Connections

Next week will be my last two days of work.  I work at 2 services, as a mental health worker; in one, I have already had my final day, last Thursday.  In the second- the one that I started at in 2015- the 25th will be my last day.

2 services.  16 people in each.  32 people.  32 people I will, most probably, never see again.

In 2 years, seeing people nearly every day, you get to know them.  Despite all kinds of ideas about detachment and boundaries and so on, they get to know you pretty well too.  Maybe not about the ins-and-outs of your life, maybe not about your family, maybe not about your favourite pub.  What they do see is probably something that cuts through all those things, straight to the chase: your style of being.  What I mean by that is that every individual has a series of styles: a style of talking; a style of moving; a style of expressing; a style of interacting and connecting.  If you are a fairly transparent person, then the style of being people (at work) see is most probably the style closest to the one you use when you are out-of-context, in the world, in your life.  When I said that I was leaving, people I have been supporting told me things about myself that I hadn’t noticed, about the way that I interact and the way I behave.  I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.  Why should insight be only one way?

It’s strange to be leaving.  This time last month, working in those two services had worn me down to the point where even the one month’s notice I had to give seemed like too much to work through.  And yet, on Thursday, I found myself in tears.  16 down, 16 to go.  Excluding coincidence, like I said, that totals 32 people I may never see again.  32 people whose names I will try to run through in my head so I don’t forget them.  Some whose names I might anyway, one day, forget.  Who will also forget mine.

I wrote each person a personalised goodbye message.  Some were easier than others, some more thoughtful than others.  One person told me she will stick hers to her noticeboard.

One week from today, I will be out of both services, for good.  Something I have been wanting for a long time… something I have been vaguely dreading for a while.  Off into the unknown- but everything’s unknown until you know it.

Role Models

I’ve written about my feeling as a young person that gay and lesbian people don’t exist after 30.  I’ve written about how I thought I had nothing to say about race… but was wrong.  What I haven’t talked about is something you could say falls between the two.

I was thinking a couple of days ago that, at least as far as examples from my personal life go, I have no idea what I will look like when I’m old.  This is because the oldest mixed-race person I know is just 41.  The girls and women I saw on TV shows in my early teens seem to have vanished (although, to be fair to the BBC etc., I rarely watch TV).  While there are many examples of what white (and black) people might look like aged, there are not so many images of mixed-race people past the age of about 45.  Will my hair go white or gray?  Will my curls loosen?  Will my skin wrinkle, or will I go dark under the eyes?  These are mysteries I have yet to solve.  Search results for “older mixed race actresses” include such gems as “28 Celebrities You Probably Didn’t Know Were Mixed Race” and “50 Hottest Biracial Celebrities.”  Not quite the information I was after.

I understand that part of this is because mixed-race people were slow to enter the cultural lexicon.  For example, in the USA, black and white “biracial” people are often referred to as “black”.  In the UK, mixed-race people and relationships have been around for hundreds of years (Olaudah Equiano married a white British woman in the 1700s, and here is a more recent example, from WW2).  But these relationships and the resulting children were not always in the public eye, and were simply not as common as white/white, black/black, Asian/Asian relationships.  So it’s not always a matter of erasure or stigmatisation… in a sense, we were just “late to the party.”

When I started primary school in 1992, I was one of very few mixed-race kids.  And I lived in a very multicultural area of London.  There were definitely black kids and definitely white kids, and just the one Asian kid, but barely anyone who shared my heritage.  At the same school now, the number of mixed-race kids is huge.  It makes me feel proud, unnerved, and responsible, that for some of these children, I might be the oldest mixed-race person they have ever met!

As a child, I wasn’t (usually) unhappy about my skin colour and I was proud of my heritage.  But looking back, every time I did feel uncomfortable with my race, it was due in part to not feeling like I had examples of people who looked “like me.”  I can even remember, quite clearly, the first time I noticed that a black woman was beautiful- and it was pretty late in my childhood.  The images I was bombarded with were almost never of non-white, beautiful people, so it didn’t register with me that I could be someone beautiful.  When people said my skin was light, or other things that aligned me with “whiteness”, I often felt proud- not just because “whiteness” seemed the thing to aspire to (even the mixed-race models in teen magazines tended to be as light-skinned as possible) but because white people grew older.  White people seemed to have futures, in terms of appearance, that I could not imagine for myself.

One of the main (and stupid) reasons given to discourage mixed-race romantic relationships, was that “the children will be confused.  It’s not fair on them.”  I was lucky- I wasn’t that confused.  “Mixing races”, like mixing paints, seemed to me to have pretty obvious results (that included more interesting dinner options and a wider selection of songs).  But let’s be honest- confusion is definitely made a lot easier when your image is not repeated, and repeated, and repeated, like everyone else’s.

Times have changed.  CBeebies (BBC for little kids) is full of images of all kinds of people, with all kinds of accents and appearances.  Mixed-race people appear on all kinds of TV shows and usually their race isn’t even mentioned because it isn’t a big deal and doesn’t add anything to the story.  We are one of the UK’s fastest-growing populations… we are everywhere (if the news is to be believed- cheers, Google).

Maybe the older mixed-race people are around after all and I haven’t noticed because they slipped in and became part of the story while no-one was looking.  Maybe if I count the white-haired heads, I’ll find some that are my shade.  But for a long time this seemed impossible, and since we all know now that representation is important, I don’t think I can say that I haven’t been affected by that fact.

It’s cool, though.  I’ll get older and find out for myself.  And I’ll let you know.

So much change (general update)

Oh my life is changing everyday / In every possible way/
– The Cranberries, Dreams

Life changes.  In some ways, nothing much has changed this year, and in other ways things are completely different.  In the Big Wide World Out There, things have changed dramatically (politics… world events… so many, many things I couldn’t begin).  In my Little World In Here, things are no longer too dramatic. The calm is a relief.

My partner and I moved in together in April, just the two of us in a flat.  It’s pretty cool being able to walk around looking terrible and not feeling bothered about bumping into someone in the kitchen in my pants.  It’s fun watering cacti and being quickly outgrown by an alarmingly, increasingly large and unruly houseplant.  It’s liberating to shower with the door open.  And it’s wonderful being around someone I love, and being able to chill on the couch without feeling like it will make others uncomfortable, and knowing that whatever each of us gets up to (work/ social life/ family visits/ etc), we can meet back at base, and that base is just ours.

I also found out about a week ago that I got a new job.  I remember posting on here, it seems like forever ago but has been actually just under two years, when I got the job I’m in now.  It’s been a crazy ride, lately more drops than bounces, and I’ve struggled with it and enjoyed it in almost equal measure (towards the end of my tether, the measure seems not equal at all). The new job is more creative, although in the same sector (and for the same charity), and I’m hopeful that a change will be, as they say, as good as a rest.  Although I didn’t think it, I’ll be very sad to leave… sad in a normal way, not in a regretful way.  It’s been interesting, and I’ve grown/ changed/ learned, but it’s time to go.

I quit smoking.  It’s been five months exactly.  Now and then I get a random urge, pleasant weather, the sight of libraries, the late sun. It doesn’t bother me anymore when other people light up.  I don’t really like the smell.

My life feels very different now.  Late winter provided dark months.  I don’t mean the sky outside, I mean my moods, my behaviour, my thoughts. February and March were like wading through mud in thin socks.  But I wasn’t without support.  I struggled to safety.  Sometimes I wake up in the shadow of the dark months, trying to surface from under it, trying to see through it.  Sometimes I wake up and the shadow isn’t there and I don’t remember it until later on, when it seems less important to think about.  Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by everything and all I really want to do is cry until the feeling subsides and even so, at times like that I don’t feel that it ever really will.  I need to bear that darkness in mind so that I’ll be able to bear the light.

I haven’t been writing because darkness left a fog over me.  I’m still not sure I have anything at all worth saying but I can only try.  It’s not compulsory reading for anyone else 😉

 

 

 

Frustrations of “positive thinking”

A million books (and quotes, and viral photos, and little inspiring trinkets) can educate you on how to “think positively” to make the most out of any given situation.  You can take deep breaths, you can chew each mouthful 32 times, you can feel the current of the air against your skin, you can embrace the moment, you can repeat, silently or out loud, any number of positive mantras.  And yet there remains a glaringly obvious hole in the theory.

“Thinking positively” will not actually get you out of a bad situation.  Sure, if missing the bus makes you feel like the world has ended, some breathing techniques and mantras and thought tricks might provide a temporary fix.  It will not help you to understand why a seemingly mundane event has caused such a drastic reaction, nor will it mysteriously re-mould time so that the bus was never missed in the first time.  But a plaster is better than nothing, at least until you can get the splinter out.

Which leads me to the point.  “Thinking positively” cannot bring a bus back to the stop you are now waiting at.  Taking deep breaths will not prevent you from experiencing excruciating pain.  Chewing 32 times will not cure you of depression. Feeling the air’s current is pleasant, but it won’t change your relationships with other human beings.  Repeating any number of mantras, silently or out loud, will not change your dead-end, minimum-wage, soul-sucking, alienating job and offer you the life experiences of your wildest dreams.  Life does not work like that.

If we are talking mental health symptoms and situations, “positive thinking” may temporarily (and yes, helpfully) remove you for minutes or hours from the feelings and thoughts you are experiencing.  Unfortunately, no amount of “positive thinking” and cognitive magic tricks are going to provide a permanent solution, nor will they actually address the problem beneath the problems.  Furthermore, mid-crisis, you most probably don’t need the added stress of thinking that you can’t even think right!  If you already know that your thoughts are not rational, you can’t fight them with rational thought, because you have already second-guessed what your “positive” side is going to say before s/he has had the chance to chant it.  It doesn’t make sense to think about your thinking when it’s the thinking about thinking that you think is causing you grief.

If we are talking other life situations (relationships, for example) then this “positive thinking” stuff can also be outright dangerous.  Take a person in an abusive relationship.  The advice should not be “concentrate on the image of the sea”, but “get the hell out of there, as quickly and as safely as you possibly can.”  No amount of thinking will save you from what is, quite correctly, perceived as a terrible situation.  Can you think your way out of poverty?

The “positive thinking” club puts the emphasis on the person experiencing the distress, taking away the onus from the contributing factors.  If you have had horrible experiences, and are told to simply “avoid triggers” or “count to ten” or “think about why this affects you so much” then you may feel as though you are being blamed for your own problems, which you did not actually create, having not actually chosen for yourself the horrible things you experienced.  You should not be focusing only on “thinking positively” but on processing and understanding what happened and experiencing the range of related emotions, which may or may not include an element of putting a positive spin on the process, but which certainly does not hold you responsible for your own pain.  Yes, the power to heal may be yours.  But if you are not able to wield it, it is not your fault, nor a sign of weakness or faulty thinking, that you have not yet healed.

Positive thinking, minus the scare quotes, can be an incredibly powerful tool.  This is particularly true when evaluating a thought that is influenced, not only by your mind/ thinking habits/ perceptions, but by your environment.  It can be very positive to learn to accept your body in a culture that continually tells you (most especially if you are female) that your body is somehow not up to scratch.  It can be positive to remember that worth is not measured by productivity, and productivity not always measured in physical output, in a capitalist society.  It can even be positive, despite my earlier sarcasm, to learn to focus on the small and the quiet things, to remember that in any given moment, nothing is usually especially wrong.  But you need to balance this with honest evaluation of what your actual situation is, and how you can make actual, real-world, literal, not Snap-chattable, changes if you need to.

 

Misconceptions

Recently, someone I know to be an otherwise compassionate and intelligent person made a comment that seemed to be minimising the seriousness of Bipolar II. The comment itself is not really important, and it’s possible that I read the tone wrong (although I did not mishear the content). The way it was made reminded me of a friend I once had who dismissed bipolar as a “casual illness.”  It wasn’t that the comment was made in an unkind way; it struck me as uninformed.  This surprised me, because it was not said by someone I would expect to be uninformed, and not said by someone I have known to be dismissive; yet the comment was both.

Essentially, the person suggested that Bipolar II is not a “serious” illness and doesn’t cause “severe vulnerability”, as compared with other illnesses which are much harder to “recover” from (my thoughts on “recovery” are available here and I believe, and have seen, that people can and do experience recovery from and within all sorts of illnesses, even those deemed most severe).  I hear this kind of thing a lot: “just” depression, “just” [insert any number of illnesses].  But in my experience, “just” depression, “just” Bipolar II, are things that can actually kill.  As in, quite literally, cause death.

What I wanted to say/ should have said/ didn’t say to this person, is that I don’t have the luxury of taking bipolar lightly. On more than one occasion, I have almost lost my life because of it.  On more than one occasion I have lost friends, jobs, opportunities, because of it.  I will probably be taking medication for the rest of my life.  I will always be sensitive to the changes in my mood, the way a sailor learns to be sensitive to the wind.  I cannot afford to take any period of wellness for granted, and  I can’t afford to be flippant about it.  If you can, then count yourself lucky, and educate yourself on the topic before you say something.  (The person, by the way, did acknowledge that there were things that s/he didn’t know about bipolar/ depression.  Which is absolutely fine, most people are not walking medical encyclopedias.  But if you don’t know something, it is probably better to do a superficial google browse before dismissing as casual the illness of a person you know has that illness, in front of that person).

I know where I’m fortunate, by the way.  I know that (especially at the moment, not being consumed by any particular mood) I am lucky, and I have zero interest in playing a game of comparisons.  I am also aware that some people are impacted much more severely by bipolar (I or II) than I am (currently).  My point isn’t that my particular mental state, at this particular time, is better or worse than that of anyone else.  My point is that it isn’t the name of the illness that should shape your perception of it.  “Personality disorder” or “bipolar” or “schizophrenia” or “PTSD” are all different conditions.  The severity of each varies from person to person- not necessarily from diagnosis to diagnosis.  No two people, with the same diagnosis, will be impacted in the same way by it.  People can and do have periods- even long periods- of stability within the trajectory of their illnesses of any kind.  Some illnesses have higher “recovery rates” than others, some have lower “relapse rates”, the likelihood of recurrence varies.  But you should never put the word “just” before anything.  It disrespects the experiences of the person with the problem.  It makes you look like you don’t really care.

Ways to Higher Ground

I haven’t posted to this blog for ages.  In fact, I haven’t written at all for months.  Truthfully—because I aim always to tell the truth here—I have been stuck in the realm of negativity.  It sounds odd (or melodramatic) but even the weight of a biro between my fingers has felt like too much of a responsibility to bear.  And so, at least in terms of the written word, I have stayed silent.  Or is it better to say, invisible?  For a long time, as a kid, if you’d asked me to choose a superpower I would have asked for invisibility.  But in the real world, outside fantasy, for me, that isn’t possible.  Whether or not I feel seen, my actions have consequences and impacts that ensure I am perceived.  It is up to me, like it is up to everyone else, to try through those actions to shape positive impacts, worthy consequences.  One thing I do that I know has some small impact is this blog so, in the spirit of growing visible again, I want (for the first time in months) to write.  To write honestly.

In the realm of negativity, I felt I encountered a split path.  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveller, long I stood” (Robert Frost).  I have stood here a long time.  Except, unlike Frost, I saw many splits in the path and for all I squinted through the yellow wood, I couldn’t see past the trees.  I still can’t.  I recognise (and thank) the fact that I have so many choices in my life.  But choice can also be overwhelming.  I feel overwhelmed.

I’ve always been a “big picture” person.  Take the mundane example of housework: I often feel like things are done when other people can (apparently) clearly see that they are not.  I notice the general gleam.  Others notice the smudge on the skirting, the dust in the corners.  It has its benefits and its drawbacks, this big picture view.  The thing with being a “big picture” person, is that you learn to see the picture even when there is none.  It’s a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle.  Even though large chunks may be missing and the image may be fragmented, you know that this is temporary and so you hold in your mind a vision of the image that should be there and disregard the pieces that aren’t.  This is uplifting in some ways.  It lends hope because you know that no matter what, all these pieces (even the missing ones) are part of something greater.  On the other hand, though, it is impossible to go through life simply not noticing that there are vital things missing from the picture.  When you step closer, you notice the flaws and they can floor you.  That’s how I’ve been feeling.  Floored by flaws, unsettled.  A person without a plan.

I’ve been here before, in this wood with the diverging paths.  I’ve been here so often you’d think I’d have built a treehouse by now.  But I haven’t, so is it a wonder I feel exposed?  Is it a wonder I have the sense of having failed?

That’s it, though.  The old clichés, the crappy Facebook memes, are true: if I haven’t given up, I haven’t failed.  I almost gave up.  In almost doing so, I could almost have lost everything and yet… here I am.  Standing on shaky legs, sure, but standing nonetheless.  It’s bleak sometimes, it’s dark sometimes, it’s hard always, but I’m here.

I wasn’t going to write.  I was going to stay invisible.  And then, last night, I was giving another person subtle advice and as always when giving another person advice, it felt easy.  There’s time to figure things out, I said.  It’s not over, I said.  Nothing is ever perfect, I said, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be good.  It doesn’t even mean they can’t be great. I looked at someone else’s tangle of paths and I saw a multitude of futures in them.  It would be hypocritical, then, to look at my own and see none.  Really, I still can’t see my own clearly.  I am exactly as lost as I was before.  But there are ways out (compasses, maps, guidance).  Ways to higher ground from which, I hope, I will be able to see the bigger picture once again.

Written on the Body: Feet

It’s been a while since I last posted because I have really struggled to find something to write about feet.  There are hundreds of facts and ideas but none of them has really captured my imagination.

We speak of itchy feet, of feet born with the desire to travel.  But the feet in this are functional, getting us from one place to another; though the feet may itch, it is the heart (metaphor) and the brain (metaphor) that take us where we want to go.  In this sense, feet are not a metaphor but a tool.  Even when a person is said to have “two left feet” (i.e. being a bad dancer) the focus on feet is concrete in a way that reference to the other body parts I have looked at is not.  There are more metaphors about shoes, footprints, etc.  On that note, I do happen to have written a poem about shoes (kind of) which I will post here in lieu of an actual post about feet.

In Which I Inhabit Your Shoes

I inhabit your shoes.
They are hot as coals
and feel doomed to follow the same steps
again and again.  You inherited pain
and patterns you feel sure to repeat,
dancing that same dance, your feet
moving fast to that beat.

The cost of life is a loss
of blood, of knees in mud
contemplating the river.  Is eyes on tracks,
bringing back the sensation of
falling
and being caught- but that
was a long time ago.

Now even your shadow peels away from you,
afraid to grow up, even as you age
with the rage pent up
and threatening to swallow.

You relive.  You wallow.  Your need
expands, is an echoing hollow
that nothing can fill
and no one can feel
but you
though you cry for them to.

Your need
becomes a greed.  Your hunger
goes on long after it’s fed.

I inhabit your shoes.
They are heavy as concrete, as lead.