Dear Diary: Manchester is not by the Sea

The seaside, so often the facade of towns long closed down in heart and soul existing was not for me.

This was reflection and calm, the quiet, where people said a cheerful hello while you look out, a gas rig or two between your bench and Norway. A different place, a different sense of time.

A little calm so close to places so familiar and a life so very different to the one I have now.

My obligation fulfilled, respects duly paid, tears respectfully held back, and happy memories built upon the ashes of the past.

My dearest friends a comforting bridge, welcoming arms and helping hands, solace in the storm.

A place does not know, it does not remember, it meant no harm, it held no anger, it will not be bitter, nor will it be sad, it will shed no tears, knowing not the passing of our years. Those we bring, they are ours to leave or take away, memories are our own each day, and the stories ours to tell, like the place lest we too face away.

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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

Thinking Out Loud: Monsters

The world of films is a misleading one, TV is not much better, even in true stories, we the audience are presented so much with a simple view. It is all neatly black and white, even when it is being presented as blur, we are in on the secret and the monster of the story never really steps out of that mould.

Life is cruel by comparison. When you are finally out of an abusive situation, free of the monster, you will soon come to ask why you did not see it, why you did not leave, and gradually over time you can come to see what imprisoned you, the poor patterns of thought and decision that got you where you were. You can trace conditioned responses, needs and perhaps look through a pattern that made the abuse appear normal and how life was done that extends into childhood. However, what can defy explanation and what can very well haunt you will not be the abuse, the cruelty, the consequences. What haunts me is the kindness, the love, the good times. These are the ones that did not end badly, where the gift was thoughtful, and you got to keep it without consequence or retribution, where they arranged something for you, and it was ace, you enjoyed it, and there was no price to pay for happiness. It can be the small intimate moment that was just that. It is all those memories that were precious, are precious, that you cannot explain, that do not fit neatly into the context and picture of control and abuse. They look like genuine love, and affection like you were important and mattered.

I know that you can see them as the carrot that goes with the stick, they are how they lure you in, but even when the glow and honeymoon are over, there will be something, something that you cannot explain away. Deep in the years of hurt, there looks to be a genuine moment of humanity. You see the monster treating others differently, and they tell you it’ because you earn it, you deserve it, it is you that is broken and faulty and needs to learn, be disciplined, needs the consequence to be a better person. You see the duplicity, you see them nice and loving to others, the very person that attracted you, but they never switch on them. You alone are the object of their ridicule, their anger, you are who they hurt, and that is something you get used to.

I am still baffled, even accepting that the kindness and love could have been manipulation and control, there are still happy times, happy memories, things I don’t know how to store because I don’t want to lose sight of happiness in those years. It feels like so much was lost, so much was broken, so many memories rewritten by time and the cold light of the reality or infidelity, that I am clinging to what happy memories I have and I am not even sure why. I laughed, and I smiled I have great times at the time; she robbed those years, somehow I don’t want to lose anymore. I want to believe that just once or at some time I actually mattered, that they felt something decent towards me; but I am not sure I can be that deluded either.

Poetry Corner: Code

You sit there knowing, a consequence is due

The look, the touch, the phrase, you freeze

Exposed, vulnerable, out in the open

Panic, run, run with your heart pounding

Nowhere to go, no hiding place

Tell someone you would not dare

 

No one would believe you drummed in your head

Everyone knows you have the problems

People already know about you is what they said

So you breathe, an audience is safety

All too soon you will be alone, home alone

Secret shame only yourself to blame

Poetry Corner: Open Letter

There is a bed for you in my house
Always was and always will be
You are my son, my boy
I don’t know you like I once did
Your mum made sure of that
I’m sorry I don’t know so much
What picture to put on your wall,
Or duvet cover on your bed
Not your favourite colour
Or what you put between bread
16 is 3 years away, then you choose
I want to know so much
Who you’ve become and want to be
I want to listen, hopes and dreams,
Future romances, hear it all
But I need you to listen
Hear with wisdom way beyond your years
To assess the man sat holding back tears
Look me in the eye and see, find truth, believe
Meet you and let you assess
My past, my present and my legacy
I breathe in the hope you will not walk away
Take my hopes, my dreams, ….
I hear your voice and see your face,
So close but all those miles away
And I die a little as sunset fades,
Hope struggles to last the day
Stays alive my force of will
I wonder will that day come to be
Time will tell me, it may break me too
You grow from boy to man unseen
I had plans for you, for this, everything
I pray my body decides to last
To become your friend,
And havoc once more we bring!
With Love Your Father, … Me.

Poetry Corner: Sat Here Crying

 

Sat here crying

It wasn’t your place to say goodbye

Not up to you to end it all

You stole so much and you stole the end

Took my pain passed it off as yours

My broken bones you supposedly possess

Talk of hurt you never felt only inflicted

I am your picture in the attic

You live unmarked and burden free

It comes from a page in a book

And from my life, come see, Look!

I have the limp, I have the scars

It is me who flinches and fears the night

Only in my dreams of terror do I drown

You survived and made it through

The tortured times you rained down

My sympathies it must have been so hard

To work tirelessly to crush and kill

And see me walk away breathing, still!

Speak the language and say the words

Take the role, wear the robes and play it well

Tell the stories and see them cower

Once again you take from me and no one knows

Take full possession and curate it well

Learn the details, speak my truth, you tell my story dear

You know longer reign, I no longer fear

 

 

Thinking Out Loud: Not Working?

Am I not working anymore? I’ve been ill for 5 months, and without really paying it attention my paid employment stopped, I am no longer on volunteer rosters, my earnings and my contribution are gone.

On the one hand, I have my new business venture, which has a small amount of money in the bank that it earned, I have ideas for how it can develop that are building on the lessons learned so far, and I have a concept of what is next in the intermediate future. The issue is that my skill strengths and the businesses easiest directions generate very poor revenues. Or as proved with one item, no revenue at all. This is a creative business, it sells what I create (sold some cranberry apricot, raspberry and cassis sauce at Christmas for example), or items I get in new (like some children’s books that are moving too slowly). It an outlet not for buying and selling per-se but to try and monetise what I love to do.

It’s a follow your passion enterprise and the money will follow venture. The slow start is, therefore, in part because I am way less than 100%. However, the truth is creating things people want to buy is harder than it looks when it never even looked easy.

I am at sea, the area that has been 18 years of my life I have effectively walked away from. In a deliberate sense now, but also in recent years as I have let the profession and industry move and I have no longer decided to move with it. As with anything people want the latest and loudest, the newest methods and jargon, while I have stuck with what works, what is proven and have insisted on testing out new methodologies for effectiveness before widespread deployment on any sort of scale. I am also not young and have experience, not an armful of “qualifications” which while educational are not always indicators of ability, theory and practice are somewhat different to what you learn in a classroom.

I thought about entering the journalistic side of the game, but I have no credentials there and to move sideways to different aspect is a lot of work to stay in a business that I no longer want to be part of because of what has happened and how it has changed. It is rather like starting off playing 5-a-side and ending up playing beach volleyball, it doesn’t feel like the same game.

Which is a development I saw coming, the trend year on year was not encouraging, and money was leaving, sadly reskilling and moving was not something I was able to do, and I am not even sure what I would reskill as. I have skills, I have toolkit skills, deployable skills that are cross-sectorial too. I am always learning, and love to learn, I am learning things I enjoy and what I enjoy and have gotten good at ha hard to turn into an income without me being a different person to who I am, and doing business in a way I am not happy with. It was always going to be time to walk away, and I am very happy with that.

The question is what next? The answer is, I have no idea. My business was never intended to be a big income generator, more of a supportive trickle to allow me to create and have the time to do it. Getting ill changed the landscape.

I am self-employed, and an expert at something I no longer want to do and I am unhappy doing as it is now. Looking to move I find no qualifications and no experience, it is worse than when I started because after getting a job at 13 I had experience in what I was getting a job in or had a qualification that showed I could do the job I was after. Sometimes even both. The answer to the question, what I have I done lately is, apart from what I don’t want to do, nothing much in a formal sense, nothing much at all.

I am thinking, what next for Mr Mouse. In the immediate term Mr Mouse here is going to keep on creating, keep on mastering the craft and skill of things he wants to do, learn new things that he is interested in. This is back to my youth where I would plug away at what I was doing until things opened up, time brings a small change, working at something is still slowly moving me forward. Plus outside the formal work and even the creative stuff I do, I have a hobby life, and in that, I have decided that 2017 I will pour the time (and effort plus) I am not using up doing the paid stuff into that. The reward of this, while not money, will be experience, travel and lasting achievement and those I value highly.

Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

I remembered this last week thanks to a Facebook posting by hypnotist Elliot Wald, and reading my initial thoughts I felt that the subject needed another thought.

Initially, I felt that the prison of my mind had developed almost exclusively as a defensive response to real situations. Over time I have seen that there is actually a more complex interplay between the real and experienced, the feared and anticipated. I cannot separate the two, and perhaps they have a shared root and are why coercive abusive control is so effective. You experience consequences of behaviour, consequences are threatened and become implied, so you start to fear and anticipate based on the real experience using the evidence of a limited number of sufficiently traumatic incidents. It’s not worth the beating you got last time you did it, or even its not worth the beating you got last time you got caught thinking about it. This is clearly a less than unique situation statistically, but is a distinctly different class of anxiety and imprisonment.walls-of-your-mind

When that relationship ended, it was the equivalent of the doors being unlocked and the place being shut – with all the power and supplies left on. Necessity forced me to leave the confines of what had been my life; for some things this was a welcome and much-wanted release, for others, it was a terrifying venture into darkness. The most common feature of this transitional period was fear. Fear because of the behaviours that had previously led to consequences and because I was conditioned to expect them, but also fear because when she found out what I was doing she retaliated and brought consequences. She did not want to relinquish control. I have said before her intention was to drive me to self-destruction and I firmly believe she thought she could drive me to suicide.

The reality was it took me a fair while to realise that I was in a prison, the early days were about coming to terms not just with what happened, while dealing, in a very practical sense, with what was happening, and then processing the implications this had about my past. Recognising that the marriage was abusive was difficult not only because it was 13 years of my life, it was because my marriage was no different to my childhood. I simply refused to believe.

However, once I began to accept that my behaviours had been conditioned over a lifetime of “consequence” avoidance when in reality the consequences were not entirely or sometimes even remotely predictable, I then was able to understand how I had imprisoned myself as a protective measure. Which is how abuse works, you do what you are told to avoid the consequences and to stay safe, however, over time what is safe changes and becomes more and more restrictive and the conditions that qualify you for safety increasingly unattainable. It becomes predictably random, you know when a consequence is overdue. Sometimes you even provoke a little to get a smaller consequence because you feel a big one is looming and you are in no fit state to take the onslaught.

Reading that back, it seems so simple, but in reality, it is crushingly complex. When you realise that you have a life full of conditioned behaviours and that you have predicated your choices on survival that realisation leads to a void of certainty and a sea of questions. Mostly these are things like, what do I really like to watch, what do I really like to do, where do really like to go, but they also include questions like who am I, what am I about. For me, when my marriage ended I lost what were core elements of my identity, husband and father. With those went the associated responsibilities of those roles. They were stripped away while my past was rewritten. So not only did I lose those identities, my legacy was erased as well. All I had done to that point in my marriage (and life) was recast and retold to fit the story that was being peddled and the identity I was being given.

Saying this was difficult is to seriously under report the extent of the effect this had. I was one text message from suicide. I felt I had nothing, my parents had passed away, I had no relations and friends were keeping a safe distance while my abusive ex lashed out at anyone associated with me with the fullest destructive force she could muster. Some were arrested, others nearly lost jobs, and real life damage was done in way that goes beyond he said, she said. This involved Police, Social Services, and agencies that were legally obliged to act on what she was saying on the possibility that it was true. Knowing all along that mud sticks and that damage could be permanent. I was physically lonely, and it was the internet that allowed some people to be supportive and miss a lot of backlash.

The upshot of the turmoil and change was that my prison had protective utility long after I could have left. I felt tremendously vulnerable, to the point I locked myself in. I felt unsafe, even in my own house, being arrested at 5am, having my door window smashed by her, and the threats made me feel vulnerable and seeing children playing reduced me to tears. My sanctuary was no fortress and I knew it. Still, I hid, literally and figuratively.

The prison of my mind was still intact. Life happened I moved away, but still she was there trying to destroy that chance. Of course, those efforts ultimately served to achieve nothing, and to those that engaged with them they simply reinforced my version of events. Reassuring as this came to be, I was stuck with a whole bunch of behaviours that were conditioned responses. The task is still working out what those conditioned responses are and then breaking them and engaging in what I call intentional behaviour.

2017 is my year of recognising, possibly more explicitly than ever before, that I need to make conscious choices about habits, and things that people probably don’t spend any time thinking about. Things like wearing different shoes, or what shoes I pick for which occasion. It is listening to music and reading books not worrying about any judgement of my choice, it is about watching a show I used to watch with her because I do like it and separating out the context from the thing as much as possible. I spend time wondering about places, like Sherwood Forest, on the one hand, I love it, but it is the place my children with her all went for their first holidays, and I went there with her. I have no desire to relive the past, and I want to build new memories. For now, I have decided that places are decided upon case by case. In this case, Sherwood is, very sadly, off limits, rather like the organiser she gave me for starting my first job. Whatever merits there are and utility there may be, it is not something to carry around every day. My future lies somewhere else, time to find a different forest and build from that place of peace, not an old one. The Baltic represents the opposite, we did not share that place, even though I went there with her, it was not our place at all. The Baltic was me and my son’s place, we shared the hours there and so it was okay to bring it into my new life because those memories are unsullied. My smiles real, no context other than loving time with my boy smiling enjoying himself. And, of course, the hindsight that I was giving him a unique life experience that will weave itself through his life. Just as he has woven himself into mine.

I have written about pictures and light switches, and how these are indicators of a peace, and of how my conditioned behaviours are changing over time. It is these changes that are driving my deliberate move to be intentional. I have managed, not out of any conscious move, to realise where I was and contrast that with where I am. This consciousness has brought with it the awareness that I am still carrying around habits and responses that were learned as protection from consequences.

This is most evident when I am placed under stress or duress, where of course, highly conditioned quick automatic protective responses are exactly what I needed. The ability to quickly move into a position or minimum harm and maximum defence with the least exposure to permanent damage is an essential that I no longer need. Rather like taking your hand off something burning hot, it is very difficult to unlearn what has been a very useful behaviour up until now.

So what of the Prison of My Mind? It is certainly not what it used to be, and becomes more derelict by the day. The truth is I still visit, and I stay a while, sometimes I stay too long, other times I wander into forgotten corners, however, for the most part, my visits are brief. Habits are changing, importantly I am settling into who I am, recognising what is the cowering protective me, and what is the living life me, and being the living life person deliberately until that becomes my habit.

In other ways I have to recognise, anxiety and the default to protective ritual, my fear of the unknown and my management strategies, are things that while intertwined with the protective learned behaviours have also established themselves independently. I have to assess whether or not I need to change these behaviours. Whether change is productive, useful or health and having decided what needs changing I have to work out what the replacement is going to be if a replacement is needed.

One day the prison will be a memory, I have a feeling it will always be a memory tinged with fondness and framed with a wry smile.

Poetry Corner: Supermarket Aisle

You stand looking so very glum
With your wife looking at pillows
No idea how lucky you are

Stood with your wife of oh so many years
Life blessed you to grow old together
Why do you squander the happiness?

Trample on the gift with no regard
Some of you sit in cars and wait
Time lost you will regret one day

Wasted togetherness, wasted years
How many would take your place?
Smiling deep inside, their mum or bride

The moment that never was is lost
I hope you never remember
That way you may never cry

At the time wasted in supermarket aisles
Where you grimaced and moaned
You made it bad just to make it home

What did you do? Did you make it good?
Or did you sit and complain the day away?
Refusing to smile, crush her spirit too

I want to be old, perhaps older than you
With my wife wrapped up warm and going grey
But I’ll stand, smile and cherish that supermarket aisle