There were so many things this past year I had no choice in and couldn’t change, and at the very apex of a difficult time I became very ill. I’d just moved out of London, finally, after breast surgery had gone well, I set up a new home and a new start with the help of my wonderful friends and fellow writers. It was set to change for me…and then I began to black out regularly. It happened a lot at first, and I felt perpetually exhausted, an exhaustion no amount of activity could explain. I could be exhausted for no apparent reason, a dragging heaviness in my limbs that forced me to stop immediately and have to lie down. Things just became steadily worse and more complex and I’m still undergoing tests after my life has been completely overhauled by chronic pain and illness. I’d had such successes as a writer, but with no work, too ill to find any or be able to continue even with my writing projects or tuition everything came to a standstill. I couldn’t pay the rent, I had a tough time applying for benefits and was forced to wait months with no income being plunged into inevitable debt and so, I looked at what I might be able to sell. Thankfully, anyone who knows me will be fully aware of what kind of elaborate and eccentric wardrobe I have. I sold my clothes. I figured I didn’t need many anyway, and with the money I made I bought vintage and new stock and set up my shop, Tigress. It’s the only thing that keeps me in fuel and electricity and half-decent food. It has saved our lives.
I want to get well, and get back to writing, but when sick and faced with months upon months of being bedridden, immobile, in agonising pain and struggling at times to talk, eat, think…writing seems so low down the list of priorities when there’s so much to pay for. Bills, rent, caring for my son, my partner. We don’t splurge money on anything, but it’s still so hard to make ends meet on sickness benefits whilst I’m praying they will be able to get me back on my feet when I see the neurologist for the first time in August (nine month waiting list across the board to see one due to cuts). I’m proud of my little shop and the work I’ve put it to find us something sustainable to be able to cope and not end up without a home. Some days I can only just get up to take the pictures, with huge effort, and even sometimes have to keep an installation in my room just feet from my bed to work. Tigress has gone from strength to strength and I’ve had so many beautiful messages from happy customers that make my day. I love popping little treats into the packages, and my partner Robbie does the trip to the shop to take the parcels. My house is like a walk-in boutique but I kind of love the swathes of dresses and boxes of neatly packaged up coloured clothes. I find it all comforting to have around me. It’s a real bit of joy and prosper in our otherwise pretty difficult lives right now.
None of us expect to become ill. But most of us will. It’s amazing what a chasm you can be catapulted into when something major hits – things you took for granted, abilities, the strength and energy to do even the most ordinary things like walking down a street, climbing the stairs – they’re suddenly gone. And you can’t expect the government to help – waiting lists, endless hour long phone calls on hold, being forced to humiliate yourself at work capability assessments, enduring shouts and abuse from strangers as they pass you in your wheelchair you have no choice but to sometimes turn to just to get out of the house, sanctions in your benefits making you feel like a criminal, not someone who needs help because they are ill, appointments after appointments that exhaust you just to be able to get less than you need to live in the house you currently live in, the dread which accompanies rent day, bills day, every single day. A feeling of sinking as a human being underneath the rest as your body also lets you down. It’s a low, low time for people who were on a low income, to go onto below the breadline when the fact is you need a bit more coming in when you’re ill, not less. You need more assistance, more help, the struggle is incredible. There’s a whole country in despair right now, sick and disabled people living in far worse circumstances than I ever envisaged. No choices, no options, no compassion, no help. As you wait for desperately needed appointments that are so far away you fear you may not even live to make them, completely aware of what Tory austerity has done to your life and the lives of millions of others, making you have to make intolerable decisions – toothpaste and toilet roll or council tax so I don’t have to go to court for the £14 I couldn’t raise – a day without gas and electricity for a decent meal – I see no real depiction of the real lives of those suffering in the media. ‘Benefit scroungers’ does not describe the professional and educated and kind and compassionate and clever and brilliant and talented people I know who cannot get up each day and go to work like many take for granted – not because they don’t want to, but because they literally CAN’T – can’t walk, leave the house, cope an hour without medications, can’t even wash on their own – to be left high and dry at the loneliest and most frightening times in our lives by this government then be subjected to the disgusting abuse of strangers because of the despicable media spin on the disabled and those claiming benefits is so appalling I can barely manage to take any of it in. The scope of it is immense. The prejudices. And so many must think they would never get ill, bad luck could never befall them, when in fact we are all just mortal beings, only ever steps away from losing – anything – everything – nothing is safe, and I’ve never felt that more so than living under this terrible government. No safety net, not a chance. The impact it has on a person’s already troubled mind and sense of self can be completely devastating. When the Independent posted an article yesterday on how 120,000 deaths are reported to have been linked to austerity cuts, they called it ‘economic murder’. The deaths of so many poor and vulnerable people – so many? I call that genocide.
So anyway, I thought I’d explain a bit about how the shop came about for all those friends enduring Tigress spam and wondering how I was one minute winning awards for writing and the next so far down I was selling my own things to eat. Well. It’s just the way it is. And I am still working to the best of my rather impaired ability to keep going.
If anyone fancies a shop, the idea is to provide a shop full of clothes which you can put offers on if you can’t afford a price, which I usually accept, all brand new clothes with tags are hugely discounted from the RRP – you don’t need a lot of money to look great, and looking great and feeling great are wonderful things to be able to achieve in pretty dark times. I love helping people feel fabulous. I give free gifts and treats to people who spend £20 or more, and you get something beautiful to unwrap in the post which I so miss from the days when I posted my girlfriends endless letters and gifts and received them with such tremendous glee – nothing gives me more pleasure, and indeed sending the parcels off makes me feel extremely happy too.
I’ve been struggling very much with language and speech. It’s obviously not the best thing to happen to an articulate writer whose life was based around her ability to use language. Even writing this is hard. But I want to keep going and work towards a time when I can slow down for a bit, and breathe, and the words come back at full force…I live for that day.
Shop Tigress for brand such as Monsoon, Stay Sunny Chicago, Three Floor, Glamorous, Juicy Couture, and fabulous vintage and pre-loved unique garments. Looking good is not about having money and expensive things, it’s about being savvy with your cash, knowing what you love to wear and going for it, and when you wear the thing you love it shows.
Tigress is having a ten day flash sale with almost everything reduced, some by over 50%! There are some serious bargains to be had including reductions on brand new items and vintage labels. Payment does not need to be immediate on reduced items. Everything marked **Reduced** is a helluva bargain so enjoy your lazy Sunday with an internet shop. You could be looking fabulous in your new items by midweek!
I doubt I’ve written anything for my blog for an awfully long time. So much has changed. Very hard to do a catch up here but I lived in London for a while, Sunshine garnered shortlistings and a Somerset Maugham Award, I moved to Blackburn to be with my children with my partner, Robbie, and we adopted a cat and her three kittens. Now we live in a kind of quiet suburban paradise in comparison to the trials which were Hackney and South Tottenham. I also published a pamphlet with Offord Road Books titled Cumshot in D Minor which you can get hold of here: Buy Cumshot Here
Please do support ORB as they are a wonderful new press run by Martha Sprackland and Patrick Davidson Roberts, both wonderful poets in their own right.
I was very poorly last year as a lot of people know, and had major surgery to remove a mass in my breast. I had a life-threatening infection for many months but since recovering slightly I became unwell with severe symptoms of a neurological disorder and now often use a wheelchair and have found my life changed incomparably. It’s made traveling, doing readings, visiting friends, almost impossible. I found I couldn’t work so we’ve been struggling and so I’m selling all my clothes (there are a lot of them!) in the coming months, bit by bit, on ebay. Do please take a look and I will add more each month:
There’s plenty of really cheap steals and buy it now on some items. I’ll be adding a bass guitar and lots of curios in the coming months, and maybe some poetry-type memorabilia and person items. I want to be able to take my son on some trips over the holidays and the money will really help us manage to do that. Please do RT/Share the link as this will help us a great deal.
I also have a Go Fund Me campaign I’ve received a hell of a lot of support from and which I’m beyond grateful for. I’ve opened it up again so do have a look to see what’s happening and if you can spare a fiver, it all helps so much.
Because I don’t feel anything. Because I have an aptitude for philosophising through but not in sympathy with language. Because I hate words for inflicting silences on me. Because my mother told me I have too much to say for myself. Because I was told not to.
What books do you read?
Essays. Human vitriol. Dead white men. Psychoanalysis for the fatally flawed. Poets I like who don’t write like the other poets. Excess and correspondence in a file called ‘RUIN’. Dystopias that can’t even hope to be as fucked up as this reality we made so real.
What inspires you?
Bear Grylls. The lack of empathy of people who work in professions we subconsciously associate with empathy.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
Essentially, it was always a way of getting away from myself. I tried other things…
This will be a long post, but anyone who reads to the end who feels they want to share, please do. Suicide in the UK is a national crisis, but not one the government are reacting to as though it is. It’s nowhere near as visible an issue as it needs to be. For one, if it were, the government’s failing mental health care would have to be a top priority, and if everyone was privy to the fact that people were being failed far and wide it would no doubt upset people. But there are many reasons it has become such an issue. The main two, in my opinion, are Capitalism and the Conservative government. The former and the latter both give people the conditions in which to be selfish and act selfishly, and both also encourage people to do so. They also deprive those who are already poor of a means to live meaningful lives, and degrade the sick routinely in ways which to me and many others are indicative of a totalitarian regime. It may not be that the government are outwardly committing mass genocide in the UK – not visibly – but consider the terrifying suicide statistics and I’d happily put an argument forth for the contrary. It’s become clear that it used to be understood that the vast majority of people who commit suicide do so because they have a mental health problem of some kind which will involve low mood. It is not always the case. Other health problems unrelated to depression are now taking lives when they are not terminal – unmanageable pain not properly medicated – the misery of living in abject poverty as a result of becoming ill – lack of treatment – stigma – hate crime. And then the rise of suicide in the young due to the internet – not just cyberbullying, but the constant exposure, the need to have a ‘profile’ rather than an ‘identity’ and constant access to pornography are the main reasons I’d cite. The internet is great if you are not lonely. There are people out there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean those people are ‘there’. So many have taken their own lives due to being put through the despicable disability benefits assessment. So many people who have suffered unimaginable abuse are not given the help they need to live – they are ignored and have to turn to things not conducive to a fulfilling lifestyle – drugs – horrible relationships – further abuse – poverty – crime – and in many cases, unfortunately, where an abuser is jailed, the abuser themselves will very often receive far more treatment and therapy than their victim ever sees. These are just a few reasons people simply can’t manoeuvre around what feel like unmanageable tortures.
Having been in the system for over two decades I can clearly see now that many people who can’t be immediately categorised as having a severe mental health problem (and indeed many that have) simply won’t be able to access adequate support from mental health services. If they are offered it, it may be that a waiting list means they wait over a year just to see someone, or longer. It may be that it will be several years before even the worst imaginable issues are treated through talking therapies, and even then, this may only be a very small number of sessions of CBT. Medication will undoubtedly be offered in place of this. So what does a person do in crisis? I’ll give an example. I found myself in an inner turmoil so profound last year that I was admitted to a ward then told I could not receive any help five days later, after being treated appallingly. The details of this would shock anyone, and I am deeply traumatised still. This really only cemented it for me – I was not worth helping. I took a massive drug overdose, was taken into intensive care, and within an hour of coming round after 12 hours unconscious, I was sent back out onto the street. I wasn’t asked why, and I wasn’t offered any further support. I had no intention of going back there, or of getting it wrong. The next day I was admitted with injuries which required treatment. At this point police were stationed outside the room I was in, but after the wounds were treated, and I had bandages, and the doctor on call had deemed me ‘fit’ (I was in shock, and couldn’t speak) I was given some lorazepam, and two tablets to take home, and sent back out onto the street. I have survived, but that’s purely down to me. This is true for many people who have somehow managed to find the strength to claw their way back.
What I’m suggesting is that if a person presents with even the most acute distress, it may be that they are given no more than the number of a helpline. Many will refute this who have received support, but I know of many more who haven’t. In my opinion it is now down to us. So how can everyone help this situation? Many of you do an awful lot, and are very aware, but those who are not might benefit from this basic advice:
If a person, no matter if you know them or don’t, tells you they want to die or are going to harm themselves, or you suspect they are in the process of doing or will, it is your duty to act. No one else is going to sort this out in its immediacy, and it is your duty as a human being to ensure this person is 100% safe before you leave them.
If you find yourself in this situation with a stranger, gain their trust. Speak calmly, tell them your name. Their problem, if divulged (and if they trust you it’s amazing what they will divulge – you have to remember, they’ve kept it all in for too long) seems so insurmountable to them, that you can’t try to tell them it’s not. Take it that it is and work from there. There are no hard and fast rules about what to say but the bottom line is whatever they tell you, you sympathise, you tell them it’s really fucking awful. You make physical contact if they seem comfortable with that, and you listen. They simply need to feel as though someone in the world is prepared to listen, and sitting with someone in a crisis is the first step in helping someone feel they are worth listening to again.
If someone you know tells you they feel suicidal, never presume they won’t act. Never. Even if you have reason to think they won’t – imagine in 24 hours’ time them being beyond help, being dead. It’s a knee jerk reaction people have, don’t analyse it, and don’t feel bad about it. Don’t create a narrative for this person in your head – remember they are the only person who is in their head and the only person able to make a judgement on what they will or will not do. In the immediacy of this, be with that person. If you have something else to do, if you have to go to work, don’t. You may feel your time is precious and you can’t help the person, or you may have reason to be annoyed with them – but this is a human life, and dying slowly and painfully in unimaginable loneliness is not something any person should ever suffer. You simply have a duty to deal with this, as a human being. Don’t imagine someone else is paid to do it better than you can. In the long term, make sure you or someone else is checking in very regularly with the person. If you know someone you have only a niggling concern about, but it is nonetheless bothering you, it’s likely they need that concern. Check in, ask. Listen. Think carefully. Don’t make assumptions.
The problems that bring someone to commit suicide are often lifelong and simply can’t be unpacked in a day. They may not even be in the consciousness of the person – they may be being masked, it may be for exactly the reason that the person is unable to feel, unable to connect, unable to be with themselves and understand their own suffering, that they have reached that point, not because they are too sensitive, emotional, or crying out for help. Social withdrawal is a massive problem. If you believe no one will help it becomes pointless to seek help. If you have acted and been denied help or understanding, this is a misery indescribable, even as a writer. If a person has previously attempted suicide, or has been close to someone who has – there should be a massive red alarm flashing – the minute they have spoken of suicide, the ball is rolling. They may suddenly appear ok. They make be making a lot of plans, not necessarily ‘negative’ ones. They may be seeking to be alone, or they may even be calling up everyone they know to meet up. This is to say goodbye. Most people will want to tie up loose ends. They will be very good at it. It’s the only thing they have the energy for. The possibility of the cessation of their own pain is so close and reachable. They may be beyond the point of help. They may end their lives.
Someone who has ended their own life did not commit a selfish act. Consider they may have been too selfless, and not considered themselves enough. They may have concentrated on everyone else in a bid not to confront their own needs and their own suffering. They may have been unable to articulate their distress. They will have undoubtedly felt they had no other option. In that place, the black hole will suck a person down until there is not rational thought in their mind other than to remove all of the suffering, to find peace. They are not the only person to have suffered this, and they still aren’t.
The grief is unimaginable, but see that person’s life in context. See who they were, see what they meant, feel the grief fully, acknowledge its complexity. They are still here, with you, always. It’s beyond unbearable when someone is bereaved by suicide, and when someone ends their own life; but many can be saved.
Talk about this issue as widely as you can. Talk about it to people you know who will squirm, who aren’t aware, who suffer prejudices. Make sure people know that this is an issue we are all affected by, at some level, whether we know it or not. We each and all, even if we don’t realise, know someone who has considered suicide, has attempted suicide, has lost someone by suicide, or who is actively suicidal right now. There’s simply never an easy solution to individual pain, as it’s so unique to the person suffering it. Connection is vital. Do not lose connection, not yourself, with yourself, with others, and not with those you love. Make sure someone is ok today. It takes hardly any time. Text, call, write. Someone needs you. If you need someone, reach out. You do not deserve to be in that place alone.
With Sunshine coming out in September I’ll be reading at a number of events, with more tbc. Here is a quick listing for anyone who would like to come along to these, to support, buy a book, or hear me read my new work:
Saturday 17th September 2016 – Poetry Book Fair, London 8.30pm
Tuesday 20th September 2016 – Forward Prize Event, London:
Sunday 19th February 2017 – Birmingham Waterstones Spoken Word Festival ‘Verve: A Birmingham Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word’ 7-9pm Reading with Luke Kennard (plus, daytime workshop, more info soon)
Thursday 23rd February 2017 – Pighog, Brighton (erotic poetry)
I will add further details as they arrive. If anyone would like to book me for a reading please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss.