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

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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.

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…

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

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

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The Nervy Admiral – mid escape.

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

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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.

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

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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?

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Change. History. Time. Feet.

I need to grow up and get better shoes. You can’t traipse around London for three days solid in worn-out Converse and not expect your feet to hate you by the end of it. Those soles are thin at their best, when they’re new, but when you’ve worn them the equivalent of ten times round the United Kingdom, you are definitely on course for some intense post-walk pangs de pied.

I spent a long weekend in London, two nights in a hotel were presented as a birthday gift by my boyfriend as a subtle hint to switch my brain off. It takes acts of bossy kindness like that from loving others for me to take the hint and accept I need downtime; enforced mini breaks, maternal rants, being strapped into a deckchair for a summer lobotomy. That kind of thing.

As part of the prescribed relaxation I decide to do away with the tube and walk everywhere. I wanted to see London. I didn’t want to zoom through underground tunnels and magically reach my destination without seeing anything; I wanted to join the dots overground. With my feet.

I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time to do it; trips into town are usually for one purpose and bookended by rushing. A rush to get there, a rush to get back. Occasionally I’ll manage to see friends when going in for a meeting or to do a show, but mostly I go there for the thing itself then dash away again. Time. It’s tricky to get it right, isn’t it?

But this weekend I walked. I strolled that bad boy London. I perambulated the nation’s capital like a boss. I mooched the living bejesus out of the big smoke.

And I remembered to look up. I was like a magpie for all the hidden bits; the old street signs, the plaques memorialising long-gone taverns, the chimneys and church steeples and turret rooms and broken windows and strange shops and old walls and hidden doorways and mysterious doorbells. Grandeur and hovels, side by side. Valiant preservation and cruel unthinking destruction. Things simply fading away under the weight of newness. Change. History. Time. My eyes were hungry for it all. I loved London that day in a way I had not allowed myself for a long time. Because I took the time to.

At one point, after picking up the pace again after a well-earned pint of lager and lime in Drury Lane, I wondered if my walking London might be a bit like where Forrest Gump starts running and keeps on going until he gets tired and just stops in the middle of a desert road, all beardy and pooped but with a yawn of strange clarity. I wondered if I might be silently protesting against something, hitting my feet against endless pavements driven by some inner voice until the voice just quietens and I would look down and realise I’d worn my legs down like pencil lead. Walking is meditative; it doesn’t just take your body to other places, it carries your mind away too. I think I needed it. Time and space and walking.

And then of course you get home after three days of being the Barbican’s answer to Bear Grylls and take your shoes off and wince and think maybe you should buy yourself some nice Scholls. “You’re 37 now, Hasler. It’s time. Those arches could drop at any minute.” You look at your feet – the same ones you’ve had all your life, the ones that have walked you everywhere – and you see your own history there, every room and street and moment you have ever walked through used those very feet – and you might even remember to thank them.

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The Zen Phosphorescence of General Knowing

I was thinking that being 37 is a funny age. But they’re all funny ages aren’t they? Because we’ve never lived them before, so they all feel a bit odd and clunky, like new shoes that need to be worn in. Just as you think you’ve got one era of your life straight you move onto a new one, a fresh new bundle of five years tightly bound with the twine of time so you can despatch them in convenient manageable batches as they pass. A stack of experience to be filed away in the sprawling room of retrospect. Early twenties is different to your late twenties, early thirties different to your late thirties, and presumably similarly onwards until your own unique allotment of age runs out and you shuffle off this mortal coil in your slippers, scratching your head and wondering why there’s so much stuff left on your to-do list.

I find myself sat squat in the middle of the latter half of my thirties, just a few crispy autumn months shy of 37 and a half. Aside from the occasional shrieking shock of existential age-versus-success related panic (“I HAVE GREY HAIRS BUT WILL NEVER HAVE A MORTGAGE”, and other witching hour joys), it’s alright. Thirties are pretty great, on the whole. Mostly when you remember to take it easy on yourself.

You even allow yourself the odd moment of feeling wise. Everyone starts looking terribly young and foolish, like they’re blindly wandering the lands of youthful misdemeanor and mild peril and you now get to comfort and dole out nuggets of wisdom from your pouch of experience feeling like you are terribly useful, like baby wipes to a spillage or Smints to a post-sick scenario. Those little blighters need you. You have lived. You have loved. You have mucked countless things up. You have got loads to bang on about until they get bored and lose the will to live.

The wisdom never lasts long. Because you realise you still haven’t got a clue. Your life is lacking in any real foundation, structure, meaning, direction, and purpose, than in fact a whole TED talk could be written on why everyone should do the exact opposite of what you’re doing because you’re an idiot. That you have made some terrible decisions and laughable turns, but that you’d be really good at taking stock and making significant changes if only some benevolent stranger would pay for you to go to Thailand for a 6 month lie-down, where a transformation would come upon you like a slow-growing tan. You’d probably get dreadlocks, and your arms would fill up with meaningful beads and potent charms on string, and your cranium would take on a sort of natural saint-like glow from all the zen phosphorescence of General Knowing shooting out of your follicles. It’d be great. You’d be great. You could be so goddamn great. If only things were somehow…different.

When you find yourself caught between what was, what is, and what could be, turning in small circles like a robot running out of batteries, you need to turn to other wisdom. To books, podcasts maybe, music. To history, to science, to philosophy. To people. People you see all the time, to people you don’t see enough. To whatever makes you feel connected and less lost.

I turn to people. I turn to older friends, to people a few stages on from me. I soak in their thoughts and their advice and their stories and their experience and their love. Their knowing and not knowing. Feeling like you aren’t much different to everyone else might not make the answers come and bonk you in the face like a neon sign of definitive acumen, and it gives you comfort and bravery to keep moving forwards.

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