Ullswater

 

Outstretched arms tanned by the peaty water

Bracelets of sunlight gold

Caress of swaying reeds

IMG_0002.JPGThe fells slumbering giants

Encircling

Rain-mist falling on closed eyelids

IMG_0001Deep stillness

 

Upturned clouds in the water

The only sound the ripple of each stroke

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Life lessons at Nando’s

There are those moments when Little One’s needs teach me something about my own life.

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Picture the scene: a rainy Saturday evening, empty stomachs and a last-minute plan to head to Nando’s (it’s already an hour after Little One’s bedtime).  Even for those of us blessed with usual levels of sensation Nando’s is noisy, busy and fast-paced.  For Little One the sensory input of music, conversation, the clatter of cutlery and the whirr of ice machines is only one part of the picture.  She’s fascinated by details many of us would just gloss over – the baby in the high chair five tables away, the texture of the wooden chicken on our table, the woven basket hanging on the wall.

Especially when she’s tired, Little One finds it incredibly difficult to settle and focus in such a magnificently stimulating environment.  As we waited for our food to arrive, I had the feeling we were on the precipice of a meltdown if we tried (and failed) to coax her back to our table simply because it’s “good behaviour” to sit with your own family and not go and stare at someone else’s baby.

I happened upon the ice cubes.  We spend a lot of time in cafes asking Little One not to dip her fingers in her drink and play with the ice cubes.  This time though, the little chunks of melting ice in her glass were the tools she needed to help her tune out.  She sat in my lap and I felt her muscles release their tension as we experimented with the ice, swirling it with the straw, holding a tiny piece in our palms to see how it turned back to water.  I enclosed her with my body, spoke softly and attentively to her as we turned our focus inwards.

I really needed that moment.  So often as we try to mould her behaviour to our social norms – don’t play with that, sit still, come back to our table – I feel overwhelmed, tense, hyper-vigilant.  In this space, playing with ice at the table, I joined her world.  The hubbub around me melted away.  The fears of judgement from other parents melted away.  Little One doesn’t yet have the skills for a mindfulness practice such as the breathing space, but she intuitively sought the ‘mindfulness of the ice’.

 

 

 

Repair

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I am intrigued by this quote. Little One and I found it today on a mosaic bench in the garden of the Thelma Hulbert gallery.

We had spent an unexpected, peaceful hour looking around the Evolver Prize exhibition and playing with oil pastels in the cafe.  It repairs something in me to take time to enter Little One’s sensory world.  Her favourite painting had row upon row of tiny details in watercolour – dogs, cats and birds hidden among the busy gardeners Emma Burleigh: The Ashley Vale Allotments

My drawing took on a familiar shape. Lines of blue-toned pastels forming an almost complete circle, arching back and wisping away.  This wave-like shape has appeared many times as I paint in the solace of psychiatric hospital art rooms. Repair. The same icon, a completely different space.

I still don’t see myself as an artist, perhaps a creative.  There is repair in the words I type, the inner journey I write about.

My favourite artwork was Donna Peek: In Search of the Divine State  Encased in each capsule of the oval pill-packet were miniscule Russian dolls.  In the opposite packet were icons of womanhood.  It made me think a lot.

Each day I press three different shaped tablets out of their blisters and into a pill dispenser.  There’s energetic Venlafaxine, somnolent Olanzapine and, moderating it all, Lamotrigine.  A lot of fine-tuning of life, work, screen-time and dosages is needed to keep things in a good state.  The “Divine State” was tempting all those years ago… but steady is better.  Steady allows for repair.

Soothe

End of term raggedy-edged children; filling up the diary for the Autumn term; chasing endless invoices.  All of these things are soothed by moments of pause.

Pause to soothe my body and mind in the sea.  Ever-changing, some days aquamarine from the top of the hill and so clear when I swim that I can see my shadow on the pebbles beneath.  Some days lifting and lowering me in the swell, clouded with red silt. Other days vigorously powerful, a mass of white foam and tumbling stones.

Pause to settle into a child’s pace for a while.  Peep from the double doors in the kitchen to watch Little One delighting in blowing bubbles in the garden.  Lie for a while on Eldest’s bed, look up at the home-made lampshade and feel the beat of her music pulsing from the stereo.

Pause to read a novel.  Switch off the world, the internet, the television.  Rest my head on my husband’s shoulder.  Sip a glass of wine.  Stay still for long enough to let the words of a blog take form.

soap bubbles into the sunset with beautiful bokeh.close-up

 

God of no gender: part 2

I’ve spent a very humbling couple of weeks catching up on the BBC3 Queer Britain series. One of the early episodes was entitled “Does God hate Me?”

 

You may want to look away now if you consider yourself a conservative evangelical.  The programme highlighted just some of the pain and shunning that gay and transgender people of faith had experienced.  The more and more I thought about this episode, the more I realised that in my original post I had still separated God into the dichotomous genders and of ‘male’ and ‘female’.  How much could I blow the conservative mind if I were to say that the word “intergender” may actually best describe God?

I’m heartened to see churches like Steve Chalke’s Oasis Church in Waterloo leading the way in the UK in an open, inclusive, intelligent and thoughtful approach to theology and its application to issues of sexuality and gender.  We have a lot to learn.

 

Comedown

inner critic

My inner critic seems to have a field-day with me after work events that I feel passionate about.  I’m not even really sure if I want to lay this bare, but maybe these black words on a white screen will resonate with someone else, like me, who needs a reminder to bring kindness back to the unkindness they find inside.

 

“Give someone else some space to talk

You overshare

Self-obsessed, self-important

Dominating the room, so eager to share your viewpoint

You consider yourself an expert?

You’re nowhere near

You’ll have to learn to shut up before you can truly support someone else”

 

Kindness today means saying hello to my inner critic and recognising her for who she is. Telling her that I know some of her observations may be grounded in truth.  

Telling her I trust that in my working future there will be people – a supervisor, a therapist, a friend – who can gently guide me in finding the balance of listening and sharing. Kindness today means switching off my phone and its Twitter feed from the day, helping my Eldest daughter to make brownies, kissing my Little One to sleep. Watching a documentary about whales and crying about the mass stranding on the beach, letting the tears fall for all kinds of different reasons.

 

 

Mother & daughter

heart

We share the same hands

Elegant fingers

Nails so tough they’re brittle

One ruby-encrusted, one with a single sapphire

One as yet unadorned

Except for the chipped plum nail varnish

Our hands have

Brushed away tears

Smashed stained-glass windows

Thrown broken heart pebbles

Coloured and stitched

Finger painted and planted seeds

Sliced and stirred a thousand recipes

Held on tightly

Held tightly on to each other

 

 

God of no gender

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You may find this post contains heresy and/or madness (depending on your perspective). Consider yourself warned…

So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 27

I want to tell you about my psychosis.  Uniquely female, a psychosis triggered by pregnancy and childbirth.  It’s not unusual for people experiencing psychosis to have visions of the ends of the earth, and beliefs about their own messianic qualities.  Yet I know that my thought-processes during psychosis were wrapped around my growing struggle with the church and gender politics.  My beliefs were shaped by the visceral experience of giving birth and its powerful sense of womanhood.

What to the outsider looked like jumbled stream-of-consciousness had an intense sense of clarity for me.  Everything made sense.  I had it in my mind that as the end of the world drew near, God was seeking to bring the maleness and femaleness of himself back into unity in the world.  The beautiful (and of course to my loved ones terrifying) thing was that I would be the vessel, the girl-messiah who would bear the unbearable of losing my child and my husband.  I would be obedient even unto death.  I would submit, as the weekly-beaten doctrine of the past few years of church had instructed me.  And yet, in the submission there would be power.  Power to bring those in my life with terrible illnesses into their new bodies, into eternity, into the great Wedding Feast.  I even saw the feast, it was beautiful, and feminine, and filled with joyous reunions.  Everybody, everybody, everybody was there.  God, it was beautiful, I can’t really begin to express it. But it was not to be.

And yet… I probably shouldn’t get into a discourse here about what I perceive as the liminal space between psychosis and prophecy, madness and shamanism.  Maybe I will blog about it sometime in the future, but it feels too raw, too frightening in many ways.

What I can say is that after the long depression that followed my season of visions and dreams, I couldn’t stay in a church that sublimated women and did not allow them to preach, teach or be an Elder.  Nowadays I see all around me women becoming their True Selves through some truly unbelievable suffering.  I’m humbled to be the mother of two daughters who are unashamedly authentic, open and vulnerable.  May they celebrate their femininity, its strength and its power to bind up the brokenhearted.

The illustration at the top of this page was part of an art project in collaboration with Action on Postpartum Psychosis.  I love the Triumvirate somehow all wrapped up in the shape of a mother and baby.  I still believe the best is yet to come.

Be the kind of woman you want to be.  Regardless of doctrine.
 

Night Swimming

Sun sinks pink and amber into the horizon

Pale moonrise beyond the cliffs

Duck-dive just to feel the cold exhilaration of sea-salt tangled hair

Sea, moon, you and I

Thank you, beautiful world and

Thank you, swimming companion –

A friend through ebb and flow