Wild & Improbable Tales – Hope in Invisible Prisons

Suspended inside iridescence, she watches the world pass by. It is beautiful. But she cannot reach it.

Rainbows ripple across the surface of her invisible prison, distorting the view: the hopeful land morphing into looming, shadowed threats; the lilting sound of laughter and music ringing hollow in her ears. She knows those terrors are lies but still her heart races in fear. She knows there is wonder and joy to be felt, but her head echoes with emptiness.

Some shadows loom larger and nearer than others and occasionally their undulating forms resolve into something familiar. Comforting. Her heart contracts with hope and love blooms somewhere deep in the pit of her twisting stomach, as a hand reaches out and penetrates the walls she has bloodied her fists trying to break.

They do not shatter, even now, but still the hand is there, holding hers.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

A Pause, A Ponder And Some Poetry

After a brief, unintentional hiatus, I’m back and trying to figure out how on Earth to balance a busy day job and a more-hectic-than-usual home life with the writing life I crave. During the summer lull, I had managed to start to create time during my days to write or at least play with ideas for writing. I had been posting regularly on the blog and creating regular content for my bookstagram account, both of which grew in followers and engagement. I was loving having the time to enjoy my creative life. And then the new term started. I was utterly snowed under within a matter of days and, even on the evenings when I wasn’t having to bring work home with me, I was so shattered and anxious from the accumulated stress of the work day and then the waiting housework that I had no energy for writing or taking photos, even when I could have found the time. So all of my creative pursuits fell by the wayside. My journal pages stayed empty. My notebook gathered dust. My latest blog post aged slowly in its corner of the internet. My bookstagram started to stagnate. And I felt guiltier and guiltier for not managing to summon the energy for these creative pursuits; for not managing to do it all.

I’ve still not managed to pull myself out of that particular guilt rut and I’m starting to realise it maybe runs a bit deeper than I’d thought.

It’s frustrating to feel I’ve lost the momentum that I had started to build – it all feels a bit ‘one step forwards and two steps back’. But I can’t deny that my brain – which is doing all sorts of unpleasant things right now – needed a break. Juggling all the many aspects of life (wonderful though most of them are) is exhausting sometimes. Occasionally, some balls are going to slip and fall. Sometimes it will take a while to recover them. And most of the time I know that’s ok.

I did manage a little flurry of bookstagram posts last week which I actually wanted to share here as well.

Last Thursday was National Poetry Day and, as I’m a huge poetry lover, I wanted to take the chance to share some of my favourite poets/poetry collections. So following my pause and my ponder, I present you with some poetry recommendations:

First up is the fabulous Nikita Gill whose poetry is a poignant reminder that though we may be inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe we are each as miraculous as the stars. Beautiful, lyrical, empowering poetry.

Next up is Nocturnal by the oh so talented Wilder – I absolutely ADORE this collection. Not only is the poetry thought provoking, moving and beautifully written, but the book is exquisitely designed with accompanying illustrations by the author. I devoured this when I first got it and turned back to the first page for a reread as soon as I’d finished. Simply gorgeous.

Another favourite poetry collection of mine is Chasers Of The Light by Tyler Knott Gregson – simple and elegant, these appealingly presented typewriter poems show the power of poetry to capture poignancy in the smallest moments.

I fell in love with Amanda Lovelace’s poetry with her first collection – the princess saves herself in this one – but for me, her second collection – the witch doesn’t burn in this one – is something truly remarkable. Raw and empowering, Lovelace uses not just the words but the form of her poems to raise a call to arms at the same time as inviting you into the embrace of the sisterhood. This collection raised the hairs on my arms with its power and the connection it offers.

Last but certainly not least in my poetry favourites is this exquisite book from Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – the illustrations are absolutely stunning, seeming to live right off the page, and combined with the wonderful collection of acrostic poetry celebrating the natural world bring back all the wonders of a childhood spent in the garden and exploring the woods. Filled with nostalgia, hope and marvel this collection is the antidote to our hectic digital lives. You’ll want to wander in the great outdoors from the first page.

Do you have a favourite poem, poet or collection of poetry? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments as I’m always on the look out for new poetry to enjoy.

Network Error

The ever so lovely tiggsybabes shared this image on Instagram earlier this week and oh how I laughed…and laughed and laughed and finally cried. It rang so true for me at the moment! My mind is definitely an overloaded internet browser right now, with poor connectivity, multiple network errors and more frozen screens than I care to count. I’m also pretty sure there are some secret tabs open in the background somewhere, all running important programmes that I’ve forgotten about.

Inspired by Tiggsybabes post to try and have a little fun with my current chaos, here – for your amusement – are my many brain tabs:

  • I would like a nap.
  • Why aren’t Time-Turners real?
  • If I could do magic I would be able to clean my house without getting up off the sofa.
  • Shoot…I was supposed to…that thing…nope, it’s gone.
  • I really need new boots.
  • I still haven’t read Lord Of The Flies
  • Oh, that book looks good!
  • I should really stop buying books.
  • I need to plan my reading interventions.
  • Did I pick my printing up? Where did I put it?
  • I’m going to make a real effort to eat more healthily…I wonder if there’s any chocolate in the house.
  • I wonder what my daemon would be…
  • Note to self: kitchen roll doesn’t go in the fridge.
  • What day is it?
  • How is my meter reading lower than last month…?
  • PUPPIES!
  • Autumn is the best. Look how pretty the leaves are!
  • Wearing jumpers makes me happy.
  • I’d like a nap.
  • …where is that music coming from?
  • Back To School – #selfcareseptember

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    The new term stared this week, which meant it was back to school, not just for all our students but for staff as well. The beginning of a new academic year is always chaotic* and it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed to high heaven – sometimes even before the students have started back! My first few days back have felt particularly hectic and stressful, with new roles and responsibilities, a slightly different focus than I’m used to, along with having had a weird virus-y thing that’s made me feel pretty ill and very tired.

    This year, I’m really thrilled to be contributing to ECBC Manchester‘s #selfcareseptember campaign, which aims to promote self-care and encourage people to put themselves at the top of the priority list for a change. Being involved in this brilliant challenge has helped remind me that it’s ok to stop, rest, breathe, and have a little me-time, even when it feels like there are a million things to do – in fact, especially then!

    I was full of day dreams and good intentions for extensive a regular blogging, even with the start of the new school year, but right now I’m realising that I need to allow myself to rest as I readjust to the non-stop nature of working in a school. So this is me done for the day – a short but sweet post to share  the ECBC campaign, encourage you to take part and to say hey, you’re doing great. Whether you’ve also just started back at school or haven’t had a break from work in too long, give yourself some time. Take care of you.

    You can join in #selfcareseptember over on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or the ECBC blog.

    Happy Thursday.

    x

     

    Solvitur Ambulando

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    “Solvitur ambulando” – it is solved by walking – or so the saying goes. A phrase and concept often attributed to Saint Augustine, it has arisen again and again in everything from the works of Henry David Thoreau, to Louis Carroll’s “What The Tortoise Said To Achilles“, to becoming the adopted slogan of The Wander Society (a beautiful and mysterious society which I strongly encourage you to explore). The idea that we can resolve something by walking is probably more commonly expressed in the, rather less poetic, phrase ‘walk it off’. But where ‘walk it off’ is often used in a dismissive, sometimes scornful tone, delivered to suggest that we are making too big a deal of something and that we should just get over it, ‘solvitur ambulando’ instead extends to us an invitation. The idea that ‘it is solved by walking’ opens up a space for us to wander with our problems rather than fight or ignore them; it provides the opportunity to get them out in the open and see them in the light of a wider perspective.

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    I am currently holed up in the heart of the Machar Peninsula in Scotland, with my husband and our dog; we have come to escape the chaos of home renovations and the general busyness of life. We have been enjoying lazy mornings and long walks and it is bliss.

    After a few weeks of high anxiety, the peace and quiet we have found here is a balm for the soul. And as we have walked I have felt the tension in me ebb and ease away. It isn’t that walking has magically cured me of anxiety. But the act of walking and the opportunity to be in nature has been soothing, as it has given my anxieties perspective: an understanding that even if that worst case scenario happens, the world will continue to turn and the trees will continue to grow and the rain will continue to fall. And that is beautiful. My anxious worries shrink to a more reasonable size with every step, the end of summer rain washing some of the accumulated grime of stress away.

    Living somehow seems much easier when you’re standing on a forest path, on the edge of a mountain, overlooking a loch.

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    Taking advantage of the calm and healing offered by being out in nature doesn’t have to happen in a remote Scottish forest though. I really to encourage you to wander however and wherever you can. Wander to a local park; sit in your garden and let your eyes wander; find a tree on a nearby street and let your eyes and hands wander that little world; look up at the sky and let your mind wander its immensity.

    If you do, however, have the means and opportunity to explore further afield, then do so. Sometimes we need to put ourselves in a different environment in order to break a cycle of thoughts or feelings. Sometimes we forget that we are a part of nature, and being in  nature can reconnect us and ground us in the universe in a way nothing else can.

    Let the sky and the trees and the very ground remind you that you belong in this world, you are meant to be here, you are as worthy as any other part of nature.

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    My Beloved Monster And Me

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    I have written, deleted and rewritten the opening lines of this post so many times I lost count. I have had a few days of severe anxiety and very little sleep, and as part of my efforts to honestly express what I’m feeling I wanted to write something describing my experiences. Verbalising (or in this case typing!) the reality of these experiences is difficult but helpful. The opening lines of this post proved to be the hardest to write because I kept including the phrase ‘living with mental illness’, and every time I wrote it something in me shrank away in a ball of shame and fear. In spite of my advocacy of openness when it comes to sharing experiences of mental health and mental illness, I sometimes really struggle to live by it myself. I worry about how I will be perceived. I worry about not having ‘a real reason’ to justify my experiences of mental illness, even though I know that mental illness sometimes just is, that it doesn’t always have a reason behind it or a specific trigger. I somehow still feel like I should have a reason. And if I don’t, it’s simply another failure in what my brain tells me is a long list of failures.

    But I’m here and I’m trying so here goes.

    “Anxiety does not mean you are weak. Anxiety forges you. Living with anxiety, turning up and doing stuff with anxiety, takes a strength most will never know. Have anxiety for two decades and you have lived several lifetimes, and have won many invisible wars.”

    – Matt Haig

    Matt Haig has a wonderful gift for putting into words things which sometimes feel inexpressible. There is a lot about living with mental illness that feels inexpressible. I am still in the process of learning a) that it’s ok – good, even – to verbalise what bouts of mental ill-health feel like and b) how, exactly, to put those experiences into words. So often, the explanations I find myself giving either feel inadequate or melodramatic. The problem with something like anxiety, though, is that the experience itself is melodramatic. There is no calm reasoning with anxiety. There is no downplaying it. (Not whilst it’s happening anyway.) It is sheer, unadulterated fear and panic. For me, that fear and panic is often without any cause at all or with a tiny trigger that, logically, is inconsequential.

    It is, quite frankly, exhausting.

    My anxiety often manifests itself in a very physical way, sometimes even before I’ve become aware of any anxious thoughts. I become very cold. I shake and tremble. I can feel adrenaline coursing in my veins. I feel nauseated. My head pounds. My stomach roils. I can’t breathe comfortably. It is a very uncomfortable, very visceral experience that can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, and at whatever point it finally passes I am completely drained – physically and emotionally. It also doesn’t help that it most often strikes at night and either stops me sleeping restfully or stops me sleeping at all. Sleep deprivation doesn’t help matters.

    All the time my body is going haywire with these fear induced symptoms, one of two things happens in my brain. I sometimes experience a profound disconnectedness from the world – derealisation – which feels like a sort of silent scream: as though I am suspended frozen in a bubble of chaos, which is invisible to everyone else so they carry on with life and the world spins as normal but I am drowning. To borrow some more of Matt Haig’s words: “To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.” I find this a particularly useful metaphor because most of the time I am able to continue ‘walking around’ and function as normal, so anyone watching me or interacting with me, outside my nearest and dearest, probably wouldn’t notice anything was wrong. I have always counted myself lucky to be able to do this because I know for many people anxiety and other mental illness can be completely debilitating. Nevertheless, it is a very surreal experience and not a pleasant one.

    The other thing that happens in my brain – and this is the one that usually happens when the panic rises at night with no-one around to see – is that I ping-pong between extreme emotional turmoil, where I am overwhelmed by fear and despair, and extreme rationalisation, where I try to logic it all away, convincing myself there’s nothing to fear. Now that second part might not seem all that bad, but I’m starting to think it is actually the most dangerous part of the experience. Because the rationalisations, which start in fact (you’re safe, this problem is not as big as it feels, these feelings will pass etc.) very quickly turn into accusations of inadequacy, and an internal monologue of self-shaming. If anyone else spoke to me in the way I speak to myself in these moments I would consider it an abusive relationship. If I ever heard anyone speaking to my friends or family the way I speak to myself in these moments I would be angrily leaping to their defence to stop such unnecessary and hateful language being directed at them. And yet whilst I know this, I can’t seem to stop. And it becomes a vicious cycle. I panic, I shame myself for feeling things I don’t think I ‘should’ feel, I berate myself for not being able to ‘just pull it together’, and then I panic more because what if it never ends?

    That is a dark place to be.

    Something I have recently explored with a counsellor is that my reflex responses at times of high anxiety or panic are either to fight it or try and suppress it (hence the ping-ponging). Neither of these responses is helpful and, in fact, seem to make things worse. The counsellor suggested instead that I try accepting the state and presence of anxiety and sit with it. To acknowledge the feelings and give myself permission to feel them. I know, in my heart of hearts, that this is the step I need to take. That reaching a point of acceptance will be, at the very least, helpful in moving forward. But it is so hard to do. How do you sit with and accept something that every fibre of your being rebels against? Something that feels so wholly uncomfortable, even painful? It’s the anxiety dilemma all over again: when I’m anxious I know that I’m safe but don’t feel that I’m safe and I don’t know how to get from A to B; I know in order to deal with this I need to accept it but I don’t know how to accept it.

    It has been a really long journey to get to the place that I’m at now. It’s been twelve years since someone first put a name to what I was living with. I don’t even know how many years I’d been experiencing it before that. Years of anxiety and panic attacks, medication and various counsellors, meditation and mindfulness programmes, some of which has helped, some of which hasn’t. I have to keep reminding myself that I have come a long way. I would never have been able to speak (and write) so openly about these experiences when they first started. One of the things that has helped me most on this journey so far is hearing about other people’s experiences. Knowing I’m not alone in them helps massively. So that’s why I’m sharing my own. Even though it’s uncomfortable to do so. A bit at a time, I’m trying to turn my story from one of despair at the hands of a beast I can’t control to one of hope and acceptance. A tale of my beloved monster and me.

    Whatever your own experiences of mental illness and wherever you are in your journey, keep going. It’s tough but you’re really not alone, however much it feels like it.

     

    If you’re unsure how or who to ask for help the resources and websites below might be a good place to start. Take care of yourselves and each other, lovely people. 💛

    ECBC Manchester – https://ecbcmanchester.com

    The Blurt Foundation – https://www.blurtitout.org

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    When It Comes Crawling

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    Why does it come crawling

    As the day fades into night

    To push away

    And sap the joy

    Of moments barely past?

    I’m supposed to sit and be with it

    To accept and see and name

    But all I really

    Want to do

    Is scream please go away.

    I know the balance of my life

    Is far outweighed with good

    From all the love

    And all the hope

    So I can’t help but feel I should

    Be able to dispel this fear

    With nothing more than breath

    But when it comes

    And crawls again

    I shrink

    And cower

    And cry

    All of those frustrated tears

    Because willing it away

    Is not enough

    It’s still a part

    Of what makes me

    And the hardest thing

    I’m yet to do

    Is simply let it be.

    But tomorrow is another day

    And bring it rain or shine

    This creepy crawly

    Haunting thing

    Won’t stop this life of mine.

    Wild & Improbable Tales – Suit Up

    No one saw it for what it really was. When they saw him striding the halls and directing their meetings, they assumed the freshly pressed suit and perfectly knotted tie were simply business dress.

    They didn’t know that, when he got home at night and loosened that restrictive strip of fabric, the rest of him unraveled with it. They didn’t know that their confident, assertive leader shed his stoicism with the layers of expensive tailoring. They didn’t know the vulnerability of his true self; that whilst his head may be in the game his heart was in the clouds, yearning for the life of a wandering dreamer.

    The daily struggle between expectation and longing was always hidden behind buzz words and neatly ordered spreadsheets. Until he was alone and free to dream, to marvel, to create, or sometimes to simply fall apart, as the world would never allow him to do in sight of his troops. The dreaming and marvelling and creating and falling took him to beautiful and terrible places, where he meandered all the night, until it was time to suit up his armour again. For he went not to work but to war.

    If only they had known, they would have unraveled with him.

    Being Emotionally Honest

    This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

    When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

    Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

    Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

    It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

    What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

    I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

    Reading:

    The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

    Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

    Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

    Circe by Madeline Millar

    (I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

    Listening To:

    The Happy Place

    The Guilty Feminist

    Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

    The Quibbler

    Made of Human

    Photographing:

    Books

    Nature

    My dog!

    Writing:

    Poetry

    Blog posts

    A young adult fantasy novel…

    Journaling:

    Quotes

    Doodles

    Tracking sleep, mood, steps

    Daily gratitude

    This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

    What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?

    There is Help and Hope

    I have started writing this post several times and don’t quite know how to say what I want to say. I have heard and seen too many stories of people struggling with their mental health and not being able to find a way out; too many stories of people for whom the only escape they could see was through taking their own life. My heart breaks and bleeds for these people and their families and friends. I want to help. I’m not sure how. So for now I just want to say if you are suffering you need not suffer alone. If you are hurting there are people who want to try and help you heal. If you are struggling to see any light in the dark, please, please, call out and let someone – anyone, friend or family or stranger or professional – try to help light your way. Even if you feel totally alone, know that there are people who care.

    Please don’t suffer in silence. Let in help. Let in hope.

    If you’re unsure how or who to ask for help the resources and websites below might be a good place to start. Take care of yourselves and each other, lovely people. 💛

    The Blurt Foundation – https://www.blurtitout.org

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org