Personal

A Special Post For A Special Person On A Special Day

On March 4th 2014, my friend Jo killed herself. She wouldn’t have understood how much we’d miss her, because when you’re in that kind of state of mind you don’t get it.

I do miss her, though. If you’re thinking about killing yourself, you probably have people who will miss you too. They won’t even know before you die exactly which things they’ll miss about you. Some will be obvious, of course, but others not so much.  Continue reading “A Special Post For A Special Person On A Special Day”

Trees in the snow
Personal

Well holy shit, somehow it’s February

I haven’t posted since my review of Force of Nature on the 15th of January, which was a cheat post anyway because I wrote it last June. Before that I did my End of Year Reflections, plus a few other posts thinking about the year that had just happened and the one that was coming up.

Well, suffice it to say 2017 wasn’t exactly excellent. For the past few years I’ve adopted a Russian tradition of writing a wish for the upcoming year on a piece of paper, burning it, then tipping the ash into a glass of champagne and drinking it as I welcome in the new year. This year I didn’t get a chance to do that, but if I had then my wish would have been for the year to be better than 2017.

Continue reading “Well holy shit, somehow it’s February”

Books, Poetry

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

~ Emily Dickinson

Continue reading “Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter”

Personal

My contribution to #WorldMentalHealthDay

Some time ago, I broke my foot in a boxing class. I’m not even sure how I managed to do it – I wasn’t actually boxing at the time, just doing the warm-up exercise, which involved sprinting from one side of the room to the other when the trainer yelled “GO!”.

I tripped over something (myself? the floor? air?) and landed crumpled-up on my foot. It broke. I spent some time at home, not walking on it and keeping it strapped up and elevated, until it eventually healed.

Continue reading “My contribution to #WorldMentalHealthDay”

Dreams, Personal

Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made of This

Last night I dreamed that my daughter died.

I went back to the school I used to work at, and my manager from the advertising agency I worked at later was also there. I’d apparently been looking after the team for him while he’d been on holiday and he wanted to catch up about what had happened while he’d been away.

Before our meeting I decided to go for a walk and say hi to everyone. I walked through the door of our office and ended up in the school corridor. I made my way to the library (where I used to work) and found my colleagues there. Elizabeth was cataloguing books and Vivien had brought in a small plant pot filled with mud, which she was playing with absent-mindedly, making a bit of a mess.

We chatted for a while, caught up on what was going on, and Elizabeth told me there was a pile of mail in the main office. I went and picked it up; it was a load of university prospectuses. We used to have a lot of them in the Careers room, which was one of the small rooms off the library (along with the Media room, the Prayer room, the Computer room and the Archives room).

I brought them back to the library and put them in the Careers room, sorting out mail that was addressed to me and holding it back. I said goodbye to Elizabeth and Vivien, and went back down the corridor to the advertising agency. Opening the door, I suddenly realised that my manager and I were supposed to catch up over an hour ago. I rushed to his desk and apologised. He said it was fine, looked at the clock, realised he still had some spare time, and we went into a meeting room to talk. My manager ordered pizza; the girl who delivered it was French, studying history at university. She had long black hair and was very friendly, nattering on at me about how interesting her subject was.

We switched to speaking French and I told her I’d always been interested in history but had never managed to make a career from it. I wished her luck and switched back to speaking English, for my manager’s sake. She looked a bit offended, stood up and left quickly.

My manager and I chatted for a while, mainly about how his family was doing, and then he asked whether there was anything that he should know about what had happened when he’d been away. I said it’d been pretty quiet, and then he realised it was time for him to be in another meeting anyway. “Good to catch up, Scar” he said, standing up and moving toward the door.

I picked up my mail from where I’d left it on the desk and prepared to leave with him. I noticed two things at the top that didn’t look like normal mail: a folded-over piece of notepaper, and an envelope that looked like it’d been addressed by our overall boss. I picked it up and lifted the flap of the envelope. On the inside of the flap, pencilled in capital letters, were the words “[Daughter’s Name] died this morning” followed by a date. I closed the flap and leaned on the desk. My manager looked at me worriedly. “Shouldn’t have opened that one” I said, trying to laugh.

I fled the room as inconspicuously as I could and made my way down the corridor, looking for somewhere I could sit and read the letter undisturbed. I bumped into Vivien, who’d been told that she had to go and help the coal man bring coal to the fireplaces along Corridor A. “Surely that’s the whole reason we have a coal man, though, so that we don’t have to do that?” I asked, linking arms with her as we walked in the same direction. Internally I was marvelling at my ability to seem normal.

We came to a part of the building where a couple of steep stone staircases led down to a well. In the well were entrances to the building’s basement, one of which was a ladies’ toilet. I left Vivien on the higher level and climbed down the stairs.

Someone vacated one of the stalls as I walked in, so I went in after her and sat down on the toilet. The door was a bit flimsy, but I thought it’d do. I unfolded the other sheet of paper first. It was from a guy I hadn’t thought about in ages. He’d had a bit of a thing for me while we were at university; I’d never noticed it, but a couple of friends had pointed it out.

‘I heard the news’, it said. ‘If you need me, I’ll be on a train by the time you read this, but then staying at this address.’ An address in the north of the country was written below, along with a phone number.

I opened the other envelope again and reread the words on the flap. Suddenly the door to the stall burst open and a student who had been walking past looked in in confusion. I asked her to pull the more substantial sliding door across. She looked confused again. Sighing, I pulled up my pants and walked over to the door, noticing when I did that the sliding door wasn’t working. “No problem,” I told her, “Not your fault.”

I picked up my things and went into the next stall, pulling the door across and securing it properly. I sat back down on the toilet lid and pulled the piece of paper out of the envelope again. I began to read it. Suddenly a group of people burst through the wall of the cubicle I was in. There was a large hole I hadn’t noticed when I’d sat down. One of them – a girl I’d been at school with many years ago – grabbed the envelope and paper out of my hand before I could stop her. “This looks interesting,” she said with her characteristic inquisitiveness, “I wonder what it says?” I clutched at it wildly; thinking it was a game, she held it away from me. I grabbed her arm “No, stop, you don’t understand,” I said, and started crying desperately, holding onto her arm with both hands, “It’s bad news. It’s really, really bad news.” She looked apologetic and handed the envelope back. I held onto her and cried. Then I woke up.

Now I know I shouldn’t call Daughter to check she’s alive. It would be irrational. But dreams are strange things and I might have to do it anyway.

Personal

HelpStopMe Review

medium_3899825528

I signed up to the HelpStopMe service a few weeks ago and have been doing their Depression course online.

I was skeptical because I’ve had bad experiences with therapy in the past, mainly because it’s focused too much on feelings. I’d sit down opposite my therapist, who’d ask how I was feeling, and I’d say “fine” and wouldn’t really be able to elaborate. We’d go over and over the same ground, they’d ask about my experiences, I’d tell them, they’d ask how these things made me feel, I’d say I didn’t know, we’d get nowhere.

So I wasn’t sure what an online course could give me where classical therapy has repeatedly failed, but I figured it was worth a try. And I was pleasantly surprised: it’s actually really good.

I think one of its main selling points, at least for people like me who don’t really go for the “touchy-feely” approach, is that it doesn’t focus too much on your emotions, but more on actions. If someone says “How have you been feeling this week?” I find it hard to give them an honest answer, but I can answer “How many times have you been outside this week?” because that’s pretty straightforward.

I’m currently part of the way through module 13 and have just done the Depression Self-Test for the third time. They ask you to take this test periodically throughout the process, so you can work out how you’re doing. When I first started, I scored 19. A few weeks later, I scored 27. At the time, I was quite disheartened by this outcome, but I’d just had some bad news and I do find that sometimes with things like therapy you have to be prepared for it to get a bit more difficult before it gets better. This time when I did it I scored 15; overall a definite improvement!

There have been improvements in my day to day life as well. I’ve been doing more, but not in the manic-doing-everything way that I’m used to, just in a getting-more-done way. Rather than trying to cram as many things as humanly possible into a 24-hour period, losing sleep and berating myself when I don’t manage to complete everything, I’ve been splitting my days into sections (one of the recommendations from the course) and managing my time more efficiently.

There was a really useful module at the beginning – it took quite a lot of work but it was well worth it, so if you’re stuck there at the moment I’d recommend ploughing through! It involved taking an hourly inventory of everything you do for a week. Yes, it’s hard work. I did it in an Excel spreadsheet because I didn’t want to be constantly logging in to the HSM site. The idea is that you write down what you did, hour by hour, and then your level of happiness, from 1 to 10. There were some things that were unsurprising – when I called the water board to query my bill, my happiness went down – but there were other things that I never would have guessed. Like for instance, every time I spent time on the internet when I wasn’t working, my happiness went down. I’d thought I enjoyed things like playing around on Pinterest and Tumblr – and I do – but sometimes I’d do it just to stop myself thinking about anything, and actually it wasn’t healthy. I’ve now cut down on my internet usage (I know! Shocking!) and it’s really helping me feel better about life in general.

I’ve had several realisations throughout the course, one of which was that I’ve spent most of my life looking after other people – I’ve pretty much always had someone depending on me for something – and the past two years are the first time I’ve ever just lived on my own and not had someone need me for something. I then realised that, if I treated myself in the same way I’d treat someone else who depended on me, I’d probably feel a whole lot better. And that’s just logical. I like logic.

Another useful realisation happened when I was scoring my weeks on the happiness chart. Every week when you log in it asks you to rate how happy you’ve been feeling in the past week (something I don’t find easy). There was also an exercise towards the beginning of the course where I had to write down a number of things I had to do over the coming few days, and then estimate how happy each one would make me feel. I discovered that I didn’t mind admitting when something would hit the lower end of the scale – I gave out a lot of 2s and 1s – but that I couldn’t bring myself to tick an 8, 9 or 10 – there was some kind of misplaced guilt involved with the idea of enjoying something, or admitting to actually being really happy. I haven’t quite worked through this yet, but I think just knowing it’s there is probably helpful.

The course (at least, the bit I’m on at the moment) mainly focuses on challenging your beliefs in a way that seems rational, which I like not only because it’s nice and logical, but also because it makes me feel less like some kind of completely irrational weirdo. Sometimes just the thought of seeing a therapist can make you feel like there must be something wrong with you; doing an online course, though, just means you’re into self-improvement, and the way it’s set up means you feel like the things your mind tells you aren’t particularly weird, they just need to be questioned and challenged from time to time.

I’d definitely recommend HelpStopMe, particularly their Depression course which I’m taking at the moment. You can sign up here and take a test to see whether you’re currently experiencing symptoms of depression.

It’s currently just £39.99 and you can sign up at HelpStopMe.com.

Disclaimer: HelpStopMe allowed me to try their service for free, however they have not paid for my opinion or influenced it in any way. All views are my own.

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc