. Was this the sky descending on her. Impact was swift, like the needle in her breast. A sharp pain, then gone. She turned and fell, landing on her back, not on the breast that had already suffered some pain. All the heat left her body as she looked up at the blue sky, white clouds indicating a change of weather.

No need to ask, just do

1be134f585694a1e922d7b285e58e17bYears ago, I did a course by the lovely Susannah called “Unravelling”. I loved that online course and I virtually met a bunch of people that I still count as my friends. One of the pieces of exploration we did lead to a discussion on how we all struggle to ask for help or other things we need and think others could give us.

Fast forward to today and I am not well and reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. Crying a whole bunch while reading it. Now before anyone says anything terrible about Amanda Palmer, I am not interested. Unless she robbed your silver cabinet, stole your boyfriend or set fire to your house, I really do not care. This whole hearsay stuff about famous people is really annoying. I enjoy her book.

I can spoil the whole point of this blog entry by saying that yes, in fact, at the age of nearly 44, I have not yet mastered the art of asking. I cannot ask for help to save my life. I care too much what people think of me when I ask. Like I am incapable of sorting my life out and hell, I really do want to look capable. And if I do ask, I am always certain I get rejected. In fact, there has been one crucial time in my life when I did ask and no one had time. Which is fair enough. I often don’t have time either. However, I also know that very often when I have asked for help I have gotten it. Maybe not in the way, I originally thought the help should be and maybe not exactly to the extent it was required, but yes, often the burden has been lightened.

However, what strikes me most about the book – and I have a hunch is the reason why I cried quite so much – is that Amanda Palmer just does what she thinks is the right thing to do not caring what people think about her. Or rather, she does care what people feedback to her, but she hears the voices of love louder than the voices of hate.

Heck, I cannot even bring myself to share this silly little blog with my Facebook friends. When I started doing booktube videos, I felt so self-concious that I told only 1 person in real life apart from my husband. I have been accused of oversharing on the internet. That I have too much time on my hand for being online so much. (“You got nothing better to do?”). The judging is well and truly alive but that’s not the problem, the problem is me taking it so fucking personal.

So reading this book is a bit of a nudge. It says: “Don’t listen to those that tell you, you should not do that.” “So what if mums at school would think you mental for being on booktube.” “So what if your first novel will suck like hell, but just go and finish it anyway.”

I am a believer that some books just enter your life at the point in time when you need to read them. And I shall heed the signs from the universe. Today, I am setting myself a writing schedule to finish the last few chapters of the book edit. And then I shall go and have it printed for my husband to read. And then we shall see. I already got the idea for another story, but I know I cannot go on until I finished this one.

The health issues are still there, more so today than on other days. Too much thyroid hormone in your blood and it wipes you out. That’s your fun fact for the day.

Echoes

This week has seen holiday preparations and health scares. I am ok. Waiting results and determined to go on holiday and enjoy myself.

Today in 2001, my best friend died. I would not get the call until the next morning and right now 16 years ago, she was still alive, she would not die until late that night. I remember that moment when the call came, seeing her sister’s name flash on the display, 2 weeks before the sister’s wedding, 1 week before the hen do we had silently planned. I had spoken to her less than 24 hours before, telling her how much I hated the TV industry I was part of, how much I hated being in Cannes. She sent me a text before she got in the car. “Next week we will be partying, it will all be fine.”

Only it wasn’t. The call came early in the morning, woke me and as I saw the name, I immediately knew something bad had happened. I picked up the phone and the words hit me with such force. I howled and screamed and my friend who I was sharing the appartment with during the TV festival came rushing in and held me, just held me, while I sobbed and sobbed. He then re-booked my flight, called a friend of mine back home to meet me at the airport, took me to the airport in Nice, delivered me as far as he could. The pre-flight time was awful, so many people I knew at that airport, none I wanted to talk to. I knew the sunglasses could not hide my swollen face and the tears were still running freely.

The next few weeks were awful. Some “highlights” etched in my soul forever. Arranging funeral music. Funeral. So many friends gathered, crying. One of my oldest friends nearly passing out with grief.

We became friends on the S-Bahn. We went to school in the same town, shared friends and kinda knew each other. And one day, we sat opposite each other on the same train into the main city close by. Turned out, we both liked escaping our small provincial town for a bit. We were both from outlying villages and as teenagers, all we wanted was to be in the city. The train journey took half an hour, when we emerged from the train we were best friends. Or as she put: I decided that I liked you and wanted to be your friend but knew I would have to convince you first to be mine, too.

She knew me better than anyone. She knew all of it, too. We were as different as two people can be. She liked Disney films, make-up, shrill clothes, musicals, listened to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston on end. I liked books, The Smiths and The Cure, dark clothing. It did not matter, turns out that these superficial things don’t count for anything.

I once read that when someone close to you dies that a part of you dies with them. I never understood what that meant until it happened to me. She is no longer there to fill in the parts of the stories that I cannot remember, she is no longer there to remind me of the stupid things I did, tell me off when I give up on myself, cheerlead me on when I need it. There is no silent conversation. No dissolving into laughter because you look at something and it reminds you of something else and you both know it and it is so funny to the two of you that you just laugh until you cry. No voicemails that are delivered in sung form, mainly songs from Disney movies. No text messages. No more shared pizzas. No more calls in the middle of the night: I am stranded here, please rescue me. No more me calling her: I cannot cope with life right now.

I still know her phone number of by heart. So many times over the last 16 years have I wanted to call her. How she would have loved my daughter. How she would have been dismayed that my kid is not a Disney Princess kind of girl. She would have adapted though and learned how to play Minecraft. Every new Disney movie that comes out breaks my heart a little because she will never see it. When Whitney Houston died I was glad she did not get to see this because the downfall and decay of her hero, it would have broken her heart.

I know what she would say reading this post. “Ok, that’s enough wallowing now, I get it you miss me, I miss you too, but this is what it is. Put the coffee on and I will be there with you in spirit.” She really loved coffee. So do I.

Miss you my friend, you of generous spirit, joyful soul, thinker of deep thoughts, that no one thought you had, adventurous spirit and believer in possibilities.

The great sadness

In 2011, I was diagnosed with PTSD due to my childhood experiences of sexual abuse and resulting psychological impact. 

Obviously, 2011 was not the year the PTSD started, this has been there for a long time, I just had no diagnosis for it. I wish I could say that having a diagnosis made it go away, but that’s obviously not true. The PTSD and its resulting periods of depression and anxiety are most likely something I have to live with all my life. 

I am currently in a stressful period in my life due to Brexit and the journey trying to become a British citizen. And stress quite often triggers my PTSD which causes me anxiety, nightmares, a whole host of physical symptoms and then may or may not lead to depression. Yet what is this anxiety? At first, I am just stressed. Normally for good reason. Brexit is stressful for many, dealing with bureaucracy is definitely stressful, 85 page forms are absolutely stressful. Good reasons to feel stress. Most people can deal with stress by planning, going through with it and then it’s done. They can sustain the stress because they are otherwise healthy. 

I am not otherwise healthy. I try to keep the stress from manifesting into anxiety by meditating, going for walks, reading, getting enough sleep, journaling. I try to be nice to myself but if I cannot solve the stress, then it will eventually turn into anxiety. It starts with worry about everything. I am a worrier anyway. I worry about my husband driving to work. I worry about the day when my daughter will walk to and from school by herself. I worry about her school trips and residentials. I worry about trusting the people in her life. I worry about job security and my health. Everyone’s health. I worry about the world and possible war. I worry about the downfall of society and the consequences. I worry a lot. In my good periods, I can simply acknowledge that I have these worries and that it is ok and be rational about it. My husband is a good driver, he will text when he arrives at work. My daughter is sensible and she will be safe. Thousands of school trips and residentials happen every day and mostly things are just fine. I know wonderful people, she is safe. We have always managed, even if jobs were lost and my health was bad. At the moment, everyone is healthy. The world is going to be ok. It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be ok. (three times for luck, always)

On my bad days, I spent the two hours of my husband’s commute fearing he has an accident and wonder if the police would know how to contact me. I worry that my daughter gets abducted on the school run, that there is a bus crash on the school trip or she has a fatal accident on the residential or that she gets sexually abused. My husband loses his job and I get seriously ill at the same time. We lose everything. The world is going to pot and there will be war, it’s inevitable. We will live in a dystopian world but at least I won’t be able to survive long without my asthma medication. Oh my god, but what about my daughter…

I know when you read this, that many people will think that this sounds ridiculous. Or feel tempted to say: Just don’t think this. Let me tell you: It’s not my choice to think this. My brain manages to do this quite independently and even if I shout at it: No, no, no. It still does it. I have a very independent mind.

Anyway, this type of anxiety comes first. The one were my normal worrying takes on disaster movie proportions. 

Next up is the analysing of every single social encounter I have. What did I say on the school run? Do they now all think I am stupid? I cannot go to this event/meet up because I will behave stupidly and say stupid things and then everyone will think I am stupid. I best stay home. I start cancelling everything and thus I no longer get asked in the first place. The not being asked hurts like hell, because it confirms what I fear to be true: no one actually wants to spend any time with me. My rational mind knows that the fact I am not being asked is because I tend to cancel everything. It’s logical. My brain, however, refuses to accept logic when it comes to myself and my perception of the world. So, I sit at home, thinking lots of stuff and not talking to anyone about it. 

I tried therapy. Lots of times. I had decent therapists, even borderline great therapists. But the point in all therapy comes when the therapist says: So, what exactly did your father do to you? They want details. And just typing this sentence gives me the sweats. Once in my 20ies, I went there. I gave details. The therapist assured me it would be cathartic, cleansing, like banishing the devil. It was not. I did not leave my flat for two weeks, called in sick at work. When I got hungry, I ordered pizza. I only got hungry every other day. I did not answer the phone. Only occasionally replied to a text. My therapist implored me to come back. “To work through it”. I did. It did not help. As I said in my last session to her: “Opening the Pandora’s box has not helped humanity and it certainly did not help me.” She was sad. And she said how very sorry she was for me and how strong I really was. If only I could see that. 

I hate when people say to me “you are so strong”. And I hate them even though I know they mean well. I hate it because being strong means nothing. I know that I have a sheer will to survive this. I am alive, so yes, I know. Even had as a kid, I just wanted to survive. Get out of there. Put distance between me and my family. Which I did. Strong does not save you, strong does not mean anything. Strong is just another stupid word people say to you when they don’t know what to say when faced with horrible things they are curious to know but then don’t know how to deal with it. They just don’t know what else to say.

I tried therapy several times. The last time I decided to go to therapy was when my mother got in touch after abandoning me when I was just a newborn baby of a few weeks. It was simply too much at the time to deal with the fact that she left and had another family and never came to see me. She lived 5 minutes away from where I grew up. I had sisters. And I was always so lonely as a kid, I would have loved to have siblings. The contact ultimately broke, because her husband did not know I existed. And she wanted to keep it that way. A deal breaker for me. 

I went back to therapy then. I stated I did not want to talk about details of the actual abuse. I wanted to talk about how to deal with this shit in the here and now. And for quite a few months, we just did that. It helped a bit, it eased the nightmares I get when things are bad (The narration of the nightmares is always along the same lines: I have to go and live with my father, my daughter is there, I have to leave her with him and know what will happen. Or my father shows up and does not go away. And variations thereof). After a while, I managed to sleep again without the light in the hallway being on all night. I felt I might be getting somewhere and then she started to ask about the actual abuse. Curiosity I think. It’s like they need to know how bad it actually was. Details. When I said that all I want to say about it is that the abuse was always there, I cannot remember when it started. I must have started before the age when you can remember things. And that it stopped when I was fourteen because I told him I would tell. I now know that it stopped because I was getting too old. Too grown up. The therapist felt that it would be good to face the details. Banish them. She did not understand that this kind of conjuring of the past did not help me. I told her this had failed before. She told me with her, it would be different. I never went again, because I felt betrayed by her.

 

As I am typing this my heart is racing. My heart is racing lots at the moment. My joints hurt. I am physically exhausted all the time and I fall asleep just sitting down. I am tired beyond sleep. I feel like I got the flu coming on, but I don’t. I am just suffering from a period of heightened anxiety. Dancing on the edge of depression. Well dancing is a stupid metaphor in this context, not dancing. Hovering? Tip-toeing?

 

I am also contemplating cancelling every social interaction that is on the cards for the foreseeable future. I am lonely, but I also can’t bear the thought of going and doing something with other people. The catch 22. Doomed if I do, doomed if I don’t.

 

Still, having these kinds of periods now in my 40ies is a lot easier than when I had them earlier in my life. I know for one that it will pass. I have so far always gotten better. Yes, I always live with a degree of anxiety and depression comes and goes like an unwanted relative. But I always get through it. Always to what is the best version of me. Or rather, the least depressed, anxiety-ridden version of me.

 

One of the things, I wanted to address in therapy and never could was the concept that I will never experience how it is to be whole or rather unbroken. My trust that the world can work out for me in a nice way was broken right from the start. I remember reading “When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit?” and Anna says that greatness can only come from an unhappy childhood. I thought, well maybe when I am grown up I do something great. Still waiting for it in many ways, but in other ways, the greatest thing I did was manage to have a relationship with another human being and have a child. It was and is the bravest thing too.

 

We never discussed the concept of being whole, because she felt that no one is whole. That all of us are broken. And that may be right, but I can never experience how my life would have been without the abuse. And that is a special grief over the loss of the person who I might have become.

 

Abuse leaves you in a place where you feel worthless. And when you feel worthless, it’s hard to imagine that anything you could share with the world could ever be of any value to anyone. Embarking on marriage and motherhood, seems insane and brave at the same time. I am so glad I did though. I have daily doubts about my ability of being a good partner to my husband and a good mother to my child. I often said, that it’s not hard to do better than my parents. Yet, my flip side is that I apply such standards to myself that achieving them is not possible. I am pretty much failing every day by my own design of the world.

 

When I am low (oh the euphemism of it), I have various strategies that help me as I said above. I also start to do what my health visitor suggested when I had post-natal depression. She was no therapist, but she single-handedly gave me the best piece of advice any health care professional ever gave me. “Instead of a to do list, write a daily DONE list. Write all the things you do down. Like, I fed the baby and changed the nappy, I ate a meal, I put a load of washing on. I brushed my teeth.” She then went on to say to put each night under the list a big smiley face and write well done. Keep the lists. Look at them when you feel bad. Once you start to feel a bit better, you can add small to dos. Small plans for the day. Like: I want to cook a pasta dish for dinner tonight. Or: I am going outside for a walk. Still keep writing things down you do every day.

 

Joy (aptly named woman), my health visitor, totally saved me from my post-natal depression hell. She was kind. She listened to me howl that I had no idea about motherhood. She held me when I was crying. She weighed my baby and said: “Look at that number, that is one super weight.” She looked at the baby and said: “Look at her she is smiling at you, someone loves their mum because mum is doing a great job.” She was wonderful. I shall be forever grateful for her.

 

“Just go to the doctor and get an anti-depressant”. My favourite thing people will say. Nothing says better that they just don’t want to hear about your problem. And who can blame them. My mental health issues are not new. You cannot expect compassion for something that does keep coming back because seemingly you are not doing anything about it.

 

I have tried medication. In fact, out of all forms of medication treatment, I was put on all but one, the latter I refused to try because it causes breathing problems and I have asthma. Breathing problems cause me anxiety so that seems like a “no-win” solution. One type of medication actually made me more depressed. It got really, really dark, I don’t want to think about that time at all. Another type, turned me into an insomniac plus I gained so much weight in such a short time. And then there was the type that turned me into a bit of vegetable wrapped in bubblewrap in a suspension chamber in a deep dark cellar. I am by no means anti-medication, in fact, I would happily take something if it helped me without making things worse in another part of me.

 

I also don’t like taking medication because how could the medication heal the underlying issue of my PTSD? No one can put a band-aid on what happened and kiss it better. The medication cannot heal me. Make me whole. Therapy did not heal me, although I did learn a lot about myself during the process. Mainly that I am not a bad person. I still find that hard to believe at times, but it’s good to have to say it. Out loud. I am not a bad person. What happened was not my fault. I did nothing to cause what happened to me.

 

And now to the hopeful bit: I now this will get better. I have a great track record of pulling myself out of the deep darkness. My heart will slow down and I will be looking at the world through my normal lens. I will normal worry again. Try and do a bit more stuff. I maybe even reach out to some people who I kept saying “no” to. I am lucky to have a wonderful husband, who listens to this shit over and over again. Who brings me tea, lets me read (as this helps beyond anything I know), takes me for walks in nature, makes hot water bottles and cooks an ace dinner. I have a wonderful daughter who makes me laugh and who deserves my best self.

 

This too shall pass.

She is too fond of books…

it has turned her brain. Louisa M. Alcott wrote that in one of her novels (and no, it’s not from Little Women)

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This story gave me nightmares. For years.

When I was little and before I went to school at the age of 6, I was the owner of a grand total of 2 picture books that a neighbour had given me. One was the Struwwelliese and the other was Struwwelpeter, so yes there was a theme. I hated the Struwwelpeter with a passion, I hid the book in the wardrobe because it terrified me. I cannot remember that, but my grandmother told me this when I was older. The Struwwelliese was the book of choice and it was read to me every night. I knew it off by heart and I can still remember it so well. Liese is called Struwwelliese because she is always unkempt, her stockings full of holes, lazy and prefers to sleep rather than be a good German girl with her hair neatly done, but then something happens that reforms her and she becomes a good girl. Despite the title suggesting that the books are from the same era, they are not. The Struwwelpeter is a series of morality tales for children from the mid-19th century that features 10 terrifying stories (the one with the matches gave me nightmares), the book was incredible popular. Mark Twain even translated it from German. Struwwelliese is the equivalent for girls, but only featuring one story (proving that girls are quick on the uptake), telling us to be more feminine and good girls by doing our chores and smile and all that. It was published in the 1950ies because after the war and all the hardships, girls had to be taught how to be proper girls again.

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Look Liese, the neat girl has a boyfriend!!! 

My grandmother told me much later when I asked her about it, that she had started to hate the book simply because of the repetition. I knew every word in the book and expected every word to be delivered just so, so after a while my grandmother refused to read the book, so I read it to myself over and over again.

Thankfully, I went to kindergarten and my lovely kindergarten teacher Tante Barbara read us stories every day and there were books to look at. Apparently, that’s what I did at kindergarten: Sit in the book corner or run around outside.

At 6, we start school in Germany and naturally, we are immediately taught to read. Now, you’d think that considering how much of a reader I am these days, that reading came easy to me. Far from it. It was not easy for me. My grandmother quickly got frustrated with me not being able to sound out even the simplest words, that she whacked the book over my head and hey presto I could read. This story was proudly recounted for decades to everyone. I am not so certain if the pain from the book on my head sorted my brain cells out or if it simply increased my adrenaline response (fear is a powerful teacher), well I let you be the judge of that.

At the end of the school year, we were taken to our village library which was housed in the village administrative center, an ugly concrete block, but a section was dedicated to books. We all got our library cards, were given a sheet with the opening times (Monday afternoons and Friday afternoons, the Wednesday morning session was no good to me). By then I was able to read perfectly, I read everything. My grandmother’s Heimatromane (sentimental stories mostly set in rural areas, all very predictable, there is a more literary section too, as e.g. Heidi would fall into that category, but my grandmother’s ones were all about hunters and women who tried to be pious but were dreadfully close to fall for the wrong guy) came under scrutiny, I read labels, the BILD Zeitung (which was the only newspaper that ever entered our house), the church pamphlet and recipes, which were on the back of almost any ingredient you bought in the 1970ies.

Needless to say, that I embraced the library with all my heart. I borrowed 5 books on a Monday and returned them on the Friday and took 5 books out for the weekend. I read every moment I could and my grandmother got increasingly annoyed at my reading. “You don’t hear anything when you read, I can call for you and call for you, it’s like you are gone.” Yes, I was, I was gone to hang out with my book friends.

There was the incident when I was excitedly telling stories about Lisa, Bosse, Lasse, Britta and Inga and sweets that could stick your mouth shut. My grandmother thought that these were real people that she did not know (we lived in a small village, so how she ever could think that is a mystery) and she was worried that I was starting to lose grip on reality although she described it differently. She tried to limit my reading time, but it did thankfully not last long and then it was just scathing remarks about me reading all the time.

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Lisa, Bosse, Lasse, Britta and Inga 

The local librarian was brilliant, she realised quickly how much I loved the books and she suggested which ones to read next, brought books back from the main library for me and over the summer break she let me borrow a lot more books than was allowed.

I “blame” reading for everything that is good in my life. It saved me in my darkest hours, it gave me an escape from a reality, it enabled me to go to Gymnasium and to this day, books are always a part of my life.

I still like to use the library as much as I can. I still like to talk about the characters in the books I read. Books continue to turn my brain. In a good way. A very good way.

 

 

Political anxiety

It’s not a term or even a recognised illness, but I have self-diagnosed myself with just that. Since the campaign for Brexit, I have lived with a constant anxiety over what will happen next and “surely, they cannot do that?” – only to find out that every single time they did and they will and they do it over and over again.

Like so many, I feel swept away by all the things a certain president in a certain large country has been doing. I even went to a protest, which considering the levels of anxiety and panic I feel, is quite something, I still don’t believe I did that. But this post is not about me.

It’s about us. You and me, and that guy over there and see that woman there at the corner. It’s all about all of us. If like me you are a fixer at heart, you probably been thinking a lot on “how can we fix this shit”. I want to say, that I hear you, but like the lovely Sas Petherick would say: “You are going into solution mode, let’s just acknowledge the problem first.”

I think the whole “wanting to fix shit” was getting us into this mess in the first place. We look at a situation and see there is a problem and we want to fix it, we come up with a solution, implement it and expect it to work and are flummoxed when it just throws up a whole host of new problems. And heck, isn’t this just so frustrating?! Right, it is, we all feel it.

Take Foodbanks for example. Now don’t get me wrong, they are necessary to fix a problem, i.e. that we live in a country where people are victimised for needing financial assistance by the government either short-term/long-term. We all might find ourselves in that situation as the film “I Daniel Blake” illustrates so shockingly. So the government cuts spending on benefits and makes the whole process harder and more unfair and this results in people not getting any money, often for months. So, Churches come together and set up Foodbanks. Here, we are fixing a problem. Of course, it is important they are there, because without it people would actually have nothing to eat at all. Yet, with this we are not fixing the issue that a lot of people no longer think that anyone deserves “a handout”. And in turn, a lot of people think that those that are using Foodbanks are cheaters, that they are lazy and a whole host of other things. At the end of the 1980ies, nearly 2/3 of the population believed that benefits, allowances and general government spending on welfare should increase to help more people. This has now dropped to less than a quarter. From over 66% to less than 25%. And here is my thought of the day: if we cannot change that, nothing can be fixed with regards to these problems.

This is just one of the problems we are facing, but I think the overall trend is clear: As humans we have just gotten a lot less kind. We think mainly of ourselves, what can I get, how can I get X quicker. We are told that we should live the best life possible and if we don’t then we are losers. It’s evident in small things you and I witness every day. And yes my post from November about parking may be a bit tongue in cheek, but there is a lot of truth in that: If you can’t be bothered to be kind in the small things, then you won’t be bothered in the big things either.

Don’t expect any answers here, because I really just want to sit with the problem today and get “comfortable” in acknowledging its wider implications. We are just so unkind. Unkind to ourselves by holding us up to ideals and notions that we are shown in the media of things we should achieve. And unkind to others, by judging them on their behaviour. Trust me, becoming a mother has opened my eyes to that, so much judgement just around how you feed your baby when all that really matters is that you feed that small bundle. And yes, breast may be best, but do you really feel ok for shaming millions of mothers for making a different choice when often it is not a choice. And even if it is a choice, what the hell does one mother know about another?

Or how if you are white you will have thought “I am not a racist” when clearly most of us are, including me.

Or how it can seem like such a bother to learn the ever changing terms around people’s sexuality. It’s hard and uncomfortable and often I don’t know what to say and boy have I said stupid stuff in the past.

All these things are signs of unkindness that is absolutely everywhere.

I am not quite sure where I am going with this, but really, I just want to sit with the problem for a while. I have no ready made solutions, my days in trying to fix this planet are over, I shall protest against the injustices I see, but I shall be more careful with trying to find solutions. True solutions can only happen if you understand the problem from all sides not just from your own perspective: And I am just not there yet.