JUXTAPOSE; JOY & SADNESS

There will always be a time for mourning and a time for dancing.

Acknowledgement

It’s difficult to put out a new blog post without thinking how trivial the content may be when weighed against the effects of what’s happening to the Ukrainian people; the horror of it being felt by all who are witnessing it through the eyes of the media. I’m not in a position to do anything much, other than continue to pray incessantly for their welfare (and for the Russians too), for offers of help to keep coming, for an end to this suffering… for this madman’s heart to be softened and his crime against peace that is rocking the world to cease.

Therefore, it’s with trepidation that I journey on in search of my inner sanctuary in penning this post for February, albeit a day late because the month simply ran out too quickly.

I do count myself fortunate that, since learning of ARCADE’s creative workshops, which encourage personal story-telling about our lives in Scarborough, I’ve been enabled to speak more openly about my secret self through my writing. The workshops allow space to explore our stories through interactive creative exercises and in the sharing of our memories about events and places where we have felt strong emotions and connections, thus enabling us to express our story in a raw yet creative way.

I have several pieces of work in progress to offer to the #scarboroughstories project site and feel compelled to be open and honest about my emotions, especially regarding aspects of my recovery from a breakdown in 2020, which so much of my writing has led me back to. February’s blog, therefore, feels a little self-indulgent in that respect.

I do think that because mental health issues in general are more prominent as a result of the pandemic pandemonium, the need to talk openly about our experiences is fundamental to our recovery.  I’ve always found creativity to be a life-saver when it comes to my own mental health issues, more so since discovering how fragile my mind really is, and it’s only now, 18 months on, that I am able to give voice to some of the scarier moments.

*

A poem I drafted many years ago that I’ve never shared before came to mind as I was considering the theme of the blog. It tells of my bi-polar tendencies which I think adds another perspective to the title of this post.

Mood Swinging through the Day

(C) Image
I’m a pale-grey ghost, empty of feelings, 
drifting through dreams with no meaning. 
I blend into the background of life
Where nobody sees, hears or speaks to me.
I’m swallowed up in this dull day 
going through the motions in drizzle and fog.
Like the damp sodden linen rotting on the line,
forgotten and lonely, my life is undone.

I’m a vibrant soul, oozing red energy, 
majestic in stature and stance,
strutting proudly to the forefront of life
where everyone sees, hears and speaks to me.
I’m showered with blessings this day
saturated in rainbows and sunshine.
Like the sparkling white linen dancing in the sun,
reinvented, my life has begun.

*

Onward now to the first creative writing workshop run by ARCADE and led by Shan Barker and Allie Watt of Beach Hut Theatre Company on 5th February, where the leaders ‘saw participants explore their own personal stories through various exercises such as using a memory; focusing on an object or responding to a sense of place regarding Scarborough itself’ (Arcade).

On the Cinder Track (from Station Lane Gate, Burniston towards Cober Hill, Cloughton)

Writing from a memory of my first walk on this part of the Cinder Track (2021) during my recovery from that dark period where I had considered (and planned) suicide (2020).  I realised I had let go of God during that time and this particular walk was the place where I acknowledged that and wholly appreciated that He had not let go of me.

I am alive!

Daffodils are dancing along the verge, spring lambs leaping in the field and the distant sea is resting in stillness.  

I’m in a biblical place of green pastures and still waters, walking with Jesus.

My breathless joy forces me to stop, stretch out my arms to the blue silent sky and sing, sing, sing out my soul in a song of praise.

I am alive!
photo (c) Samuel Bowell
The Lord is my Shepherd

One thing I learned from the experience of breaking down is that I can now recognise my triggers early and take positive steps to steer myself away from the dark places. It’s tough but it’s working… so far.

*

The second workshop I attended, on 25th February, was Poetry and Textiles, this time led by Jayne Shipley with Allie Watt supporting. The idea behind this workshop was to tell your story (stories) through ‘collecting words and phrases from poems, stories and texts about our seaside town to create a new poem or tale then explore textile and embroidery techniques, adding our words to pieces of fabric (tell-tales) and working with others to create a huge fabric sail’.

While waiting for the workshop to commence I browsed the resources laid out on the table and came across a linen shift dress with the words of a poem sewn into it (Jayne’s own creation). I was inspired by her poetry and wrote the following piece about my mother-in-law, who had passed away peacefully the previous day. The detail is not exact. These words simply came from my heart to the page.

Breathing in Waves

It’s a loss we’d expected for so long whilst watching you waste away, little by little, until your shrinking memories of happier days vanished in your fading light. Yet, yesterday, when the end came, we were not prepared for it. Not really. Though we’d sat at your bedside for many days as you slumbered deep inside your dreams of childhood (easier to recall than present days passing’s we’d said). Then, in one sudden moment, your shuddering breath stopped and the life left in you slipped away. We stared in disbelief then fell on our knees to weep at your feet. 
Marian Fairweather 2015

This sad start to my writing was surely an emotion I needed to expel before embarking on what was a lively, enlightening morning spent sharing words and personal stories in a warm and friendly environment of like-minded creatives. I stole the title for the prosaic piece from my, as yet unfinished, textile creation, though that tells of a different, more uplifting, Scarborough tale to potentially share on my next blog post.  

*

I wonder if you can guess the location in Scarborough for the next musing, inspired by one of the morning’s exercises.

Paradise

I’m halfway down from the hill-top, on a bench overlooking the sea. All is tranquil and I am alone, soaking up the silence, watching the gentle waves lapping towards the shore. 

A noiseless plane, high in the sky, paints a feather trail of white across the turquoise sky and I take a deep breath in… 
and a slow breath out again. 
 
A single squawking seagull breaks into the silence, heads for the beach to nose-dive the fishermen’s morning catch; 

A dog-walker sets his pooch free to yap, yap, yap its shrill tone at the seagulls flocking in to share in the haul.

I toss the remains of my coffee, twist the cup back onto my flask, pick up my belongings and go searching for another paradise... 
under a different piece of sky. 

Paradise Lost or Paradise Found?

*

As already said, I’ll display and talk about my textile story ‘breathing in waves’ next time as the creation is still in progress. I’m rather slow at sewing – not my favourite thing but, to my surprise, I was completely absorbed in the process of it. I hope you will be too.

With love for the journey

Julie

Sharing a little joy:

I’ve had some feedback from my short stories collection, A Smattering of Alice, which has been encouraging, simply because I compiled and completed this collection during my recovery in 2021 and found it difficult to write from my own emotional truths within these fictional stories. One comment in particular gave me such a buzz that I thought I’d share it with you: The reader said: ‘It is an extraordinary work.  In many ways quite challenging/disturbing/thought-provoking but writing of the highest calibre – it is beautifully and cleverly crafted and an extraordinary work.’ (Lel Meleyal)

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the illustrated paperback for £6 (plus £1.50 towards p&p in the UK), please contact me via the welcome page for more info on how to order. Thank you.

*

Once again…

There will always be a time for mourning and a time for dancing.

God Help Us All, Every One.

HAPPY ENDINGS

We’re coming to the end of January and what a month it’s been for me on my personal journey. So much has happened (is still happening) this month in response to my vision board for 2022 (with compilation still in progress) that it’s hard to choose a starting point to write from.

Therefore, I’ll start with a photo of my vision board so far. It may not look like much yet but it’s packed with potential for a rewarding year.

WORK IN PROGRESS VISION BOARD

BELIEVE IN HAPPY ENDINGS

My board’s title was born of a longing to experience writing a happy ending to at least one of my stories this year. Is it really a coincidence then, or a God-incidence, that my brother responded positively to my New Year’s olive branch letter in relation to our 18-year estrangement?  I am in awe of how God has honoured my years of prayer for a reconnection that may lead to future reconciliation. This is not fiction. It’s real life. You can read a little about it on The Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer project. 

Look for the heading above on the site to find me. I’m answered prayer #16412

Another strand of my vision is to change the premise of my creative memoir with a restructure and, so far, I’ve taken part in a memoir structure mini course which I found informative and useful. I have another to look at in February which gives me time to think more about my change of premise as I sift through my existing chapters. There’s a lot to think about and decide on before I can throw myself back into it but as Alison Wearing said in her pep-talk email following a memoir masterclass I attended: 

‘Main thing is, you do not need to write a book right now. On the contrary, trying to write a book may be the very thing that prevents you from doing it.

For now, all you need is a sentence. And a breath.

And then another one after that.’

Great advice!

I’ve booked on several community-based creative events for February that I’ve missed so much during the ongoing pandemic’s restrictions. Everything seems to be re-awakening and it’s like going back in time becoming involved with like-minded creatives again. Alas, without my dear friend Shirley as in the old days, though I know she is with me in spirit. Friends we don’t forget are always with us.

I came across a poem entitled ‘Making New Friends’ by Patience Strong in her book ‘Thoughts for Every Day’ which was gifted to me many years ago by my husband. It gives permission to celebrate friends – old and new. Her writing may be a little old-fashioned for some but there’s no denying that it offers heart-warming and uplifting comfort.

Text (C) Patience Strong

I was feeling a little jaded yesterday following the highs and lows of January and quite overwhelmed by the speed at which things are happening in my life (with regards to what I’ve written about in this blog and several health concerns regarding friends and family becoming prominent) that I turned to another poetry book by Adrienne Silcock, local poet, entitled ‘Of Garden and Witches’ hoping for a little soul food (for thought).

What a magical delight!

I experienced a joyful yet calm healing through the magic of the herb infusion I received from reading these powerful prosaic poems. They are layered with meaning and tell their stories in hypnotic voice that draws you into the heart of the herb. I bought the book as a gift to myself and in the pleasure of reading it has proven to me, once again, that serendipity is ever-present on our life journeys.

‘Of Gardens and Witches’ is an unexpected treasure to keep and dip in and out of as its voice calls you back time and again.

I am looking forward to February’s exciting promise of creativity with my place booked on several local events for poetry, story-writing, plays and dance. With that in mind, I’m off now to continue chilling out as I go walking in the wild wind and sunshine.

With love for the journey

Julie

VISION FOR THE NEW YEAR

I’ve said it every year for the past 10 years (if not more) and every year, as New Year’s Eve approaches, I’m back in the cycle of clearing my clutter. I do take drastic action on it but always end up in the same place by the end of the following year. This year I made an early start and empty boxes made it into my office space in readiness for a book clearance… if only I hadn’t started reading them when I picked them up to decide which box each one should go into.

Box choices: (1) for charity shops, (2) for selling to ‘We Buy Books’ or such like, and (3) for keeping at least another year.

If and when my charity box of books is complete, I’ll pop a list up on here for give-aways.

In addition to the books I’m attempting to clear, I self-published a short stories collection for adults on 10th December and the remainder of my stock is waiting in anticipation to be sold for the bargain price of £7.50 (includes 2nd class post/packing within the UK).  I hate to advertise that fact but, quite frankly, I don’t want them to be sitting here next New Year’s Eve waiting to go into one of the inevitable three boxes!  Therefore, if you are interested in adding ‘A Smattering of Alice’ to your book collection please email me at juliefairweather@yahoo.co.uk for further details.

I always find this time of year difficult because of estrangement within my family circle and usually sit brooding that another year has passed by without those broken relationships healing. This New Year’s Eve I’m trying not to dwell on it and I’ve decided to invest in some ‘me-time’ by busying myself in the creation of a vision board. This is in readiness to clear clutter from my mind and activate the law of attraction. I intend to include those broken relationships within this to bring about some changes. My vision board should enable me to get on with the things that really matter to me in the coming year.

I’m using Jack Canfield’s Article on how to create an empowering vision board as a guide so I can utilise it to its full potential in working wonders to realize my dream/goal. There are several free downloads included that are useful too and more info on the law of attraction. I do encourage you to take a look at the article if, for 2022, your desire is to ‘clarify your vision for the life you truly want to live – and keep it top of mind so you can make persistent progress toward it no matter what is happening in the world around you.’

Of course, as a Christian, I believe New Year hasn’t really started until I’ve celebrated Epiphany on 6th January by reading about the Magi visiting the Messiah. I’m hoping that by following Matthew’s advice to travel home by a different route, alongside using my vision board, I will discover my own epiphany for moving forward in 2022.

Another great read for Epiphany that encourages me on my journey of faith is T.S. Eliot’s, Journey of the Magi. This epic poem tells of Eliot’s own conversion to Christianity. It’s a wonderful experience just reading about this.

So, here’s wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year full of God’s blessings and love for the journey – whatever your plans are.

Julie

A SMATTERING OF ALICE

I received a magical gift from a friend recently: A butterfly crystal that now hangs in my window cascading a rainbow of light around the room when the sunlight catches on it. It lifts my mood and instils a hopeful joy within me that all will be well.

A poetic phrase written on the box it arrived in justifies this feeling of hopeful joy:

‘Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is just beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.’ (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

The crystal butterfly may be artificial but the effects of its reflective colours swirling the room are similar to a fluttering of butterflies all around you.

We know that in its metamorphosis from the common, colourless caterpillar to the exquisite winged creature of delicate beauty, the butterfly has become a metaphor for transformation and hope.

It’s impossible, in my opinion, not to feel blessed when we are in the presence of a butterfly for these reasons and so many more, not least that there is a spiritual significance attached to its symbolism in regard to the afterlife.

Indeed, one of my stories, Butterfly Kiss, in my latest collection ‘A Smattering of Alice’ touches on this idea. The accompanying stories also include a nod to a butterfly in one way or another as a small comfort for the reader as the characters deal with their personal traumas.

The stories are tenuously linked to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’, mainly through the use of character names and/or illustrations, in this adult-themed collection. Its intention is to draw readers into the worlds created to challenge their perception of how behaviour can manifest as a mental health problem – even in fictitious, sometimes disturbing, realities.

If you are interested in purchasing this small collection of illustrated stories, scheduled to be in my possession by 10th December, please contact me at juliefairweather@yahoo.co.uk for further details.

You can read about the collection’s evolution in my blog post entitled: Blue Butterflies.

With love for the journey,

Julie

CELEBRATING THE LIGHT

I was watching an old episode of Poirot recently and marvelling at the conviction of David Suchet’s portrayal of a character he has made his own. I’ve often wondered if David is a Christian because of some of the things he utters as Poirot. I haven’t read the books by Dame Agatha Christie but I believe David’s portrayal is genuinely from his heart; thus, the character of Poirot is someone I (and many others) love dearly.

I’ve chosen to write about this because, nearing the episode’s finale, Poirot said the most moving words to someone who had undergone a massive trauma as a result of the crimes committed against her. My heart went out to not only the characters (the lady and Poirot) but also to the man that is David Suchet.

He said:

There is nothing so damaged that it can’t be healed by the hand of God. Without this certainty we would all be mad.

Raised without religion, in 1986 Suchet underwent a religious conversion after reading Romans 8 in his hotel room; soon afterwards, he was baptised into the Church of England. Suchet stated in an interview with Strand Magazine, “I’m a Christian by faith. I like to think it sees me through a great deal of my life.” (Extracted from an interesting article in Wikepdia.)

Sir David Suchet CBE. photo: Phil Chambers

I do encourage you to read Romans 8 for yourself and see where it leads you. It speaks with great conviction about the love God has for us all.

I know from my own experience, especially in these days of the pandemic, that a word spoken in season can and does heal. It’s happened with me on many occasions. I don’t call these episodes co-incidences. I call them God-incidences. When someone happens to come alongside me at exactly the time I’m in need, it feels as though God himself has sent someone to recognize my need through their own spiritual awareness. Whether they are believers themselves or not, these people are out there in the world, unaware of how much their loving kindness gave me the comfort and hope I needed to carry on. I pass on this loving kindness to others where there is a need and, in so doing, the cycle continues as people everywhere begin to realize that we do, in fact, belong to one another.   

There is nothing so damaged that it can’t be healed by the hand of God. Without this certainty we would all be mad.

I accepted a request to write a series of Advent 2021 prayers to use in the North Yorkshire Coast Circuit of Methodist Churches. I prepared these as we approached All Hallow’s Eve, with my thoughts firmly fixed on the light of Christ and, as it is All Saint’s Day tomorrow (1st November), I’d like to share a slightly paraphrased version of the final prayer from that series with you.

We step into this day with faith in the light of Christ, remembering that in the beginning, the light of the world was with God; and by the tender mercy and grace of God, the light was sent into the world in the human form of God’s only son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour, so that those who are in darkness may seek the light and be led, by faith, to walk the way of the cross towards hope, love, joy and peace.

We celebrate the kingdom of God coming amongst us as the light looked down and believed that hope, offered through unconditional and eternal love, would spread joy into a world hungering far and wide, for peace.  

Come Lord Jesus, come. Fill our hearts with hope, love, joy and peace.  

There is nothing so damaged that it can’t be healed by the hand of God. Without this certainty we would all be mad.

With love for the journey,

Julie

SLOWING DOWN

I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve become busy again after coming to a complete stop during the pandemonium of our enforced lockdowns with its fluctuating restrictions. I rather enjoyed the peace and solitude of isolation at first and find within the current process of ongoing recovery, I’ve gradually returned to doing the things I enjoy as activities trickle back into the public domain.  

Alas, alongside these, I have picked up additional tasks I don’t particularly want, such as taking on administrative tasks that no-one else is able, or wants, to do. I can do without these stressful distractions that take up my precious time and steal me away from my passion of writing. I seem to have put the relaxation and time-out techniques I learned in my period of incapacity to the bottom of my list of things to do to keep myself sane. In other words, I’m putting everyone else’s needs above my own and neglecting my health. I’ve become so busy that I hadn’t even noticed it happening. It kind of crept up on me and took me by surprise.

What a welcome relief then when I finally found my way back to practising regular meditation at the beginning of this month when I received September’s new format for Monday Meditations from ‘For the Writer’s Soul’.

‘The new format focuses on a monthly theme and is supplemented by “words to carry with you” and a task to practise the theme throughout the week. This helps to strengthen and discover the wisdom you hold within and more deeply support yourself on your writing journey.’ (Melanie at For the Writer’s Soul)

The theme for September was ‘A Change of Pace’. A timely reminder for my increasing busyness. As always, the meditation took me on a journey of imagination as the soothing voice led me into the unknown. I felt relaxed afterwards and immediately prompted to write something.

I started with the words to carry with me through the week as directed:

‘Life is filled with opportunities to slow down.’

I wrote the sentence slowly, deliberately using my best handwriting. I vowed to keep that careful pace to capture my inspiration instead of hurtling myself into a tirade of illegible scribble to type up neatly afterwards and create a piece of writing from it. It felt good to go slow. I was taken back to my schooldays when we practised our writing in exercise books with double-spaced lines so we could loop our letters up to the line above and down to the line below.

I love that my name begins with a ‘J’ because I can double-loop it.  It has such a smooth rhythm to it that it seems natural to join the remaining letters with ease and a looped ‘l’ in the middle for added style. It’s almost a shame to take my pen off the page to dot the ‘i’. My surname started with an ‘S’ then which is another great letter to initialise with its curly swirls – though I’m not sure I was meant to loop as fancy as I do now with my married ‘F’ surname. I sometimes hear the voice of my old school teacher, Miss Proctor, who was such a sweet old lady, telling me to slow down so I would remember not to loop the ‘hard’ letters, like ‘t’ and ‘d’.

I did find it difficult when we moved on to writing in ink (yes, the old inkwell and nibbed pen thing back in the day) as I am left-handed and my hand would smudge the letters as I wrote from left to right. To this day, I still slant my page so I can see what I’m writing as I go along it. Though I tend to stick to ball-points these days, I sometimes like a pencil to write my thoughts down quickly. I tend to write neater with pencil than anything else.

Now that I’ve written all this down, I am rushing through my mind, searching for the message I was hoping to convey by doing so. To remind myself, I write the words again in slow, deliberately looped strokes:

‘Life is filled with opportunities to slow down.’

Immediately, my mind it still again so I guess the message is in the magic of the activity and simply stopping to write those affirming words to allow the mind, body and soul to become calm. This confirms a belief I have always held that writing heals through the connection of the mind (imagination) to the pen (physical) to the words on the page (actual). Initially, it doesn’t matter what words we write as the healing is in the release of our stream of subconscious thoughts (soul) that can be read through at a later stage and edited into something beautiful.

I feel what I have shared here is unfinished somehow. Maybe the experience of slowing down and writing in looped letters has instilled a need in me to write something profound that hasn’t yet materialised. By way of apology, I would like to offer a poem by one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver, from her collection Evidence published in 2009, that does just that.

I Want to Write Something so Simply

I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think- no, you will realize- that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your own heart had been saying.

© Mary Oliver

All in all, September’s travelling has been a time of renewal for me through the deliberate act of slowing down within the crazy busyness, which has offered me the space to embrace many unexpected moments of poetic insight.

With love for the journey

Julie

September’s personal highlight: winning the first Shirley Waite Poetry Award Cup
at the Scarborough Writers’ Circle on 14th September in celebration of National
Poetry Day, judged and awarded by Felix Hodcroft,

(I was disappointed at being unable to use the original font I chose for the looped letter examples but it’s not supported by my site plan at the moment.)

BLUE BUTTERFLIES

On the brink of receiving my small collection of short stories proof copy for ‘A Smattering of Alice’, I muse over a couple of incidents that led to its completion and became the glue that held me together during its journey.

My love of blue butterflies is a common denominator in the relationship I have with two friends who have shared in the book’s journey: Shirley and Nola.

Although Shirley passed away in November 2018, I do sometimes speak to her as if she’s at my side. It was on such a day in the early summer of 2020, when I had completed my lockdown permitted hour’s exercise by walking along the cinder track, that I encountered my first blue butterfly of the season.

I was resting after my walk, sitting on my favourite bench at Pricky Beck, Burniston and began to read Shirley’s novel, War at Kiddlesea Bay, published post-humorously. I laughed out loud at its intro sentence:

‘Adolf Hitler ruined Ellen’s birthday.’

It was so typically Shirley that I could hear her voice loud and clear. I was overjoyed when a blue butterfly began to circle round me and continued to do so for five minutes before settling on the open page of the book, where it stayed for a long time.

I thought it may be a visitation from my friend bringing me comfort and joy as I read her words.

The bench at Pricky Beck, Burniston Photo taken April 2020

I lost count of the blue butterflies I encountered whilst resting and reading the book’s chapters there that summer. It was lovely to have her company again (even though it was all in my head). I thought I would never have another friend with whom I could form a creative working partnership as I had with Shirley.

Then along came Nola.

She had joined the Scarborough Writers’ Circle (where I am a member) prior to the pandemic. We hadn’t spoken much at meetings and it wasn’t until she began sending comical poem sketches, via email, to circle members during the first lockdown period (to keep us motivated), that our ‘conversations’ began.

Several weeks and many poem sketches later, I mentioned to her it would be a good idea to collate these into a book as a historical record. This led us into a natural working partnership where Nola produced the material and I collated it into book format. On completion of her first book ‘Counting the Days’ (she is on Number 3 as I write!), my passion to work on my own collection of short stories was rekindled – with Nola volunteering to illustrate the stories as a thank you.

In-between lockdowns, we formed a bubble and went out walking, sometimes going to her place for lunch. My first time there I noticed a blue butterfly on a guitar hanging on the wall. She told me it had belonged to her friend and creative working partner, Riss Chantell, who had died five years previously.

Our shared grief at losing our close friends is, partly, what motivates us to continue working together.

It has been a long, arduous journey for both of us with life throwing all sorts of personal obstacles in our path to prevent us bringing our work to fruition, not least my breakdown last July with its ongoing repercussions, and Nola’s sad news of a death in her close family circle taking its toll on her emotions and her time. But we have done it! Together. And become firm friends in the process.

The penultimate story in my collection is titled ‘Blue Butterfly’. It was inspired by the bench incident at Pricky Beck and also a shared interest of Nola and I in the characters created by Lewis Carroll in the Alice books, which is what the collection’s stories are tenuously linked to, though it is definitely an adult-themed collection. Its intention is to draw readers into the worlds created to challenge their perception of how behaviour can manifest as a mental health problem – even in fictitious, sometimes disturbing, realities.

I wait patiently for the proof copy. If you know me well, you will know that I am not good at waiting patiently so I am constantly drumming my fingers on every surface awaiting its arrival.

Will keep you posted.

With love for the journey,

Julie

ADDENDUM: I wish I could say it was worth the wait but the proof copy has now arrived and my hard work in presenting it to the publisher in book format is ruined. In its transfer to the company’s super-duper program it has metamorphosed into a complete mishmash.

Nothing else to do but press CTR – ALT – DELETE, turn off and re-boot myself to acquire more glue to hold me together for when I can re-surface and magically make it beautiful again.

UNMASKED

The familiar things I once knew are gone, obliterated by the pandemic’s holocaust of destruction and, as other things have emerged to take their place in a different way, it feels like the time of mourning for what I once loved being part of (pre-pandemic) is over. It’s time for me to let go and embrace a new beginning.

As if it could ever make up for the loss of being cut off from belonging in a community of real conversations with friends and the togetherness of family, the gap year (plus!) has encompassed many facetime chats with family and friends, discussions in online meetings and social groups clinging together for dear life – virtually.

Whilst these things have been welcome necessities to our survival during this strange time, I am looking forward to attending ‘live’ sessions again. Although the online resourcefulness of others at keeping the momentum of creative communication alive throughout the pandemic has been interesting and much needed, there’s really no substitute for the physical sensations that can be experienced when using our senses to their full extent in an offline natural environment with other people.

I admit I became somewhat accustomed to being along, even enjoying it some days and, with having no-one to please but myself in my choice of activities, I was quite prolific in regard to my writing projects. It felt safe wearing a mask to hide who I was from the world. But the time has come to be ‘out there’ again and to adjust to my new self in my new world.

Snowdrops in Scarborough

I did not expect to survive
the raw wind of the new world
when the shutters sprang open
and I stepped outside.
It was strange yet refreshing
that, at last, I could choose
where to go – who to see.
Even choose to be alone
if the need arose.
And, after so long locked away,
that thought surprised me most.
Maybe it was having the choice
that surprised me – and not having
it imposed upon me by another
who had suppressed my needs
for so long. Or was it that
I had forgotten what freedom felt like?
With patient belief I had waited,
like the snowdrops buried
in their own space underground,
until the time was right to push
through the damp earth,
slowly open myself up
and have a look around
at our brave new world.

© Julie Fairweather

My poem was inspired as a participant on an online therapeutic workshop led by Scarborough author and therapist Kate Evans, entitled ‘Nourishing the Creative Self: The Awakening’.

(phrase ‘the raw wind of the new world’ is borrowed from Louise Glück, Snowdrops)

Things will never be the same again in this war against a virus we cannot see or predict in order to control its many mutations. In the safety net of the miracle vaccine provision against the disease we have a good chance of survival. It feels like a good time to dispose of unwanted shackles that tie us to our old life in order to enjoy the new life that’s on the horizon for us… but not yet, not yet.

We need to rid ourselves of our old ways, our behaviours, our prejudices and put into practice the lessons we have learned about appreciating others, showing kindness and compassion, helping one another as we embark on this new life – as though we have been born again. We are all travellers on this road. Together.

On the Road

(C) Julie Fairweather

Please, slow down
and walk with me.
Be my companion
for a mile or two
and tell me your story,
for I have much to learn
and every pilgrim’s story
enhances my own.
Speak to me of yearnings
beyond people and things
and show me the leaning
of your heart like a compass
towards true north.
It does not matter
that we borrow
from different books
or use different words
to describe the journey.
We are on the same path
whatever shoes we wear.

© Joy Cowley, Psalms for the Road, Pleroma Press NZ

In my previous post, Heavy Light, I ‘came out’ as being in life-long recovery of an ongoing mental illness which, with hindsight, was both a brave and foolish thing to do. Brave because I thought it may help others to come out and seek the help they needed at the same time as setting me free to be ‘me’; foolish because, for all the talk of us being in this together, there is still so much stigma around the subject. Some people do tend to treat me as if I’m this fragile thing that will break if they don’t try and fix me by fussing around me as though I am unable to think or do anything for myself. The thing is. The thing is. What is the thing? The thing is that it’s a tough call knowing how to ‘be’ for both parties.

In public I have decided to keep wearing my mask to protect myself from this awkwardness and, in private, I spend time contemplating the comfort the following poem offers me.

Let Your God Love You

Be silent.
Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be Silent.
Be Still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.
Let your God –
Love you.

© Edwina Gately

Whilst I may have come out as a poet, a Christian and a sufferer of mental illness, I am not ‘out and proud’ of the latter… yet.

With love for the journey,

Julie

Skimming the surface of life with poetic journaling

HEAVY LIGHT

On Sunday, 13th June, I attended a Books by the Beach Festival Event at the YMCA Theatre, Scarborough to hear Horatio Clare discussing his brave memoir about mental illness ‘Heavy Light’. The former Head of BBC Radio, Helen Boaden (the Festival’s Patriot) led the discussion and it was interesting that the repertoire and mutual respect between the two was tangible. They were relaxed in each other’s company and the audience warmed to the speakers almost immediately and felt very much part of the story Horatio had to tell.

Well, at least I did.

Horatio is a well-known travel writer and, diagnosed with bi-polar, this personal memoir tells of his journey through madness, mania and healing in a deeply moving and powerful narrative. Following readers’ reactions to his book, he is determined to campaign towards improved care for mental health patients through Open Dialogue.

‘Open Dialogue is a model of mental health care which involves a consistent family and social network approach where all treatment is carried out via whole system/network meetings, which always include the patient.’

‘But the star by which it steers is, in the end and above all, love.’ (Robert Macfarlane’s Review of Heavy Light by Horatio Clare).

Memoir/Mental Health ISBN 978-1-784-7435-9. Read Horatio’s own words about the story of his journey into mental breakdown, as he talks to Rory Sullivan.

On a personal note, I could relate to much of what Horatio discussed at the event on the subject of mental illness due to my family’s background of mental health issues and, not least, my mother’s struggles with the periodical ‘treatments’ of electric shock therapy in the late 1960s when I was in my early to mid teens. Each time she returned home from a session there would be part of her missing because the treatment was used to block out that part of her brain where her traumatic memories were preventing her becoming well. (It didn’t work by the way.)

During the long period of my mother’s incapacity, it fell on myself and my younger sister to take care of the household chores of cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking and caring for our younger siblings whilst my step-father worked long hours. We simply accepted it as being ‘normal’ and thought it was how every family lived. My ongoing memoir-in-very-long-progress addresses this to some extent throughout its storyline.

Last June, I had the misfortune of suffering a breakdown into psychosis with paranoia which, fortunately, became so evident that my husband intervened and contacted my GP for a consultation where I was able to receive the immediate help I needed. Following on from this initial treatment, various professionals enabled me to take the necessary steps towards recovery from what had triggered the episode. The experience was quite frightening because of the speed in which the illness took over my mind and debilitated me in every aspect of my life, both physically and mentally. At the forefront of my irrational thinking was the fact that I have a strong family history of Schizophrenia and I felt that’s where I was headed.

Thankfully, it was not as serious as that (though it was serious enough) and I recovered gradually to the place I’m at now through the invaluable support of temporary medication, professionals, a partner who loves me and a few close family members and friends.

I know this will continue to be a battle for me throughout my life as I have been dogged by depressive episodes since my teens, though I do manage those quite well (and without medication) through closing myself off from the world until it passes with the help of my journal writing practice. This technique did not work for the psychosis with paranoia but that’s how it was. My mind and body can now recognize the signs and symptoms when changes in my behaviour are leading me into a psychotic episode and I am more aware of these and therefore able to prevent it building up to the point of no return through the practice of various techniques I learnt during my recovery.

I agree with the statement by Robert Macfarlane about love being the steering star to recovery and feel this also applies to my experience because without the love of my husband, family and close friends, I would not have made it back.

When I was well enough, I revived several activities I had been a part of prior to my ‘absence’ and wrote the following short piece. It was in response to a call-out by the Scarborough Writers’ Circle (where I am a member) about thought-provoking shortages during the pandemic. It barely skims the surface of my gratitude.

THOUGHT PROVOKING SHORTAGES

FRIENDS FOR LIFE

Life is short. It’s a fact. A fact that dominates my thoughts on a regular basis. Thus, I squeeze every last drop out of myself each day to achieve my goals.

That was until I suffered a psychotic breakdown towards the end of June (2020).

Almost instantly, the things that I felt needed completing each day were not important. All I could focus on was finding my way back to becoming ‘me’ again.

My recovery process helped me to appreciate and respect time by spending it wisely, being present in each moment, noticing the little things, enjoying the beauty of the world around me. Simply being still filled me, and keeps on filling me, with the joy of deep peace.

Being completely incapacitated for eight weeks enabled me to discover who I really am… and recognise who my true friends are.

They are the people in my life who offered a listening ear, posted encouraging notes through my door, made phone calls to check how I was, accompanied me on short walks as I began to find my feet again… and those who respected my request for privacy to allow me the space and time I needed to recover.

With these people in my life I have everything I need to survive.

I still cannot bring myself to talk or write directly about what happened to me though I have scattered several incidents from the experience within various short stories. I am currently collating these fanciful tales into a fictional collection that alludes to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with all its connotations regarding mental health, which I am hoping to publish by the end of July.

It is important that anyone suffering symptoms of any form of mental illness seeks help and support from professionals. For me, where I’m at right now, writing about the experience is on a par with talking about it and I do feel a little lighter for having shared this blog today.

Thank you for listening.

With love for the journey,

Julie

Skimming the surface of life with poetic journaling

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