Old friend

Anxiety is brutal.

A friend that never leaves –

He brings that tingling down my spine,

that shiver in the small of my back sensation

of something or someone

always watching,

always hovering,

just out of sight.

And I am too afraid to turn and look

in case it is not my old friend,

Anxiety,

but a new demon, with claws drawn,

ready to strike.

 

But Anxiety! I know him well,

the feel of his cold, slimy hands

jumbling my intestines –

making me nauseous.

I feel his whisper on the back

of my neck,

hairs stand on end.

His creeping words follow me

around my house, from room

to room he hisses in every

corner. The same words.

A terrible notion that

fear is coming,

fear is coming,

fear is coming.

 

I opened my eyes this morning,

and before even the dull winter light

had bled through my window,

before I heard that morning hum

of traffic, buses, life and noise,

I knew:

My old friend,

Anxiety,

that hellish bastard,

He was back.

 

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When all I had was You

night time

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about mental health recently, and the response I have received has been incredible. My whole reason for becoming more direct with my blog about mental health was so that people felt they could have discussions, have someone to talk to, find a starting point, and I’m totally open to that here if you want to get in touch. It’s been great to see so many people have come out of the woodwork of my life and begun to ask questions, tell their own stories, but also wonder how they can help. Sometimes me, but often time people in their own lives who they find are suffering from a mental illness.

I came across this post on buzzfeed – a list of 18 ways you can help someone going through a hard time submitted by readers -and I began to think about the things that had meant so much to me.

The time my house-mate set up a den in our living room, made delicious pancakes and put on my favourite disney movie. Because ‘disney makes everything better.’

The time my friend gave up her tuesday morning once a week to drive me to therapy, sit in the car and wait, and then drive me home whilst I cried.

The friend who committed to meeting me for coffee after every therapy session to make sure I was okay.

The same friend who established a sunday morning breakfast tradition at her own house so that I wouldn’t feel anxious about going to church alone.

The friend who watched endless episodes of Dr. Who with me in the small, darkness of his living room.

But one thing on this list really stood out to me. Number 10.

‘Have a sleepover.’

As soon as I read that,  I was taken back to the times at University when I was too terrified by my awful anxiety to sleep alone. With my boyfriend away at another university, My friends tried to help me manage my night terrors as best they could. I slept on friends’ floors, my room-mates came and slept in my bed enduring my need to have ‘Gilmore Girls’ playing on a loop all night long.  One of my friends spent a whole night with me completely last minute, unable to leave me alone with my panic. He slept on top of my duvet fully dressed and holding my hand all night. One friend in particular took me in, made a bed on her floor, leant me pyjamas and gently woke me from my night-time panic attacks with her comfort and kind words. Although this poem is for all of them really, I think the most of her.

When all I had was You

Somewhere in the blue night,

between waking and sleeping,

I am awakened by my own red thoughts

with a gasp –

a child rearing out of the muddy, tangled waters

of my dreams –

their weeds burning my limbs and crushing

my chest.

 

I cannot breathe.

 

Outside the stars are dark and gone,

the night sky an empty hole in the universe

which I am falling through.

The street-lights puddling their orange light

hellishly, brokenly,

casting shadows on my heart.

 

But you are there.

 

A cold hand between my shoulder blades,

caressing my fretful wings.

Soft words sliding over me, washing away

my sweat and fear, and calling my back

from my need to fight,

or flight.

You lie beside me, a friend,

a sister, a godsend.

In these endless small hours you are my

penitence, my altar, I cower at your knees

begging for comfort.

 

Benevolent always, you provide.

 

Your presence pours it’s way into my

broken mind, a blend of honey and lavender,

the balm of peace, and I am astounded

by your goodness, your power.

In my minds eye I am infinitely smaller, and

cradled inside your golden arms.

 

In the morning I roll over to face

the cold dawn and

There you are, my best friend,

with hair mussed and chipped toenail varnish,

lolling across the side of the bed.

The only evidence of the dark night

is the grey rings around your eyes

and that interminable groan when the

alarm sounds.

 

Your tremendous normality startles me,

but I know who you really are.

Still a fighter

Lying awake, a hot forehead nestled against

the scratchy surface of the pillow,

I’m all in knots.

My feet, my hands, my heart

my mind, oh my mind – in pieces.

I curl myself up, making my limbs contort

and wishing myself smaller.

Maybe if I curl up enough I will simply float away

on all my empty thoughts.

Tangles in my stomach that pull

and itch and a wrenching

inside my knuckles,

like I want to punch or kick or just

rip my heart right out of my chest.

I know the feeling creeping up

on me.

It’s an old friend, a demon in the dark,

crawling out of my spleen

with it’s sharp little nails

scrabbling up my intestine, my throat.

The bastard.

I’m praying for morning as I curl myself tight,

my eyes on the yellow street light

blinking outside my window.

I’m waiting for the magic moment,

the unprecedented second when they flicker off

and the heroic morning will break through.

Until then I will lie here,

shivering inside my bones.

Surgery.

When I look at you, my love,

I see you made up of wool and speed –

Of fast talking and laughter rolling  –

you are a million cups of tea and the taste of it

gone cold, you are a warm place to crawl into.

I don’t see you like you do.

If I was to draw you, I would draw a blur

passing me by.

I would edge it with red crayons,

or gold, or orange,

that tingling heat I feel when you brush past –

our little fields of electricity

crackling against eachother –

that’s how I would draw

the feeling of almost touching.

Don’t ask me to speak of your faults –

I don’t see your broken parts, the things you hate –

that scar on your forehead is a place for kisses

and frowns, and books read before the sun is up.

The puckering flesh on your shoulder is

a night time map  –

I brush my nose against it in the dark –

your scent taking me back to sleep.

Don’t ask me to hate it.

And the tumourous mass that clings and grows,

that you hate to look at, hate me to look at, well,

when I touch it,

when you let me touch it,

when you are asleep and I touch it,

ever so gently,

I can feel your heartbeat.

Impossible to hate something so full of you.

Don’t ask me to do it.

I don’t want them to cut you up.

Faltering

Every day I wake up with the same question: How broken do you really feel?

Sometimes questions follow me around – for a month or two the question lies there, my first and last thought, and at my most distracted moments, my only thought. I sometimes believe it is my unconscious voice, the part of me that needs to make itself heard, gently pulling at the sleeve of my mind, hoping to receive attention.

How broken do you really feel?

It’s easy to lie to yourself, but it takes self management. It takes thought and control, it takes effort to tell yourself lies. And sometimes, if you let your guard down for a moment, perhaps when pausing at the start of a blank page, another voice begins to speak.

I understand my Psyche in a very distinct way; there is a little girl with holes in her eyes who lives somewhere inside and then there is my outside self; the woman with all the labels. Wife. Friend. Sister. Daughter. Even mother, maybe. The little girl has claws and teeth and tears for hair sometimes, other times she is quiet and grown and gentle. When the woman with all the labels starts to lie, starts to pile things up, the little girl begins to ask questions:

How broken do you really feel?

She’s invested in my brokeness – she is made up of it. She carries all of my scars on her arms, all of my wounds. If I ignore her she starts to rage; she cannot be ignored. She must be loved, placated, tendered into kindness – without attention her teeth will grow and her claws will sharpen and before long I will have a beast inside me tearing me up and it will be my fault. I have not listened to her. I have not listened to her questions.

How broken do you really feel?

It’s not a threat but it is a warning. Look at me, she is saying, Look at me again.

Do you feel well? Do you feel broken?

Can you be honest about your pain?

When the woman with all the labels tries to stick those labels over her, she begins to speak, the little girl who needs to be loved. Her healing is my healing. Her scars are my scars. Can I be honest about my pain, my fears?

It’s the only way to keep her safe, to keep me safe, to keep us both safe from the infinite whirlpool of depression. It’s a long way down. Better watch your step.

So I am listening. I am trying to listen.

The diagnosis.

I am defining the terms of this fight,

my love,

I call them out from the sidelines – write them on your arms,

carve them on your heart:

I will not shout, I will not cry, I will not hold you if you die.

A little rhyme to know it’s not quite serious,

but just enough. Our hands lie together on

the starting line, chalk on my nails, on top of your IV tube.

My darling, don’t fall now, just as we begin.

They’ve pumped you with poisons and water ready to run and fall and

run again, and here I am, ready to smile and laugh and pretend

this is all a friendly match.

Nothing to fear. Nothing to lose.

But you must run like hell,

my love,

run like hell.

I’ll wait for you at the finish line.

Meet me there.

Teeth and Claws

‘I am all teeth and claws today.’

My mother says it to herself as she hobbles

to the kettle, the medication,

the chalky pills she’ll chuck down inside,

hoping that they calm the fire in her bones

and the brutality of her tongue.

She’s mean, but she doesn’t mean to be.

Tiredness makes her cruel in the evenings;

‘Should you be eating that?’

Her snide voice enters my mouth alongside

the piece of chocolate, piece of cheese, piece of

comfort I’m consuming and turns it to bile.

I gulp.

I say nothing.

In the morning she will be all contrition –

‘You look lovely today, I like you’re hair -‘

But teeth and claws are drawn tonight

and she’s scraping away at my skin, picking off the fat,

licking her lips on delicious bites.

I am meaty, ripe for first blood.

I will lie awake tonight,

my fingers smoothing the bulge of my stomach

my mind turning in on itself as I ravage,

drawing out my own bloodied teeth

sharpening my old trusted claws to tear myself apart.

I will forgive her in the morning.