Island Blog – The Dive Board, the Door and the Girl

As the days roll on my thinks shift and settle in new shapes. Although it is written that grief has seven stages and are sequential, it is a lie, unless I am the weirdo I always believed myself to be. Please note the past tense. Initially, in other words just a year ago, I spent some weeks feeling I was in control. I could do this. It wasn’t so hard after all and ‘after all’ is relevant here because I had been watching him die slowly for years and that is all consuming, all demanding, all scary, infuriating, debilitating and many other ‘ings’ beside. Then came the crash, the inner questioning, the confusion and self-doubt as the past, our shared past threatened like a courtroom with me in the dock. Now, a year later, a year when without has taken me within and within is somewhere I had avoided for about 60 of them, years I mean I am opening like Strelitzia. It is a mess in there, I told Myself, a mire, a slough, a war, a holocaust. Don’t go there. So we didn’t, she and I. Sometimes within would scratch at the door, mewl and scream out, but we ignored it. The very thought of opening that door to be floored by a boiling wave of recriminations, of bloody fury, of lost times, of regret, shame and self-loathing was enough to keep us hunkered down, backed against a wall, listening with our hands over our ears. How is it, I asked her, that some people can ignore within for a whole lifetime and die with a smile on their faces? Myself takes my hand. I don’t know, she says, but we are not ‘some people’ now, are we? We are curious and we long to heal. I nod, but my jitters are jittery and I feel nausea rise.

At first, the first time I considered opening the door to within, I had support from a counsellor. I trust him completely and have known him some years. His wisdom and experience in the ghastly arenas of caring and grief are not in clever words but in his gentle eyes, and his empathy. He responds to something I throw-away say with a hand to his heart. Ouch, he says, and his eyes tell me the rest. He gets it, he hears me. I have a voice. I am important. I am all that I longed to be and was sure I was not. I feel like I did back in school on the high dive board, the pool about 3 miles below me and a load of anticipates watching, watching just me, the skinny kid in a sleek black costume and on a strong, safe and flexible dive board. Climbing those steps was just climbing those steps. Once aloft and singular, shivering and terrified and alone, I saw the turquoise water like a puddle under my gaze. I had done this many times before, of course I had, but that was in the noisy swell of other girls, of friends, of a be-skirted swim teacher with a whistle between her lips. It was almost fun, but not this time. This time the team depended on my timing, my poise, my perfect arrow dive, my perfect arcuation and subsequent rise to the surface, sans snot and apoplectic coughing.

This state of being heard and valued is a like the foundation stone for a new build. At first I didn’t trust it. Soon, I told myself, it will be snatched away as it always has been, had been. Myself says nothing and keeps me walking. I am in the mood to keep on keeping on, so I concur and comply. I am tired of ignoring the wails and whines and fingernail scratchings of within anyway. As we walk through the days, I stumble often on the rocks of regret, am straked by the barbed wire of self-loathing, burned by the fire of fury and iced to freezing on the snows of regret and shame. Hmmm, I snort, this sequential thingy is a load of tiddley pom (I didn’t put it that way, to be honest). I have gone from roundabouts to swings, from trust to abandonment, from warm safety to cold ire and all inside one hour. But, very gradually, the wasteland is showing me a tree or two, the song of a bird, the comehither tinkle of fresh running water. I am seeing new, I am seeing hope, I am also able to look back without reaching for my sword, my armour. I don’t need protection because with help I have opened that door and let the within out. When I finally did open it, instead of a wave of furious rapacious fire, brimstone and demons, there was silence. You coming out? I said, once I had recovered from the surprise. Was my imaginary enemy not as I thought he was? My looking in rounded the open door. A girl, just a girl. Me, I recognised her at once. For all that wailing and whining and the fear, she was just a girl.

Come with me, I said, holding out my hand. Tell me all about you.

I have a writing on my wall. It reads thus :- ‘I love who I have become because I fought to become her.’ Although, at this time, the ‘love’ bit seems a bit strong, I am watching it each day and it is beginning to gravitate within. My sister asked me today ‘what defines a victim?’ A very good question. I considered, taking it immediately to myself. I was one, I answered, but not now. I allowed myself to be one, whined and wailed and railed against my victim state when, in truth, all I had to do was to open the door that was never locked, to climb those steps and then to dive, like an arrow, into who I always really was and can be again.

Island Blog – Three Keys in My Hand

I have one, no, two meetings this week. One on Tuesday, a zoom with a writer friend, and one on Wednesday with my counsellor. In my opinion, many of us need to find someone just a bit more above things than we are. I have always found that a hand reaching down is a huge help, despite the initial shame I felt at asking for it. And there’s a thing. As this lockdown keeps us stuck/imprisoned/safe, there are many who are finding it super tough, whose mental stability is being seriously challenged. I get it. As one who has always been mentally turmoiled to a degree, and who sees that last week was Mental Health Week (as if one week would ever be enough) I am more than happy that the world is getting it, or, at least, the slowmovingrulemakers are thinking wider, perhaps. In my life I have met many who could flower but cannot flower within the confines of stigmatism and of what is socially acceptable. Hence the hidden pain. And the most destructive judge of all lives within. We are all flawed, broken to varying degrees, doing out very best to fit in without sticking out in ways that might draw attention to our faults.

Looking out upon the natural world is key, but we must also look within. As I have been a student of self-improvement for decades, I have absorbed a million positive phrases and still found myself not quite at home with myself, no matter how bright the epiphany. However, I am finally beginning to understand that time holds the second key and time requires my patience, my faith in the strength of a human spirit and my trust that the goodly gods are working for me, and not against me. When the world demands something I do not want or cannot give, I need this trust. If we were all meant to be the same we would be mere automatons. We are far from that, thank goodness. Although we are currently required to live as such, it will pass eventually. Confined to home, required to wash our hands a hundred times a day, separated from loved ones, stuck in the wrong country and so on, we have this time to reflect on who we are and on the life we want for ourselves once we are freed from the chains that bind. Think on that.

I watch the young birds fly through my little garden, feathers awry, all ruffly spot and unsure of where to land. New life learning old ways. For them, survival is the teacher. They cannot suddenly square up to a cat or challenge the dive of a sparrow hawk without almost certainly turning into lunch. But we can. If we consider our predators, our demons, our self-doubts and our fears to be in control of our lives, then they will be. Noticing every thought and questioning it is key number three. Even if I am uncertain of my path, my voice, the strength, or lack of it, of my own human spirit, if I decide to turn this thing around, to turn myself around, then wonderful things begin to happen. I don’t need to run from my doubts and fears, my thoughts and worries, I just need to about face and question. Do I really think this or is this thought thinking me? Then, if it isn’t useful, I say cheerio. I don’t need you. Every time I do this, I empower my true self. I am not controlled by my thoughts. I control them, and in this uncertain life when a single day can throw a tidal wave over my carefully constructed sandcastle, my thoughts are the only thing I can control.

I know what it is like to be in the darkness of depression. I know how overwhelming life can be. I also know how to rebuild my spirit and I am thankful for all my guides over the years. Not everyone finds their way. Some souls are lost. Most of our illnesses come from inner stress, manifesting in the physical body, sometimes destroying it. This time of reflection is a gift to us all, not only to make new ways to live for ourselves by taking a long hard look at our core values, our life choices, our work and our families, but to look and to see others who may need our clear and open friendship. Those, whom we might have dismissed before as misery guts or gloomy or bad tempered. Nobody wants to live like that. Nobody. But everybody needs somebody to lift them at some point in their lives.

There are less of us still breathing in the world today. This virus is greedy and it isn’t done with us yet. Let us make sure that the ones who will emerge back into the light of ‘normality’ even more broken, even more damaged and even more fearful of their futures, do not have to walk alone.