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.

 

 

 

 

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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…

Rewind

willow

Seated around the table

Quiet clicking of laptop keys

I rewind

See my fear in your eyes

My exhaustion

I can’t do this, I can’t do this job

Please don’t rely on me…

 

Seated around the table

You can rely on me today

Rely on me to tell you the truth:

This pain will end

You will hold a small hand in yours

and walk under willow leaves

Shade, and shelter

 

7p22.1

Chromosome 7

In the beginning was the Word

L, O, V, E

transcribed as A, C, G, T

adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine

Four nitrogen bases to compose a three-billion note sonata

A, C, G, T

the hue of her skin, her rosebud lip

heart fluttering on an ultrasound scan

A, C, G, T

the cosmic typewriter skips a beat

A T

G C

a microscopic pause

missense in the melody, an unexpected note

A, T, G, C

she dances to the music

dances to the beat of her own drum

she runs with open arms and heart into the world

our little love

L, O, V, E

A, C, G, T

In the garden

There is joy in my garden this summer.

For a number of years it’s been a struggle against the enormous weeds that infiltrate the patio. Overgrown ivy weaving its way through the fence panels, tired decking slippy with leaf mould. A flowerbed that used to be a pond tangled with wild strawberries and dandelions.

The funny thing is, many of those difficulties remain – but we’ve created places to tend and nurture. I cut back the ivy, cleared the ‘pond’ and filled it with rocks and alpine plants. Resilient little clumps, they are weathering the hot, dry weather admirably.

We painted dilapidated fence panels in turquoise and blue which draw the eye to the bottom of the garden. I spent a satisfying afternoon with my father in law cutting up wood from the local sawmill and building raised beds. It’s been a family endeavour – driving around Devon with my husband and Little One to collect free topsoil and lugging rocks with Eldest.

Tending peas, courgettes, pumpkins and a runner bean plant is a gentle and soothing after school activity for Little One and I. Watering in the cool of the evening offers time to talk with Eldest.

It struck me that the inner life is a bit like my garden. We need spaces to rest, tend new growth and be fruitful. These help us to have the energy and impetus to tackle the weeds that can otherwise feel overwhelming: anxiety, work pressure, parenting challenges (to name but a few).

My plants need water and nourishment to produce a crop. My garden helps me to reflect on my own needs as I tend new growth in work life and life as a parent.

Bullet journalling

I have some new fluorescent gel pens, bought on impulse as a treat when shopping in Bruton with a girlfriend.

It turns out, they’re invaluable!

I came across the concept of a bullet journal, and wanted to personalise it to incorporate some of my learning about my mental health through occupational therapy.

At the beginning of a month, I brain-dump the things I’m aiming for in a bulleted list. Examples of mine are:

  • swim in the sea once a week
  • build some raised beds in the garden
  • organise crèche provision for a course I’m delivering

I try to keep the overarching aims to 1 page of my A5 journal. Then I circle the bullets with a colour in beautiful gel pen:

blue – work related

green – self care

yellow – my kids

pink – social time

pink heart shape – my husband & I

orange – house & garden

The colour code helps me to look at the balance of priorities, and to be really mindful of when there’s an over-emphasis on work at the expense of other areas!

Each weekday, I bullet my to-do list in the same way. I make sure to bullet self care time such as blogging, tea alone in a cafe, running, wild swimming. When there are naturally days with a swathe of blue work tasks, I’m reminded to book in the other aspects of life later in the week. I get to see where I’m putting blue circles in days they’re not needed, and here’s a very useful thing:

An X over the bullet means I did the task or activity

An > over the bullet means I just move it to another day

I’ve found this extremely liberating in comparison to a traditional to-do list where I can feel I’ve failed if it’s not all crossed out by the end of the day.

My bullet journalling helps me to prioritise and also to notice when my expectations of a day have been unrealistic. I really love that little > symbol…

Before there was a tree

I have a new job, an incredible job full of possibility and hope for families suffering through perinatal mental illness. This poem is a reflection on another stage in my own healing.

oak

Before there was a tree,

or even the thought of a tree

there was dark, decay pressing down into the earth,

leaves disintegrating

only to release their final nourishment to the soil

there was the sleep of death, curled up, dormant

 

Before there was a tender shoot,

or even the thought of a tender shoot

there was a husk cracking

an unfurling – anaemic and fragile

searching for the light, spreading tiny roots

reaching for Spring

 

Now there is a sapling, the thought of a tree

the wind buffets the stem

the leaves are nourished by sun and April-shower

the soil enriched through loss

there is the beginning of a tree