Kitchen Mojo

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Last week I made a small exception to my socially reclusive ways. My dear and patient friend, Rose, got me out of my house and into another friend’s house. A gathering to celebrate two birthdays, and Life itself. Women who laugh and cry about it all, with great gusto. There was food and drink, and the hot tub in the garden for after dinner.

I wasn’t in the mood. I wasn’t going to stay long. It’s been a few gatherings since I was able to get my failing body into Suzanne’s hot tub. Though it is perhaps worth mentioning, that the last time I did, it was for a live streamed, Facebook discussion about death.

By the time evening comes, any capacity I have for sitting is done. I’ve made it through another day by 5pm. Mostly I say no to invitations out. I know how to take care of myself in this condition. It just isn’t very relational, unless you’re the dog or cat of the house. I have a whole world on my lovely bed. Project BedWorld. It has taken some efforts, but I have to say I’ve done a marvellous job. It is the place I can get as comfortable as is possible in this body. I have cushions, pillows, linen and velvets (yes, I am a sensualist).

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This is the place I am yearning to be returned to, as I lurch around the festive table, casting (in my worst case paranoia) a shadow across proceedings. These women, who forgive me and care for me, spontaneously start a riff about food I have cooked in the past.

Do you remember the little tarts for Rose’s book launch?
The tiny cheesecakes?
The raspberry and vodka truffles…

Unexpected grief stabs me in the heart. I have so utterly lost my kitchen mojo that I’ve spent the last year eating ready meals for dinner. And, after what felt like a revelation that this body is never going to be able to manage big food gigs again, I gave two boxes of baking paraphernalia away on a neighbourhood forum.

My cooking was an intimate business. I’d forgotten how tender that can be. My friends were showing me that even if I forget, I am still held in the narrative of what has been, and what has been so alive. I faintly recall myself saying: this is part of how I make love in the world. My mission statement for Carolina Cooks.

Today I made biscuits. A lot of biscuits. My heart shaped signature biscuits. Fig and coffee, and chocolate with chilli. I had to push myself hard to make this happen. If you asked me why, I’d be hard pushed for a coherent answer. Something to do with the grief, and something to do with a kind of discipline. Not a sadistic kind of discipline, but more as practice. Showing up on the dance floor anyway.

I didn’t get much obvious pleasure from baking my hearts. I made a rookie mistake with the glaze on the chocolate chilli. My body has forgotten some of what it knows without thinking. Now I have to scrape glaze off, tweak and reapply. I’m sure there’s a metaphor here.

I’m finding that my depression, informed by unforgiving back pain, is not a forgiving place. I know the Fields of Kindness are holding me and all of this. I know it in my bones, and my gratitude is legion. It’s just, well, I miss myself softer and less clenched.

I’m looking for a softer and less clenched way to sign off  this postcard. If I listen to my teachers, I remember that I’m here already, clenched and all.

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Hello darkness my old friend…

 

‘Hello darkness, my old friend… ‘

It is not so much that I’ve had a break from my depression. It didn’t go anywhere. It lives in the air that I push and pull through my lungs. It is weight in my bones and blood.

Rather than having a sabbatical from depression as I know it, I’ve been engaged with acute physical pain. Physical pain and emotional pain are dysfunctional bed-fellows, co-dependent even. It’s easy to not know the wood from the trees.

I’ve lived with back pain for a very long time, but depression was here first. Depression was here from the start; in the umbilical cord. In the bones and blood of my mother, and more than likely in the bones and blood of hers.

Pain in the body: it’s been so long that I only faintly remember there was a time before. My back/hip/leg pain, has been lurching  and stumbling though the days of my little life. I learned to mange pain with a combination of medicine and prayer. It was something of a beast, and it was slowly but surely getting worse each year that turned.

About two years back, almost overnight it seemed, the pain jack-knifed up to acute. Unlike previous acute episodes, it never dropped back down to what I called ‘chronic severe’ and had found a way to live with.

This was another country. It took a lot out of me and from me. It brought new meaning to my experience of survival. It changed something in my relationship with my own baseline depression. Like I said, it didn’t go anywhere. Yet the pain in my body was such a constant bellowing, that I had nowhere else to be except in the bellow of it.  A brutal teaching of ‘being here like this’ which as some of you know, is one of my favorite songs.

On several occasions during this period, I said that full on, unadulterated depression as my home address, would be like respite, a beach holiday… I shouldn’t have said that. On several occasions, I have been thrown face down on the ground by a tsunami of depression as I know it in my bones and blood. It breaks through the physicality of things you can see on an MRI scan and discuss with an orthopeadic surgeon. It takes the wind out of my sails. It tears the sails from the mast. It takes me right down into the darkest rock and earth, where I have forgotten that in this unremitting darkness there are silver threads of luminosity and light.

It seems to be tsunami season.

Maybe, because I have just had back surgery, and though my legs are better, my hips and groin are still bellowing. Maybe, because it took so long to get to that surgery and all sorts of magical thinking and voodoo were tangled up in my hopes and prayers. Maybe it is just tsunami season, or the great comedian in the sky is having a laugh at my beach holiday, throwaway line.

I’m simply, brutally depressed as I know it in my bones and blood. Waking up in the morning, even with Leonard to dog kiss my defeated eyes, is brutal. I remember that I’ve written a few riffs about brutal mornings, and wonder how many ways there are to write that same old song?

And, this is me writing it again. I wish I wrote more. Writing helps me remember my name, and that I have a little place in this brutal and beautiful world. It is a silver beam of light in a dark place. It is how I stay alive. It is how I find my way back to the Fields of Kindness when I forget again, that they hold me anyway.

Writing is a tonic. I wish I did it more. And, though I don’t really play the New Year Resolution, game, there is a a whisper in the bedrock, in the fields, in the stillness and the noise, in that pile of gorgeous notebooks people keep gifting me because they imagine me beavering away… a whisper I can only just hear, about writing more. This year. This life. Before I run out of breath.

 

 

Death & Gratitude

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https://advantagesofage.com/exclusives/death-gratitude/

I’m so grateful to my friends at https://advantagesofage.com for encouraging and chivvying my write. Special thanks to the very special Rose Rouse.

It is particularly poignant to be publishing this piece on the day another valiant friend’s funeral takes place in Paris. Another notch on the bedpost of depression, another precious person couldn’t stay in this world any longer.

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DEATH & GRATITUDE

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The lighting of candles plays a significant part in my daily life. Each morning I stumble out of bed and fire up a tea-light. I’ve been doing it for so long that it has become a reflex, though none-the-less potent because of that. I have places in each room where candles sit and get lit. I am prone to making altars, if indeed this is what they are, wherever I go. Even an airport hotel on the way to somewhere else gets a little nod from this habit of mine.

Everyday, I light many candles. I go through a lot of tea lights, and make a quarterly trip to Ikea to bring them home a thousand at a time. As I write this from Bed-World (which is sometimes the whole world), a little flame illuminates stones in a glass pot, the face of Buddha in wood, two pictures of the sea, two of Leonard Cohen, and a drawing of Leonard The Dog by a friend.

I am talking about my relationship with burning candles because I want to speak about death and gratitude. These little flames infuse both. I’m always offering up candles. This one is for Catherine’s mother. I don’t know Catherine’s mother, but she’s dying and Catherine is walking with her mother until she has to let her go. So I send some light to them. I often have multiple prayers burning brightly – in amongst my stones and pictures.

I will remember the summer of 2018, not only for the extreme and unusual heat but for the death and gratitude that marked it.

My friend Jayne took her life in July. She was utterly defeated by her depression. She tried so hard to fix herself and get rid of what felt ‘other’, spending months on a psychiatric ward and trying every combination of drug protocol. For a couple of months, during this hospitalization, I was in almost daily contact with her. We had long text conversations and some calls where she was desperate. I was one of the people Jayne didn’t need to explain depression to – and that has value when you’re in the belly of the beast. I’m no expert on anyone’s depression except for my own, and I couldn’t tell her if hers would go or stay. I could only tell her about my own experience of falling into the Fields of Kindness when everything else had failed. If I could have carried her there, I would have.

When all else failed for Jayne, she took herself into the woods and after building a nest under some foliage, she took an overdose of drugs.

You might say, where’s the gratitude in that story?

Jayne’s death ripped a jagged hole into the fabric of her family. Her mother, her sisters and her partner are ravaged by losing her. And… and, yet there is peace and simplicity too. The way Jayne chose and actioned her own death touched me beyond any easy description. I could feel a gentleness and grace in how she laid herself down in that cradle, the earth. I could feel simplicity in her decision and I trusted it. I’m grateful for that. I am grateful for Jayne’s precious life, that she was in this world and I was blessed to know her. I am grateful to have known her in her joy, and, yes, I am grateful to have known her in her hell on earth.

Many candles have been lit and burned down to nothing, for Jayne, and all of us that loved her. During our hot, hot summer, a schnauzer called Dennis also died. I didn’t know him personally. He lived in North Devon with his people, and yet he touched so many, so far and so wide.

I belong to two communities on Facebook, over and above the community of my personal friends. One is my Leonard Cohen family and the other is Schnauzer World. Both are exquisite. When I say exquisite, I mean open-hearted, generous, hilarious, inclusive and above all else, kind. Dennis was our hero in Schnauzer World. He made it to eighteen years, and all of us Schnauzer people were cheering him on. When he started to have seizures, we sent him enough love to change the world. Then there was the CBD oil intervention. He rallied beautifully for a while, and, then he was done. After all, in dog years he was a hundred and twenty-six. He died while on a camping trip in the glory of nature, with the kind earth beneath and his dog brothers and human family by his side.

I grant you it’s easier to see the gratitude in this story. A whole childhood, beloved, adored and then slipping back into the mystery in an actual field of kindness. But, for me, with my bedroom altar crowded with candles for Jayne and for Dennis, I was filled with gratitude for all of it. Death is in everything, and when we’re done, we’re done, if it be at a hundred and twenty-six, forty-eight, or barely born at all.

I have always felt death as a friend. Even way back, in the violent self-destruction of my little history, buried in the chaos was my kinship with death. The manner of a death can be horrifying, but I believe the doorway of death is a separate thing.

I don’t buy any of the afterlife theories. I think we are gone, and that gone-ness, the no-thing-ness of it all, calls me like a siren. I don’t think we are reincarnated over and over until we learn everything (perish the thought) and I don’t believe there will be a line-up of all our dead, welcoming us through the gates to heaven. All that is too complicated for me. I am hoping for the radical simplicity of Nothing.

A few days after Dennis died, one of our group snapped a picture of a cloud in our bright blue sky. It was very distinctly a Schnauzer flying. That I believe in. Sometimes, as the autumn notes come in and our heatwave summer feels like a bit of a dream, just as I drift off to sleep at night, I see Jayne dancing like she did at my fiftieth birthday party.

I cannot face into any death without the taste of gratitude filling my mouth and throat. To finish as I started, with the candle rituals – every Sunday I light a tapered candle, sometimes but not always, blue, and say: thank you, Life, for another week.

Categories

A Breath Before Sixty

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Photo credit: Elainea Emmott

I am so very grateful to
https://advantagesofage.com
for their unstinting generosity, kindness and support to my writing. I was chivied to get on with this one, and I had to or the doorway to write it would have closed. Thank you for the chivying.

Here is my intake of breath before sixty.

A BREATH BEFORE SIXTY

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My hair is grey.

I return from my hairdresser having had the last bits of colour chopped out.  I’m now sporting a choppy, silver and pepper pot, topknot, not entirely dissimilar from my beloved dog.

I don’t fully understand the impulse to grow out the colour, which had me ditch the hair dye in April. I knew it was related to my sixtieth birthday, which is now a mere two weeks away. I wanted to see my hair. I had been using colour for fifteen years, ever since my hairline started to grey.

It wasn’t anything clichéd about aging and grey hair, that drove this. It hasn’t been comfortable at some points during the process, seeing the half in, half out thing going on, on a daily basis. Now I’m here. My hair is grey and I’m surprised by the strength of my feeling. Oh. I say to myself in the bathroom mirror. Hello.

I limp and lurch towards my ‘big birthday’ not only as a metaphor, but literally, as I’m long overdue for back surgery. Limping and lurching is what I do – though, my bulging discs notwithstanding – it is a blessed relief to understand that stumbling, staggering and lurching, is the human condition of our little lives. My own little life has become much sweeter, since giving up on getting life right.

Sixty.

Caroline Bobby by Elainea Emmott
Caroline Bobby by Elainea Emmott

The shoreline. The beginning of being old: to my way of seeing it, anyway. No, I am not the new forty. I am not still middle aged. I am averse to ageing euphemisms.

My mother died, just days after her sixtieth birthday. She was bitterness and sorrow as an art form, and I never really understood how that came to pass. I was on the other side of the world, caught up in my own version of sorrow and bewilderment. We were estranged for years. Her death coincided – although I wasn’t to know it for quite some time – with the death rattle of my addiction. No coincidence. I was so nearly dead myself, on my knees in the shadows of Sydney’s yellowest sun. My mother died and I stayed alive.

Thirty years ago: half my little life ago.  And, here I am with my grey hair, having somehow descended into tenderness. I wish my mother and I had had more time together, an opportunity to see if there was any other way to dance our dance. It was a brutal dance and I needed kindness like a desert landscape needs water. I nearly died of thirst. I believe that is exactly what she died of – she was latched on to the breast of death, and didn’t ever get to know there was another place to drink from.

Twenty years ago, when I was in therapy and starting to interpret past events, I went to the graveyard on the edge of Dartmoor where she’s buried and lay down on her grave. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, though I was making it up as I went along. I didn’t know what I was doing or why, but I managed to trust the imperative. If it were physically easier (those discs again), I’d go back there now to lie on the ground that holds her body. A mother and daughter, with a hundred and twenty years between them: thirty of them in this world at the same time.

This turning a new decade, it has some juice. As an exquisitely understated friend of mine would say – ‘it’s not nothing’.

Credit: Elainea Emmott
Credit: Elainea Emmott

I don’t have any recollection of reaching ten except for a tiny, waft of unease. Neither do I remember a twentieth birthday, which was undoubtedly due to drugs and alcohol. Turning thirty was the milestone of my life. I don’t remember anything at all with my conscious mind, but almost dead from self-hatred and drugs, I finally turned my face towards this human world.

Ten years later, I celebrated becoming forty around a table with friends. I had a profession: psychotherapy, and a partner. I was trying to force myself into an idea of myself and it was only a partial success.

By fifty, I had escaped the partial partnership and some internalized constraint. I had found and then lost again, the love of my life and the daughter we called in. I had a proper party with catering and dancing and wore a sea green dress. It seems so long ago.

Sixty.

With a light, yet serious touch, I’ve dedicated a few ritual acts of love and kindness towards this birthday. In May, I went on a pilgrimage to Hydra, the Greek island where Leonard Cohen lived, wrote and loved. More recently, I commissioned a photo shoot. At home with Leonard The Dog and Bebe The Cat. Family life. Love.

Credit: Elainea Emmott

And, it was not nothing – to see the sweetness and comedy I live inside, from the outside.

These last ten years I have been winding myself home. Many things I’d thought I needed, turned out not to matter much. I found the Fields of Kindness and Simplicity. I discovered they had been here all the time. I had been here all the time.

I wonder what the next decade of me, and of this wailing world will be. I’m viewing my personal next decade through the lens of no real appetite for more than that. My sense of having the capacity for another ten years, but not much more, is clear as a mountain stream. No drama. Nothing complicated or ambivalent. Just its ring of truth. And, of course I know ideas, beliefs and passions change, so I’m not gripping on too tightly.

I am trusting my own precious heart. If this is my last decade, I’ll do the very best I can with it.

If you are wondering about why a person might ‘only have another decade to give or to live’, I can only say I’m very tired. I’ve been tired all my life. Living with depression is tiring. I’ve been dragging myself through the days of my life, and while I finally fell from the self-violence that came down through my mother’s line, into something like Grace, it will always be heavy. Dragging the heavy is wearing and I am worn.

The thing is, all of this is gentle. I did, eventually get home to that precious heart I mentioned. The fact that it took a long time, and that in many ways I’m ready to go now, just makes me smile. Maybe I’ll make it to seventy. Maybe I won’t. If I do, and still feel like this, I’ll be writing about ending my life. If I get to seventy and don’t feel like this, I’ll be writing about that instead.

Depression and weary aside, I know I don’t want to be old, old. Seventy feels doable. More than that feels dangerous. We don’t hold old age with compassion and respect in these broken systems of our government. I am crystal clear I don’t want to spend my last years in that system. Unequivocally not.

So, here I am, stumbling sweetly towards my sixtieth birthday, which incidentally I’m celebrating by going on a Death Retreat. I tell people, and they mostly grin at the perfect pitch of it. So very me, and so very lovely to be seen and understood in my deepest longings.

As Leonard (Cohen)would say:

And here is your love
For all things.

And here is your love
For all of this

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.

Categories

IS SHE OKAY: PART 2

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I post a haiku on Facebook.

Sad has descended
Melancholy body parts
drag feet on pee walk

When I come back online, I find some very kind words in response to my haiku from friends, far and wide. I am touched and grateful. And thoughtful.

I haven’t been sending many postcards from the window ledge over the last eighteen months. This isn’t a conscious thing. It crept up on me and now I notice that I’m not writing much.

I think, now I’ve noticed it, that it’s a consequence of the physical pain in my back, hips and legs. The escalating pain from my herniated discs, that I could manage and medicate, and am now just surviving until I get to my turn in the NHS queue. Waiting to be surgically decompressed is grim.

The not writing has to do with how the direct experience of living with this kind of constant pain, mirrors the narrative of living with baseline depression. When I try to write, I find myself using the same kind of language and metaphor. Both things are fierce, unforgiving and relentless. And yet, I seem to be able to write from one and not so much the other.

Struggling to escape my depression, with emphasis on the struggle part, eventually brought me home to a place I call the Fields of Kindness.

I can’t seem to stop struggling with my ravaged body. I’m trying too hard to surrender and am attached to an idea of that, even as I try not to be. As Leonard Cohen says in one of his last songs: I’m angry and I’m tired all the time. I do so ache to soften and to lay my head down… And, maybe the real difference between depression in my bones and blood, and pain in my damaged bones, is that I am invested in fixing the latter.

That is a terrifying thing.

But, what I am tugging at here, is the crazy making, heart-breaking struggle between okay and not-okay-ness. It has taken almost all of my almost sixty years, to break out of that bloody prison.

Now I know, not with my mind, but with my breath, that I am both broken and whole, that I am already here, and that there is absolutely nowhere to go. There is poetry in this simplicity, but it is not an abstraction.  Welcoming This, over and over, is not easy.

Somehow though, I know it. I don’t mean I KNOW IT like I’m clever, I mean, I am blessed to have found a field of deep simplicity. It isn’t easy but it is simple. I am here, like this, moment by moment, breath by breath, until I get to the very last exhale. I keep on practicing welcoming it all, and every time I think I might have got a little bit good at it, I find out just how much there is to welcome, and just how much it isn’t about being good at anything.

I started this postcard because I wanted to say something about the freedom I earned from ditching the ‘okay, or not’ idea. I’ve ditched a few things along the road. Giving things up takes my breath away, and then it gives it back.

My haiku practice is an attempt to stay connected to the poetry in my heart, even while I’m ground down by pain, pain meds, and am angry and tired all the time. I still need to write a little. A haiku is a little.

Sadness didn’t decend and steal me away from happy. I am always with my melancholy feet. Depression is in the beat of my heart, and for now anyway, pain that makes me want to chew my arm off, is too.

As some of you know, I just took my sorry self to Hydra, and I was there in this most precious place, with all of me in attendance. I was touched, open, closed, closed, open, tired, angry, on a horse, on a white bed, in the blessing of the sea, in a storm, in a conversation, on the road to Leonard’s white house… each day I was defeated and healed and defeated. And healed.

Speaking simply, this is the way my days roll. Physical pain notwithstanding, I’m learning to live with the one I’m with, rather than making her not okay. She is somewhat grim and heavy-hearted by nature, but it seems that grim and heavy hearted were just waiting to be welcome. Welcome begets generosity. We all breathe more. There is room where there wasn’t before. It seems I’m a bit of a comedian and a tender beast, as well the one that lives on her knees.

What do I know? That this is my little life, and I’m always going to be saying thank you. Living on my knees is part despair, part devotion and surrender, and always prayer.

I’m in my sun filled bedroom in London, half laid down in a bespoke cradle of pillows, laptop perched on my chest. I pause for breath more than thought, one hand on my keyboard, the other resting on a warm dog belly that rises and falls beneath it. I am here. This is one of those moments of grace when this is easy. I wrote these words from such a place, one day on Hydra.

At last, I have slipped into the breathing of sea
I found a shady spot to call my own
inside vast and salty lungs
At various points 
during the course of this day
that was all

These moments come and go. It all comes and goes. I am touched by how fleeting everything is, as one who strived to get hold of things and keep them. I love knowing I can’t keep anything, except of course when I don’t. Then I try to draw on my practice and love the unlovable: the resistance, the pain, she shut off and cut off, and the ugly refrain. From here, the poems are less beautiful, if they come at all.

My holiday/retreat/pilgrimage to Hydra was food for mind, body, heart and soul. It fed me up. And, yet I struggled every day with my inner and outer world. As I do. I have suffered mightily from the hopeless pursuit of good days as a pose to bad days. Or a good life, not a bad one or a wrong one. This is an impossible dilemma, I reckon for anyone, but certainly for this one. The weight of depression is ever-present, so a lifetime of making that wrong made good days or a good life, elusive to say the least.

So, of course I love the days when I am at one with the sea, either when I’m in the sea, or in my bedroom. All the other moments though, they need to be loved too, and stayed with. And if the tyranny of right and wrong days/life has been ditched, I can just keep being here however I am. Broken and whole. Human.

Two fragments of Leonard’s writing float in through the window. He’s always singing in this room.

 I greet you from the other side 
Of sorrow and despair 
With a love so vast and shattered 
It will reach you everywhere

You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had

 

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Who’s here? And is she okay?

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I’m going to turn 60 in the Autumn. Last summer, when I was feeling miserable and angry about not be able to go on holiday, I talked myself down from financial acting out, partly by starting to plan this trip to Hydra, as a sixtieth birthday gift to heart and soul.

And now I’m here.

Over the last few months I’ve spent far too much time in Headfuck Central, about should I or shouldn’t I cancel the trip. My life has become increasingly reduced by escalating back/hip/leg pain. When I say pain, I mean the kind that makes me want to scream all the time. If it wasn’t for the constant love of Leonard The Dog and the love and forbearance of the ones that know and love me well, I’d have eaten my own arm off. Or killed someone. Maybe myself.

I have hunkered down. Surviving. Getting through days on dog kisses, prayer and swearing. And boxsets. I’m waiting for disc surgery in an NHS queue. I was scared to leave the comfort zone of BedWorld and home, and navigate the journey to another country. I know it isn’t so far, but when your borders have closed in, it is.

And I came, because I couldn’t not. I did kind things on route, like an airport hotel, a port stay in Athens, taking the ferry in the morning. It took three days in all. And, not shaming myself for needing that. Epic.

I’ve been here a few days, three and a half to be exact, with ten and a half more to go. The very fact I just wrote that makes me cross. I’m such a warrior for Being Here and This is It… and Welcoming IT ALL, that it’s so very painful to find myself struggling so, with this THIS. I don’t want to be counting days in an anxious tone, and worrying about whether it’s alright to lay on my beautiful white bed in my whitewashed room, this much, when I’ve come all the way to Hydra to be Here. I absolutely know it is nuts. And, it is often comedy and tenderness that get me through the days of my little life. So, none of this is driving the car, to use a favourite metaphor, but it is making a lot of noise in the damn car, and I’ve had to pull over so we can all take a few good, slow breaths.

Writing like this is part of how I get back to the earth. And in this case, the breath of the sea. I am here already. I just forgot, as I do, and then if I’m lucky I remember again without too much suffering.

I’ve discovered a few things through this bloody pain. For example, that it can sometimes make the ravaged landscape of my depression look like a walk in the park. Please forgive me, my fellow depressives, as I know it’s not any kind of park you’d want picnic in. It’s just that for me, I’ve been beaten down by this physical pain. I don’t know how to lay down with it, although I do lay down a lot. When I couldn’t escape my depression , I gave up and I fell into the fields of Kindness. I want that fall, and of course we cannot chase such things down. I know that poems, tears, orgasms, falls and fields, only get further away if chased.

I am here and it’s this, This, and I still can’t help kicking and yelling and wanting it to be like an idea I didn’t even know I had, about this trip. We are funny, us humans. I am funny and I’m always glad when I can feel connected to that. When the very serious, and not very serious business, of my little human life can make me laugh. And, I am laughing now, at how hard I try, not to try, and how I fail every time… and how the grace of that will bring me home. Everytime if I let it.

I’m signing off this postcard from Hydra. I’m in bed early after calamari and gin and tonic by the harbour. I’m in the landscape of my little dog’s namesake, Mr. Leonard Cohen. A pilgrim for my heart and soul, not to forget the broken body that keeps going, albeit more and more slowly.

Worry will probably rise and fall, as will every damned and beautiful thing. As Leonard wrote: Here It Is. Here it all is.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.

And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon

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The Power of Loving Attention

Gorgeous writing from dear writing Sister, Fanny Behrens.

Fanny's Blog

When I haven’t written for a while, it is as if the stream dries up.

The lack of care and attention to the muse, means that the stream starts to seep quietly underground. I know it is there, it hasn’t vanished forever, but it goes very quiet and I cannot even perceive it until I stop everything else and start to listen. I need to be willing to hear nothing, just hang in the empty space. I need to wait, and I need to remember that it works by magic, and it is a precious opportunity to love.

It seems to me that all things thrive when they are given loving, spacious, attuned attention. And that in the lack of attention and interest they go dormant. Or start to run amok! What is neglected either dies, retreats or kicks up a storm.

When I stopped holding back, began writing this…

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Giving Your Gift

Fanny's Blog

“If you bring forth what is within you it will save you, if you do not bring it forth, it will destroy you    Jesus, from the gospel of St Thomas

Some fortunate people, seem to know more or less from the get-go what their vocation is, and they give everything to the manifestation of it. Some find it over time and an ongoing trial and error process. Some just follow the thread of their interest and – in some kind of extraordinarily logical or often apparently random process – it reveals itself over time. Many people know deep down or even on the surface what they need to do but keep avoiding it. And some go through a whole life time never seeming to know what they are here for, or how to give their gifts in the world.

I have been fascinated by this for many years now…

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1095 Days With Leonard (in haiku)

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Dear Dog of my Heart
Gratitude for all those days
You keep me alive

You teach me Simple
like some ancient zen master
or comedian

You get me laughing
even though my mood is grim
You kiss my defeat

I follow you through
the days of my little life
I am so grateful

Mr. Cohen says:
Love comes how it comes. You came
to show me my heart

I could write haiku
for you, every single day
chasing the essence

Never even catching
the tailwind of loving you
It is just like This

You give me poems
You are the sweetest Dog Muse
Leonard had women

I had a few too
along the highways of life
You are so easy

to love full-hearted
My devotion is fearless
and it is massive

You kiss my eyelids
I raise up my face to yours
Blessings are bestowed

You stand beside me
You move inside me as well
I live in you too

I whisper your name
Your body moves towards mine
even as you sleep

Anniversary:
Looking for the last haiku
My gratitude Hymn

 

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Roadmap to Compassion

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Thank you, as ever to Rose Rouse and Suzanne Noble from Advantages of Age, for the unstinting encouragement, love and support to my writing. I am so grateful.

https://advantagesofage.com/roadmap-to-compassion/

Recently, somebody asked how I found my way to The Fields of Kindness.  This is, as much as it can be, my reply.
I was first diagnosed at thirteen, and even though I grew up (eventually) and became a psychotherapist, I was particularly blinded to my own baseline and lifelong depression.

Through the prism of hindsight, I can see chapters like hills gently rolling out my little life. Childhood ended when I was sectioned into a psychiatric hospital. After that came what I call the drug years, or the lost years. They certainly were that. During those sixteen years, aged fourteen to thirty, I missed a few things. The vortex of addiction is a particularly narrow tunnel. The horrors of Thatcherism largely passed me by. I missed out on two opportunities to get Australian citizenship, just by showing up at an amnesty with my passport. I threw away a woman who loved me when she asked me to choose between her and the drugs.

Having taken myself to the very edge of the human world, I defied the odds and stayed alive. A third chapter opened. I was wretched and wrecked and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to stumble back into the realms of the living.

Not in a Hollywood whoosh, but slowly and blindly little bits and pieces started to move, like metal filings pulled toward Home.

While in Rehab I’d been taught to go to Narcotics Anonymous, so that’s what I did. In the meeting rooms, some were talking about going to therapy, so I did that too. Looking back, I can see more clearly, just how ravaged I was. Commitment to drugs will take everything a person is or can be, and I had utterly given myself up to it. I had no capacity for self-reflection. I didn’t know what was going on inside me, or around me. I didn’t know that I was managing self-hatred as big as the world, the only way I knew how. I was held together by a few Leonard Cohen songs and a taste of something elusive I sometimes found on the MDA fueled dance floors with the gay men.

Coming out of that, almost dead but not quite, after multiple suicide attempts and all manner of unlikely failures at dying, there wasn’t much left. I’m taking a moment to look back at her now, from thirty years on down the track and it makes me wince. I don’t quite understand how I moved from there to anywhere.

Only possible, I think, because of the 12 Step Fellowship. Thank you Narcotics Anonymous, first in Sydney and then in London, for holding me. It was basic stuff. Go to a meeting every day. Or even two. If it gets bad enough, go to a third. Don’t use. Get a sponsor. Keep It Simple Sweetheart was KISS. The way we held hands at the end of meetings and said the Serenity Prayer.

I stayed drug and alcohol free and used the 12-step formula for six years. It was, to paraphrase Mr. Cohen, a Temple where they told me what to do. It was my first experience of being received. I was welcome and understood. I was offered some guidance, but not in a top down kind of way… I kept hearing versions of my own story. I got a taste of resonance and I liked it.

I didn’t know I couldn’t think, or that I couldn’t see myself at all. I went to therapy and slowly began to translate some narrative meaning. The story of me started to make sense. I was immensely moved, as I came into focus, not only by my desperation and suffering, but by the processes of self-rescue, and the intimacy of psychotherapy itself. I found myself training without ever having asked myself if I wanted to be a therapist. Some years later when I did stop to ask that question, I found the answer was yes.

As for depression and me… now that it’s achingly simple, I have to concentrate and focus to remember the wracking labour pains.

I didn’t like the word Depression in relation to me. It felt like a judgement and a terrible failure. I should have worked it through, or healed it. Or, God help me, translated it. I did so much cathartic bodywork, and was always disappointed not to get rid of my heavy. I worked like a dog with a bone… I did family constellations, all manner of group therapy, shamanic healing, rituals, prayers, plant medicine, laying on the couch three times a week, periodic (secret) antidepressants and then Tantra and 5Rythms dance.

Every single undertaking gave me succor. I was very hungry. If I gaze back at all my endeavors, I feel touched by my appetite and longing to be healed and whole, even as I was partially trapped in my own prescription for that. I was nourished, though. I ate a lot of light. I found a sense of place, or the beginning of one. I met with my own homelessness and started to welcome grief.

What did for me, was that no matter how much light I ate, and how much good medicine nourished me, I was still waking up each day with the weight of the world on my chest and the taste of defeat in my mouth. I didn’t even want to call that depression, which is a little bit daft for an experienced psychotherapist, but hey.

The worst symptom of depression is the relentless narrative voice. A violent and unforgiving self-rap. The head-fuckery of it. The impossibility. The fact that it is never, ever going to be okay, to be here like This.

I moved through life and life moved through me. Sometimes with more ease and sometimes with less, but never free from the weight of myself. Never able to make myself well in the way I had in mind and vision.

Something happened. After all the fighting, the twisting and spinning in the wind, and after every trick in the book was exhausted, there was just nowhere left to go, so I fell. It was a palpable fall. My system gave up and I lost my grip on it all. It was a relief.

I didn’t know where I’d landed for quite a while, but when I started to get my bearings, postcardsfromthewindowledge.com was born. I didn’t know much, but for the first time, that didn’t seem to matter. It seemed I had fallen, not from Grace, but directly into it.

This is my first Postcard from the window-ledge and I called it: Forgiveness.

There is a wide divid
between an idea of me in my life
and the truth
and I have tried and tied
myself in knots
with medicine and meditation
to make a better fit
and rearrange the pieces into
much more satisfactory shape

I did not understand why I kept failing
and falling, or see the hopeless, helpless
circles and cul-de-sacs of trying to make
a brand new cut out of old cloth.
I had to unlearn the tyranny of healing
and find my own
that didn’t have so much to say
about healing and transformation
rebirth and renewal
and especially about surrender
oh, how I had to stop trying to surrender right

the pitch perfect surrender
like chasing an impossible orgasm

Somewhere between a daughter being born and a sister dying
I have found that I can love life
and long for death, at the same time
that both are true and I am as full of tenderness
as of despair.

The last frontier was about my attachment to an idea of episodic depression rather than the baseline kind. If I was going to be a member of the depressed tribe, I really wanted to believe in, on and off, good and bad, in and out, alive and dead… you get the picture. I wanted to have episodes of depression, in between which I could be well, wide open, productive and even happy or joyful. This was quite a showdown. The truth is that I’m not an episodic depressive, though I have forced myself into that construct on occasion. It has been the source of so much suffering. Finding in myself a welcome state of well-being, I couldn’t ever let that be in co-existence with the bleakness in my bones.

Depression Is My Home Address. It just is. Of course, I am thoughtful about this. Nature and nurture, generational mental health and all manner of self-diagnosis. But this thing called depression, the sheer weight of it, and its particular quality of darkness, have always been with me. Having spent so much of my life trying to get rid of myself, it feels so good to stop.

When I fell, I landed in The Fields of Kindness. I don’t really know how that happened, but suspect it could only happen in that tiny beat of surrender. In that precious moment when I couldn’t go on and gave up on everything, the thing that was trying to happen, could.

These fields were here all the time, just waiting for me. I have to tell you though, that they are not warm and fuzzy fields. They exist in an elemental world, rather than a Disney film. The wild winds blow in and the grass often tastes of salt. These fields though, they are so kind and so damned inclusive.

Radical simplicity: it is just This, over and over, breath by breath. I was here all the time. And depressed without the internalised voices making it wrong, over and over, is a much simpler kettle of fish. Embodied rocks, laboured breath, the darkest, almost starless night sky, and all the sighing and moaning that living with a dog and a cat forgives. What if there’s nowhere to run from? Or anyone else to try and be? What if there is nothing to fix?

Sometimes I can’t work out if my little life got smaller, while knowing for sure that spaciousness happened. I’m always saying, thank you, Life, and loving the absurdity of having so much gratitude for a life I also long to be done with and out of.

If I have anything to contribute to the dialogue about depression, it’s to do with compassion, kindness and welcome. What if there really is nothing to fix? I know it’s controversial and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but absolutely nothing else worked until I put out the welcome mat.

I have to tend to that mat, pick it up and bash it against the wall once a week, and brush off the debris. I reckon it’s a lifelong practice of remembering to welcome the one I’m with and keep giving myself up to This, especially when This is not what I had in mind or plan.