Dear Diary: Proof of Something

If I am proof of anything it’s hard work doesn’t pay off, practice doesn’t make perfect and what goes around doesn’t come around.

In reality, you have to be working hard on the right things in the right way, it has to be perfect practice, life isn’t even remotely fair and the universe simply does not care at all.

Ultimately the world will neither miss me nor mourn my loss, I matter only so far as I decide that I do, beyond that, I don’t matter at all. I lack both relevance and significance. My existence continues in large part through luck and cowardice; mostly cowardice.

I live a life of pretend and make believe. I pretend what I do has significance, it matters, it counts, that somehow my life is worthy of something, that I as a person have value and worth. In my make believe world I am wise and knowledgeable and people look up to me and value what I say, they support me and believe I will succeed, that my endeavours valuable for my part I pretend along that my life has value with them.

I know, I am, sadly, and I wish I was not, completely aware, of the sham and masquerade.

I am playing along like it matters because it’s all I know to do, but I do know exactly what is true.

 

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Dear Diary 14th April 2017

I have nothing to say

My voice has gone literally and metaphorically

I am scared to sleep tonight

Scared to say I had a small attack

My mouth is numb and my head is throbbing

I know the signs now, even when they are mild

Staying awake doesn’t change a thing

Sleeping gets it over with

But still I am scared

What if this time is the time I don’t make it back?

Monday Night Reflection: Moving Forward?

This has been a difficult week. I wrote my last reflection sat next to a hospital bed, and here I am back at my desk, that bed does not feel a lifetime ago. Quite the reverse, hospital feels far too close, and I am finding it difficult to impossible to move forward or get away from that medical experience.

I have been blessed by lots of support and genuine concern for my welfare which has really been humbling, and talking to those people and keeping them updated with how I am doing has been a great reminder of the great people I have around me. There was also the complication that I left hospital without a diagnosis or even an explanation of what had been happening, just follow up, which would rule out certain options.

It was frustrating, partly because I had nothing to tell people, partly because I had no treatment and no prospect of treatment, but mostly because Doctors were not listening to me, and not taking what had happened seriously: even to the point I was told “I am not concerned because this is nothing serious”. Now this may be a terrible attempt at being reassuring but when you have been ambulanced in straight to resuscitation twice and your wife was told to prepare herself for you having had a major stroke once, and she has been prepared by the ambulance telephone operator to give you CPR and asked if there is a defibrillator handy it is anything but helpful.

The medical experience has been all of my experience, and even now I have seen a GP and gotten on a treatment for the most likely diagnosis of hemiplegic migraine, and am able to tell people a more positive set of outcomes, it is still difficult to move forward. I still have to be supervised, and my return to a normal life is what an employer would call “a staged return” to normality, which is tremendously difficult.

Everything in life is starting from the beginning, my business project is stopped, my writing projects stopped, everything stopped, my office is a mess, my desk is a mess. More than that my confidence is in pieces, and I am having understandable trouble sleeping, while I am exhausted at very low levels of activity. The road to recovery is a cliché phrase, but it is also a very accurate description of the process. A process I have to take carefully because although we have a great working theory, we have no trigger and no explanation as to why this rare form of migraine has started in my forties rather than the average age of onset of 17. I am rather old for this to have started.

It is really difficult not to over-think and over-analyse every feeling, twinge, and the rather nagging headache that comes and never quite goes. Plus, there is the reality that some symptoms can take a few weeks to wear off, in my case the most obvious one is a stammer that I never used to have. A return to normal is also a little more difficult because at the moment I have a weekly trip to a not local hospital for another issue identified to be treated, and quite a few extra pills that more than likely I will have to take for life now part of my morning routine as a little reminder of my fragility.

I am not taking this as negative, it is great that I have had potentially serious health issues addressed before they got that way, and it is awesome to have a GP who works with me and who steps up when other medical professionals have let me down. I have had lots of scans and test that have revealed I am very healthy internally and have raised things that can be addressed in plenty of time.

None of which has moved me psychologically away from my hospital bed, mentally I am still a patient. Creatively I am literally an empty space, writing about my experience is dull and lifeless, there is nothing there, I cannot create from it, and I feel like my brain isn’t back yet, it’s a lot of locked doors and I have lost the keys. Writing this reflection was a challenge because I only had one subject to write about, and I didn’t want to write about it. The reflective framework suggests that I use the experience to inform future behaviour or practice, and even am able to identify what I could do differently. I cannot see anything I can do differently when I was a passenger taken for a ride by what was happening, sometimes very literally.

As I wrote last week, I cannot bring myself to take the easy route of claiming some epiphany about the wonderful gift of life and how precious I have realised it is after what has happened, the truth is I haven’t had that sort of light-bulb revelation at all. As time as has passed, I have started to see how this three weeks has changed or could change both my wife and me. For her, I see real positives when she realises how awesome she was, not in that terribly overused, found strength she never knew she had way, because I am pretty sure she knew she could be phenomenally strong, a reminder or a revelation of the extent of that strength, I will give you that. No, it’s deeper, she was capable, she made great decisions, and although she was worried beyond my comprehension she managed it, didn’t ignore it suppress it but acted appropriately and constructively through an incredibly difficult and challenging situation. I hope she walks away from this with her confidence in her capabilities raised and her assessment of her abilities and judgement moved up closer to the level where the are and she stops underestimating them a little more.

For me, probably not what people would expect. I realised how close I am to having a perfect life, and that sadly, money is what it is going to take. I have an amazing life, but it is insecure, money will make it secure and add stability and certainty to it. That is not so I can take more risks or necessarily have more material stuff, I have way too much stuff and there really isn’t anything I need, maybe some cool enhancements, but that’s always going to be so. No, it’s a case of making life secure, and so that I can compete and we can have a holiday so that we can go back to having a car each. I’ve realised I need to make my dream less precarious.

What I do not know, where I really do need the epiphany is the how.

Dear Diary: 20th February 2017

Don’t stroke the Mouse!

Mouse was rushed into hospital last Tuesday with a suspected stroke.

Nearly a week later all we can say for definite is that Thursday night his brain showed no sign of damage.

20 stroke like episodes later Mouse can barely move his left side or speak.

His NHS experience is far from positive but with every reason to be down my brave Mouse is still upbeat and planning new projects for when he finally comes home.

Mrs Mouse

Monday Night Reflection: It May Not Even Be Monday

 

I have enjoyed writing Monday Night Reflections, the writing stemmed from what I was doing anyway, gave it a structure and purpose which has made it a sometimes painful and emotional exercise, but, one of great value and constructive purpose. Oftentimes I am planning ahead, making notes and eagerly await the weekend when I can start any work on it. I like to write it wholly on a Monday, but practical considerations meant long before I published my thoughts this was something that could happen over the weekend. What I needed was space and time and a few notes to remind me of what had been coming to mind through the week, as well as, or in spite of the latest and loudest.

And here I am with nothing to say, as I wrote in my Diary the events of the weekend have blown me off course. Today we were having friends over, a massive step out of my comfort zone; which went really well, despite my inevitable anxiety, fears of disaster, imminent doom and embarrassment. However, the invasion of my space, unplanned and unannounced changed everything. My weekend, which I had planned all week, as usual, to make the most of our time as a couple, gone, my Thursday headache had already changed what I had to get done the next two days, but the aim of the time was, as always, maximum time as a couple together. Invaded, changed, suddenly we were not alone; it is not that I am not hospitable, but I need to know, to plan, to have food in, be ready. Having people into my most precious space is a big deal for me, this is my sanctuary from the world here.

I feel I am sounding melodramatic, but that is life with anxiety, the simple invasion of my home by someone I don’t really know changes how I have to be. I have to put my face on, I have to act the person the world needs to see, its my public persona and it wears me out. There are other constraints, considerations, simply put there is no private space while that person is here.

The result is lots of things undone, time spent being sociable, time not spent relaxing, time not spent as a couple, tv not watched, naps not taken. And of course, I have to pretend that its normal and okay to do this, and I don’t think its acceptable at all. My wife agrees, it was inconsiderate and out of order, son, whose friend stayed at the last minute, (as usual), doesn’t get it. He only sees my persona, of course he does, but also, he doesn’t understand he isn’t 12 and this isn’t then. That life has changed and we don’t live that way. Things are on a different calmer, relaxed but also prepared and planned pace. We are calm and relax because we don’t bounce from event, loudest, latest, drama but rather plan, prepare and am able to have choices and flexibility because we are ready. Stress is minimised by organisation, spontaneity exists only because of what we have in place to support it.

This was a spanner in the works of my life. I have come a long way, achieved a lot, but times like this you see the distance between here and really functional. The time, the space I normally carve out, gone. Today the time I wanted to free up, well life has to happen too, and it did, and hard as I worked to free up the time, it wasn’t there. Today wasn’t a disaster, another car problem with our main car not just my runabout that I don’t need, some work behind, some on track, I guess this normal life … firefighting, my nightmare.

Monday Night Reflection: Best Laid Plans

It is over halfway through February and I am still in the first week of January and I don’t just mean in terms of mental preparation. Anonymouse blogging isn’t always easy, I have given a massive hint in my reflections to who I am, however, anonymity is really about plausible denial rather than complete obscurity, and I believe that sometimes you have to share yourself to be honest and relevant to a situation. While there is that line to walk, what it does, is that it highlights how compartmentalised life can become in our minds when in reality is somewhat more of a jumbled mess.

I got myself a blog planner, and I got myself a Filofax and I was ready to be much more organised and intentional. On the one hand, my decision to be intentional at the end of last year has been a success, on the other, my planning has been somewhat lacklustre in some areas of my life. On the blogging front, I have been haphazard, on the business front I have had a train wreck with regard to planning, and in other areas, I have been on point as they say. A very mixed bag indeed. I am therefore looking for what has led to such a disjointed picture across the different hats that I wear.

I am wary and reluctant to say “I was ill”, but I was ill and that has had a massive impact on my output capabilities. I am not physically or mentally able to sustain levels of productivity and output that I was capable of before getting ill. At the same time I am transitioning from what I was doing and had trained to do while accumulating years of practical experience to something where I am learning from the very start. I know that things are always bigger than they look in terms of learning new skills and new business ventures; but holy moley it’s a steep hill, and it looked steep before I got on it. So I am facing a challenge which while super exciting is more than I thought while approaching it with a reduced capacity, and that is something I had not adequately considered at the start of the year.

However, within the context of the super exciting and difficult challenge the switch to pen and paper has completely remodelled the landscape of my planning. Electronically my todo list would be part what I had to do immediately, the get milk and post the parcel of life, the put up shelves combined with the seal the garage roof ready for next winter type projects. A hodge-podge of here and now and projects. What going to pen and paper has done is clear my diary and to-do list of everything but firm commitments. If it hasn’t got a date or a deadline, doesn’t have set parameters and a what done looks like, then chances are I am going to not write it down or give it space in my head. Now, I don’t mean a task has to have all of those but at least one. Within that tasks are moved out into their projects rather than standing alone, so unless it’s time for that project I don’t see them. The upshot is things look really empty where once they looked crammed and I am even more relaxed about what needs to be done.

Working with pen and paper has made me consider more, filter more, assess and prioritise more effectively, slowed me down and forced be to be intentional about my planning. I also spend a lot less time unproductively working on the planning task because I haven’t got software to be playing with. There are some downsides in the practicality of adjusting on the fly because I have to rewrite things, but again that repetition does embed things in my memory better.

Assuming I got as far as planning. Creatively, I have failed to plan, maybe at all and definitely in a way that I can call effective. The point of my reflection, both this one I share and my private ones, is change. Either identify a change and recognise the positive development or identify something to change and how to change it. In this case what do I need to be changing. Very practically my time management needs to take account of my reduced work capacity. I do not like doing this, not one bit, however, revising my estimate of what I can achieve per set unit of time absolutely has to happen. Secondly, part of revising my capacity expectations is recognising the time to recover from what is going on. I have had physiotherapy, it has left me sore and exhausted for 3 days, the pain has disrupted my sleep too. My output ability has been lowered, and yesterday on Sunday the afternoon became a nap time, where I dozed on and off through a whole afternoon and early evening. I had to account for, accept that I was exhausted and that my physical exhaustion was also combined with a mental exhaustion from the situation and the activity from Thursday morning onwards.

Rather than being disappointed at the things I haven’t done, I am taking pride in what I have done, what I have managed to put in place ready and how I have managed to do little parts of projects and things. I had planned to do more, I had to write more, do some painting practice and I had planned to have more blog posts, sit down and let some ideas flow for future poems or short stories. However, that didn’t happen, I did spend great family time, connect with friends and keep putting the work for my biggest life goals for 17; my priorities. The hustle and flow of life, paying bills, eating shopping, they are not hindering me, they are essential to everything I do, creatively, professionally and socially. Which why when I went out on Friday Night I wore different shoes, and it is why I am really encouraged with how intentional life is working for me.

I am accepting for myself what I tell others, perfection is not possible. I also promised myself that my last reflection was too long and that I need to shorten them down for my own good as well as for the good of anyone reading.

It is mid-February and not everything is done yet, not everything is started yet, but progress is being made and I am not using those goals and intentions as sticks to beat myself up with. They are starting points and intentions that get to be reviewed and reformulated, they are not commandments set in stone. Perhaps, this is where I have made the most progress, and I cannot take full credit for that. I live in an environment where those around me no longer look to beat me down and remind me that I am a failure, a looser and a burden. Being out of a toxic relationship is not just about the removal of the abuse, it is about how you can get space and time to be kind and loving towards yourself because you can discover what kind and loving really means.  In an abusive relationship, being unkind, putting you down and delivering consequence is what constitutes love, and you do end up being like that with yourself. You end up complicit in your own abuse and actually self-harm because that is what you think life is and how it works.

So while my best-laid plans may not be coming together quite how I would have intended. The overall goal is to be intentional, to have goals and chase them, and to flexible and adaptable to what happens on the journey. And to even revise goals if that is what needs to happen, rather than falling for the false meme stubbornness that never quits even when it’s obvious continuing has become a very bad idea (thanks to Seth Godin – the Dip for that advice). In pursuit of that bigger life goal of intentional living, I am pleased with my progress, in terms of my bigger goals, I am similarly pleased with my progress. For once I am deliberately, or intentionally, should I say, stopping to appreciate the successes and progress made and not look at what hasn’t happened yet and look for sticks to beat myself down, but to build myself up. Plans change, life happens, even with a good map the road is still unknown till you travel it and has bumps and turns you can’t see.

Thinking Out Loud : Swimming Gala

It is not that often I like to go back to my childhood and specific incidents within it. I feel that they are done with and that now I have largely accepted what was faulty with it and done my best to move on and be practical in dealing with the here and now. I am unlikely to end up in the same situation now I am an adult and so often there is limited information that I can directly apply.

However, the Butlins’ swimming gala is an event that maintains relevance in my adult life. As a kid I loved swimming, and looking back I was actually not that bad either, it is entirely possible I could have been quite good. I never found out because my mother never wanted what would have gone with my success. I swam at the Harrow and Wealdstone Club, but I never made it to the group which did competitions. Eventually unable to move up I quit. My parents let me, and I later found out, my mother had asked that I not be put up so I would not become eligible for full coaching with the early starts and travel to comps all over the country that could involve. They obliged. I was allowed to enter the club gala by way of the qualification process. You swam in your chosen stroke and distance and if you set a time you were in. Of course, it was all racing group kids. I had a go and I was in. On the night I arrived, got changed and sat and waited till my race. As an adult, I realise that all the competitors were warming up in a pool. They appeared and it was my heat; to go to the next round all I knew was that it was first 2 and then the fastest 2 losers after that. No idea what was going on, I got ready for the backstroke, I had practised a little on racing turns and dives, but I hadn’t had any coaching. In fact, it was a surprise that I was there.

I was third in my heat and I went home. I got changed alone, no one said a word, no one else in the place. I went home, no special tea. Nothing changed and I went to school the next day. The only recognition was the older kid who swam for the club saying didn’t expect to see you last night. Later I would find out I was the third fastest loser as well as 3rd in my heat, missing both by the usual fractions. This was years later and I had given up swimming by then. I was a loser, I didn’t get past the first round, I had been stupid to think any different. Of course as an adult I realise that I was 17th out of 56, and the only one who hadn’t been coached to race, and that it was quite possible that I had been faster than some of those had they been in slower heats as I had no idea of the standard of who I was against.

So I guess I was an okay swimmer really. My parents went to this holiday camp, I can remember it wasn’t much of a holiday, I was forced to do kids club stuff, which as the fat kid I hated, it was nothing I was good at. The highlight was getting a BMX for a morning (all my pocket money to hire it) and having a go on the ramps they had. Part of the week was swimming; I was looking forward to it because at least I could swim. The day came and as per usual we were split into teams, and then horror of horrors, I was given butterfly because I had made the mistake of saying I could do all the strokes. I was a backstroker, that was my only chance of not being embarrassed, I was in my trunks by the pool, the parents were there, I wanted to run, but I felt entirely trapped. It was only Wednesday, so I couldn’t run because there was the rest of the week to survive, and of course, I couldn’t embarrass my parents either, that wasn’t worth it.

The time came, we all trotted out for the one length butterfly race, completely exposed as the fat kid I looked around at the athletic bodies of every kid around me. I am sure they weren’t all athletic but they definitely were not fat like me. I guessed we would be gone in the water and I could sneak out while the winners got all the attention. I tried not to notice them limber up and did everything I could to try not to draw attention to myself. I just looked down my lane at the goal, the end, over, sneak off as there was a break after for lunch. I dived and I swam for my life, in the water all I could do was concentrate on my worst stroke, just absorbed in the movement until the wall, it was over. I immediately went to get out the pool fast, when I looked back. The lane either side of me was just over half way. In fact, no one was even close. I had beaten the entire field by the best part of 12.5meters or half a length of 25  metres in that pool. I got out, got a certificate, some stickers and my mum took a photo.

That was it, I went for lunch, the well done lasted from the pool to lunchtime and I put my certificate away and the stickers with it. The holiday continued. Nothing changed, it wasn’t mentioned, I got my well done, there was a photo, that was it. For many years I have looked at that photo of the beaming proud “fat kid” who had finally won something. I saw his top abdominal muscles, his shoulders developed from the thousands of lengths, his legs chunky from the miles cycling to and from the local pool to swim for hours in peace alone. I didn’t see a fat kid; I realise no one saw a fat kid, I realise the looks on those parents was not at the fat kid who was woefully out of his depth but at the swimmer who was about to win by a mile and disappoint their child. To me those stares were telling me I shouldn’t be there, and I was right, I had no right being in a holiday camp swimming gala, I looked like a competitive swimmer, I thought it was because I was the fat one.

My swimming life was instructive as a child because it taught me that I was a loser and that winning didn’t change anything. Success didn’t change life, I had a job, I had 2 jobs, I paid keep, I did well at school, so I should, I won something, it was a nothing event at nowhere, I failed at the Club competition, what did I expect? The looks of the parents confirmed that I was fat too. I hated school, swimming was not the way out, success in the world was not the route to happiness either. I grew up wanting to hear the words “well done”, wanting a bit of fuss and wanting my success to change something, even it that was just picking what I had for tea.

As an adult, I ended up in a relationship just like that of my childhood and so I never strove with everything I had to be a success because there would always be people better than me, and any temporary win would not change the fact that I was a loser and not a successful person. The belief that I was the person I had been told I was and was treated like informed how I made my way through life. At work, I would work hard and try to do well, and find myself sacked the first mistake I made. It did not take long for me to try and be in the middle unnoticed. At school I worked just hard enough to stay out of big trouble, I wanted to be somewhere else, the teachers made it clear I wasn’t good at school stuff and the odd time I poured all I had into something it came back with the same grades as when I didn’t. Leave fatty alone was my life. I had a great overhand right that helped with the latter.

As an adult I was, for so many years, that little boy trying to get by, trying to be happy without someone noticing it. Being happy only lasted till someone noticed and then it would be taken away. Success was something you kept to yourself, it was only yours, no one cared, no one even wanted to know. It wasn’t healthy. I know now how terribly debilitating it all was, it was no wonder I was plagued by crippling depression and that in an abusive relationship anxiety came to paralyse me. Now I preach that other people’s picture of you is only real if you make it that way, that you celebrate success and learn that you can succeed and to not accept external definitions or measures of what success is. You can set a world record and come third, see the achievement for what it is, not the definition someone else gives it.

So I look at those swimming Galas and learn; I did what was never expected of me, I was able to be the real deal when I had no encouragement, no coaching, no help and definite obstruction so why can I not be the real deal now. I may not be the best in the world, but someone will be and if I never aim to be I never stand a chance of being that someone. Most of all I look at that little boy and I realise that he was petrified, he was terrified, he felt like running away every second till that whistle blew to start those races, and that while he felt like he did not belong, that he was an alien in the land of others, that little boy stood there anyway. And more than that, that frightened little boy stepped up and did good, he did really good.

Monday Night Reflection: Trumped

Although a week is only seven days long, this last one has felt much longer. It started badly with no progress from meeting my Doctor, and then the new medication to help the pain turned out to not only have side effects in the common category that are worse than the pain, so I am supposed to go back and say. I don’t want to, and I can’t really face another 15 minutes of nothing happening. She won’t prescribe what I want to try and frustratingly I can’t find Actigall for sale. Without the prescription, I cannot get it here, and I would even fly to Europe if I knew I could definitely walk into a pharmacy and get it. To me, it’s utterly mad that I can have something with side effects Pregabalin has, and not the one I want which doesn’t have such nasty possibilities at all. That was a bad start, the pain this week has been up to the in a ball on the bed and blacking out level several times, and the baseline has changed with an extension of the pain to my kidney. The pain is distracting and exhausting, it comes with psychological sides. My bile duct is partially blocked and my liver has started malfunctioning as it cannot rid the body of what it has filtered out, I don’t like the word toxins, but essentially my liver is detoxifying away like it should and cannot get rid of that waste, so the waste products are going back into my blood. Jaundice is the yellow pigment of broken down bilirubin, and at the moment I am not yellow in a noticeable way, but the whites of my eyes are now grey and the corners do show shades of yellowing. Mostly I look a ghostly grey, which for someone half Italian with olive skin is quite an achievement. These waste products affect your brain, in my case at the worst my speech slurs and I have stopped recognising my wife, my short term memory is always affected, and confusion is really common. Added to that my emotional capabilities are altered, from getting really upset at things that are not upsetting and upset at the confusion because I cannot understand a really simple situation, to just a lack of any real ability to cope.

Overall, life has become difficult because while I experience the effects as real, I also know that this is not how I am. Literally, my body and brain are misfiring and I know it, and six months on its getting harder, not easier to deal with. The upside is that there are breaks where I feel a little more like myself and I am doing what I can to hit those windows of clarity, and in between trudge through those tasks I can do. At the same time as having less mental agility, creativity feels like it has tanked, I definitely type worse and my skills in dealing with my attention deficit traits are well below their usual level and while not disordered, it another thing making concentration difficult. It has been a difficult week on a number of levels, when you are not at your best and not really 100% the person you really are it affects personal relationships negatively, those around you are not getting the “you” they know and love, and you are not being that person either, so while I can medicate the pain away and even put myself out of life completely, what is missing from the medical assessment is that my quality of life is deteriorating the more this goes on. I have to hope that the ultrasound on Friday shows something up, at least lately I have a very direct and predictable reaction to food, with pain now getting swelling and heat coming with it, so not only do I feel it, but there is something to see. So the plan is a big meal before I go and provoke it to see if that can speed things along. My wife said that a good outcome would be to be in such a mess at the appointment I got admitted to the different hospital under a different team and something might happen.

On the back of this reflection has been difficult because unlike my plan I haven’t been making notes of the dominant threads of my thinking, and perhaps I haven’t really had any dominant threads to write down; reality is my ideas and thoughts pad has had a tablet on top of it all week and I haven’t used either, nothing much has moved forward at any pace all week on any level. The reality is that terms like behind and ahead do not apply to open-ended endeavours, but I am behind the day to levels of progress I would like to see.

Which is what I do, I accept that everyday is going to have a different one hundred percent because I am not a machine and that achievement has multiple measures. Three hours with a friend may not have any metrics of achievement but is valuable and worthwhile, whereas pushing forward some writing a few thousand words is instantly measurable but may have been the least valuable or worthwhile thing I could have been doing. In my system all tasks have merit, so cooking dinner and editing are not compared one more valuable than the other as absolute items, but rather as contextual assessments. At ten am cooking dinner could be a low priority, of it could be overdue depending on what is being made, and I have also learned to underpromise and over deliver with myself. In fact, the switch to pen and paper has really pushed me along in having realistic expectations. The discipline of having to get my Filofax and write my to-do list means that my actual “have-to-do” list has been culled of wish and would like to items. Everyday my phone would have 15 or more items on its daily to-do, now I have three. This has taken a massive amount of pressure off me and put my expectations firmly back as realistic. Important at any time; perhaps more important when I am less than one hundred percent.

So what has any of that got to do with the title of the reflection? This week has been dominated by the American President Donald Trump, even my little bubble has been made aware. I try hard not to get draw into political debates or discussions mostly because my viewpoint is unpopular with anyone partisan. Essentially both sides will hate me because I see problems and questions and ask them, and I am essentially pessimistic about things changing significantly. I have a dim view of what the collective “people” will do, and when it comes to the UK I am completely fatalistic because history tells a very poor story when it comes to collective action. Our last revolution was to put the Monarch back in power! However, I have let myself be drawn a couple of times into putting my pessimistic assessment of the world and its inhabitants and the response and I have allowed myself to engage with what happened.

When it comes to what people call serious subjects I have a strategy of first avoidance and then secondly detachment. Detachment I achieve by asking questions, this is hugely unpopular as they are things like where did you get that figure from because the three usual respected sources have completely different ones. It goes badly, interestingly the left think I am right and the right think I am left and the centre think I am both depending on where they are. If I think about that at all, then it is really funny. However, I engaged briefly but, rather like my personal circumstances, I felt powerless and rather irrelevant. The hatred, bigotry, things I avoid and find unacceptable were all I could see, and often in people I had considered to be more tolerant and accepting. Scratch the surface and there was not understanding and tolerance but hatred and fear. It was almost crushing. I have been “other” and as such on the wrong end of bigotry and prejudice, perhaps not to the extent of some groups, but being attacked, property vandalised, robbed, denied employment, decent healthcare and housing, I think, count as an introductory experience at the very least. I first experienced these at sixteen, the introduction was young, and prior to that, I had very little engagement with the real world, I had no need to and it was not required. I had decided a career, was chasing that, the rest I guessed would happen in due time. I had worked since thirteen, at seventeen I moved out of my parents on good terms and took things as a flow from there. I learned to cook and clean and manage my little life and get things done. As life expanded I went with it, not sure that was a great approach, it served me well then and its working well now, the patch in the middle where I went all planned did not work out quite so well. This is not saying I don’t plan, I really do, and methodically, I am known for being a lists person, something I have worked hard to put a lid on, however in terms of life direction I was never chasing the house, the car, the status and tangibles. When I did, things didn’t work. Instead, as a youth I sought out relationships and experiences, the difference is that then I was running from something and blotting out the painfulness of reality, now I am focussed on contribution and positivity. Back then it got me from almost no school qualifications to a Masters degree, something must have been working. I chased my dreams, and I let the rest happen along the way, let opportunities open up and took the ones I could and spent no time on ones I couldn’t because they were not opportunities for me, if they were I could take them. I was completely unprepared for the experience, I knew of it, but never expected that I would experience it first hand, it was like abuse, something I defined as impossible for me to experience because I really did not understand it. Experience is a phenomenal teacher.

What has that got to do with politics, it is that once again I feel despair and a desire to detach from the world. It is not a place I like. I have of course,  created a bubble of existence, something my young self would have recognised had I it pointed out. My life then as now is self-contained with a short range focus, being drawn into political discussion and engagement has opened my eyes to the truth that I am not about that level. I am too aware of my irrelevance, and my lack of any wish to do what it takes to be relevant, influential let alone powerful at a level where I could impact on these events. I would rather spend the day helping at a homeless charity/shelter than talk about anything with a politician because one makes a difference the other is just talk. And that is the crux of the matter, everyone is talking, people are making noise with marches and petitions but no action. Ghandi brought the British to their knees with passive resistance not marches and petitions, memes, tweets backed up with angry Facebook posts and shares. That would require the impossible, people to embrace the possibility of short term personal negative circumstances to effect change, however, with enough buy-in even those could be massively negated. The system everyone is so angry about is supported by their actions and as much their inaction, no one is saying, if we don’t engage after a while none of this can happen. In my own life, this has worked and I have stayed legal and within my rights of the situation, knowledge became my weapon, knowing where I stood meant I knew how to be passive in the most destructive way. I never moaned or bitched, I did something. The irony may be that as a student I was very close to the locus of power and did have influence, largely because I was completely uninterested in the exercise of power or control. I had the ear of people at the top of the student body, but no one knew, I never bragged about it, it was nice to be on the inside and know things, but they didn’t change my life or what I was doing. I had no desire to be a wheel in the political machine, yet there I was discussing those very things. I got in that position by proposing passive resistance, in that case doing what the University wanted the student body to do in the full knowledge that the en-masse adoption of the system would crush it and they would have to abandon it or change it to a working model, either being the outcome the Student’s Union required and wanted. It worked, and quicker than anyone expected, plus had bonus positives for the Student body that no one could have seen coming. The door opened, but I didn’t want anything out of it, I did learn how politics works at that level, saw the people who wanted to be part of it and how to get ahead. Hence my disengagement with politics and politicians. It is all a sham of self-interest and ego. Perhaps what I am driving towards is the mindset of “if you cannot change the situation, change how you think about the situation.

So my despair is based on engagement and understanding. I have then, by venturing out of my bubble found that I want to stay in it and cultivate it. Of course, I am affected by the world and what happens, but I have only got the option of awareness, preparation and reaction. What is coming, is coming and I am best being prepared and ready, or at the very least realising I am powerless and be ready to rebuild and pick up the pieces. Which is what last week was all about, close focus and the exclusion of worry about the things I cannot control or influence. As a coach once said, “control the controllables”. Right now I have situations which are not controllable, I am not driving the bus, not sure I even wanted on the bus, but here I am, and it will stop where it stops, and I will get off when I am allowed to get off, although if I don’t try I won’t ever get of off course.

I hurt, life has so many good elements that I have to be about not letting the immediate physical obscure that. Focus on what I can do, what I can control, cope as best I can with the rest, which is how I approach life and politics. Do I agree with what is happening or think it is right, no. Do I think good decisions are being made, no. Do I think my life is going to be made a lot harder and more difficult, definitely. Changes are coming, the best I can do is expect the worst, hope for the best and love my way through counting those blessings I do have.

Monday Night Reflection: Blog On

Every-so-often, I do look back at this Blog, read my squeeks and contemplate how things have changed. As the New Year approached I started to think about the future because material has been gradually accumulating, I even downloaded and printed out a blog planner, and started a blog ideas notebook just to help me on my way.

Any look at my archive shows that I started slowly; the issue was that I had started an abuse survivors blog, a valuable enterprise. I am not entirely sure I had any idea what that would entail or even if that concept had any real meaning. In all honesty, I really didn’t have a clue. As I came to review what I had been doing and think about what I want to be doing. It is fairly clear this is not a blog about how to survive abuse and has gotten further away from being obviously abuse related. I do, fairly often, feel a little guilty that my pages do not have links to helpline and resources, perhaps they should? I am not convinced that what I am doing here, and I because I did not really use any particular resources to get away or even really start the journey of dealing with my abusive past, I cannot personally recommend any particular resource. At the same time, I feel woefully unqualified to write any sort of how-to guide, I didn’t diary the journey, and I don’t think I have much to give on the practical side over and above the great stuff that is already out there.

However, while this blog is not an abuse survival blog in that it contains any practical guidance whatsoever, any resources or even useful links, it is a blog written by an abuse survivor. I had to explain this to myself, because this differential was far to apparently self-evident Which meant, when I thought about it, like many apparently self evident concepts, I did not see any immediate content of substance in that category. While a blog about abuse survival is going to explain itself quickly with its practical focus, a blog by an abuse survivor could be anything. I have seen those that are accounts, almost diaries of what living in an abusive situation was/is like for the victim. Without that central theme, the experience of abuse in real terms, not the rather glossy euphemisms that make it more comfortable, what exactly makes a blog, or anything, different because it was written by an abuse survivor?

In a sense I could be searching for my unique selling point; but there is something actually very different driving me to the distinction. By having the category, blog by a survivor of abuse, I am creating an explanatory framework which a reader can use to quickly locate any problematic material. Or in other words, when reading my material, and in that I have particular piece and poems in mind, knowing that their inspiration and root is in an abusive past explains what is going on so the reader can make sense of the world in which they suddenly find themselves. Hopefully, knowing the origin of the blog as part of my journey via the creation of a persona, Mr Mouse, who is in charge of trauma processing, and is a major part of the creative production team, gives context. It explains the lack of my favourite recipes, personal pictures and tells my reader exactly, I hope, what to expect.

Early on, I realised quickly that this blog had to be something growing rather more organically with me and so to be genuine would need to follow my journey. For me to be happy with this I had to have material I would be at least happy to show people. Looking at early postings I see mistakes and errors that make me cringe, I do not change them because the development of my skills is a core element of my creative journey. I am consciously developing my craft through reading and practice at a level that keeps the process enjoyable and spontaneous. Every entry is written on the move; I have no store house or prewritten material scheduled up to post. The closest I get is scheduling something written late for the next morning or separating up posts in the day when the have been produced at the same time. Monday Night Reflections often start the week before and come together over the Monday, where I schedule the publication time as a deadline to meet, other times I barely keep it posting on a Monday.

I guess I have been squeeking organically; I enjoy working on this blog. Ironically, if all I did was create for the blog I would run out of material to create for the blog because its not all stored up. To have a blog I have to live, to travel, to do life and do my life. My life – still a difficult concept to pin down too. Looking to the future, that is the problem. In blog life as well as life, I am happy where I am, the changes are really making what is good already better, making me more happy rather than dealing with problems. In my life I feel problems are either in process, or they are not able to be processed and I class as not in my control. If I cannot change or control them then I work hard to keep them out of my view and out of my thoughts or planning. I am contented with what I have, it is truly amazing on every level, and something the little council estate boy would never have been able to dream about. Which is another unique aspect, and another thing that gives me twinges of guilt.

When I read survivor stories too often the situation of the writer has broken away from the abuse at a huge cost, losing everything material and having to start a new life from the bottom. Something I identify with, although without children I cannot know the struggle that situation brings. More significantly than that tho, I had a means to support myself, at least in the short term. I managed to rent a beautiful furnished starter home only three quarters of a mile from where I worked. Although I had to sell my vehicle, I was able to finance deal one before it sold, so again my situation was significantly different. Finally, while it would be soon to say how even if we had a statute of limitation, I was able, in a fashion to generate enough of an income for me to keep going. Lucky for me the days of a meal every other or 3 days did not return and I could have the heating on. I firmly believe that my lack of material deprivation contributed massively to my ability to get through the situations I faced constructively; that and a well timed text message in my darkest days.

As I was declaring bankrupt I was already being welcomed into my new life, one where I no longer had to earn anything at all to be materially looked after, I was being gifted a circumstance that I had deeply desired, worked hard to create, but ultimately did not actually possess.

I cannot write a survivors story, there is nothing dramatic, in my mind, to tell. Detailing what happened with a blow by blow account would be a fruitless act of storytelling. Instead, I am focussed on building up.

Clearly, I am not using a reflective model here. This is what I have been considering, I have a blog, I enjoy creating and sharing, so I could just have a blog that is me sharing my creative output. That would be wrong, because I sincerely hope that I am adding something different to the picture. At the outset of blogging, I really wanted somone, even if it was one person, to know that there is a through, an other side to get to. Because I definitely felt that there was no end beyond continued darkness and suffering, that there was no through it for my situation. That darkness and feeling of despair was my path to suicide, I need to know there was a way out, any way out, when they were absent, my mind found the only left. Not healthy, not constructive, and not something I would want anyone to have to face. Statistically, I know that men in particular will make the same choice as me but unlike me will be successful. Suicide is the largest single cause of death for men between twenty-five and fifty.

From this I developed a mental manifesto, or a wish perhaps, but definitely a core message that drives me to keep blogging and around which my future plans are centred. I want to say that having an abusive past is ok, there is no shame, you are not alone. But also that trauma while it may haunt you, is not only faced by locking it away and never opening it again. Trauma does not go away if you ignore it, and that there are a multitude of ways of constructively making trauma something you live with without undue pain, suffering or distress. And that trauma definitely does not need to control your life and how you make decisions. However, at the same time that trauma needs to be constructively handled, it can also be a source of drive. Let your pain drive you to greatness is a cliché, but there is a hard-core truth right at its heart. For me, I write poetry exploring my feelings, I allow myself to relive emotional moments deliberately. I find, for me, this form of expression gives me back the controlling power. I also find the act of reflecting and facing elements I from my past helps me better marshal and rally my thoughts coherently. When I thing coherently trauma and reactive behaviours lose their control because they stop being amorphous scary unknowns. The spotlight I see them for what they are, the reality they no longer possess and the consequences they can no longer deliver. I believe that paralysis by analysis is a constructive tool and well as a destructive force.

Which leaves me with what was I thinking, and what are my plans. I do have things I want to creatively, I have already said that, and I want to share that, or at least some of that, and I have ideas of things I can do to enhance or add depth to this blog as an endeavour, while bearing in mind that blogging is not what pays the bills, and that while it is constructive self development there is more to me and life than what I can publish. Which at times, actually gets more difficult that it should, I tend to see creative finished product as the measure of my productivity and therefore my worth.

That is a practical answer, and is ducking the real question. When I think back at what I was intending to do when this all started, its clear I had no idea. I wanted to do something; no idea what, where or how. I wrote a few things and found myself in a black hole cornered with only one real direction available. I was going to be writing an abuse blog and spending hours immersed in creating a valuable resource, or I was going to be writing graphic reconstructions. Neither appealed, and I while I am confident I have the academic ability to produce a useful resource, the graphic story telling, not confident at all, and not something I would want to be learning and getting deeply into. What I did was open up, change things and then run with it to see what happened and did what felt right along the way. Very much how I had done things as a young man lacking purpose and direction, waiting for opportunities while working at something and moving along a road to see how the landscape would change. I feel it worked well, because, it was not as ambiguous as it probably sounds, it involved learning and working, and because I was open to suggestion, change and opportunity rather than making myself fit a certain model based on external expectations.

At the same time, I have grown into wanting this blog to have purpose a little more than being a repository. I sincerely hope that anyone who is going through a tough time, or is dealing with trauma, abuse or not, can draw constructively from what I have done to deal with what has been traumatic for me. I have felt that I can offer up the, if he can do it, so can I angle. Because I am not a superstar, I am not at a level far removed, and my attainment being accessible, I am able to be of a little inspiration. I would like people to enjoy what I do, spread a little happiness and find practical utility and insight through my contribution.

Poetry Corner: Life and Soul

Was I alive today?

What can I say?

Does breathing count?

It’s rather paramount.

I’m good at hiding,

And crying!

 

What did I think?

I made a drink?

Nothing overcome,

What have I done?

Hours passed,

A thankless task.

 

Failed at being me,

No one to see.

What did I bring?

I can’t even sing!

Not the life and soul

Stay in my cubbyhole!