things i’ve learnt in the lakes

I recently spent 5 days in the Lake District, hiking with an old friend. Here are a few things I learnt:

  • Sometimes it’s all you can do to put your head down and focus on the next step in front of you. And that is enough.
  • Sometimes the wind blows so horrendously that you have no option but to stop, crouch down, and protect yourself. Because pushing yourself to walk on would be foolish and dangerous. You just need to wait for the winds to stop. And they will, eventually.
  • Beautiful flowers can always be found growing out from between the cracks in a seemingly barren cliff face.
  • The ground underneath your feet might be tough, but you should stop every once in a while, look up, see how far you’ve come, and take in the views.
  • Even thunderous rivers have small pools of calm water within them, if you look hard enough.
  • Waterfalls are most magnificent after torrential rain. Beautiful things can be born from a deluge.
  • All journeys can be made easier with the company of old friends.

i see you

I can see you.
I can still see you.
In the creased spine of a hardback book.
In the frothy head of a pint of beer.
In couples cycling together.
In small, scruffy dogs snuffling about the ground.
In rough seas against sheer cliff faces.
I see you.

In dirty running shoes.
In quirky, backstreet cafes.
And old, hidden-away bookshops.
In the smell of dust after rain.
Petrichor.

In tuneful, twiddly guitar melodies.
In beautiful vocal harmonies.
In the setting of the sun.
In the engravings on parks benches for couples who used to frequent there.
In old blankets.
And poorly knitted scarves.
In hazel eyes.
And a good beard.

In the smell of jasmine flowers.
Or azahara.
In spoken french.
I see you.

In old world maps, with promises of future adventures.
In well-worn trails through the woods.
In moss growing on a fallen tree.

In big jumpers.
In takeaway pizzas and nights of Netflix.
I can still see you.

In waterproof anoraks.
In the sound of my octave fiddle.
In the Brecon Beacons.
In any mountain range at all.
In fairy lights, strung up on the inside of our tent.

How long will it be before I can unsee you?
I’m not ready to unsee you just yet.


creativity #3

This time, I wrote the alphabet down the side of my page and forced myself to fill in the words in alphabetical order.

after all we’ve
been through
cancelling us the way you
did
even if i’d had the faintest hint it was coming it still would’ve
floored me.
get up, it’s been months now
he’s moving on
isn’t it about time you do the same?
just the next right step, one foot in front of the other
kick and scream and resist if you must but what about
letting it wash over you like a wave?
more like a storm
no, a tsunami
of grief
please let yourself cry, even if it is just
quietly into your pillow after dark, don’t
run the risk of being heard
start small and
trust that
unconditional love exists
validating and unwavering
when, maybe, you stop putting
x‘s at the end of your messages to him, and reserve them for
yourself instead. this is where we begin again at
zero.

creativity #2

I wrote the alphabet down the side of my page, and just filled in the letters as the words naturally came out of me, in any order. But, when I finished I kept the starts of the sentences in alphabetical order, just to see if it made any more sense that way. Spoiler – it doesn’t.

and you can’t keep out-running your problems
but I didn’t realise your love was
conditional on my mental health
did you think moving away would fix it?
even in our darkest moments, I thought we could recover
fly to Thailand, that’ll do it
get away from this wretched place
hello, loneliness, it’s been a while, or has it?
i used to think we could withstand anything
just the two of us
kisses that stopped time
love that took us on adventures
mountain top views of the sunrise over the Himalayas
no matter what continent you’re on
one great love, to usurp all that came before
problems are always one step ahead of you though
quietly, and peacefully
rebuild ourselves
stronger than before
turns out i was wrong about that too
unconditional love is what i thought we had
validatory and unwavering
waiting for confirmation…
x – incorrect answer
you’d still be there by my side though, wouldn’t you?

purpose as a woman

I think, since breaking up with my first boyfriend, just before I turned 22, I’ve had a fixation on fixing men. Or being their savior. Or, in the most recent case, “saving” him from a bad relationship. Like some sort of man-whisperer. Find someone who’s a bit broken, a bit bored of their relationship/dating, a bit messed up, and be (as Bernard Black would say) their “summer girl”. Young, confident, sassy, “not like all the other girls”, sexually available whenever wherever. Like I needed to be what they needed, rather than judging the situation to determine whether it’s something I even wanted.

I found purpose in being a man’s savior. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because I’m punishing myself for not realising my first ex needed fixing until it was too late, and it’s like I’m repaying some debt to mankind. Maybe it’s because I thought I could fix our completely broken relationship if I changed myself. Controlled all the aspects I could control. Which, from my perspective, after what happened, was my body and my sexual availability. And to pretend like nothing was wrong when it really really was.

I look at a prospective partner and I think, “What can I do for you? How am I going to “make you see the light” or experience something you’ve never experienced before?” I think, “How can I fix you, and therefore by a valuable asset to your life? And therefore be invaluable to you. You’ll never want to lose me, and I’ll be safe from any more heartbreak.” Instead of “What does this person bring to my life?” Or, more importantly, “How can we enrich each other’s lives whilst still remaining whole people?”

I did it with my most recent ex. Yes, I did love him anyway, but maybe when I reflect back on it now, maybe I partly loved what I was to him. I “saved” him from him “boring” 4 and a half year long relationship. And he worshiped me for it. Well, he did initially anyway. Obviously all that stuff fades over time. And they forget. I was his summer girl. But in reality, I was his getaway car. And that’s why it was all so thrilling in the beginning. I was valued so much. I was exactly what this man wanted me to be. Until I wasn’t anymore. And three and a half years down the line, I’m back with my parents, unemployed and brokenhearted, miserable and lonely.

I really thought I had it all with him. But I think the sad fact of the matter was that I knew all along what I was doing. How I was deriving my self-worth from how I was helping a man and adding value to his life. I didn’t want to believe that. Because no-one wants to believe that. No-one wants to hear the truth.

“Santa’s not real”
“The tooth fairy isn’t either”
“There’s no farm where old pets go to retire”
“This isn’t real love – you’re just desperately clinging onto it because you only see yourself as worthy if you think you’re somehow improving a man’s life”.

Yikes. That stings.

Filling a hole in a man’s life is not your purpose as a woman.
Being that “summer girl” for a man with a troubled relationship history is not your purpose as a woman.
“Fixing” a broken man is not your purpose as a woman.
Being a getaway car for a man in a shoddy relationship is not your purpose as a woman.
Molding yourself and contorting yourself to fit a hole in a man’s life is not your purpose as a woman.

What is your purpose as a woman then?
I could write lots of empowering things like “championing the voices of the less privileged” and “lifting up your fellow sisters”. But, really, you can’t do any of that if you don’t take care of yourself first, and fill in the holes in your own life. Make sure you’re as full a person as you can be, so that no-one else has to be your emotional polyfilla. Like you have been to others so many times.

Fixate on fixing yourself first, instead of deriving your worth from your ability to fix others.

an entirely different, but logical, outcome.

I check his laptop. I see the contents. I put his laptop in my bag. I get my things together, calmly, and whilst he’s still making tea, I walk outside.
I ring a taxi and stay in a hotel for the night. I cry a lot. I’ll have lots of missed calls from him in the morning. But instead, I ring my mum and explain what has happened straight away. Then I ring my big sister and do the same. And finally, I ring him back. I explain that I saw the contents of his laptop and that I don’t want to see him again. He wants his laptop back. I say I don’t know whether he will get it back, it’s not my call.
On my way to the train station that morning, I make a stop at the police station first.
I catch the next train back home and leave.
With my head held high.

How would the conversation go?

Do we want reality, or fantasy? Let’s go for fantasy first:

Him: Hi [insert name], I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done. And I’m sorry for cutting all contact with you. That wasn’t fair. 

Me: That’s ok. 

Him: Well, I’ve just had a realisation. I didn’t know what a terrible, terrible affect my actions had on you. It was never intentional, but I know that doesn’t make it any better. You deserved to be treated better than that. I should have been honest with you. 

Me: I really appreciate you calling. It’s not an easy thing to do. I’m sorry too – I know I could be difficult at times. 

Him: No, you have nothing to apologize for. You behaved the way you did because of my actions. I hope that you can find a way to get over all of this. 

Me: I have had to have lots of counselling, but I’m slowly getting there. 

Him: I really hope you can overcome what I did, and I’m so sorry, again. 

Now, reality: 

Him: I don’t know what you want me to apologize for. You were the one that overreacted. Do you not understand how awful you made me feel about it all? I can’t help the way you reacted. 

Me: Ok, I’m sorry.

It’s nighttime, around early March

The room is grey and messy. Clothes on the floor. Unorganised desk. Untidy drawers. Unemptied bins. The bed is small and unmade. The curtains are partly drawn back and there’s a small amount of condensation on the window pane. It smells slightly damp. And of a warm, wet shower room. You can smell weed and cigarette smoke. There’s a very faint smell of grease from the kitchen down the corridor.

You can just about hear gaggles of freshers stumbling past outside, on their way to D-bar, for fresh-faced frivolities. There’s the distant, rhythmic thudding of a house party from a few floors above Occasionally, the big outside door bangs shut and there are footsteps up the stairs. 

You anticipate a cup of tea. 

Then, his phone vibrates.

The screen lights up with a peculiar message. 

“OCD says”

It’s like a children’s game of “Simon says” except there’s no prize at the end, and it’s more like torture than fun.
This piece is designed to be read out loud, and quickly, and with a tone of withering desperation like you’re trying to cajole a toddler out of a tantrum, or into an entirely (inappropriate) latex romper suit. Enjoy.
TW: OCD compulsions and rituals.

OCD says put your leggings on like this. NO. No. For god’s sake, not like that. You were thinking something bad just then. You’ll have to do it again. Take them off. Put them back on again. But this time DON’T think of “the bad things”. Oh, the bad things? Would you like an example? YOU BECOMING GRAVELY ILL, YOUR FAMILY DYING HORRIFICALLY, BEING SICK, CATCHING RABIES, NEVER FINDING LOVE AGAIN, NEVER FINDING EMPLOYMENT AGAIN. I said DON’T think of them. For god’s sake. How hard is it? Take them off again. Put them back on again but this time, and really try this time, don’t think of the bad things. Okay one leg in well done, la la la la la think of the happy things. Next leg in. Oh shit your leg has got stuck. Take them off again and start again. How many times is that now? Four? We can’t finish on four. Best make it up to seven. That’s a safe number. Come on, off again on again off again on again. Happy thoughts, no bad thoughts remember? Almost there. Hold your breath. Okay done. Wait, but did you definitely only have good thoughts whilst you were putting them on? You weren’t metathinking of bad thoughts; you weren’t thinking about thinking about bad thoughts? Are you sure? Hmmm okay that was passable. But in case something does go wrong later in the day, we’ll know what to blame it on. Your shoddy incapability to get dressed EXACTLY AS I TELL YOU TO.

OCD says wash your hands. NO. No. Not with just warm water. Do you think that’s good enough? Think of all the germs you’ve just encouraged with that lovely warm water. It’s got to be hotter. Hotter. Turn the tap all the way. Is it steaming? Then it’s hot enough. I know, I know, it’s painfully hot. But I say so. So, continue please without complaining. Oh, you’re just using soap? Oh. Well. Do you really think that’s strong enough? Just soap? Find some detergent. Spray your hands with it. Spray your hands with it then run them under the hot water. Repeat. How many times? Seven. Obviously (you fucking idiot). How do you know that you’re really getting rid of all the germs though? Should we scrub them properly? I don’t know why I am asking you, you have no autonomy in this. Find a green scourer from the kitchen. NO. A brand new, clean one. Thank you. Back to the bathroom now. Spray, scrub, hot water. Spray, scrub, hot water. How will you know when you’ve really got the germs off? WHEN YOUR SKIN COMES OFF, OF COURSE. So, if you just keep scrubbing until the skin on your hands looks red raw. That’s it. Wait…hang on. Is hands just enough? What if there are germs on your wrists and forearms too? Better scrub those too. Go on then. Harder. HARDER. Do not stop until your skin feels like it’s been pan-seared. Done? HANG ON. Hang on. Under the nails too. Scrub there. Spray, scrub, hot water. Spray, scrub, hot water. Seven times, of course. Okay okay fine, run your hands under cold water for a bit to “make yourself feel better”. But just know, that if you get sick in the next few days, we’ll know exactly why, okay?

OCD says put your phone down like this. Your pinky finger on your left hand must be the last part of your body to touch it. But then your pinky finger on your left hand must be immediately touched by the side of your index finger on your right hand (the safest of the bad hand). And then your left pinky must by the first part of any hand to touch any surface after that. Go for the left leg. Just to be sure. Your right hand CANNOT, I repeat CANNOT, touch anything else other than what has already been specified. Why? BECAUSE THE RIGHT HAND SIDE IS DANGEROUS. We’ve been over this. BAD things will happen if your right hand touches things it shouldn’t. You remember the list of bad things, do we really need to go over them agai…OKAY HERE GOES – YOUR HOUSE WILL GO UP IN FLAMES, YOUR FRIENDS WILL DESERT YOU, YOU WILL DIE ALONE, YOU WILL NEVER FIND PEACE OR HAPPINESS AGAIN. Got the jist? Okay. So are you ready to put your phone down correctly this time? Remember, we’ve done this twice already. If you get it right third time, then excellent. If not, we’ll have to go all the way to seven again. Okay, hold your breath. Hang on! Remember not to think of the bad thoughts, or bad words, at the same time? Maybe sing loudly in your head a happy song that cannot in any way be construed to be upsetting or dangerous. A personal favourite of mine is Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, but it’s up to you. If you sing it loud enough in your head it will block out the bad thoughts. But remember, you can’t be aware that you’re singing this in your head to get rid of the bad thoughts, because that way, you’re still thinking in some way about the bad thoughts. Okay, are we all clear on the rules now? Deep breath, let’s go…

If you found that exhausting to read, welcome to OCD 🙂

sad girl chronicles pt. 1

It seems all I do these days is write about how sad I am. So I may as well chronicle it for your entertainment.

We’d promised each other a lot of things over the years.
That we’d never leave.
That we’d always support each other.
That we’d always love each other.
That we’d always be adventure buddies.

I didn’t realise that these promises were conditional.
Conditional on my mental health remaining stable.
Conditional on me not becoming unwell.
Conditional on me not deviating from the adventurous, confident girl you fell in love with.

Well, I’m sorry I changed.
I’m sorry my mental health deteriorated.

But my promises were never conditional.
I loved you unconditionally.
And I still do.

Can anyone really ever promise anyone anything anyway?
Does it all amount to empty words and broken hearts in the end?
It seems that way.

I guess I’m just in disbelief that you can say “forever” one night, and the next morning break my heart. Forever.

Maybe some “forevers” do count.
But none of the ones I counted on.