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So it’s been a little quiet over the last few weeks. It’s been a ride. Personally I have been in a bit of limbo. It’s not been particularly pleasant. The factors to this are many, varied and not all of them make a great deal of sense to be totally honest. It has certainly served to remind me that my past is not the detached thing behind me that I would like to think comes automatically with the word recovery. Truth is for the last few weeks the world has been a very flat, monochrome rendering. In my defence I have not crumbled, caved in or even had a panic attack (sometimes the small victories are important.) Yet I have been fighting with thoughts, feelings and patterns that I recognise to be destructive and malevolent. That ache to leave, the yearning for escape, the dissatisfaction with every breath, the numbness of placing my feet on the floor to get into the day. It’s all hard. Breathing is hard. Dreaming is the hardest!
You see it takes effort to be positive. To aim high. To go for a dream. Simply having the idea feels hard. Let alone the steps that must be implemented and the momentum that must be gained. If a goal is to be attained then there must be some interaction with the future. However at the moment the horizon has dipped back and the cloud descended to only allow a fuzzy grey, close line of peripheral vision. It makes me feel guilty again – like I should be something or someone new. Like the reappearance of an unwelcome friend. The person you like, but can’t stand to be with for too long. Sometimes I even bore myself.
So what’s caused this flat white, snow covered frost of inactivity? Lots of things, some controllable, others just life. I became ill just before Easter with a chest infection and was pretty sick. This combined with the bank holiday weekend and the opening hours of the Doc’s meant that I went 7 days without medication. I felt OK initially – till the jitters came on BAD! Feeling like that again was like shooting myself in the foot. Anxious, unable to concentrate, unwilling to communicate and feeling like my world was on a knife edge. Ugh… the feeling makes me so angry… and to have partly caused this to happen makes me really annoyed. I have been able to pull it together for events, work and occasions that I haven’t been able to avoid. Yet poor Suzi has had to put up with me being uncommunicative and monotone.
Added to this is the fact that I think I just lost my way… The usual frustrations of not being able to do what I want (yeah I know it never sounds good when I actually admit it!!) just gets me angry and tired. Usually I just counter it by hard work and throwing my all into getting stuff achieved. However this time I have just not had the mental energy to power through it. Disappearing into my shell has won the day. I always know it’s bad when I can’t be bothered with playing or writing, and the whole thing seems like I am banging my head against a wall. The wall of course is a figment of my own persecution complex and I must look a right state beating myself up then railing at the world about how unfair it all is. I never said it was pretty or clever!!
So I pull my socks up, dust myself off and plough on regardless. I wanted to post this, as it does actually get back to the reason I started this project in the first place. I have let myself drift off message I think. There’s a danger in the complacency of recovery. A danger in the ‘I am normal again’ mentality that misses the point. Normal doesn’t exist – it’s just life, faith, relationships, love, hope, creativity, work, food, laughter, tears and friendship… and that goes all the way down. An infinite line of abnormal, which stretches back where we came from, and forward into our future – it’s that wonderful abnormal thing called LIFE. Sometimes we just need to keep perspective and hang on in there… Oh and for goodness sake don’t bugger up your medication!
Sometimes the sheer and utter bloody mindedness of life shocks me. Cycling home tonight I was riding along a newly laid tarmac section of cycle path, there were what looked like small molehills where the stones had been mounded up. I thought they were odd but put it down to the usual shoddy workmanship… then I realised that each one had a small green plant poking through! I stopped and it made me smile. The tiniest green so determined to find light that it finds it’s way through the stones and bitumen. Small, delicate, pretty little warriors in an eternal battle. It’s just the cheek of it that’s awesome. Something larger, encoded down to the minature – in DNA… the battle of the organic and the inorganic. I love the fact that life just ‘IS’ and it will ‘BE’ far after my spark has died and my molecules have been recycled into something else. I prefer the term recycled to reincarnated!
There’s something about the strength of the small, the ordinariness of this determination, that really speaks to me. Sometimes it does just take a sheer bone-headed, head down, grit your teeth kind of determination not to let life grind you down or the small things cloud your vision of the possible future. I was never very good at it. Always being blown about by circumstances and only ever seeing the middle ground as I swung past it on my way to another extreme. Yet I realise that there is a middle way. A gentle power. A path through. I want to learn from the small determined, green things. To not get bogged down with the tarmac that’s been laid over me. To not give up when the light disappears. Because there is still light up there! It’s just a case of finding the crack, which leads to the hole, under the loose rock. Then the warmth of the surface can guide me to find the sun again and I can be free and grow.
One of the rather appealing side effects of my current medication of choice is sleep… Not the kind of sleep that is ‘the cousin of death’ (NaS – ‘NY State of mind’) – this is more death’s slightly less intense half brother. Once out there is no waking up until the waters have run to the shore and I pop back up to the surface to breathe again. I realise that actually doesn’t sound that great, but you should see the dreams!! Oh the wondrous, vivid, surreal, colourful, intense & often utterly bizarre trips that I embark on once asleep. Honestly it makes going to bed an adventure (although taking medication does rather mean that it’s the only bed related adventure I will get!!).
For example – last night I was travelling through Africa in a school bus with some kind of hippy band, and I got into conversation with Robert Mugabe about the fact that Suzi is a baker. He told me that he utterly loved baking and gave me his personal recipe for making shortbread for me to give to her. It was so real, that I could even remember the recipe after I woke up! (It was nothing like good shortbread to be honest – so if you are in Zimbabwe and Mr Robert offers you some I’d avoid it lest you cause offence).
This is not a particularly strange or vivid dream for me at the moment – and sometimes they’re not so great – spending the day feeling like my insides have been wrenched out and your heart beaten black and blue by a particularly sad dream can leave me feeling drained and emotional even though I know it never actually happened. Ben Folds has a line in a song which talks about someone being ‘pissed when she wakes up, for all the terrible things I’ve done to her in her dreams’, and I have been there too. So how can these nocturnal brain flailings have so much power, and do they ever mean something?? I’ve been wondering about this.
Now I am possibly one of the least spiritual people I know. I don’t really do all the hocus-pocus, jiggly-wiggly things that some Christians (and a good few people of ‘other’ or even ‘no’ faith) do. I like my ideas about the Deity to be firmly rooted in the here & now. I am a firm subscriber to the view that if God created the material stuff around us then He’s perfectly capable of using that to do what He needs to do. Yet somehow I do believe in ‘other’ type things and situations. So I suppose there is a way of interpreting our dreams (sometimes!). I honestly do not think that the divine was trying to communicate anything to me via an African dictator and his speciality baked goods – or if there was a message the surely there are easier and clearer ways of letting me know. But I have to accept that if I believe in a God who creates ‘ex-nihilo’ then he has to have some lee way into thought life and yes even dreams. But maybe I am making that too complicated… Maybe it’s is actually all just chemicals (like most science believing, Richard Dawkins poster buying atheists would have me believe). Yet that isn’t an answer that muzzles God. Maybe God is a master chemist using the wonders of brain chemistry to communicate with mankind. Using the very stuff we are made of as a way of influencing and cajoling us into some kind of order. It certainly roots all the mystical stuff at a plausible level doesn’t it? If that’s a possibility then surely communication while sleeping is indeed possible.
All this just rolls around in my head and to be honest I don’t have an answer. Just as when really pushed I can’t actually affirm that God does exist. I choose to believe he does – I weigh up the evidence and decide it’s too complicated then plump for a yes – I deep down really ‘hope’ that He does. But I can’t prove it anymore than you can prove utterly that he doesn’t. So watch this space… if I get a revelatory dream that makes sense and foretells the future you can be sure I will post it here! Until then I am going back to bed.
Some things in life are those immutable, immovable & unchanging items which keep us centered and tied down to the ground beneath our feet. These are needed and necessary for the connection that binds us to the land and to each other. Yet thinking about this recently made me realise that actually nothing is totally unmovable. Things are never stable and if you break them up or disrupt them then changes take place which can be creative, unsettling, exciting and scary all at the same time. Even the horizon of our outlook changes on a day to day basis. So, far from being this utterly flat, distant and stable line, it actually moves in on us and we narrow our vision as needed – emotionally, physically, spiritually & mentally.
There are now days for me when the horizon pulls back to more or less the position it was in before my mental health adventures. A distant thing, beckoning me forward towards exploration and a journey into the future (picture the sea horizon on a fine day – perfectly flat and distinguishing itself from the sky in an unwavering grey delineation of colour). This hints of land beyond the viewed field and the possibilities of travel/adventure. Plans can be made and the world seems an exciting and wide place. That’s where I am most of the time at the moment. Yet I am not fooled. The complacency I once lived with, that this was how the world actually is, has been shaken by the fact that I know the line of the horizon shrinks when we need it to.
We’ve all experienced this at times in our lives. The here and now crowds in and we are unable (or unwilling) to submit to the pressures of the wider world and we shrink our line of sight to allow repair/safety/realignment. It’s a necessary part of healing/coping. It certainly affected me – in relationships, my family unit withdrew into itself as a protection. -Spiritually, faith was just too BIG a concept to be easily contained. I was unable to even have a sense of self let alone a sense of anything OTHER. – Time seemed an bit of an alien concept and the idea of future was nonexistent. All my energy and focus was on the present and the ‘right now’, almost as if I was in a bubble of my own dimension. Everything else seemed so fast and I felt so slow. – Creative ideas were completely anathema, not even a concept I could address. It was like my mouth had been glued shut and the words in my head were jumbles up into a thousand pieces. Even a single sentence was an effort akin to a jigsaw puzzle.
I see it now for a safety mechanism. Our perception of boundaries and the other changes to keep us safe and to only let us deal with stuff that we can actually handle. Yet sometimes we can get stuck there. That was my biggest fear I think. Suddenly finding myself unable to push the horizon back and have a world to explore again. Was it always going to be the small space for me? Would my family and those close to me get tired of the boundaries and walk away? Those were scary thoughts. Yet I think my fears were somewhat unfounded. Nature has a way of pushing through the concrete and the flowers of hope are not as delicate as we may think. The horizon has indeed shifted, but at least now I recognise it as a movable feast, an artificial aid to help us cope and to give us hope!
It’s been an utterly hectic start to 2014 in so many ways. Cornwall has seen some of the worst storms in memory – with great chunk of the coastline and seafront simply vanishing under the pounding surf. The scars will be felt for some time I think. It’s meant that an strange feeling has crept in for those of us lucky enough to live here – a real ‘batten down the hatches and wait it out’ mentality. My heart goes out to all our friends and colleagues who have been hit worse than we have, with businesses & homes affected. Surely this is a good time for us to show the best side of the human race in how we direct our love and compassion to those around us. After each event (and last night was one of the BAD ones) – there’s a sense of a community checking itself then gritting it’s teeth to move on… – there’s a mental health metaphor in there, but you can grab it for yourselves!
On a personal level for me, it’s been a time of getting used to the stresses of working again (to be honest my job is great – it’s just trying to fit everything in around a set routine again). Dealing with the frustration of needing a couple of extra hours in a day and trying to ease my head into old patterns without it buckling, has been harder than I thought. Yet apart from a few small moments of shaking hands and the pressure in my forehead, a sure sign that I need to stop NOW!, it’s been fine. It actually feels normal again and I am taking that small victory and running a flag up as a marker. It certainly feels nice to be able to contribute to supporting my family again. Even being faced with the news that my 6 month contract probably wont be renewed because of budget cuts hasn’t really sent me reeling. I sensed the provision of the job and it’s been perfect timing – so lets see what the rest of the year will bring.
FGEq’s world has been busy – our mini tour to payback our wonderful support was brilliant. Lots of affirming stories, conversations and of course some great time spent with some of my best friends in the whole world. Getting to play 3 nights on the trot with Sid & Jez was so cool – we tightened up and I think we played some of the best gigs we’ve ever done. If you came to see us – thank you… if you didn’t – then come and see us next time!! We are a bit gutted that Hudson couldn’t join us. He’s made such a difference to the dynamic of the band and it’s been great getting to know him and have him become part of our collective. We shot a video (released soon) and it was great to have support from our good friend Dan Donovan who we haven’t seen for yonks. As usual Steve O was a star (he’s is like another member of our tribe – always ready with a grin and an unusual but vital piece of equipment pulled from a case somewhere) & Jo Burfoot made the mammoth drive home overnight on the Sunday (I bow in humble admiration). So it’s now a case of looking forward to the rest of this year. If you want us to play near you let me know – we’d love to get out on the road again – and we’re busy getting gigs sorted for the spring and summer now. See you all real soon!
Photo (c) Dan Donovan
The second gig on our jaunt is in:
Woking – Jigsaw@ The Lighthouse
again from 7.30pm. We are raising money for the New Life House Drug Rehab Centre in Laos (a project that is very dear to us!) – Please come and support this gig. Details can be found here:
or Tickets can be purchased here:
We’re playing our first shows out of the South West in January… The first one is in:
Ipswich @ The Manor Ballroom
From 7.30pm more details can be found here:
The gig is totally free, but we will be raising money for Suffolk MIND.