Love Never Dies, It Just Changes Shape.

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We are born, we live and we die. In between there lies love and pain and joy, but also events that are portals: points of initiation that transform us.

As anyone who reads this blog may have noticed, I’ve been wading in murky emotional waters lately.

Struggling along in the mire I was started to feel as if I was becoming a miserable and mirthless old git, when my Facebook feed posted a ‘memory’ from six years ago.

It was a photograph of me with my mother, taken several weeks before she died.

The weeks after the photo was taken were mad. An emergency flight to Singapore, followed by a five day vigil in Intensive Care where my sister, my stepfather and myself surrounded my mother with love and support in the final stages of her life.

Recalling these memories I realised, as I always eventually realise at this time of the year, that memory is remembered in our body, in our deep emotions, long before our cognitive process recognises it.

A mother dying, no matter how fractious the relationship, rips apart the foundation of our reality. Where we come from no longer seems to exist. Unconditional love is gone. Suddenly all that remains is our own ability to define ourselves.

This is one of life’s great initiations: losing our point of entrance to reality, and choosing to create our own.

The other initiation, is being present at a death. Guiding someone we love into as good and gentle death as possible, is the inverse of a birth and in many ways just as important as part of ourselves is also lost and needs to be restructured.

Remembering that near six years ago, my life shifted dramatically and that I watched aspects of myself crumble away,  it doesn’t seem so strange anymore that life is presently rocky.

After my mother died, I fell apart but my creative process and outlets, rebuilt me into who I was supposed to be.

Love never dies, it just changes shape.

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Luminosity at Night

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I went to bed early last night for a marathon sleep catch up session. It was an exhausting night. Resting was interspersed with periods of overactive obsessive thinking, examination of past patterns of behaviour, wonderings and occasional inspirations.

I started thinking about my emotional history. Wondering how in hell’s name I ended up in the mental health-care system. Cogitating on whether I really had been that crazy, and thinking thank god I’m okay now while being aware that deep inside me, there is still a very vulnerable and mad aspect that I have somehow learned to manage but still requires vigilance, care and acknowledgement.

When I first moved to Brixton over twenty years ago, I was stunned how many obviously seriously mentally ill people were walking the streets. The system failed them,  but I was someone that it eventually worked for.

My last stay in a psych ward was when I was thirty years old. I was in a detox unit in the lock down psychiatric section of a red brick Victorian hospital in Kent. The sleeping cells had doors that locked from the outside, with peepholes so you could be observed by staff.

I spent another year and a half in various rehabs and a dry house but never again in the psych ward of a hospital.

Most of my time spent in psychiatric care in hospitals, was in New Zealand (no Victorian asylums there, though a few old antiquated and brutal attitudes were still in use).

Strange that my memory is so patchy of those times (eating disorders can affect the memory, as does drug use) but I do clearly remember some of the people in the first psych unit that I was in.

Dismissive trainee doctors gathered around my bed, regarding me as they would a piece of meat as I was asked about my menstrual cycle, hospital gown rucked up around my hips as my dehydrated abdomen was prodded.

Lovely nurses, nasty nurses, patients locked in sad worlds and compulsive obsessive behaviours.

Later visits to the psych wards of various hospitals were near yearly, generally coinciding with suicide attempts and overdoses.

I had counselling, group therapies, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and was medicated. I attended every Twelve Step group going and was near maniacal in following routines to keep me safe and solid.

Eventually things shifted and I learned to start living in mundane reality.

By age 31 I had an institutionalised attitude and was frail, but able to start to live beyond the parametres.

So many coping mechanisms were shown to me, many of which I still use.

There is a luminosity about the past, especially when the walls are white and many of the people that walk the corridors of that time are long dead.

The me that walks through those buildings is fading but I just needed to look at her again, to give myself some strength in my own ability to move forward.

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Kitchen Sink Dramas and Microwave Meditations

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I’m sitting in a friend’s house in Hackney at three in the morning. The window that I’ve been hanging out of having a cigarette is open, and drifting though it is the sound of early morning traffic and a woman with an Australian accent talking to someone she loves on a different timeline.

I just had an argument with a person I care deeply about and can’t sleep so  I thought rather than analyse, over analyse and perhaps cry, I’d write something down. Maybe writing can ease the lump of hurt that I feel at the back of my throat and the waves of loss of control and  feeling of everything falling away from me.

Perhaps if I write it away, my life will click back into order again.

Not being in the safety of my home territory, but instead sitting on a mattress in another city,  I am scrambling for solidity and words will may well give that stability back to me.

I’m a very controlled person and not having recourse to alcohol or drugs, my expression is reliant upon creative means.

So falling in love has pushed me to an extreme that I’m not used to.I’ve been shaky and out of my depth, all the more so as the person I’ve sacrificed a piece of myself to inhabits a different world.

A world of alcohol and members’ clubs and casinos. A corporate, work-driven sleepless world.

A world that a 50 year old artist who doesn’t drink or take drugs and is overly sensitive and a tad depressive, doesn’t belong in.

However I tried. I sat with a group of people sniffing vodka, fast living city people, and I let myself be carried along in the mania. My reserve and cool crumbled and I played and felt manic then I was castigated for it.

Now I want to go home but my train ticket isn’t until tomorrow and I can’t sleep and I’m still listening to the woman outside talk to the object of her affections.

The lump remains throbbing at the back of my throat and I’m hurting and I’m wondering if I’m a better person for feeling like this. I just need to ride through it. My world is shaky but the foundations are still there, but my core isn’t resilient and I have that old old feeling of needing to run away and hide.

I’m thinking maybe I could pack my suitcase but daylight is hours away and I’m safer on this mattress writing, than walking through late night early morning London streets dragging my possessions around.

I’m so tired. Just want home. The woman outside is still saying her long goodbyes, and I’ve just done the same via text and god how old am I, how tired am I.

I don’t necessarily feel better but the lump of pain in the back of my throat is smaller and I feel the approach of sleep, though I still think that maybe I should pack to calm myself.

Put my possessions in order, in preparation for tube rides and train rides and bus rides. Thinking about unlocking the door to my house, and the dogs greeting me with love, then going into my shed to complete the art work I started before this trip.

Thinking about that and the lump fades further.

I’ll unpack my bags, do my laundry. I’ll stand under a hot shower and wash London and the rich petulant businessman off my body and out of my hair and down the drain.

I’ll curl up on my sofa, a dog on each side and sleep. Sleep it all away.

I’ll sleep away the undermining and the mistakes and the games. A dog under each arm, loving me unconditionally.

12 hours and counting until I’m there, until I’m safe. The lump of tears has faded, the woman outside has finished the phone call and her multiple I love yours are still floating in the air and up to the window that I’m hanging out of, having another cigarette.

I breathe out the smoke, and squint so I see the shape of her love utterances, and I try and breath some of them in, but they belong to someone else.

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The Mind Monster

imageA few months ago I was at a conference where a psychologist was speaking about standardised treatment for mental and emotional trauma. The present norm in such cases is using a combination of medication and a basic therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to attempt to restore the sufferer to the state they were in prior to the trauma.

This threw me somewhat as after any major incidents in life one changes and I would have thought it was counterproductive to deny this.

I chatted to the speaker after his presentation and as he had liased a lot with the government on various mental health related subjects I queried him about something which had been bothering me for some time.

I’d noticed that near everyone I know (predominantly menopausal women but also men and several very young people) was on antidepressants, specifically citalopram.

Now I had mused how odd that seemed, given the individual nature of all our depressions/anxiety related illness’, but reconciled to citalopram being the ‘in’ drug of the moment.

Another thing that I had noticed was that some of my friends who have more serious forms of psychological illness were being offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Whilst CBT does have validity of course, and admittedly my opinions are those of a layman with a long history of mental health related ‘issues’, but offering someone who is contemplating suicide to go on a waiting list for CBT, seems a bit lack lustre.

So I asked this psychologist, do governments and health care systems and perhaps even pharmaceutical companies have a standardised joint plan of how to treat and drug the population?

He simply said, yes.

I’ve periodically taken anti depressants for years for compulsive obsessive behaviours, anxieties, depressions and mania. I hate being on drugs and manage to stay off medication for years at a time, but life is often a struggle and I use every coping mechanism in my arsenal to survive.

Physical problems such as Graves’ disease can exacerbate my manias, and sometimes I simply snap and am lucky enough to have an awareness that says.. get help…now!

I’ve been on this particular course of medication for two years and recently had my regular physical checks and scans at the hospital. I was chatting with my practice nurse about the unexplained steady weight loss I’ve had recently. My nurse has been working with me for nearly ten years and always thought that I had the most awareness of my body of any patient that she had come across, asked me if I thought that my thyroid could be malfunctioning again. The thing is, I didn’t know. The anti depressants have dislocated me from my madness but also from my self awareness.

Now this situation unnerved me and made me very uncomfortable with my medication.

I’m not sure whether to risk coming off the pills to experience awareness of all aspects of life, misery and mania included, and to also be aware of my body and what’s happening within it, or to stay medicated, comfortable and sometimes even happy.

I also need to bear in mind that one of the symptoms of depression is the sufferer adjusting their own medication. The alternative to this is handing over responsibility of my well being  to the medical profession, a field which, as indicated above, isn’t entirely altruistic.

As always, I’ll go with the change, the risk and what I hope, is the progression.

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Thinking About Doing and Other Forms of Clock Watching.

imageI leave for New York in a month and somehow need to raise £1000 before my departure.This doesn’t actually bother me as much as the fact that it’s a position I’ve found myself in many, many times before.

I solve this repetitive problem by simply switching on the mania and entering compulsive work mode.

Unfortunately I now always seem to be in compulsive work mode, just operating at varying levels of insanity.

I finished working this Sunday and caught the train for an overnight visit to a dear friend who was approaching the year anniversary of her husband’s death. I horrified myself when I realised that I was calculating how quickly I could get away the next day, as I had ‘so much to do’.

I have a mundane job that earns money to pay my bills, and my creative work that feeds my soul. Between them I seem to have no time left to chill out, sit with a book, or have leisurely meet ups with friends.

I’m aware it’s a choice that I have consciously made, but recently I am uneasy with some aspects of this decision.

I feel as if I’m not interacting enough with others on an emotional and intimate level. The isolation of my studio is compelling and in my day to day job and my presentations and exhibitions, I deal with people all the time but on a very superficial, surface-skimming level.

I find I need to fight a natural predilection to be a hermit and the risk of waking up one day to find everyone has faded away due to lack of attention.

I also worry about not stimulating my brain, and reading enough. Sure I skim around the internet but again that is superficial and creates lazy thinking. I’ve always been a huge reader, but recently I’ve been so busy ‘doing’ that reading has been scheduled for a short and miserably dutiful time,before bed.

Years ago I was in a similar situation where I was trapped on a wheel of busy-ness and when I did have time out, I found it impossible to relax into it without feeling edgy and guilty.

I changed that pattern a long time ago, but gradually seemed to have slipped back into it.

I’m not sure whether this work ethic is genetic, learned, conditioned or simply  inherited obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

So today I slowed down. Sure I still did cleaning, washing, ironing, gardening,some art and this blog…but I also read and had a leisurely conversation on the phone with a friend.

Small steps, but steps forward nonetheless (and I’m sure I’ll raise those funds, I always seem to manage even if it means I’ll be crazier than usual for a while).

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Observing the Observer.

imageI was cruising around the Internet looking for reviews of a conference I attended and exhibited at several months ago and found a write up of it that looked interesting. Although the article seemed to be the blinkered and very subjective view of someone who seemingly had a fundamentalist Christian attitude towards art and spiritual expression, I accepted it as a personal if rather unsavoury opinion.

However as I read further, I realised that for some reason the writer had focused so strongly on my presentation and art,it dominated the review.

He had taken several clandestine photographs of me at the event in question. He obviously had later conducted a very thorough internet search of my work, which he printed in the article, as well as publishing further photographs of me. All of this was captioned with derogatory commentary.

It was a little disconcerting especially as it was done with obvious malice and hostility, along with what I view to be a misinterpretation of my approach. I suspect however, that he has a personal perspective that I wouldn’t want to argue with (or promote by giving the link to said article).

I’m a bit thrown that out of the group of interesting speakers and artists that were at this event, I was chosen for particular attention.

Putting aside my opinion of myself as a quiet, relatively conservative albeit slightly eccentric, middle-aged woman, and bearing in mind the reviewer’s rabidly fundamentalist attitudes and misogyny, I suspect that my creative and spiritual focus near inevitably opens me up to such attention.This is purely by benefit of putting myself in the public arena (although of course we never ‘ask for it’ in terms of negativity and vitriol but we are dealing with human reactive nature here). So why, as a self professed part time hermit and all around shy person, do I adopt such a public persona?

Simply enough, if I want to sell my books and my art and live a life that makes this possible, it is necessary.

I’ve no desire for fame or notoriety, even in the tiniest dose, and I find focus on me uncomfortable.  I must say however that it has caused a huge growth in personal confidence as I learn to integrate my more natural reticence with the public, confident persona that I step into when putting my art and words ‘out there’.

I tread wary around intimate relationships with people I have met through my art, as I’ve found that these bonds can be illusory and sometimes volatile. I stick to close relationships with those who know me at core…a small group of gentle, off beat friends who are woven from the same cloth as myself.

Of course I challenge myself on occasion to explore other social realms, but always try to remain centred and pragmatic, and not take things too much to heart if unpleasantness arises, although admittedly I have had times when I’ve been horribly upset and disturbed by personal attacks.

If I project myself outwards, I lose an element of control over how I am perceived, but at this point in time it is a risk I choose to take.

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Grasshoppers, Ants and the Occasional Zombie.

imageI’ve been caught up in an obsessive, going nowhere in particular but still exhilarating in an unhealthy way, cyber relationship. Being of a certain generation this involves sending each other clips of inspirational  music which have a tendency to veer towards the anarchic and explicit.

As I was posting my recalcitrant beloved a YouTube clip of Iggy Pop and Peaches, both dressed in latex, yowling an anthem, and beating off Romero designed zombies, I wondered if this was an appropriate courting ritual for a fifty year old woman?

I’ve never managed to have a husband or partner with an actual ‘job’ and although I regard myself as relatively straight, the people I am most comfortable around are decidedly counter cultural.

My tattoos (many now the faded blue that comes with age) are acceptable and can be shown with impunity, although my piercings are perhaps best kept tucked away as they don’t look quite as pert as they did when they were first done all those years ago.

In the scheme of my peers I’m doing okay in that I have my own home (well it’s a static one, but that’s a moot point), have relatively good dental work and am still healthy enough not to fret about needing to walk everywhere as I can’t afford bus fare and don’t have a car.

I hang out in charity shops, don’t have a pension plan and my garden is to feed as much as aesthetically please me.

Potential partners need to get the ‘well I have this little blood borne virus as a result of iv drug use, that will influence our sexual activities’ talk, and know that eating out is not part of a financially viable social life.

I’m an artist and writer who travels widely, is free if a little financially constrained, and very happy.

Whilst some people were gaining qualifications and moving up the career ladder, I was partying hard and taking far too many drugs. Whilst others were later buying their first property and starting a family, I was in rehab and treatment centres and on a long journey of personal exploration. At the time I discovered who I was and what I wanted to do, others were getting a larger house, a better job and putting their children through university.

I’d love to believe that this doesn’t pan out like the story of the ant and the grasshopper. I wouldn’t want to think that myself and my compatriots, some who are well into their sixties and still love an occasional e and rave, would suffer retribution for dancing (albeit in a sometimes painful and awkward way) through life to their own rhythm.

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