Be Kind

I have things I want to write about. But not today.

Today I read that Robin Williams has died. But he is not the hero nor the villain of the piece. I would think it best to let the shadows of eternity embrace him, and leave it at that, but I’m remembering now.

I remember that I have had bouts of depression, and each has been different to the last. So there is no “I know how you feel.” Because, truly, I don’t. Half the time I don’t even know what I feel.

And like a cancer patient, I’m in remission. I can tell when The Sadness looms large at the door. And hearing this kind of news can give The Sadness more power than it deserves.

So this is what I think.

In your life, today, there is somebody who is struggling with this very same thing. It may be you, it may be somebody you know. They may be in the deepest darkest place, and suddenly thinking thoughts that nobody should ever have bouncing through their mind. Or they may, like me, simply be remembering – and that act can in itself tip a person back into the abyss. Like I said, remission.

So Be Kind. Look out for that person. Listen. Don’t think its hysterics. Take care of them with biscuits and time over the next few days and weeks. And always, always believe them.

And pray it never happens to you.

We don’t do that anymore

 

[The above picture is of the first draft of this poem]

 

We don’t do that anymore

 

Turn off the lights for an hour.

Light a candle and think.

Remember a long ago war

When men melted from the inside.

We don’t do that anymore.

 

Turn on your phone and retweet.

Watch the tv and think.

Send money to a charity

And join protests – on the inside.

We don’t need do any more.

 

They point fingers – “he started!”

Children in a schoolyard

With rockets on fingers

And teachers all hiding inside.

That’s not my fault anymore.

 

Someone shot down an aeroplane,

Beheaded a child,

Hid behind that schoolyard.

War now lived from the inside.

But we don’t do that anymore.

 

Turn off the lights now forever.

Light a candle and hope.

Remember a long ago time

When men smiled on the inside.

We don’t do that anymore.

 

The Numbers in My Head

The numbers won’t keep still. They keep jumping round in my head, and turning and chasing each other, until I can’t even remember which way they’re supposed to be. And I look at my worksheet, and the numbers in my head laugh, and go off to play another game of tag. I tell them to come back, stand straight, keep still. I tell them that out there, there is a number line that can tell them exactly what to do and how to behave. But they know that in here, inside my head, there is no number line. There is no way of stopping them playing ring-a-rosies, or hide and seek. So they laugh and play and won’t listen to me when I tell them to keep still, I’m trying to do my sums.

So I send the monsters after them. And sometimes they come back, and stand in line, and I think, just for a moment, that maybe this time I can do the sum. But then one of them burps, or giggles, or sticks his tongue out at me, and they are off again. Laughing, and playing, and never standing still.

The teacher tells me that numbers always go in the same order. Mummy says I shouldn’t need the number line out there. So I know my numbers are being naughty. And I really do want them to be good. I never told them to be naughty. I never told them it was alright to jump around and swop themselves over, and never ever stand still. But my teacher says that numbers always go in the same order, that sums always have the same answer. And Mummy says the number line out there is the same as the number line in here. But I don’t have a number line in my head. If I stop and think very carefully, and call very nicely, I can make my numbers stand in a row. 1,2,3,4,5. But I can’t make them stand backwards, and I can’t make them jump in twos, or do any of those other things.

So I draw bigger monsters. And soldiers to make them march in line. And even bigger, and scarier monsters. Because maybe that will make them listen. Maybe if there’s a monster standing there, my numbers will stand in line, and I can count them, and do sums. And make a number line in my head. It seems like a good idea, and maybe it is working, because now the numbers are scared. They’re falling over themselves, and pointing and shouting.

And running away.

And now there are no numbers left. My scary monsters have scared them all away.

 

[This post is a response to a blog that I read by Fanny P. and is aimed to encourage her to persevere, to find a way to put the number line in his head.]

Things I Have Found (To “Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music)

 

Rabbits and squirrels and blackbirds on steroids;

Pinecones and fenceposts and pathways with xyloids;

Puddles and muddles and turning around –

These are a few of the things I have found.

Iron men in sports shirts and shells that are broken;

Sandwiches piled high and words kindly spoken;

Dogs that like running nose to the ground –

These are a few of the things I have found

 

When the drink spills, and the heads pound;

When I’m feeling blue –

I simply remember the things I have found

And I fall in love with you.

Letting Go

There are many things that I have had to let go through my life.

I left an entire friendship circle behind when I emigrated from South Africa to the United Kingdom. I left a steady job, people that cared about me, a culture I understood – for what? Climbing on the plane, I didn’t even have a job lined up on the other side. I had ten days accommodation and £500.

Moving north, I left a city where everything was bright and temporary, for something less gaudy, but definitely more permanent. A husband, and later a family. A house that became a home, and the whole range of skills that I needed to acquire to fulfil those roles in a way that I deemed adequate.  In London, it didn’t matter that I was different – everybody was, in one way or another. In the sleepy little village where I live, it matters a little more.

I let go of my dream to write a book when I went to university, because, two draft novels down, I knew that my work wasn’t good enough. Yes I lacked self-confidence, but I also was not stupid. Skill comes when you begin to realise that you’re not as good as you thought you were.

I let go of the PhD dream when the funding failed to materialise. This was a dream fuelled in part by other people’s expectations, and in part by pride. I wanted to show up all the naysayers through my life, all the bullies, and people that had laughed at me behind my back, and sometimes to my face. The worst kind of dream. It didn’t feel good to let it go, but it was the best thing I could have done.

I have let go of my definitions of success, and happiness, of rights and influence. I have let go of what I thought it was to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a writer, a homemaker, a cook, and just about every other role you could name.

Because I have learned that when you let go, sometimes what lands in your open hand is worth far more. Sometimes just having the open hand is freedom enough.

So as I let go of a few more things – jagged things, that cut into my hand and heart as they slide out of my life – I remember.

Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing, but it is also the wisest.

Considering labels

Late in my teenage years, I went on a church camp. One of the group exercises involved each individual identifying a negative trait in somebody else and telling them (in front of the group), followed by the same person identifying a positive trait in their nominated individual. (I suspect that this exercise could have gone horribly wrong.)

I was informed that my negative trait was my stubbornness. I had to agree. My positive trait was my perseverance and persistence. I got annoyed. I felt short-changed. It was the same characteristic, just described in two different ways.

But it’s all in the labels. Independent or rebellious? Bossy or leadership material? Spontaneous or disorganised? Organised or uptight? It’s the same thing with a different label. Sometimes it’s good to be persistent in the face of obstacles, as it allows you to honour your commitments and achieve your goals. But when it stops you from asking for help when you need it, then it’s not persistence, it’s stupidity. (This is experience. I won’t bore you with the details.)

But here’s the thing. The labels don’t need to define you. They’re flatpack boxes that you can pull out when you need to, and put away when you don’t. One word doesn’t define who you are, but sometimes that one word, that one part of you, can open opportunities, and access attitudes that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

If you remember you’re courageous, you can defend yourself.

If you remember you are loved, you can try again.

If you remember you have epilepsy, you can avoid the flashy lights and alcohol, and still be a whole person (‘cos you have the epilepsy, the epilepsy doesn’t have you.)

If you remember that you are more than what these people at this time are saying about you, that there will be a time when good people say good things about you, you can choose your response, decide on the label you live by.

It’s a cardboard box. You don’t have to live in it.

 

Things to do while you wait

Don’t wait to be happy. It doesn’t work. If you’re only ever waiting for this to happen or that to happen and then you’ll be happy, it only means that your happiness represents a fleeting moment of circumstance, and then you’ll want something more.

Still, in life, a little waiting is inevitable. Not just the waiting in the queue at the passport office, but the waiting that is pregnancy, or waiting for exam results, or for a job opportunity to open up. Waiting for the change of circumstance that means you can (realistically) dream again. You know, the gnawing at your soul kind of waiting that makes time trickle by and can turn mornings into despair if you let it.

So here is my helpful list of things to do while you wait.

  1. Skill up. If you have a dream you want to achieve, are there skills you will need when you get there? Skills that you will need to get you there? Skills you can break up and learn about, and practice where you are now. That’s what this blog has been about – learning to give myself a voice.
  2. Skill out. Do something completely different. Learn something random. I learnt to crochet from a magazine and YouTube videos. The challenge of acquiring a new skill took my mind away from the thing I was waiting for, and now I use crochet to relax. Double win. (Potentially triple win, since I can crochet some of my Christmas gifts.)
  3. Help somebody. Look around you. There will be people in your life, or near it, that you can help. Sure, it’s not very British, but that’s what makes it so rewarding. You can listen to somebody over a cup of coffee, and tell them that this too will pass. And remind yourself in the process. Sometimes people don’t need your skills, or your advice. They just need your time.
  4. Teach somebody. Of course, sometimes people do need your skills. So next time you make a tasty sausage casserole for the group of students that you know, include the recipe. And your contact details, so they can ask you for help when they get it wrong.
  5. Find another way to get to where you’re going. Don’t become so obsessed with getting the one thing the one way, that you miss the opportunity of the scenic route. Sure you could try and do it the way that everybody else has done it, or you could explore a little. Knock on some other doors.
  6. Remember. You’ve had to wait for things in the past, and they have been worth the wait. You have set yourself goals, and achieved them. If nothing else, you learnt to read, and work a computer, and wake up and face each new day. Sometimes that’s enough of an accomplishment on its own. Sure you’re waiting, and it feels like you have a long way to go, but remember how far you have come.
  7. Don’t forget about today. About the things you do have. We can become so obsessed about the waiting-ness of our lives, that we fail to appreciate that between here and the end of the waiting is a journey. We have all these moments between now and then. It would be a pity to waste them in myopic wishful thinking.

But above all, be brave. Or at least, continue being brave. One day at a time, one hour at a time, one second at a time. You can do it.