I am angry.
All the time.When I go to sleep at night, falling into bed and dreading already the waking, I am angry. When I am woken roughly in the morning by children's sharp bodies and thoughtless hands, I am immediately angry. When I talk to my friends I am angry. When the children make a mistake, or are slow, or are overly touchy, when they are hungry or tired or squabbling, I am angry. When I laugh, when I joke and tease and imitate, I forget for a second the anger. But I am angry. When I kiss or am kissed, when I fuck or even when I make love, I am angry.
I eat all the time. Only sweet things. There is never enough; I am never ever ever satiated.
Late at night, after sitting up with fidgeting giggling children for hours(PLEASE go to sleep darling, stop talking, yes stop whispering too) I find myself suddenly, violently cramming my mouth with Christmas mince pie, urgently dousing the fire that is flaring up inside me. A dampener, to stop the vile words come vomiting out of my mouth. Because if I release the anger, then I will be left alone with Sadness, grief... The anger pollutes my very being, making me restless and twitchy and snappy and snarling, it makes me have stomach ulcers and worsens my back pain.
But it is a welcome, very beloved buffer between myself, my knowing, and the sadness. Where the sadness is a damp fog that settles, chilly fingers creeping darkly over my heart, blotting out the sun and laughter and all the people that I care about, the anger is light, snapping crackling fire. It gives me warmth, I crave warmth.
So I eat all the sweet things instead, the chocolate and the Christmas mince pies, sweet rice cakes with dried yoghurt topping, and I sacrifice my body, my stomach, my health, to the anger which squats inside, and I become more angry with myself, and I eat some more. I am angry all the time.
Friday, July 21
Please note that this entire cycle can taken an entire human life time of travel, or be completed over just one flight. Humans who choose to partake in Flight can start again at the beginning at any time or completely skip a stage, depending on multiple factors including but not limited to, environment, sleep quality, glucose intake, bloating factors* and general outlook on life.
* measured on a scale from 0 for barely detectable to Mac 6 which will generate a flurry of false-pregnancy compliments from utter strangers.
1) Shiny Child-like:
Shiny faced, everything is new to her. She is nervous but excited, chatters a lot, tries but fails to look nonchalant. Packs everything she might ever need in carry-on, including her own blanket, eye mask, evening gown in case of Events Happening, poncho to look Hip in, or glamorous shawl to drape around her shoulders. Everything has potential.
Trying to Stay Cool, maintain a healthy cynicism or attitude of the disaffected. Under super casual countenance there is still excitement, joy, nerves. Carefully selected memories booster a false-positive belief in Good Things Happening category. Packs sunglasses, ind magazines printed on sustainably-forested matte paper, giant headphones, and still with the drapey shawl because underneath it all, flight teens just want to Look Nice and Attract a Sexy Stranger….
3) Middle-aged/frequent flyer:
Engages a healthy scepticism in things Working Out Ok, but still enjoys the lead up to a flight. Wary of the Thing that happened last time, but it probably can’t happen twice in a row, right? Is calm when boarding, patient in queues, and packs genuinely useful items like antacid, anti-diarrhoea tablets, and a good book that they bought 3 months ago and might actually read in the next 10 hours. Likes to order the special meals, to cheat the system. Still the bloody shawl though!! What is this, Paris Fashion Week?
4) Senior Wings:
World weary, would like to get home but starts to Not Really Care. Generally unflappable but can get crabby in long queues. (Signs of The Emerging Crab stage include muttering, rolling eyes, sighing huffily folding arms. If you really cared about them, you’d pick up these passive aggressive signals and act on them. Oh well.) Packs for most digestive emergencies, buys weird cultural snacks at the duty free and tries to sneak crafting supplies on board. Steals completely useless airline branded frippery such as eye masks, toothpicks and small plastic spoons, because you never know. Achy shoulders, dry eyes and a strong belief that what could go wrong will go wrong are all symptoms that they are close to death, otherwise known as DGAF. Uses shawl to roll up dirty clothes in.
5) Death throes:
You’d think that this was the worst bit, but you’d be wrong about that my friend hahaha.
Signs of “Dead in the Air” are clear. Hunched shoulders, blank, unseeing eyes, bags not zipped properly. Cannot stand in queues any more so usually sits on the floor until the place is nearly empty and their name has been called over the PA 3 times. Has given up all hope of making the right flight, and instead stares at the flightboard, noting how the different flags look like Tiny Little Sailboats on a dotty sea. The only thought that fizzes in their silent empty brain is the age old question, “where was I supposed to be by now?” Here the shawl finally lives up to its purpose. Thoughtful passengers or let's face it, the cleaners, will drape it elegantly - oh so glamorous and chic - over the face and body, as a shroud. Just as well you remembered the shawl ay?!
6) More Dedder/Zombie:
Sputtering synapses reawaken this dreadful creature. No sign of their previous personality remains. Flight Zombies have no luggage any more, it is probably in Denpasar. Their emotional stability is, well, off the Richter Scale, ranging from gargling and cackling with delirium to weepy and non-verbal. Legs splay in an awkward gait, and their dry lips are flecked with spit. Their eyes are red and scratchy, and unpleasant to meet in a glance. The main purpose of their continued, fruitless journey? Well, just like their less dead counterparts, zombies are all different and unique. They all have something that spurs the disjointed whirring and clacking body forward. For some, it may be the thought of the green IKEA plates in their carry-on, the amazing ones with the ponies and the leaves. One day they might be able to use them, if they ever get home!
These poor souls will wander the deserted departure halls at night, muttering and groaning, and many will never find their way home.
If you are alone one night in Sydney airport, and find yourself being lurched towards, quickly peel the shawl off their rotting flesh and strangle them with it. You're doing the right thing, it's what they would have wanted.
The woman ahead of me is tired, I can read it in her face. I feel the knots in her shoulders mirrored in my own.
Her daughter yanks on her mother's handbag for attention, and it slides further down her arm. “Ssssshh, hold on love, we just have to wait for a bit.”
The customs officials has a blank expression; bored or arrogant, it's hard to tell.
He holds up two newly purchased water bottles, still sealed and shiny.
“Is this yours or for the child?”
She looks puzzled. “It’s for my daughter. it's for the flight.”
He looks even more supercilious. He is better than everyone else here,he is certain of it.
“Why? How old is she ma’am?” The 'Ma’am’ is tacked on, a careless afterthought.
With no reaction on his face, no apology or explanation, he holds them aloft for a second, between fingers and thumbs, and then drops them in the rubbish bin.
“Next please” as he pushes the woman’s bags into the Xray, and with no word from either the mother or her daughter, they move quietly through the metal detector, collect their bags and walk slowly off to their gate.
I wonder if a 7 yr old could have kept the water?
At what age is it still acceptable to need fresh cool water?
Friday, April 21
And what your judgement on other people’s clothing choices says about your privilege
If you know me at all, you’ll know that my sartorial choices swing wildly from child-like to quirky to sloppy joes. And while it would be incredibly narcissistic of me to think that everyone is thinking about and judging me on the clothes I wear every day, there is a generalised aversion out there, a snobbery, towards trackpants. A snobbery that I would like to gently crush, piece by piece.
Ok, not so gently.
Trackpants are widely mocked for what they ostensibly say about the wearer; slack, lazy, doesn’t-care-about-appearance, unprofessional, unfashionable or downright ugly… the list goes on. Stories abound of people who are horrified that they were spotted by someone they knew, wearing TRACKPANTS, at the supermarket… You know, that one time they ever left the house wearing them…
Trackpants are the outerwear of dirty underpants, friend only to the infamous Crocs (and yes, I could devote this same post to those comfy-cushioned-plastic-fantastic foot-cuddlers). So why would I defend them? Why do I wear them - not just sometimes but OFTEN?!
I’m just going to unpack the genuinely beautiful joy of trackpants here, and hopefully in the doing, I can perhaps tweak some of our preconceptions about clothing, fashion and disability.
Important Note: this is not to gain sympathy and attention to my own particular story, but as a member of the disabled community, I can hopefully use my experience to highlight what many of us go through.
1 - Elasticated Waistbands!
Squishy gentleness around the tum makes me want to break out into song embarrassingly often. I have the unlucky combination of a hernia at the front and lower back issues/slipped disc at the back of me. Not unlike a pain sandwich. Any tightness around the hips, lower back and waist can immediately send pain shooting up and down my back, and stinging sensations in my abdomen. It can be bad enough to make me change my pants halfway through the day; when my back pain is bad I can’t sit up straight, and when my stomach is sore I fight the impulse to fold over forwards.
I’m not alone in this, many many people have pain issues around the abdomen and lower back. Nerve damage from C-sections, sports injuries, arthritis, endometriosis, irritable bowel, fibromyalgia and many more often chronic disabilities can make waistbands a no-go for a large section of the community. Even fabric with a bit of stretch in it, like those favourite stretchy jeans, can be tight or non-wielding enough to flare up a previously invisible issue.
2 - Warmth!
Being cold makes a large proportion of people miserable, for many reasons. From a disability perspective, feeling cold can make pain worse, whether it’s arthritis, fibromyalgia or an old injury(bones with a break in them can often ache or throb in the cold). Those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or plain old mental health issues, can be brought much lower in mood from being chilly. For me winter is an uphill battle to feel happy and well, despite being cold. It genuinely kills joy for me.
However it should be noted that warmth is not just a Disability problem, it’s also a Poverty problem. This is an area that I just can’t do justice here, but I’m sure we can understand that with our current Housing Crisis and health problems stemming from damp, cold houses, warmth is a precious thing, not easily got. I have lived in houses where I dressed my children in trackpants and sweatshirts for bedtime, and I am in no way poor by this country’s standards. Next time you see someone wearing trackpants out and about, maybe wonder whether they are experiencing daily, bone-chilling cold rather than just being lazy.
3 - Softness!
Just as tightness around the waist can exacerbate pain in the abdomen area, tight fitting (‘professional’ looking) pants can send pain shooting up sensitive legs, and aggravate any sensory issues that a wearer may be experiencing. For example, those on the autism spectrum can feel actual pain, from burning sensations to stinging, from the wrong fabric or something too tight. My 2 eldest children have ASD and have both expressed serious aversions to tight, coarse or firm fabric on their legs and torsos. While it’s more acceptable (But of course, not ‘fashion forward’) to dress children in trackpants*, in adults it is often simply not possible, especially if your job calls for a dress code or uniform. My own fibromyalgia pales in comparison, but when I am going through a flare or bad patch, the feeling of these unforgiving fabrics can make my day many times more miserable, and returning home often causes me to fling off my pants and reach for trackies like most women do their bras!
*Fashion for kids however, is in some ways much more forward-thinking than adult clothing. You only need to look at the variety of fun and quirky trackpants Cotton On Kids offer, in direct comparison to their adult range. If only we all had access to such colours and prints!
Society’s snobbish disapproval of the old trackpant extends also of course to leggings (which surprisingly fit the above criteria as well), Crocs and hoodies. For some deeply rooted and disturbing reason, our non-adherence to fashion ‘rules’ seems to speak of ignorance, lack of education, lack of intelligence and a lack of ‘respect’ for others. This last one is perhaps the strangest and most vile. We can all remember being forced to wear clothing we didn’t like, or found uncomfortable, to show so-called respect for different occasions - church, school, older people, celebrations or funerals… Choosing comfort in your outfit each day seems offensive and rude, throwing dirt in the face of customs and traditions. Why is it so upsetting to society which pants I put on in the morning?
Luckily, current fashion trends are actually starting to feature smart, even slinky, versions of our favourite old trackies… but we have a long way to go before our privilege stops getting in the way of an individual's clothing choices. It’s easy to laugh behind our hands or silently judge a person walking down the road by their appearance…. But as all of the old sayings in pretty much every culture say - don’t judge a book by it’s cover, or a person before knowing their story.
Kindness wins, always.
Thursday, January 5
I have eventually crawled out of bed. Dressed myself as loosely as possible, taken some painkillers, Instagrammed my ‘outfit’ to garner sympathy for my current ‘fibro flare’ and poor lifestyle choices. I resolve not to check social media obsessively, so put away my phone rather than check if people like or comment on my post. It’s harder than I’d like to admit.
I have been instructed by F to come outside for some sunshine. She is playing with a nativity book, with cardboard pieces that pop out and fit together.
“Once upon a time Mary had a new baby, his fleece is white as snow”
She sits on one of the deck chairs that dwarf her little frame, her legs stuck out in front of her, talking to the pieces of cardboard and asking for help with the camels, which are more stubborn than most to pop out. I sit in the shade, having covered her in sunscreen, and try to read while responding to her questions and commands.
I am reading Lena Dunham, and enjoying it. She is even more self-deprecating in prose, and her honest awareness of her own feelings is endearing, it urges me to write myself out on page. A well-written book always awakens within me the writer’s itch, which I almost always steadfastly ignore, but I still note it when it happens. Buckley wanders around contentedly, by turns trotting out to the deck, gazing forlornly at me, or chewing on lumps of dirt. I feel a mild guilt at not paying him more attention, but he seems happy enough.
L comes out to play drums on an empty deckchair, adding beats with his mouth, and I try to stifle the irritation that automatically rises when extra noise is added to my environment.
This is part of being a mother I remind myself silently, be calm and embrace the chaos. Allow him to express himself. I grit my teeth. He eventually stops his composition and walks over to look at the garden, his mind who-knows-where.
“A dead mouse Mum!” He states, “There’s a dead rat on the grass!”
I’m tempted to leave it there for later, but instead walk over to him on the edge of the patio, the rough bricks hot underneath. It is indeed a Rat, rather than a mouse, and a beautiful specimen.
(Am I strange for loving rats and mice? Probably. I love how tiny they are, how their world view is beyond my comprehension…. And ever since I was a child I have loved how they sit in the cradle of your hand, or nestle secretively in your hair. I had a friend with pet mice at Intermediate, who lived a few houses down the road from me. Michelle. In an oddly perfect way, that strange synchronicity that sometimes awakens in the world, she was a genuinely mousey person. Not in that old fashioned sense of the word, that way of looking scornfully at people with plain features, light brown hair, as being somehow less perfect than us. No, she was a Mouse Person. Lithe and petite, light brown hair sleek and straight, a tiny expressive nose, a smattering of freckles. Ballet and gymnastics classes held her body in an upwards floating posture, her hands delicate and emotive, her legs slim and fast. She only came up to my shoulder. And Michelle had wee small delicate mice, I can’t remember how many, but I do remember how they nestled in my hand, their tiny perfect hands and feet scrabbling painlessly on my skin. Their foreign grassy smell not entirely unpleasant. I lived in envy of their smallness - their portability; she brought them to school, curled up in her hair or in a padded pocket, and I imagined they must have been a comfort in what I found to be a bizarre and unpleasant reality. Just the knowledge of them there, secret and safe, their complete dependence on you, surely must have bolstered Michelle. Or maybe she just didn’t hate school like I did.)
As we look at The Rat together, lying peacefully on it’s side in the sunshine, I am suddenly aware of the dog lifting his head in interest, looking at us. We have to get rid of this small perfect creature fast.
I grab a plastic bag from my bulging bag drawer, the one that no longer closes, spilling over as the bags rustle and wait for their inevitable recycling. For some reason, maybe science and maybe myth, I am concerned that dead wild animals are more dirty, more disease-ridden than even their alive brothers and sisters. As much as I long to hold it’s softness against my skin, I obey my inner mother and glove my hand with plastic. Tip Top Wheatmeal Toast.
His body is warm, hot even - is he already breaking down, about to burst hideous gases? Or is he warm from the sun? He isn’t swollen so hopefully the latter.
The Rat is perfect. His few injuries are bloodless and neat; a severed back leg, with clean bone and sinew sticking out, his shortened tail. He holds his gnarled slender hands in front of him, as if endlessly pleading or fidgeting. The fingers are long and slender and pink, with perfectly manicured nails. His eyes are open, unseeing but still black and shiny. The grey fur that covers him is mussed but soft, unkempt in an appealing professor-ly manner, as if he were too absent-minded, too concerned with greater thoughts than his appearance. I hold him in my plastic bag hand and stare at him for far too long.
L has lost interest, but F is grieving.
“Oh poor Rat, is he dead? Oh no, poor Rat. What are you doing with him Mama?”
What I am doing with him of course is tying him tightly in the plastic bag and taking him to the outdoor rubbish bin, and I tell her as much. My child self thinks this is Wrong, that I am cold and unfeeling, how can I put this creature in the rubbish? But I am the mother now, so I must balance my empathy with logic, cold reason.
“If we bury him in the garden, one of the cats will smell him and dig him up”
“Noooo Mum, don’t put him in the bin!”
She follows me through the house, keening quietly behind me, no loud protests like usual. She knows the science is solid. “Nooooo Mum, not in the bin, noooooo!”
I hold his curved warm plastic form in my hand for a brief extra second before placing him in the bottom of the bin. Hopefully the plastic will contain the smell for a few days before the rubbish truck comes. As I shut the lid, F softly says “No.”
I am used to her fury and her arguments and her indefatigable belief in her own sense of right, but not this quiet, resigned sadness. So I scoop her in my arms and carry her back through the house and inhale the sharp musty smell of blanket, and I tell her that I am sorry, that it is very sad, that he was a beautiful Rat and it is ok to be sad.
She forgets within the hour(or does she? Maybe this story will be stored up in her, to revisit later) but I cannot go back to Dunham. I want to stop eating all meat again. I want to step out of the cycle of death once again, my inner self always more dramatic and alarmist at these moments. Well, maybe vegetarian, my restrained mother self remonstrates. You can’t really stick to these extreme ideals you know. You know you can’t carry through with difficult things.Maybe I’ll just avoid mammals. I know I identify with them more than birds. But chickens have personalities too! Maybe I’ll just eat chicken occasionally. And try not to hold myself to difficult standards. I’ll go with that for now, and hold Rat’s perfect form in my mind. For now.
Saturday, May 2
Dear lovely people. This is something I have wanted to write about for months, but just haven't had the guts to. I'm writing it now because there are assumptions made that I am tired of, and I don't want to have 300 separate discussions about a decision I have made in my personal life. I don't want your pity, your worry and concern, or your tears. All I want, for me and for anyone who will read this, is to have open minds, be accepting and loving, and respect my life choices.
I am no longer a 'Christian'.
That is not to say that I do not believe in Jesus as a divine manifestation who walked this earth 2000 years ago.
That is not to say that I do not believe in Grace, and Mercy, and Integrity, and Faith.
And it is not to say that I do not believe in a way of life that says "love your neighbour as you love yourself, give to the poor and the needy, look after this planet that is a gift we must protect".
I am not a Christian. Because I believe all of those things and more. Because I believe that if you can believe in people being raised from the dead, and oceans being turned into roads, then you can't draw a line. Well I can't anyway. I can't draw a line between this and that and say that I'll believe all of these supernatural things that I was brought up to believe, but not believe anything else.
To call myself a Christian would be a straight-out disservice to myself, and to those who are Christian. THAT would be something to take offense over.
I believe that we are all flesh and blood, sacs of organs and bones, and at the same time, I believe that we are divine beings, that we are fundamentally made of that same stuff that the very stars and moon are made of, and thus we are powerful, magical and limitless. Our minds, which can be explained and deconstructed down to the smallest cells of brain matter, are capable of both monstrous and miraculous things. Humankind is inherently good, not evil, and we have a spark of starlight in us all that lights our paths and shows us our own way to go. I don't believe in God any more, I believe in gods. I believe in Mother God(goddess). I believe in Spirit and in light.
I can not go to church any more because that building is too small for me. My personal problems with church stem from not only hurts suffered at the hands of people I believed in and loved(yes, yes, I know I should have been believing and loving God instead, but when you can't hear, see or feel a thing, you believe and love the representative of that, eg your church leaders and mentors), but from hurt as a woman, as part of womankind, suffered by all women throughout the history of the church, and indeed most religious, patriarchal societies. 'Church' and all similar religious institutions, categorically continue to impose stereotypical gender roles(which oppresses not only the women, but the men, and of course the entire LGBTQ+ community) that brave women fought to overcome many years ago. Even our modern-day Western, secular society still perpetuates these oppressive ideals through many many layers of cultural conditioning and media, but 'church'(and temple, mosque etc) are even a few steps behind that. I would love to write a whole essay one day on how the church hates women, but that will have to wait.
When I say I can not go to church any more, that is not to say that I am afraid of churches, or angry at them. If you invite me to your child's dedication, baptism or bar mitzvah I'll be there with bells on. Don't be afraid to mention church, God, or your faith, in conversation with me. This is about my personal journey of belief, not about any condemnation or judgement of you. If you are genuinely happy and joy-filled by your church attendance, and genuinely feel a sense of connection to a Judeo-Christian God, don't get me wrong; I am so happy for you!
At this present time, I don't want to belong to a religion. I am so tired, bone-weary tired, of being told what to believe and what to do and how to feel. I am so over being the odd one out, the outsider, loner and weirdo, standing at the back of church shifting from one foot to the other, wondering why I didn't feel anything that everyone else felt. And now that I've realised that I don't have to keep pretending that any more, it's incredibly liberating.
Now I am on my Own Heart's Journey. I am actively looking, seeking, hearing. I have both eyes wide open, and it's exhilarating. The world is in the palm of my hand! I am finding all the things that resonate with me, that fill me with pure glee, and make my heart sing! And they are not things that I could ever find in a religion that was laid out for me by someone else, by a man or men who have dictated how my life should be. I am seeing things that I would never have seen, if I didn't know there was more to life!!! More, more, more! I am greedy now, consuming books and texts and articles, gazing at pictures that light up parts of my brain that were never allowed to light up before! For the first time since I was a child, I am allowing myself to explore faith and belief and spirituality from all different angles.
(Yes, it's mostly buddhist/new-age/hippy stuff, if you want a name to it. I just don't want to jump from one box into another right now, so I'm not putting a name on it.)
It is a miraculous journey, and I am truly happy to be on it. My only fear is that those who love and care for me will be hurt, angry or hurtful in their reactions.
Monday, March 30
First, a waiver - this is my experience alone, and I acknowledge that. This is by no means an attack on any person, friend or foe, who believes differently to myself. This is my blog, which means that this is my journey. Please do not take offense at what I write. Also please excuse the style of writing, this was very much a stream of consciousness that had to be let out!
Those who would dismiss the idea of God as a man-made construct point to the fact that every ancient civilization has had some process or ritual around looking out and up instead of into themselves, saying that humankind, as a species, have an instinctual need for something external to worship, to point to as a creator or a reason for their existence. Some even claim that this is what makes us human, what separates humankind from the animal.
While indeed most religious belief systems adhere to a Creator or Creators theme, I can only talk directly to Christianity as the religion I am most familiar with. And at the moment, it is also the religion I am most struggling to agree with.
One of the key elements on which Christianity is founded is that of the nature of sin. Without the concept that we, as lowly humans, are inherently faulty, we would have no need for a Saviour.
(Now, there are multitudes of problems that I see in the gender division and sexism within the concepts of Christianity which I am not going to address in this post, but do not doubt that I will!)
One of the most famous treatises of the Bible-believing Christian is that ‘ALL have SINNED and FALL SHORT of the glory of God’. In the first chapters of Genesis, we are given the story of two perfectly created beings, a man and a woman, who make a fatal error of judgement, thereby tainting all their future descendants, the whole human race, with Sin.
This is my story, my family’s story, the story of my people. This story of sin, of judgement, of everlasting gratitude to a saving God who has rescued us from eternal fire. The concept of a newborn child being born already faulty, with a Human Nature(thus doomed), is an old one that I unconsciously accepted as fact(even as a new mother, all the time staring at this perfect creature and wondering which part was the Bad part??). The disobedient preschooler, the cheeky toddler, even the infant who becomes more wakeful at night, all prove this point. We are evil. Humankind is inherently flawed. The good side of this story then is that we are given a second chance, a chance to embrace the saviour who has sacrificed everything to save us. Christians then supposedly live a triumphant life, yes with it’s ups and downs, but also blessed with the honour of having a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. What is this relationship based on? To me, the basis of this personal, close relationship seems to be a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We have been Bad from the Beginning, but we are fortunate enough to be saved from this Badness.
Those who we hold up as Excellent Christians, ones who we wish to emulate, are those saints and martyrs who have emptied themselves completely, and replaced all their concept of Self with the Holy Trinity instead. How does one empty oneself of all Self? Well, recognise that you are Bad, replace any self-satisfaction or self-love with self-loathing, and then pour all of this Self out onto the dirt at your feet, and fill up with ‘His’ love for you. ‘His’ gift of salvation. You now longer have your own needs or desires, but are filled instead with ‘His’ will.
Now I want to reiterate here that these are my ideas and my experiences alone. This may not indeed be experienced or felt by any other person on this planet.
Part of my journey - not all!!!(sometimes I have to remind myself that it is not all) - is the story of my lifelong depression. The sense of dissatisfaction, of longing for something more in life, of loneliness, self-doubt and eventually self-loathing, can be tracked back into my childhood. Maybe it was triggered by things that happened or things that didn’t happen, or maybe it was there all along, a seed of discontent in my heart from the beginning. Again, that is a story for another time, not now.
Whatever the reason, this black dog has been my constant partner for all of my conscious life, as far back as I can remember. Despite various medicative measures, prayers for healing, and involvement with mental health services as an adult, it was not until I began therapy in earnest, a few years ago, that I started really unravelling some of the cords that bound me.
Part of this unravelling process was attending a ‘Compassionate Mind’ group. I’ll spare you the intricacies of DBT here(google it!), but there were several ‘A-ha’ moments in it, which made me start to question everything I knew about my faith and how I was brought up.
What if, at the heart of my self-loathing, was this belief that from the beginning I was marred? What if it was actually OK to like myself? What if it was OK to take care of myself, nurture myself, believe in fact that I was worthy of love, by first loving myself??? What a bold and ridiculous idea. It was posited that to truly love others and show compassion, one must first truly love and show compassion towards oneself. This was an uncomfortable idea to me, as I had always thought of myself as a compassionate, kind person. Was I only being kind because that was the ‘Right Thing’ to do? A tiny crack opened in my foundation.
For a second, let’s be diverted by this idea of self-care, and nurturing. We do hear a lot more about caring for ourselves now, even in Christian circles. Mainstream culture has exerted enough of an influence on the church, that now they run ‘women-only days’, ‘pamper-retreats’ and so on. But there is a difference between the motivation to learn to love and care for oneself purely for the sake of healing and becoming a whole person, and the motivation in christian circles to care for and pamper oneself in order that women can be better mothers and wives…. to serve others. Again I digress, I’m getting too far into the issue of gender in the church.
As I began to look inwards, at how my own beliefs about myself were affecting how I heard and experienced the world, a transformation started happening, deep within.
This transformation is still going on now, as I peel off the layers and look with new, questioning eyes at the world and the people around me. Even in the last few weeks, my life has been full of strange occasions and coincidences, where I have experienced a swelling of human kindness in my world. HUMAN kindness. That is, people without the motivation of religious beliefs who have impacted my own and my children’s lives in such amazing ways, because they are kind, generous-hearted people. Not evil. Not sinners. Throughout history, as much as people have been moved to harm and to hurt, people have also been moved to act, out of a pure and beautiful part of themselves deep within, a spark of the Divine that I believe is in all of us.
I do not deny that there is another realm, of wild and unimaginable beauty and chaos, that we have access to, on a real and daily basis. But I can no longer marry this image up with a harmful ideology that we, humans, are essentially Bad creatures in our heart, that need fixing. I do not deny the huge amounts of hurt, wrongdoing and genuine evil in this world, that we see every day on our streets, in our corrupt governments, in the global news, but I am starting to question whether this is a natural state or a taught/learned state.
There is darkness in all of us, just as there is light in all of us, and there must be a careful balance. For myself, I believe I MUST be guided by genuine kindness and compassion(that starts within), just as much as I must NOT be guided by guilt, self-loathing and indebtedness. My mental health, and therefore perhaps my very life, depends on it.