Patchwork Time – for World Mental Health Day

I had a go at stitching my patchwork quilt the other night. It’s pretty old now. Dad gave it to me years ago.

I spread it on my bed every year, around the time Dad died, because that’s when it starts getting nippy. Early October.

I’ve been meaning to repair it for ages, not wanting it to fall apart, tricking myself it’s because I think everyone should have a cute patchwork quilt that lasts for their lifetime, when really it’s simply because he touched it and touching it makes me feel like a part of him is still here.

Quite without planning the other night I found myself reaching for the sewing tin to begin to sew up the jaggedy rips. It was only as I stopped stitching that I realised it was a funny night to be doing it; the day he was found dead. Two days after he’d done it. The 6th, 7th, 8th of October are always grim days. Picturing him hanging there. This year, I’d been quietly proud of myself all day that I hadn’t been a mess. That I even felt happy. Having a daughter has been fantastic medicine for many things.  My subconscious must have reached for the blanket then; a practical way of acknowledging this new phase of grief; a cosy handling of time. In control. Not too sad. I never thought I’d reach this stage.

Dad bought the blanket for the spare bed in 1999, when my sister and I went to stay with him in Wales. It was Christmas. We were sulky to change our usual Christmas tradition of staying in our cosy burrow at home with Mum, but more than that, we were shitting ourselves. After months of bearing the load herself, Mum had told us that Dad had six months to live. She didn’t know why, he wouldn’t tell her. He wanted us to go for Christmas so he could talk to us.

So we had a sort of Christmas. But he said nothing. And then we left, got a succession of trains home to Southend, our brains so confused I can’t remember what I felt anymore. Months passed. He never talked. It was like he had never told Mum he was dying in the first place. Out of necessity, I just carried on, trying to finish a degree I no longer gave the slightest shit about. Numb. One day he gave me the blanket like a gift. Over the years it has become just another lovely thing my Dad gave me, that I’m glad to have, but really, at its source, it is the backdrop of the time I waited to hear what I thought would be the worst news I’d ever hear, not knowing the worst news would come a few years later, in 2003, when he hanged himself. Another unexpected development.

Dad was an ill man. I had been kept from the troubling spots of his bi-polar character and phases my whole life, and then shit got real. That Christmas, when we waited for him to tell us he was dying. Perhaps he was going to lie and say he’d got a massive tumour or something. I don’t know. Perhaps he was planning on killing himself then; preparing us in the only way you can without saying “FYI: I AM GOING TO KILL MYSELF. NO, DON’T TRY TO STOP ME, I REALLY AM SET ON IT. SOZ.” Perhaps having some time with his children made him realise he couldn’t do it, then. It got delayed.

He was ill. Not consistently – very often he was joy and activity and fun and inspiration and kindness and support and sharp intelligence and love – but the illness waited for him, and he waited for it. Mourning him and puzzling over the act of his suicide has made me ill many times through the years. Grief feels like a mental illness because although it might be spun from the circumstances of losing someone rather than inner chemical workings, it is still a mental trap; a dark labyrinth that takes years to find your way out of, often feeling like you don’t have the strength to keep going. Then there’s the worrying you have ‘the same thing’ as you father. The fear of that legacy.

The blanket began as uncertainty and confusion, then it became epic darkness seeming to have no end, then it became merely sadness and fondness and nostalgia and memories, until it became comfort, warmth, a winter friend. Time and I have worked together on it, not always getting along.

And now my daughter is bunny-hopping over it, it’s changing again. It will be her Grandfather’s blanket, the one she’ll never know. She’ll grow up seeing my crude stitchwork, puckering the fabric like scars. My very imperfect attempt at fixing something. And one day maybe I’ll use it to tell her that things change, and how they change, and that they can keep changing. Maybe one day it will be with her when she feels ill, comfort and warmth, maybe it will be with her when she keeps going, a stitched together reparable thing, a winter friend.

thumbnail_image2.jpgthumbnail_image1.jpg

Advertisements

Make it kind – Mental Health Awareness Week

I haven’t written about my father, his suicide, grief, or mental health for a while now.

I felt I should just ‘stop’. Let him rest, let it be, & stop picking the scab. But grief never really goes. It just changes.

In the last few months Dad has been present throughout my pregnancy thoughts, & now that my daughter is here my relationship with him has shifted again. During the last 15 years I have never thought ‘how could you do that to us, to me’. Tenderness battled anger and always won. Now I have a daughter, I can’t help but re-examine my feelings. How could he do that to us, his daughters? I couldn’t do it to her. I never want to leave her for a second, & the thought of being the source of her biggest sadness makes me want to be sick.

So how could he do it to me?

But of course, the answer is, mental health. It can make a man leave the loves in his life because he absolutely cannot face being alive anymore, because he cannot function, because life seems a long and unbearable journey, because it seems unfixable, because he even believes he is doing the best thing for people by leaving. Because the power of depression is sometimes so strong it even outweighs love, that beautiful thing that we are taught is stronger than anything. It’s terrifying when we discover it isn’t.

Grief changes all the time. I have struggled with losing Dad for years, the sadness very nearly made me give up myself at times, and just as grief got easier, I will now struggle with the thought that he would have had so much more love to give and receive if he could only have believed that there was help out there; in medication, in people, in good old fashioned kindness, in miraculously powerful time. I will struggle with the fact that Marcie will never meet my father, one of her granddads, but I will make sure she knows all the good things about him. And one day I will have to talk to her about mental health. I’m not sure what I’ll say yet, but I know it will be kind.

#mentalhealthawarenessweek

More things I’ve written on similar themes

Body

Sitting on the bed just now, jumble-headed & waiting for my eyes to clear enough to get up for a wee, I looked down at my swollen tummy and really looked at it. What a change. I thought about the inner intricate whirrings & industrious processes, makings of a life that i can take no credit for with my knowing brain. My body has taken over. My body, which I have never loved nor even liked much. I have been unkind to it every day.

Some people love their bodies during sex, or in the act of dressing or displaying, of styling or posing or playing or sporting or pushing themselves beyond a limit they refuse to accept; love themselves in the freedom of private pleasure, of solitary nudeness, in childish unconsciousness or the unthinkingness of orgasm; in relief, in the defiance of unacceptable sickness, in healing, in surprise at still being here, in joy they ever were, in determination to stay and be and live while they still have a body to carry them around, to permit them the grace of their fleeting existence.

I’ve still never liked my body much in any of that. But I just realised in the half-dark, with a little thing stirring awake beneath the massive earthlike arc of my skin, that I really like my body. Love it, even. Not the look of it, but the fact of it. Its new purpose.

I don’t know how I’ll feel about it in the last few weeks of pregnancy. I don’t know how I’ll feel about it during birth, or immediately afterwards, or soon afterwards or long afterwards, until it starts to age and ail me as it will. But for now, the biggest and strangest and most natural-unnatural I’ve ever been, I really love my body. And I will love loving it, for a while.

Up the Duff & Terrifyingly Fine

I told everyone I was pregnant yesterday. It wasn’t a prank or anything. It’s true. I’ve just been keeping it under my hat for 22 weeks. Well, it started under my hat then when it got a bit bigger I had to admit defeat and transfer it to my tum and honour the traditional gestational process. (Turns out a uterus is definitely better for that sort of thing than a beret.) And now it’s grown even more and there’s no getting around it anymore. Especially in confined spaces with a rucksack on. I am with child. Having a baby. Knocked up. Preggers. Up the duff. In the family way. Expecting. No longer able to say I just ate a lot of pasta.

There’s a little human growing inside me. A girl. Holy smoke.

And this is literally the best way I could think of telling people. A sort of jocular awkward kind of joke about hats and pasta, because I actually feel really shy saying anything about it at all. The kind of shy that people would scoff at and say “Yeah alright, Hasler. Shy. Course.” But I am. Because for all my splurging about sometimes intensely personal things, half a decade of writing a pretty open book column, talking about being pregnant feels like the next level of sharing. Writing columns or articles about suicide, grief, depression, other big dark things, is fine; they’re important to me, part of my guts and nerves and heart and pulse, but I’m not protective of them. I just say what I think and out it goes. But I am protective of this little thing that’s wriggling about in my big round belly. That’s a completely different thing. A creature. A living thing. Something that I must look after with every bit of strength and love and determination I have. Every good thing I possess must go into making this human grow and learn and be happy. I will have to learn and grow more in order to do a better job. A job and a devotion I must honour until I die. I’ll have to keep five steps in front of her, half a watchful step behind, and a silent step to the side, by her side, all at the same time. Until death us do part. That’s an unfathomably massive thing.

I cannot believe they’ll only let people drive a vehicle after months of expensive lessons and a big scary test, but this – actual creation – we can just crack on with on our own after a bottle of wine on a Friday night and a couple of pregnancy tests a few weeks later in the bog at work. I keep expecting someone to say “Sorry Hasler, the results have come back and you’re not cut out for it after all. That’s it; put it back.” And I wouldn’t know where to start with putting it back. I can’t even get cereal back in the box after it’s spilled on the floor. (Not that you should, but I do hate waste. Five second rule and starving kids in Africa and all that.)

And here I am, still joking about it, like it’s a box of Cheerios I could adios.

When it’s the least funny thing I have ever known. Having a baby. It’s the biggest, realest, scariest, loveliest, most important thing. I am insanely wired on the all-consuming seriousness of it, and already ready to kill for her. I am protective of her eyelashes and fingertips and her tiny little pouting mouth. I am protective of her tiny doll parts as all this sexual abuse stuff still blows around in a gale. I am protective of her heart and her receptiveness to the world and her experiences and all the people she will ever love and all her future joy.

I am having a baby. I can feel her kicking and I’ve got a feeling that’s what it’s all going to be about, for me, for the rest of my time from now on. And that is terrifyingly fine.

VTndEGR

Taking It Back

Dear David Amess MP,

I’m really glad you retracted that moronic statement you allegedly didn’t write. The one that said that “The recent revelations that countless starlets have apparently been assaulted by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are dubious to say the least”, that “this sudden flurry of alleged inappropriate advances beggars belief.” and then, a faeces grenade from left-field, “Just as with claims against Jimmy Savile here in the UK, why did no one say anything until now?”

Wow. A sideswoop Savile defence. That’s classy, Dave.

I’m glad though that you had the guts to blame a member of your staff because you really shouldn’t be expected to take the flack for the idiocy of someone you’ve wilfully employed to be your mouthpiece when you’re busy on other matters, like making sure Southend is shown off at its best in its year of being self-appointed Alternative City of Culture. (Only two months to go til the as yet undisclosed special end of year celebrations! I hope it’s something on the end of the pier. As you well know Dave it ain’t even a thing unless it’s on the pier.)

I’m extra glad you’re putting “instructions in place to prevent this happening again”. Do keep us posted as to what happens to this churl in your employ. After all, as much as I’m loathe to accept you are there by elected means, whoever is doing your job for you is not. If they’re messing up and they weren’t even elected, get them out Dave. Liability. You don’t need any more bad press to make you look like a numptie.

The fact it was a press release presumably means you/they thought your/their two-penneth on the Weinstein matter was write-and-share-worthy.
A question for you Dave. Who asked you? No, really – who did ask you? When was it an obligatory part of your day, paid by us, to comment on the goings on in Hollywood, or to put aside your sandwich to make sure gobby women everywhere got a sharp elbow in the ribs? That’s not in your remit is it? A knee-jerk reaction to a man you don’t know getting slammed for his consistently deplorable behaviour around women? Did you/your employee think it was high time that some of these women who got all uppity over being objectified and intimidated be put in their place, by you? What is their place, Dave? On their knees, not making a fuss?

Re the laughable “why did no one say anything until now?” – you do know that it is almost never the instinct of a raped or abused woman to march straight to the police to report it, or to even mention it to family and friends, don’t you? You do realise that by the time most women can stand and breathe and talk after an attack the DNA has passed from their bodies? You do know that because of the way Everything Works most women have absolutely no faith that their claims would be taken seriously and are reluctant to expose themselves to even greater vulnerability and pain? Furthermore, you do realise that cretinous comments like yours make you complicit in the further silencing of victims?

Let’s just suppose for the sake of optimism that you really didn’t make this statement you allegedly didn’t make. Let’s assume the person who issues your statements feels like they know you well enough to comment in lieu, that they really think you’d want to stick your head above the parapet to express sympathy for a rich man who is attracting overdue universal wrath, to attempt to give the unfortunate reputation of poor Jimmy Savile, loyal friend of the Tories, a bit of a polish, and to blanket victim shame? Because that’s worrying Dave. Because they’ve either got you wrong and should be immediately dismissed, or they’ve got you right and you’re the one who should be immediately dismissed. Which is it?

Sincerely,
Most Women

Fucking Fish

I have been entrusted with the care of a fishtank for one week and already things have got out of hand in a deathy fashion. It was only two days ago that my mum and step-dad absconded like lusty teenagers to a caravan in Suffolk for their anniversary and I’m pulling my bloody hair out.

The exchange went something like this:

“Just drop some food in every other day, Sadie.”

“Yes. I shall. For I can do that.” 

End of exchange.

I really thought that would be the extent of it. But those were simpler times.

So the roll call of aquatic creatures left in my ward goes thus: Sexy Shrimp (actual name, I’m not a wrong’un) – half the size of a peanut with a behind that just won’t quit; Intrepid Hermit Crab – keeps himself to himself; Dopey White Dude – in possession of an underbite that must have made it the subject of terrible bullying at fish school; The Nervy Admiral – a black and white stripy fish who moves like an old man that’s wandered into a 90s rave and is having war flashbacks to The Prodigy, and a new addition to the tank – Big Spindly Shrimp Thing that lurks at the back, trembling. I was worried it might be shy. Little did I know that this seemingly harmless shrimp would unsettle all our lives forever. Well, mine. For, like, two days.

On Sunday afternoon we got back to my mum’s after a walk in the woods, put the kettle on, and checked on the fish, me congratulating myself on taking my minimal responsibilities so seriously. Then I saw the carnage and gasped in horror. Dopey White Dude, last seen giving a wall of moss a proper good sucking only an hour previously, was now heavily dead and being grappled by Spindly Shrimp Thing, who out of nowhere suddenly exuded a transformational evil that seemed to turn the very waters black.

“WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE?”, I exclaimed indignantly with my hands on my hips, like a preppy babysitter who had important coursework to be getting on with and didn’t have time for mischief and certainly not murder. Realising I wasn’t going to get any sensible answers from a crustacean, I sat on a chair and peered into the tank to try and surmise what had happened while I had been out for a bracing walk, banging on about the joy of autumn leaves. And I stayed there with my eyelashes blinking against the glass. For far too long to be psychologically healthy. The sights I beheld will chill me for life. Or until I have been relieved of the duties that I am clearly not cut out for psychologically, and fall back on my old friend, Retrospective Denial. (Middle name La La La La Laaa.)

George and I held a fraught detective session, like a two-man episode of Columbo set in the Sealife Centre. George thought it was a natural death and that the shrimp had just happened upon the corpse while feeling peckish. But I believed I had seen the very fires of Hell in that shrimp’s black eyes and I wanted vengeance, and peace and safety for the other occupants of the tank. George kept dragging me out of the room because I was being no fun – like, seriously, a real dick about it all – but I couldn’t relax. What if the others met their deaths too and it was all my fault for not flushing Spindly Shrimp – AKA The Devil – down the lav straight away?

Each time we left the room we’d switch off the lights to lull the wily shrimp bastard into a false sense of security, then popped back in for obsessive death checks. At each interval something new and wicked had taken place. Lights off. Tea break. Lights on. The Devil had cast off the corpse and was flexing his claws at The Nervy Admiral like he was a between-courses sorbet. Lights off. Half an episode of Luther. Lights on. Intrepid Hermit Crab had dive-bombed off the rock and was on his back, peddling his little legs and delving his claws into the guts of the dwindling carcass of Dopey White Dude. Lights off. Pretend to George I need a wee. Lights on. The Devil had forcibly, jealously, retrieved the cadaver and was filching its pincers into the gills of Dopey White Dude, who was essentially now just a floppy pocket of tasty fish guts.

It went on for hours, this sick carousel of wet despair. Nature is a fucking horror show.

I’ve got five bloody days left of looking after these tiny hell beasts – these mad little bastards who put the loco into ‘in loco parentis’. Five. I’m going to have to keep my wits about me, keep my beady eyes on them, try not to whimper as I studiously watch the body of Dopey White Dude being slowly gnawed down to the scaly nub, and if The Devil even attempts to go near Sexy Shrimp or the Nervy Admiral I’m going in, armed with a pipette to squirt Domestos in his evil crusty face before I pull his stupid fucking legs off.

 

MEET THE CAST…

image6

Sexy Shrimp, doing what he does best – rutting the coral like it’s his last Christmas

image7

Intrepid Hermit Crab – rare shot of his eyeball stalks there. Probably off his tits on fish blood, like a tramp on a Tennents bender.

image1

The Nervy Admiral – mid escape.

image1

AND THE EVIL SPINDLY ARSEHOLE SHRIMP DEVIL BASTARD, PLAYING AROUND WITH HIS FOOD – AKA THE FISH FORMERLY KNOWN AS DOPEY WHITE DUDE

image3

The Hermit Crab, tucking in. I don’t blame him, he didn’t do the killing. It’s like having a wedding buffet put in front of you and not having a sausage roll. If anything it would be a waste to leave it.

image2

The Devil – about to discard Dopey White Dude and have a go at the Admiral. Prick.

image5

Dopey White Dude – The Remains

What are you?

A friend just sent me a quote. It’s one of my favourites. Roald Dahl. “If a person has ugly thoughts it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. you can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

It was linked to Theresa May looking like demonic hag and to a dishevelled Jeremy Corbyn with his kind eyes.

But this isn’t about them. It’s about us all. It’s about you, reading this now.

As part of my job(s) I have to do a lot of social media. Most people do nowaways. I have to push my plays, I share my columns and other writing, I share events I’m doing, projects I’m involved in. And I work for an arts organisation who, amongst many other things, puts on events. A lot of blood sweat toil and occasionally tears goes into our projects. And ideas, good intentions, and love. Lots of that.

As part of running events we get a lot of people offering other ideas, feedback, criticism. Quite often vitriol and spite. People who think they know better how to run an event that twenty thousand people attend every year to mostly jubilant response. Have they ever done it themselves? Mostly not. Because it’s hard. Anything mass scale can never be perfect. Anything that revolves around humans is never perfect, because humans are not perfect, and you can’t control their singular behaviour. Things can go wrong. Good people tackle it and try to get better. Because they are doers. Bad people moan and fire grenades. They tend to be people who do less, who have less to do, and worse, delude themselves that their venomous little splurges have something of value.

Facebook has increasingly become a wallowing pit for people who prefer wading in thick muck and bile to clear waters and positivity. People who get their sole satisfaction from ranting on media platforms seldom think enough to realise they are not reaching the core issue, but are merely reaching one or two people trying to do a job. Who take in their words and carry them around in their personal lives, who take their energy home, to the bath, to bed, and into their hearts. It’s like having a go at the till girl because you don’t like a brand. Which are you? Are you a muck-flinger or a clean water paddler? Ask yourself quickly, now. I wonder if you are right. I wonder if what you think about yourself is what others think about you.

People who fire their ire into the ether think they are assertive, righteously angry, the product of a society which now thinks moaning and attacking as the primary approach is the best way to get what you want. It never is. Even if you achieve the outcome you want – the compensation, the apology, the plain weary receding of someone else’s opinion – you have still lost something by resorting to negative energy and spite. I believe the energy we send out there lingers like clouds. It reflects us, it affects people’s moods, and it is hard to forget.

People who know they are quick to jump to aggression – why? Does it make you happy? I’d say you owe yourself, your life as a creation you are in control of, and the people around you who soak up your clouds, to keep a watch on it.

It is not always assertiveness. It is often tiring, poisonous, unproductive, and beyond tedious. Make a real change. Do things, create things, counter things in a truly enlightening and positive way. Use better more powerful language in your criticism. There is no value in being a critic of things when it does not co-exist alongside something else, something which makes you a valuable human to have around.

Are you the best kind of assertive you can be? Are you doing good? Are you making a difference, or are you just spaffing out an energy that is of no use to anyone, that speaks of a deeper dissatisfaction in your own life, targeted outwards to others, who can’t help the person you’ve allowed yourself to become.

What are you? Look deep; do it. What are you really? Are you sunbeams, or are you black clouds? Are you clean blood, or are you cancer?

maxresdefault