SPINNING A GANSEY

I was thinking about the way stress seems to overtake me quite easily these days. Obviously, the way I handle it now is a throw-back from my psychotic breakdown in 2020, but I wonder if it’s also connected to my being resuscitated following a heart attack in 2008; as a consequence of blood flow starvation to the brain during my unconscious state.

I remember being extremely confused for weeks after the episode and being unable to recall the names of simple things like, the fridge, for instance. This memory recall mirrors my state of initial recovery from the breakdown.

My brain seemed (and still does intermittently seem) confused and I can only describe it as a whirling dervish of chaotic thought swimming around in my head then fusing together into an overwhelming state of disorientation. I’m paralyzed by it for a few minutes until it sort of resets itself and remembers to stop and be still to allow the jumble to unentangle itself so I can be free to be me again.

COPYRIGHT

Spinning is a term the cardiac rehab program (and stress management systems) use to describe breaking point and their advice is to not spin so many plates at once by giving yourself too much to do because you’re no longer focussed on what you really want. In other words, don’t give each plate a life or death meaning of importance to your life and you’ll realize that it’s ok to let some of those plates drop and smash to the floor. Relax, take a breath, give yourself a break. Don’t be a people-pleaser or a high achiever simply to justify your existence. Be yourself and, most of all, be kind to yourself.  

My creative process has always lent itself to being penned as streams of consciousness, which helps me to find my way into the core of what I’m trying to say by releasing pent up emotions and angst. I find more and more that I am able to rattle things off without a real starting point, go all around the houses and back again, to an end that is never completely final; allowing me to expel outside influence and noise from inside my own head. I know that this creative chaos somewhat mirrors my chaotic brain activity when in a psychotic state but I don’t concern myself with that. Rather, I welcome it as being part of my creative self.

Every now and then though, the writing seems to grow a mind of its own and I am spinning so fast that I can’t stop. I get carried away with my thoughts, invoke too many ideas, lose my sense of time, and forget to break from writing until I reach the point where I know if I don’t force myself to STOP and STAND STILL and let one or two plates fall, the creative flow will cease and become a state of anxiety that is out of my control. 

It is so easy to slip back into old ways once you have experienced breakdown and allow negative thoughts too much space and, like a mantra every day and to stop those plates starting to spin, I must remember that ‘a thought is just a thought and not a fact’ so as not to ruminate on it and stop any negativity before it starts. This was reiterated by Lawrence Butterfield in his article on ‘Key Steps to Maintaining a Positive Outlook’ (Scarborough News, 19 February) when talking about that aspect of mental health where we can entertain a thought that becomes a worm in your head that keeps turning around and around.

I am grateful for the chance to have been able to exorcise some of my worms recently by utilising the resources provided by ARCADE’S workshops for the Scarborough Stories Project. It has been so good for my mind, body and soul to express myself in an honest and open way through creativity. 

In my last post, I promised to update on my progression of my textile piece from Jayne Shipley’s Poetry and Textiles Workshop. It’s about being lost and found which I suppose is what occurs in my spinning episodes.

One question that was asked of us in the workshop ‘what are you wearing in your story of Scarborough?’ related to personal ID and led to an explanation and discussion around a GANSEY. In brief, a gansey is a hand-knitted jersey made in a dark navy wool worn by fishermen, with a tight snug fit to keep the wearer extra warm, worn on top of under clothes and a shirt with a smock and oils over the top. Each port has its own pattern and folklore says that this is because if a fisherman’s body was ever washed up it would be taken to the port for identification. 

Whilst I do not have a true gansey to display, nor am I a fisherman’s wife, I used the information and inspiration from shared poetry during the morning to create my own form of ID from scraps of fabric, embroidering silks and woollen threads so that, should you find me (or my gansey) adrift in Scarborough, you will know who I am and can guide me back to where I belong.   

My Gansey ID

My gansey is currently attached to a large sail, alongside pieces by other participants in the workshops, for the purpose of ARCADE’s Scarborough Stories Project, which will culminate in a community performance of storytelling around the town in July.

I created a poem to complement the textile though have chosen not to inflict its morose tone on you here. So, in keeping with the theme of identity, I hope you accept this offering in its place. 

The Journey Home poem was inspired by this old map of Manchester No.109, Circa ’74 (apologies for the quality of the photo)

The Journey Home

Forty years on from Circa ’74,
I visit the city I lived in long ago
as I drag my finger along the map’s red line
and follow the old route of bus fifty-nine
to the place where I was born.

With the Manchester rain soaking my skin,
I seek out old haunts from that time.
The house is gone but the ghosts linger;
they stir when church bells start to chime

and a clock ticks; a cuckoo calls;
green finches sing from a tree;
the bell rings on a bicycle;
a young child shouts wait for me;

tyres crunch over a cinder track
riding fast under cornflower blue;
stones pebble-dash a trickling stream
where I once lost a brand-new shoe.

I pass through the village in Lancashire
where I was crowned as Rose Queen of May
and danced round a pole in the middle of a green
 with mother watching (in her quiet proud way).

I sneak onto a steam train that’s puffing and pulling
 towards fairground lights that are blinding, thrilling...
where I play on the slots with a shiny new shilling
then return back home for the inevitable drilling.

I spin in roller skates on a smooth road of tar,
hang round with friends who live near – and far;
tap-dance for granddad in black patent shoes
as he listens to the radio’s heart-breaking news.

The ghosts hide in corners of a trembling house
where dark shadows cover the walls
as the soot-black miners march all day
 and the women bake bread in the halls.

It’s the day before my father died;
the change in him makes me sad.
  I see his fixed face of pain all over again
that I wish he’d never had.

I write in my journal as I sit in my den
in the shabby old potting shed
until mother screeches at half past ten
 'young lady it’s time for your bed!'

I come from a place of knowing
 that the place I come from is gone
 though the journey’s different now
I want to carry on…
   
through the days of my youth
where the people I’ve loved
  are memories in my heart
 ’cos those days of my life,
 ’til my journeying’s done,
will always play a part
in bringing me home
to the place I was born

when I travel through time
along route 59
dragging my finger
through the map’s red line
as ghosts linger like snapshots
in the silent street
  and the Manchester rain
quickens my feet.

With love for the journey

Julie

Published by Julie Fairweather

After being warned never to speak of secrets, the noise of them clattered and crashed inside my head. I wandered through a wilderness of solitude for years, sifting through my silence, seeking a way to release the sickness within. I listened in that place many times and heard my unspoken thoughts groaning; deeper, deeper, deep into a world of unwritten words. Then, in an unexpected moment, I found You there, waiting to welcome me with love, without condition. You bled out the sins of the world and gave my silence a voice so I could tell others that it’s okay to share your secrets sometimes.

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