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

 

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Spring swim

jacobsladder

The first day after the clocks change.  Incredible stillness and light at Jacob’s Ladder.

I forgot my fleece rash vest.  I decide I don’t care.  Bikini & wetsuit boots – quite a look.

Fabulous, freeing, breathtaking water all to myself.

I stay until I start feeling the cold seep back into my core.

The air is warm enough to enjoy a towel down and a cup of tea in my dry robe.

To be still and enjoy the feeling of being awake, alive.

 

 

Kintsukoroi

kintsukori

Most of the time I feel like a piece of pottery repaired with gold;

breakage and repair as part of my history, not something to disguise.

Beautiful possibility written in the cracks.

Yet still on occasion those days come

when my cracks just feel like cracks.

Flaws, vulnerability.

I doubt my potential to support people in seeing the possibility of beauty

in their broken places.

kintsugi

I recently bought myself this necklace from Etsy as a reminder of the cracks, the beauty and the fragility.  All of these things are true about me, all of these things are OK.

The name of the necklace – senbonzakura – means “A thousand cherry trees”

I really like the image of a cherry tree, fragrant blossoms drifting in the wind.

 

Polarized

polarized

Life through a polarizing lens,

Contrast intensified

Darkness, darker.  Deeper

Pulling me under the water

Colour (and some may say)

Beauty heightened

Sunset full of the Spirit’s kiss

The clouds portent

Perhaps a storm is coming

 

This poem is something of a meditation on the diagnostic label versus the experience of bipolar disorder (if in fact that’s a thing)

 

Zentangle

IMG_20171017_184445522

I found these four artist’s cards yesterday with some of my first Zentangle drawings.  I made these almost two years ago while in a mental health respite centre.  They are dated and given titles on the reverse.

6/11/15 Mourning into dancing (bottom right)

10/11/15:

Every tear is precious (bottom left)

Growth is messy and beautiful (top left)

Beauty in the Now, not Yet (top right)

I was in respite on an important birthday for Eldest.  Hope felt hard to reach, hard to hold on to.  The guilt of my daughter going through this milestone birthday with a very poorly mum.  It wasn’t hospital, at least.

Through a haze of sorrow, I found there was immense tenderness within me. Firstly, towards Eldest – this helped me find the energy to make a trip into the local town and buy ingredients for birthday cupcakes topped with her favourite American candy, (Reece’s pieces and Reece’s peanut butter cups!)  A support worker took time the evening before her birthday to help me make them.  The conversation was gentle.

On the day, we opened presents in my small respite bedroom and I was able to take some leave for the morning.  I was there to hold her hands while she had her ears pierced, and to buy her some pretty silver studs.  A landmark celebrated, not as we would have hoped, but together.  For better, for worse.

Compassion towards myself was beginning to grow.  I can see it now in the Zentangles.  I knew that this was a time of tears, of mourning, of mess.  I felt it deeply, but I knew there was the capacity for beauty in me, in the way I was living this illness.

 

Today, almost two years later, I met staff newly recruited to the community perinatal mental health team here in Devon.  As part of their induction, I had the opportunity to talk them through our story of postnatal illness and beyond, and to help them reflect on how a mother’s mental health impacts upon the whole family; dad, baby, siblings.  When I talk to staff, I use a photo-story, with pictures of both my beautiful girls as babies and as they have grown.

Finding the Zentangles was the right timing; growth is messy.  Today it felt beautiful.

 

 

 

Finely tuned

I was talking to my husband a couple of nights ago.  I reflected on the ways that life seems to need a bit more fine-tuning for me than the average bear.

fine tuning

I’m enjoying it though, you know, the fine-tuning.  Sitting down with my Google calendar on the cusp of a new term, and making sure there is space.  Space to book in a day for oddly compelling jobs, like sorting out the crap drawer (we all have one… the random keys, Blu-Tac, tape-measure kind of drawer).

Space to swim in the river Dart or the sea down at Jacob’s Ladder.  To take a flask of peppermint tea and rest by the water’s edge.

Fine-tuning this term has meant resisting the temptation to take on a few more paid hours.  To recognise that Eldest has both excitement and challenges coming up as she starts high school, and she may well need her mum more.  She sometimes talks about her fears of me becoming unwell at the start of a new academic year – it’s such a season of change.

But this year the change is good.  It’s a change in my expectations of myself, a willingness to leave space and embrace it.  Two Septembers ago I was afraid of the space, driven by a fear that – at 40 – I was pretty much at the last chance saloon in terms of finding a career.

This September I’m at peace.  The work will still be there when the time is right.

 

Patience, darling

If you’ve been journeying with me for a while, you may remember that one of my hopes for the gap year was to decorate the girls’ bedrooms

Wow, that was almost two years ago.  That’s the thing.  Sometimes you have to have a lot of patience to realise your hopes and dreams.  Guess what?  During March my consultancy work enabled me to pay a decorator to bring Eldest’s Ravenclaw themed bedroom to life (I really didn’t have the skills for a dark blue feature wall!)  Eldest and I sat at the kitchen table in April and made a decopatch Harry Potter lampshade inspired by this one from Sunshine Sings on Etsy.  She loved choosing her favourite quotes from the old copy which was falling apart, and it turned out pretty beautifully!

Harry potter lamp

Today I’ve been listening to Noah and the Whale in Little One’s room.  Sugar soap and sponge in hand, sandpaper for the woodwork.  I’m finally doing it!  I’m enjoying the metaphor of cleaning, smoothing down rough edges, creating a little friction in order for the new and the pretty to emerge.  She’s chosen a lollipop pink to go with her 1970’s inspired IKEA duvet cover which has brown, orange, yellow and pink birds and flowers. It’s going to be gorgeous and funky, just like her.

I’ll leave you with some thought-provoking lyrics from Noah and the Whale’s Life is Life

Well he used to be somebody
And now he’s someone else
Took apart his old life
Left it on the shelf
Sick of being someone
He did not admire
Took up all his old things
Set em all on fire

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Left his house at midnight
Resolute and young
In search of something greater
Than the person he’d become
Threw his bags on to the back
Of his run down eighties car
Headed out to god knows where
The distance is too far

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Squiggly

Life sometimes feels very squiggly when you are in a period of remission.  You’re busy trying to rebuild life and pick up old threads but there is messiness in trying to find your equilibrium.

Recovery_reality

I used to feel quite scared of the scribble, the days when out of nowhere I don’t feel like getting up again or I find myself mind-busy and frazzled.  But as you look at the featured image for this blog don’t you think that in some ways that the messy line is actually quite beautiful?

Quite a few things have been squiggling me lately (but I’m learning to accept them as part of the beautiful tangle of life and recovery).  I was offered an ongoing role facilitating mums’ mental health courses from September this year.  In many ways it’s the role I have been dreaming of – but I knew I had to turn it down at this point in my own life journey.  I felt torn between guilt and relief as I sent off the email to say no.  No is a hard thing, but a precious thing too.

Little One has been providing us with some very tangly challenges.  The shift from winter to spring has really unsettled bedtimes and we have had more than a few nights of really screaming at the top of her voice “It’s day not night! I don’t go to bed in the day!” There have been moments of parenting genius like digging out the ‘Sunshine at Bedtime’ poem from Shirley Hughes Out and About collection. There have been many more moments of wondering what on earth to do and the pain of listening to an angry, crying child behind the bedroom door who is so very, very tired but doesn’t understand.

Eldest is going through her own messy time at the moment too and I’m there helping her to untangle some of it. There have been many cups of tea and slices of cheese on toast at the end of another upsetting day at school.  Friendships for pre-teen girls have always been challenging and fraught, but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing this when your precious girl is in tears as she tries to be her authentic self and gets knocked back.

I had something of an epiphany in the midst of the tangles.  I’ve been searching so long for that time I go “back to work” and I’m healed, whole, a functioning member of society again.  That time when I’ll have the career success I imagined when I headed off to University back in 1994.  But the thing is I already have a career.  The most important, draining, fabulous, meaningful work I could have imagined.  I’m a mother to Little One and Eldest.  The paid work is going to have to continue to take a back seat, as much for my wholeness and well-being as theirs.

Glorious mess

Dreams resurrected

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Yesterday I signed a form to become an employee of the NHS for the first time in 19 years. At the age of 23, my dreams were in tatters as I quit my job as a Speech & Language Therapist.  My mental health had deteriorated so badly that I had been off sick for two months and I knew I couldn’t go back.  I had only lasted nine months after qualification. All that work for my degree, all the striving towards the four A grades at A-level to get into Newcastle University – it felt utterly wasted.

During my time off sick, I took a retreat to Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales.  It was early Spring and the gentleness of nature soothed my soul.  I vented to God – this didn’t make sense.  What on earth was I going to do with my future?  I have the carefully scripted pages of my retreat journal in front of me today. It’s a plain red exercise book with lined pages faded to yellow, but it is one of my most treasured possessions.  During the retreat I kept coming back to the book With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen.  I began to realise that letting go of my career was an important step.  It was going to require radical trust.  I believe God spoke during that retreat and here is what I heard:

Allow me to meet your needs

Love, security, value, purpose, worth, significance, dependence

Nothing else will satisfy your longings – allow me, precious one

Allow me, dear child

snowdrop

As I drove away from the interview yesterday having been offered my bank post as a Peer Trainer, it felt like my dream of working to support people in their recovery is slowly coming back to life.  Like a snowdrop emerging from its dormancy, heralding the hope of Spring.

I didn’t know at 23 that I would go on to struggle with my mental health for another twenty years (and will probably continue to struggle).  I didn’t know that my dream of motherhood would be tested to its absolute limits through the haze of psychosis and the dark, relentless agony of depression.  I still don’t understand this path, but I know there is the capacity for immense beauty in it.  My daughters are pure joy in human form!  My husband has been utterly faithful to his vow to love me “in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health”.

I feel like I am allowed to dream again.  I am still learning to be dependent on God, but I get this feeling that he is smiling too at the beauty of a snowdrop.