High School Blues

I took my daughter to a high school open evening last night, the school I once went to. I suppose it wasn’t that long ago, I had my daughter when I was seventeen. She’s eleven soon, and nearly as tall as me, it’s very strange to watch her grow up, she’s so mature already for her age, and she has made me so proud in so many ways.

At the school we had a presentation in the school hall where I used to have assemblies, and I felt the acute anxiety I used to feel, not wanting to go to lessons, the utter dread. I remembered everything so intensely, feeling like an outsider, feeling singled out, bullied. And I went to the art room and the music room and almost connected with my fifteen year old self somehow, I could almost perfectly imagine myself sat there drawing, or by the piano singing to Mr. Whittingham, who was sadly not there. There were some teachers that used to teach me, still there, I avoided a couple because it was too weird, and I realised I was one of the youngest mums. A girl who bullied me was there with her son, she still gives me filthy looks now for no good reason after all these years and her probably not knowing why she picked on me in the first place.

The evening was emotional, Elizabeth ended up in tears because she couldn’t understand why we have to make a decision about which school she should go to when it’s only just the beginning of year six. I think she was overwhelmed by the size of the place and the prospect of having to start over. Me and Steven remembered some of the old teachers we had who were terrifying. We had a teacher called Mr. Brayley-Willmotts, who taught history and rarely ever asked any girls questions and was very creepy with the boys. He was a bully and a sexist pig. And Steven had Mr. Lees who would make boys do PE in their underpants and would have them facing the wall doing squats.

It doesn’t feel that long ago and I guess it’s not. I wasn’t young for long, pregnant when I was sixteen. I just hope and hope that Elizabeth will have the best years at school. She’s already very popular and extremely cool so I don’t think I have much to worry about. I was an oddball, I had dyed black hair it would wear little beatnik braids and I wore a velvet jacket and listened to Smashing Pumpkins, wrote poetry and played the guitar. I didn’t have much schooling, in child and adolescent psychiatric services for some time, and school work not being the main focus of what went on there. I still did well but missed a lot of essential stuff. At the end of school I did most of my lessons in the library or the art block and only attended a few classes. I know so many kids whose experiences were similar, and my heart breaks for them. I used to watch the kids out playing netball and wish I could just join in, but I was broken up inside. Elizabeth’s not much like me and I can’t see her struggling with making friends or getting involved or getting good grades, she’s above average in all her schoolwork now.

I never realised how hard this would be. When you think about what your kids have to go through and how hard it all is you could cry. I could cry for that troubled fifteen year old girl with her scars and her moodswings and the insults and the jibes and the names and the gossip. I think that I didn’t talk enough about it, I kept everything in and I think I felt really that there was just something wrong with me and I just deserved it. My daughter will never feel like that, I can say that for sure. If there’s one thing we know how to do in this house it’s talk. Mostly we drive each other crazy with talking. The one thing I have learned and brought with me is that families have to be wide open. If I feel I haven’t got my finger on the pulse or I don’t know what is going on at any particular time I see it as not doing my job properly, if the kids aren’t being open I get right in and make sure we all know we can talk about it and if someone’s got a problem it’s everyone’s problem. I think this will be made infinitely difficult when the teens kick in but it might not be as bad as I think; I sort of feel like I have to prepare for them now. Like settling in the boundaries, I always say to her I wish I could be her best friend but I’m not, I’m a mum and I have a job to do. It surely is the hardest job in the world. There’s a lot of tough love in this house and every night I sit down and think, am I doing right. Am I gentle enough, am I fair, am I overreacting, am I giving enough affection, and it feels as though I’ll never know how to get it just right.

I don’t wish I was young again, but I miss it. Like singing Nina Simone songs down a back alley to my first boyfriend, and sharing a bag of chips at lunchtime with my best friend and putting the world to rights, and smoking sneaky cigarettes and swimming in the reservoir and having picnics in the park and watching MTV on the sofa with a blanket and a can of cider. I do have wonderful memories, alongside all the bad stuff, all the trouble and the grief. And I grew up fast but I don’t regret it at all.

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Trauma TV

I get in the passenger seat and I sit wondering how it is that the whole thing doesn’t just untether itself and fall apart, crashing, a mess of wrong people and wrong times. I walk around and feel amazed that other people are also walking, not falling or being kicked or jumping in front of cars. The world seems so implausible, so fragile and why is it we can walk around or get in our car and feel as though the normality is that we survive it all.

I was deeply unsettled by This is England ’86 last night. I wanted to watch it because I loved the film and the last two episodes were superb, apart from the montage at the end. There seems to be a big following on facebook and I imagine it’s got very high ratings. I watched it with my hand over my mouth and wouldn’t speak to my husband afterwards. I got into bed and took my sleeping pill and read some of Doris Lessing’s Mara and Dann and steeled myself, then I curled up tight and went to sleep. I’m still too upset to talk about it with my husband, because I never wanted to have to talk about it again, and I won’t. So why am I writing to you, dear blog? Because I don’t have to look anyone in the eye or feel ashamed, because there’s distance and I am in control.

If you watched it, I imagine you were shocked, upset, and if you weren’t you have got problems. How can anyone justify putting something that awful out there, as fiction, as telly, when it was so disturbing? I suppose it’s acting out something which is real and horrifying, making people reflect on it, on abuses and making people aware. Did it go too far? I don’t know, I would like to know what other people thought. I imagine a lot of people would think it ridiculous to get upset about something on the telly, because it’s just telly. Even if nothing else, the acting was about as good as it gets, it was so realistic. It was gratuitous. What was Shane Meadows trying to achieve? I wonder if ratings will soar or plummet. I felt as though putting it out there so unashamedly was a good thing for victims, for public awareness. I also didn’t feel right about watching it, and afterwards I felt ashamed of my body and things came back to me so hard I had to separate myself from it by going through my bedtime routine like I did when I was little, trying to breathe right and focus. I did some EFT, emotional freedom technique, which I use every day to get through anxiety. I took my pills and lay down feeling so grateful and so lucky to be alive, to be human, to be strong, and to have such a wonderful, loving husband. I was grateful for my two children, I was amazed that my life could be so safe, so untroubled. I held on to those things. I held onto my book, only half reading, just scanning, just trying to find a hook, a line that would take me somewhere else.

Today the sun is out and I have the house to myself in complete quiet. I’ve had my injection and I’m going to make a hot cup of coffee and write about things I can deal with. I’ve set in some boundaries today, and I’m trying not to feel so fragile, that the world is unbearably chaotic and I can’t catch my breath. The fact is I am surviving, and for today at least, I don’t need to worry about anything falling apart.

Sweet, sweet September

September is simply beautiful. The sun comes up with a chill in the air so you have to button your coat and the sunshine still brightens your eyes. I’m ready to wear boots again and walk the dog in the dark with my hands in my pockets and my collar turned up. It’s also the saddest month for me, bittersweet perhaps. When the rain comes I want to get soaked through with it I’m so tired of central heating and wearing old cardigans and hair that takes ages to dry and skin that really suffers the cold. Okay so we’re not there yet, there’s still time for the winter chill to really set in. It’s my favourite time of year, I feel as though I can retreat, I can step back and look at things. The year gone, the year to come and all of this hurtling past and the hurt you get in your throat when you realise something’s not forever.

Genius or Not will being going live in the coming months, a web based writing project with some of the finest talent around. I have to say that so far it has made me feel acutely vulnerable, writing 20 lines and publishing them whether they are indeed genius or indeed not. I wrote every day to start with, but have picked pieces out, which I don’t think are magnificent specimens of language at all. I’ll just have to wait and see what readers make of it!

My book, Bite Your Tongue When You Give Me My Name, a collection of ‘early’ poems will be available in paperback in the next week or so. Don’t buy the ebook version as it now differs radically from the paperback version. The book contains crucial moments in my poetry writing, loosely confessional writing and charts a personal writing journey, looking back and challenging the moment. I wanted Chipmunka to publish it as they are a mental health publisher and all of the work in the book was written whilst unwell, I am a manic depressive and I’ve spent the majority of my life ill. I have been stable now for six months after taking an antipsychotic depot injection once a week. I never saw my life without bipolar before but I’m painfully real, everything is acutely clarified and real.

I’m going to be part of a medical experiment in November, beginning to look at ways to treat bipolar, by being part of therapy groups and seeing if they help my recovery. I’m looking forward to it even though I know it won’t be easy, having to talk about how the past few years have been and face up to it all again. I’m not so optimistic as to think I won’t ever have another episode, but I can see me being well for the forseeable future at the very least. It’s still amazing that I can say that.

One thing the depot does that might sound strange is it prevents me from crying. I have emotions but often they feel choked back. I don’t feel that I can show emotion like I used to. It also gives me a lot of prolactin hormone so I don’t have any periods and I have side effects that I take pills for, like uncontrolled movement. I get so drowsy I can fall asleep sat up but I use some of the side effects tablets when it’s bad because they’re kind of uppers. The thing I hate most is that it makes you put on weight and believe me, try and hard as I might it’s near impossible to lose. I also take Lithium and Lamotrigine and Zopiclone, the former two as mood stabilisers and the latter to get to sleep. When I try to sleep with the Zopiclone I don’t sleep much but the sleep I get is filled with the most horrendous nightmares that wake me up stone cold. I think I’ve been taking it that long my body doesn’t know how to get by without it and I am dependant on it. I have always had sleep problems. The Lithium and Lamotrigine can make me throw up all night if I don’t have a bowl of cereal when I take them, and get to bed pretty quickly and get to sleep before they start to make me sick. It’s all very glamorous I assure you.

My son’s just finished his first two weeks at school, and my daughter is in the last year at primary school. I write while they’re at school and when they’re home it’s an endless assault course of ironing and cooking and washing and keeping in line. I don’t mind it. I’m a recluse with a big imagination and I love poetry.

My latest review of Nik Perring’s Not So Perfect stories can be viewed at www.theshortreview.com

My Chipmunka book Patterns of Mourning can be published from www.chipmunka.com Please note that Bite Your Tongue When You Give Me My Name will be available in 1-2 weeks and is best bought in paperback if you check in in the next couple of weeks

My upcoming yet untitled book will be upcoming with www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk which is well worth a browse, they are oozing new and established talent and promote both written and spoken word.

Thanks for dropping by!