I always thought there would be a point of recovery where I would reach the destination – be well for good, whatever ‘well’ really means.
Life had other ideas for me. I think for all of us, life is a state of flux – of adaptation, change, movement. Lately though, for me, the fluctuations of energy, mood, hopefulness, motivation have had me rattled. Perimenopause and bipolar disorder are proving to be a tricky combination.
And yet, I’m learning something about flow, the act of flowing. Can I sink into the river of my inner world and let myself be carried? To understand that the narrow channels where the current picks up pace are not to be feared? To have patience with the meanders and deepen my rest in the eddies.
I have often wanted to be like a tree by the riverbank. Solid, deeply rooted. Unmoveable. But I am the river. Moving, eroding, flowing ever onwards.
I am a flower quickly fading; here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean; a vapour in the wind
Casting Crowns “Who am I?”
If you’ve read me for a while, you may know that I often write about the deconstruction of my faith during the season of Easter. 2021 marks the first UK census where I have ticked the box “no religion”.
These short few days of Easter are so interwoven into the fabric of my world that I think there will always be unpicking, sorting through the threads, finding the colours that make some sense now.
The Casting Crowns lyrics are from a cast-iron evangelical song about sin, redemption and belonging. Yet for me now, the quoted lines (referencing the Psalms and Isaiah) speak of beauty, fragility, impermanence and an Earth that holds knowing far beyond our short lives.
There are more questions than answers to “Who am I?” nowadays. I like it that way. Maybe there is no “I” but more “We” human beings, creatures, plants, stars, planets, atoms… resonating with life, be it short or infinite.
May we turn to each other and acknowledge the infinite, the Love, the suffering and the solace. In being human.
something med school did not cover someone’s daughter, someone’s mother holds your hand through plastic now “Doc, I think she’s crashing out” and some things you just can’t speak about
only twenty minutes to sleep but you dream of some epiphany just one single glimpse of relief to make some sense of what you’ve seen
with you I serve, with you I fall down, down watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out with you I serve, with you I fall down, down
watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out (Out), out (Out)
Lyrics – Taylor Swift, Folklore 2020
I watched the 10 o’clock news tonight. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 frontline NHS workers will suffer from anxiety, depression or PTSD as COVID-19 continues to take its toll. A tidal wave of distress is preparing to hit mental health services, chronically underfunded and unable to meet even the current needs of our society.
And I’ve left.
I’ve left my job, struggling to catch my own breath. When I told little one “mummy’s not going be to be working in the NHS for a bit” – a smile of relief on her face – “Oh, so you can look after me mummy!”
Yes, baby girl. So I can breathe in, breathe out. So I can be the mother you and your big sister need me to be. So I can grieve. So I can fall down.
Forward fold on my yoga mat. I feel every vertebra of my lower spine crackle. The slow release of clenched trauma, impossible hope, tight despair.
I’m so sorry dearest frontline-weary souls. May I return to you a more spacious soul. Keep breathing in, breathing out. You deserve better. May we serve you, serve with you.
It’s my last day of being 44 today. I’m in a reflective mood – musing on the turmoil and exhaustion of 2020; the moments of joy and connection.
This swim sums up all that the water has given me this year.
The lockdown rules have just been lifted to allow travelling a ‘reasonable distance’ for exercise. After weeks of dunking in shallow muddy streams and a strange smelling gissage in my home town, the longing for the sea is visceral. I’m exhausted from the relentless days of working at the kitchen table and home-schooling.
We walk across empty fields, feeling the buzz of late-spring in the tall grasses.
Descending steep wooden steps to the beach, the sea is glistening – cobalt blue and perfect white horse waves at the shoreline.
The beach is deserted, I throw off my clothes and run into the welcoming arms. I’m almost in tears with gratitude, letting the waves break over my body as I say “hello, hello, beautiful sea”
I want to be enveloped, immersed in the sea with its millennia of knowing. Endless years of gnawing away at the cliffs to reveal their secrets. So many pandemics have come and gone as the sea continues its tides, breathing in… breathing out…
I peel off my swimming costume and stand naked, arms aloft to welcome the sun, the salt, the cold.
I swim, peace descends. It’s just me and the waters that cover the earth.
Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.
I arrived at Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth a jangle of anticipation and nerves. I was looking for a lady called Lesley who I would try to recognise from a blurry Facebook photo of her in a bellydancing costume.
I’d been following TEDS (Team East Devon Swimmers) on social media for a good few months, summoning up the courage to join a sea swim. I was nervous of strong, lithe triathletes who could swim front crawl and would probably zoom off around the headland leaving me bobbing about like an abandoned cork.
But today was the day. I’d arranged to meet for one of the regular 6.30 pm swims and dip my toes in the (freezing) water, so to speak.
I noticed the peaceful, rounded silhouette of a woman looking out to sea, sitting on a wall by the railings. There was nobody else on the beach, and the water had a curious stripe of silty brown sienna and miles of cobalt blue that I now know tends to follow rain or high winds at Sidmouth.
Today the sea was still. Lesley welcomed we warmly, and led me through a few tips for entering the water. April is pretty cold in the sea, probably around 11-12 degrees Celsius as it’s had all winter to drop in temperature.
Cossie on under my clothes, I quickly stripped off and I put on neoprene beach shoes to stave off the “ouchy” pebbles so common to East Devon beaches.
And then we were in the sea, up to our thighs almost immediately down a steep shelf.
Nowadays I much prefer Sidmouth like this, at high tide, as it gives you no choice but to commit. I’ve waded out for ages in wild, bitter easterly winds in January and it takes courage to believe the water will feel better.
Once in to waist height, Lesley taught me to gently dip my hands in the water – “it helps to remind your body what’s about to happen”. Then a deep slow breath out to immerse body and shoulders into the water.
A whoop of exhilaration, then an unexpected surge of warmth in my body as I settled into the silky water.
Head up, breastroke, bobbing about, looking up at the red Jurassic cliffs. All encouraged, and tea & cake for afters.
I was hooked. I’ll be forever grateful to Lesley and the beautiful sea that day, for introducing me to a world of connection and adventure.
I honestly don’t know how to begin to write about what my world, our world… the world feels like during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Russell Brand told me (not a voice in my head, through Luminary) that people are Googling how to pray in droves.
Perhaps that’s a place to start. Long gone are my days of hallowing a name. But in a glass-clear sea something like prayer welled up in my chest and as I dried my body, tears spilled on the still sun-warmed stones.
So a prayer
Mamma Earth, guide me in the ancient ways. May the seasons of my life unfold, may I listen. To be attuned to the time for sowing or harvest; when to rest my spent and weary soil in furlough. May I gather my little ones to shelter, be it dry stone wall or rustling dune-grass.
Papa Ocean, hold me in your depths of knowing. May I find the wisdom of salt-tears; the peace of a seabird on the wing. May I be a sturdy boat, steering my little ones to shore through storm or fair wind.
Mamma Earth, Papa Ocean; you have trod these paths a thousand, thousand times before us. Guide us and teach us the way.
I have a dear German friend who has affectionately nicknamed me her little ‘pusteblume’
Pusteblume: noun (German) meaning dandelion clock.
Let’s call my friend Astrid. She has really encouraged me lately to rekindle my creativity in order to balance the increasing demands of work in the NHS and family life.
And so, dear Astrid, this upcoming series of blogs is dedicated to you. I will be writing a short piece of prose or poetry about found objects in nature or cityscapes – as an exercise in ‘everyday mindfulness’. Writing this way will help me to engage with the beauty of noticing, the peace of presence, and the value of time spent in contemplation.