Wild women #3

This beautiful hot weather always tempts me into the delights of the sea. There has been a keen Easterly wind which whips up the breakers. I had one of my funniest and most exhilarating swims yesterday at Coryton Cove. Suffice to say that I emerged part sea-monster, part-siren with grit, seaweed and shell pieces all over me (especially in the cups of my swimming costume!)

s-l400

In the spirit of all things sea, stream and river I will introduce you to two of the water nymphs in my life. I’m so grateful to have met my tribe of free, wild women who take every opportunity to strip off and jump into cold water.

Halia

Halia is a woman of the sea, a swimming coach, a mentor. I really miss swimming with her while she is in a season of adventure living on a boat and sailing to ports across Europe…

Halia has a passion for stories, taking time to really find out what makes people tick. She’s also hugely humble about her own achievements. Her smile is vibrant and she is absolutely full of fun. She inspired me to measure the water temperature of each my outdoor swims to create a piece of artwork with yarn (more on this to follow…)

I’m looking forward to the next time she pops back to Devon and we can enjoy the thrill of the sea together. She definitely knows better than me when the waves are likely to take you out!!

Naia

Naia is an intrepid swimmer, unfailingly passionate and a lover of river swooshing. I’m so grateful for her openness – we talk about everything from politics to parenting while we swim.

We both swim to heal our hearts and minds. We both love crazy swims in the mud and rain. We have shrieked at our bare feet in the snow and basked in the sun after swimming flat calm turquoise seas. The times I spend with her are just… pure joy.

 

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Wild Women #2

Although I don’t consider myself a christian in the traditional sense any more, I have a few incredible friends who humble me with their faith and spirituality.
Continuing my series in honour of the wild women in my life, may I introduce you to Grace and Klara.
hearts
Grace
Grace is a yarn-lover, a giver, a warrior.  Grace and I first met when Eldest was an energetic, bouncy-ball of a two year old!  We knew in an instant that we were going to be friends.  She continues to love me, my girls and my man with a depth that just astonishes me.  She is funny and wry and has the most beautiful mahogany brown eyes.
Grace walks with suffering.  Her body is limited but her hope is limitless.  She weaves kindness into every stitch of her crochet or knitting.  When we sit together and share lunch (soup, of course) she never fails to ask all about the little details of how the girls are doing.  I feel so loved when I spend time with Grace, and she brings a peace with her that’s hard to fully put into words.
I am so glad that in leaving the church I didn’t lose Grace.
Capiz-Shell-Chandelier
Klara
Klara is an artist, a lover of tea and beautiful fairy cakes, a pioneer.  For me, she is the epitome of an adventurer – both in her work for which she travels all around Europe, and in her life as an artist.
Over the years Klara and I have prayed and talked deeply.  We have eaten the most delicious pizza.  We have shared with each other our wildest hopes and dreams.   Even though Klara now lives in another country, I will always picture us in her bijou terraced house sharing tea in china cups.  There will be rose-scented icing on tiny cakes.  There will be flowers artfully arranged on the table and I will sit and admire the most beautiful iridescent capiz shell chandelier.
Klara rides a red bike, she paints, she writes, she loves.  When we speak on the phone it’s like we are just there, sitting under the shell lampshade and delighting in our friendship.  I still miss spending time in that bijou little home, but our conversations never fail to leave me exhilarated and ready for the next adventure.

Wild Women

A friend and I spoke yesterday about feeling we are “growing into ourselves” as women in our 40’s.

I’m growing out the brown dyed and highlighted hair I have had for almost twenty years.  Each month my cropped hair is revealing more of its natural silver beauty, there are almost pale Ceylon blue sapphire tones in certain lights.  Almost every day my husband says how beautiful it is… and I believe him.

Did you know there’s a whole online community out there of younger women documenting their journeys to liberate their natural hair colour via hashtags such as #silversisters and #greyhairdontcare? I feel part of a sisterhood unshackling themselves from beauty standards defined by a fear of ageing.

There’s nothing I love more than the deeply wrinkled, wind-swept skin of fellow wild swimmers who are older than me. Sitting on the beach in a soaking wet blue bra and black knickers after an impromptu swim at Ladram Bay, I watched with fondness as a group of 3 swimmers who could have been in their 70’s or 80’s donned their costumes, swim caps, beach shoes and plunged into the water. You can be a wild woman at any age.

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a long time and wanted to honour wild women in my life by telling you some short stories. I’ve changed the names to respect privacy but am so incredibly grateful for these women and the parts they have played in my becoming. I’ll be writing a series of blogs celebrating two friends each time.

Ainoa

Ainoa is a surfer, a runner, a mountain biker. She combines strength and tenderness in a way I’ve never encountered in any other person. We met at University and have been friends ever since. Intelligent and curious, she enables the most far-reaching conversations and is deeply interested in how and why the naive Christianity of my University days is metamorphosing into a different kind of spirituality.

We have swum in the moonlight, drunk homemade elderflower champagne by the fire-pit and she’s sat in my kitchen helping me rethink my overwhelming desire to take an overdose.

She told me recently that we had walked in a woodland together when I was receiving ECT treatment for psychotic depression after Little One was born. She remembers me asking her over and over again whether I was dead. Either ECT or just the darkness of that time has completely erased the memory of anyone other than my family having seen me at this lowest ebb.

Knowing that this friend has entered the deepest sorrow as well as surfing, drinking and dancing with me in some of the most joyful times of my life makes me love her even more.

 

Lydia

Lydia is a nurse, a mother, a Cuban dancer. We first met when I was a patient in psychiatric hospital running up and down corridors in elation and trying to escape down the phone lines. She was a nurse and also had a daughter. I remember very little of our first encounter in each other’s lives except a deep human connection. I have a faint sense of her sitting close to me on a blue wipe-down hospital sofa and asking me about my baby.

Five years later I looked at a beautiful and strangely familiar face in the chocolate aisle at Waitrose supermarket. I had newborn Little One in the trolley and was browsing with my parents. Such was the sense of connection that I started up a conversation about the Monty Bojangles chocolates! I was curious about my feeling of recognition and asked Lydia if we had perhaps worked together. She told me she had nursed me in those early days of postpartum psychosis after Eldest was born.

Eight years after we first met, I walked into the office of Exeter Mother & Baby Unit for my first day as an NHS employee. Lydia gave me the biggest hug and we shared our excitement and amazement at being able to work together in the same team. Since becoming colleagues we have deepened our friendship and discovered many more ways in which our stories have interwoven with each other’s. We have eaten mezze and celebrated new beginnings at an art gallery.

Lydia will always be precious to me because she has celebrated every victory, championed me as a colleague and she’s an inspirational model of how to bring your whole self to work. Oh, and she makes the best chocolate courgette cake you have ever tasted.

Grief, mark 2

We were watching “The Baby Club” on iPlayer, Little One and I.

She was balancing her time-worn cuddly monkey on her knee. Clapping his hands together as the beaming mummies (and millennial daddy) bounced their babies and played clap, clap, tickle-wiggle-tickle.

I let myself feel furious with the saccharine idealisation of early parenthood for a few moments. But really I knew it was grief.

If I was honest with myself.

Why couldn’t I have bounced you on my knee, clapped your hands together, sat in a joyous circle with the other beaming parents?

By the time I had entered that circle, I’d lost her. She was exploring, crawling into other laps.

There was a new grief too, though. It’s been sneaking up for a while. It’s a future grief, if such a thing exists.

I watch her bounce her toy babies, put them up her jumper as a pregnant bump, feed them and stroke their cheeks. But I’m afraid. Afraid it’s not going to be that simple.

How would she be judged as a parent with a learning disability?
The children of parents with a learning disability are more likely than any other group of children to be removed from their parents’ care. (Working Together with Parents Network 2008)

I don’t know if I am strong enough to handle the future grief. Could I give what might be required of me to enable her to sit in that inner circle of beaming mummies?

I’m afraid. If I’m honest with myself.

You are my sunshine

Twirling in your brand new Sainsbury’s Belle dress

Folds of yellow satin

Swaying, sparkling sequins

Eating the soft middle out of scampi

Fingers dotted with ketchup

While I finish the crispy crumb

In your wetsuit

Skinny, lithe, strong little arms protected from the swimming pool

(which feels like the icy sea to you)

It was a bright (bright, bright)

Sunshiny day

*With love for Little One – EJG

Crown of beauty

a crown of beauty for ashes

the oil of joy for mourning

a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

Isaiah 61:3

This week, I attended Kundalini Yoga for the first time at the Nurture Shed in Somerset.  During savasana music, our teacher applied scented oil to our foreheads.  It reminded me of the practise of ‘anointing with oil’ found in other religious traditions including Christianity.  It was a very beautiful, tender experience.

In Hinduism, the forehead is an important site of the Ajna chakra – the third eye.  Coming from a Christian background but now finding myself more and more open to all expressions of spirituality, I find myself re-connecting to the spirit, the prophetic.

For a few years after my psychosis, it felt troubling to visit the idea of prophecy.  I had felt so spiritual, so connected to Heaven, so sure of my prophetic gift and the beautiful wedding feast where all my friends would be healed and full of joy.

flower crown

During savasana, I felt reminded of the verse above from Isaiah which I have clung to in the intense despair of depression.  The times when I have felt that my life has crumbled to a heap of ashes.  Days when I have woken up devastated that I did not die in the night.

I get a sense of my crown of beauty as I walk through recovery.  In acceptance of my diagnosis.  In my time alongside others in despair.  In raising courageous daughters.

Back in 1999, my wedding headdress looked something like the Odette flower crown pictured above from Gypsy Rose Vintage on Etsy.  Next year, I’ll be celebrating our twentieth anniversary with a crown of beauty from ashes.  I might even rock a boho floral crown & leather jacket!  I’m so grateful for my amazing husband, faithful through every sickness and health.

 

 

 

 

Sunrise

In the morning I’ll rise in the hush of darkness, step out into the cold. Close the door tentatively to keep the sleeping house inside.

I need the blessing of the sunlight emerging over the sea. I need the cold rush of water, the heart-ache of nature ushering in another day.

I need to swim.

Legacy

At the Marce Society conference in Bengaluru, India, I have listened to cutting-edge science about the impact of trauma through the generations. Hardship not only impacts us psychologically – but also biologically. Our reactivity to cortisol, a stress hormone and even our immune system carries the fingerprint of our forebears.

And yet… We are learning so much more about nurture and resilience. The incredible power of simple parenting, soothing touch, toys made from junk, picture books. In India, “barefoot workers” in their own communities are being trained to support mothers’ mental health and nurture the next generation.

As I reflect on my own family history there is hardship and loss, illness and disadvantage. Yet there is resilience, tenderness and love.

In honour of my grandmothers, women who embodied resilience in the face of deeply traumatic experiences, two poems:

Laura

She walks slowly

Hands smoothing the roughened bannister

Caged heart pounding

Heart-breaking

She plants her foot on each step

Feels the emptiness

Wired, shocked

Her heart caged

Home, she is safe

Muriel

The bedroom doors are closed

Hushed

Hush little baby, don’t you cry

Stoic, broken into pieces

She gathers the pieces

Gathers herself

Facing the world, the hushed disapproval

She loses herself in music

Hush little baby, don’t you cry

Mama’s gonna sing you a lullaby

To my grandmothers, you were brave and strong, beautiful and fragile. Thank you…

Wild swim Skye

It’s taken a little perseverance, local recommendations and an OS map to find swim spots on the beautiful Isle of Skye. Much of the land is fenced off – even by the coastline, and there are very few marked footpaths.

The payoff for our research has been incredible though!

Snorkelling off Colbost jetty revealed a world of vibrant seaweed and iridescent fish darting about.

A hack through fields found us on Milovaig beach where, on honeymoon 19 years ago, we had combed the beach for sea glass and Victorian pottery. This time we lit a fire, toasted marshmallows and enjoyed the company of an inquisitive seal while Eldest and I swam. We found huge purple-blue lobster shells – Little One calls them ‘lompsters’, I hope she never grows out of pronouncing them that way!

The crowds visiting Coral Beach faded away as we took to the water, bright turquoise and clear as glass even under wild grey skies. Tiny fragments of shells and white coral peppered our feet as we rushed to get our clothes back on in the wind.

Potholes like craters bumped us along the road to Ramasaig. We asked the farmer if we could climb a couple of his gates and a boggy squelch downstream rewarded us with a waterfall and pool right by the sea.

We picnicked on a flat rock looking out into the bay, warmed by the sun. In the waterfall we scrambled up to ledges and let the rust-coloured peaty waters tumble over us. I found a natural jaccuzi for a bracing pummel of cold water.

However, we wouldn’t recommend a swim in the bay here! Eldest and I were thoroughly freaked out by the dense forest of leathery seaweed just below the surface, and the rough scramble over barnacle-encrusted rocks was pretty treacherous.

We decided to give the summer crowds of the Fairy Pools a miss but it’s on the list for an out-of-season return trip. I would imagine in October or February it is indeed “Baltic” – to quote a local vlogger

Thanks to a tip-off from the vlog above, my final swim on Skye was a magical skinny dip in a thundering waterfall – there was even a ledge to jump from the edge of the pool into the falls. There’s nothing quite like the feel of river water on your skin, and the softness of your hair as it dries after a waterfall shower. I kid you not, it’s a mere ten minute walk from the Sligachan bridge which swarms with day-trippers getting their photo shot of the Cuillins! After walking a hundred yards from the bridge, we met no-one else on the path.

Instagrammers of Skye, thank you for sticking to the well-worn path and allowing the wilds to remain wild!

Long may it stay that way…