A torn raincoat.

I fell in love with Leonard Cohen late in life; I had been married several years already. Had I been a life-long fan, I might look at someone in my position with pity, or scorn – can someone who barely knows a man, really say they love him? (Or maybe that is the only time we can love anyone? – I digress).
Leonard Cohen spoke to me at a time when I needed him. He gave me words, where I had none, to name my pain. He sang to me through my breakdown, from across the years, and he helped me get better. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration, or melodramatic, though I know I romanticise at the best of times.
One lyric, particularly, has become like a mantra for me: “Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes / I thought it was there for good / so i never tried”. For years, I had believed that my depression and the subsequent breakdown were things that I couldn’t change – that it was genetic, hereditary, and fixed inside me. I wanted to give up trying to feel better, thinking that this trouble was all there really was behind my eyes. I was defined by it.
It wasn’t simply a lyric that saved me – it was the support and help of many people, including mental health professionals – but perhaps it was the beginning of imagining there could be a different future for me, if I just tried.
RIP Leonard. Thank you, sincerely.

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Hello, Darkness, my old friend…

I’m standing in front of the mirror doing my make-up before meeting friends for dinner. So far, I have only scrubbed my face clean and started again once. I notice this because, when I’m well it isn’t an issue. When I’m well, I barely spend 5 minutes getting myself ready to leave the house. But, when I’m not doing so well, it’s harder. Noticing it tonight reminds me of the times in my life when I have spent over an hour trying to make my face seem presentable to the outside world. I am reminded of the times I have nearly rubbed my face raw, starting again, trying to make it look right.

There is a voice, inside, giving a running commentary as I apply my make up. Are you serious? You can’t possibly leave the house looking like that. You are fat, you are ugly, you are repulsive. People will stare at you in the street; you are that much of a freak.

But tonight it is different.

Later, sitting at a table with my closest friends, I hear that voice again. This time, it is telling me how stupid I am. One moment, I am stupid for not entirely understanding the conversation (how have I come this far and not fully understood tax situations when it comes to housing?) The next, it is telling me that I am stupid for not quite hearing the waitress, or for being self-absorbed and talking over someone else. What kind of horrific person are you that you just interrupted someone else to make a joke that wasn’t even funny? Do you see the way they’re looking at you now? All of them? That pity? That scorn? They are embarrassed for you, embarrassed to be near you. Wow. You’re stupid. 

But tonight, something is different.

There is little doubt in my head that I am suffering depression again. I struggle to leave the house, I can’t find joy in anything, and I am followed around by that voice everywhere I go. It is dark and lonely and exhausting.

But this time is different.

This time, I hear the voice and I see it for what it is. I listen to it, I am momentarily thrown by it, but I am a little more able to ignore it. I am a little more able to say You know what? You’re not telling me the truth. You’re a big old idiot. 

This time, although I recognise the signs of depression I know I’ll survive. This time, I don’t think Alright, we’re here again, things will never change, there’s no hope for me, I might as well jack it all in. This time I think Ok, it’s probably entirely reasonable that you’re depressed, given all the change, and loss, in your life right now. And that voice is really annoying. But, you know things will change again. You know you can win this. It’s a little like flu right now: you’re ill, you’ll recover, you’ll see the sun again. 

This time is different.

To Strike, or not to Strike…

In three working days I will no longer be a teacher.

Today, many teachers are on strike and – whilst I’m not out in the rain with a placard – I am not in school either. I am on strike.

I nearly didn’t strike. I nearly went in to teach, and get the pay cheque that I will so desperately need when I am out of work next month. My school will find a way to cover my lessons while I am not there. There are very few NUT members at the school, so the idea of Collective Action feels pretty meaningless. The school will continue to run, and no one will really miss me. The school gates will still be open. It would have been easy to go in. It’s the penultimate week of term, so I could have had some fun with the pupils I love. I could have been paid today.

But I am on strike.

Let’s be clear. If teachers have to work 60 hours a week, it no longer affects me. I will not be a teacher at the end of the month.

If teachers won’t be able to retire until they’re far too old to be dealing with the workload, it no longer affects me. I’m effectively retiring from teaching in my 30s.

If teachers have terrible pensions, if they can’t get on the property ladder, if they never find a work-life balance, if they go home (as some of them tell me) and cry through hours of marking and paperwork, if they hate every moment of the job that takes them away from the students they love, it no longer affects me. I am not affected any longer by the constant shifting of goalposts, the endless data input, the patronising hoop-jumping, the Threat of OFSTED. Not anymore. I’m out of there!

In three working days I will no longer be a teacher.

I am an excellent teacher. I have taught whole families. I have achieved outstanding GCSE results. I have run two departments. I have touched the lives of thousands of students. I have laughed, and I have loved it… and I have hated every second for the last 2 years.

I am striking today, for the teachers who I love. Most of those teachers are at school, teaching, while I write this. There are many reasons why they are at school, rather than on strike. You’d have to talk to them about that, and I don’t intend to berate them for making that decision. But I do want them to know that I am striking for them. None of this effects me anymore. I am doing it for YOU, teachers!

I am on strike for the children who have become statistics. I am on strike for the teachers who have become hardened and robotic. I am on strike because your teenage years aren’t all about exam results, actually, and we shouldn’t forget that. I am on strike to ask the government to back off and let us do our job – we’re the experts, after all. I am on strike today, because it is the last (albeit tiny) way I can raise my voice in defence of the occupation that was once my calling.

I am on strike because teaching is unrecognisable to me now.

 

Mormon Up!

We went to see The Book of Mormon recently. I loved it.

I love a good musical, anyway, but I was worried about this one. I saw Jerry Springer, The Opera, and struggled to see the funny side of what felt a little too much like some sort of blasphemy (Jesus as a baby in a nappy? Am I remembering wrong?). Regardless of where I might be in my own spiritual path, I still struggle with anything that ridicules my very honest upbringing.

So when my “godless” husband bought tickets for the show, I was intrigued (I love a good musical!)… but nervous. And then I read somewhere that Book of Mormon had been referred to as “a love letter from an atheist to religion”.  And I wanted to go even more. Because there’s nothing I love more than love between different world-beliefs (if we did this more, we’d all be better off).

And I was ready to be offended… and to laugh… and to wince at how close it came to being difficult (and how funny that can be too).

But I wasn’t ready to come away feeling like I’d learned something important for my life.

My daddy asked if he’d like it. I have no idea. Some of the AIDS jokes, the giant penises and the coarseness make me want to protect him and say “No!” (though I know he wasn’t always a vicar…), but some of me hopes he’ll see what I saw in this song.

Because this song – coming as it did at a time when I was reverting to some child-like belief about the world (Why is God doing this to me??!!) – changed how I deal with the world.

It comes at a time in the show where the main-Mormon has jacked it all in (can’t deal with a difficult mission in Uganda) and leaves his (slightly dopey) mission buddy to deal with it all. The bit where the main-Mormon jumps in about Orlando… that’s where I burst into tears and realised what an idiot, spoilt brat I am…

Listen… imagine you have first-world problems… ignore the slightly blasphemous bits…

If you’re Christian, think about the smirk God would have on his face that this is how he got a very useful message to me. If you aren’t religious… enjoy the very silly song.

Reasons to be grateful

I’ve been struggling a bit. Overall, I’m stronger, better, but somedays it’s so easy to revert to old habits, and I find myself stuck; back in the dark. So this post is a bookmark for me, of all the things I should be celebrating everyday.

A list of reasons to be grateful:

1. I am married to my best friend. He is supportive, he is silly, he challenges me. He deals with the things I can’t, or won’t, and his endless drive is an inspiration. We laugh a lot more than I remember to remember, and he has a wonderful family who help me love life, too.

2. This year, I have been studying again. It speaks to me, this learning. Freud has made me laugh – his writing style is so grandiose, so pompous. His ideas range from genius to utterly insane. The people on my course have enriched my life – watching them change throughout the first term has been a wonder. I have changed, too, and I like the new direction in which it is taking me. There are moments of enlightenment, moments of confusion, times when I am frustrated, times when I should celebrate (I am *good* at this!). Life should be full of moments like that. It says a lot that these moments feel new… I have been stagnant too long.

3. I have a job which – despite the Ofsted-related craziness of this first term – is one where I am constantly surprised. A conversation about the immigration of Romanians with two teenage boys in the playground; year 7s writing Christmas raps and performing them with aplomb; every day there are little things I should be allowing myself to smile about. I could swap all this for a job in an office somewhere… and I’d be dead of boredom in a day.

4. I have a home, a safe place. Maybe it hasn’t been big enough, or in the right place for sometime… but it has always been there. This year, we move into a house that is somewhere we can love, somewhere we will grow. We are looking forward to being able to invite friends over again, to sit more than 4 people in our kitchen.. to feed them, to laugh with them. It is in an area where I think both the Husband and I will find the kind of community, and diversity we need. Exciting times.

5. I have a group of friends who constantly challenge me. Who I trust I can tell anything. They are strange and wonderful and many of them are more like siblings than friends, given how long I have known them. This year, two of my friends are marrying one another. They have asked me to take an important role in their wedding and (though if I’m honest I’m terrified) I can’t put into words how honoured I feel to take on this part. They are an inspirational couple, and two of my favourite people to be around, and I look forward to watching them grow together.

6. This year, I have 5 nieces and counting. There’s something pretty wonderful about being an Aunt. All the joy and pride associated with seeing these girls grow up… none of the responsibility. Whilst their presence means I see my siblings less (it’s hard to have a meaningful chat with a two-year-old climbing all over you, I suppose), I wouldn’t change them for the world. This year will see the birth of another… and I have it on good authority it’ll be a boy. Poor kid.

I’m sure I could add to this list, and maybe that’s something I’ll do when I’m next feeling down. But for now, Happy New Year… this one’s going to be a good one!

Facebook 2013

An app tells me my most-used words of 2013. I don’t believe them, but I turned them into a poem nonetheless:

Essay, People!

Very, *really*, Thou.
Being [at] work, tomorrow…
Might things last?
Feeling baby-making:
Time, anyone?
Also, amazing reading.
Feel: college;
Home, need.
Say “Hate”: Looking dark,
Never those, [you] love, actually: Death,
Write, Thought, Think.
These yesterday, bit-years…
Lovely times;
House- thing,
Something wrong:
Freud [in my] head,
Thee, having = Possible.
Such (K)new Year.
Kids… surrounded: Stressed,
Early sleepe…
Bad. Please! ever-fail.
Okay. Lucky reason –
Teaching, Once,
Any night, everything moves,
Marking (for) hours,
Least, Stuff,
God? Watch week, world, months, few, lots,
Why? Moaning…
Life, Observed,
Find, Bless…
Phrase, Better.

Gravity

Maybe it’s just a film about Space. About the human fight to survive – to live – when faced with disaster (like your space shuttle being destroyed). But for me, Gravity was a beautiful piece of poetry about grief and depression. An emotional roller coaster, that left me a sobbing wreck on the walk home.

If you’ve never experienced depression, and have struggled to understand panic attacks, I urge you to go and see Gravity (preferably in 3D, obviously). The scene where Sandra Bullock is spinning out of control, unable to find anything to hold onto, unable to catch her breath, with the world outside muffled and far away, and with no one to save her had me gasping for breath. Because I’ve felt that way, often.

So many of our metaphors about breakdown and emotional pain have their roots in gravity. “Pick yourself up”, “Find your feet”, “Find something to hold on to”, “Free-falling”, “Spiralling out of control”… I hadn’t noticed them before.

In the film, Sandra Bullock is dealing with the loss of her child. Something she has to let go of, to surrender, to recognise she can’t control it… and then she has to grab on with both hands and fight to get back to solid ground.

I don’t know if it was the intention of the film, or just an accident, but I’ve never seen depression so clearly. I’m in a bit of a free-fall myself at the moment, feeling as though there’s nothing to cling on to (as everything around me is changing), but I’ve taken some hope from this film… that I will just keep going and that I will be able to stand up on my own two feet again soon.