Sand, and sea, and symmetry

I am trying to practise being more spontaneous. So, when my housemate said there was a union trip to the seaside, and I wasn’t already doing anything else, I thought, why not. It is a truth universally acknowledged that swimming in the sea is far superlative to swimming in a pool, and even if the weather were to be rubbish, there’s plenty to do at the seaside.

And I got up early, and got the bus to the coach, and went on the coach, and got through the Bank Holiday traffic, and went on the beach and in the sea, and had fun with a toddler and her mother, and my housemate, and we took photos, and came home again.

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We return home, and I check my ‘phone camera. And there are photos of the beach and the sky and the sand because the weather was gorgeous and these things make me happy. And there are photos of my bust, smiling in the water, my right-side hidden from view.

But there are more. Photos of me with my back to the shore, walking into the water, arms akimbo as I try not to fall over. God is taking care of most my sense of balance for now. One of the things I would dearly love to have back. God knows best.

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I instagram the photos. Most of them. Not the ones of me walking to the water. They are horrid and repellent and ugly. I am ugly and unsymmetrical and unattractive. I know that it is because my mother always called on me to hide my right arm before photos were taken. There are very few of me where the disability is visible as child or adult because she reminds me still.

On Sunday, my housemate does the instagramming. I didn’t know she’d taken any pictures.  Me, looking into my flower press; hand furled. Ugly, the children at school called it. Ugly, ugly, ugly hand. Stupid hand that doesn’t work.

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I hate my body. Not just for what it can’t do, but for the way it appears. And the way it appears isn’t the way that my head tells me it appears; my mind sees my arm as central, not sideways, not unbalanced.

The reminder that it isn’t this way is horrid. I want to be symmetrical.

 

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In reverse

I feel like I am slipping backwards. The dejà vu of last week culminated yesterday with, ‘it wouldn’t faze me if you said you were getting married in six weeks; I’d be delighted for you’. My mother knows I have no partner at present. My mother is not a mother anymore.

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Earlier in the week: A conversation that followed an afternoon with my aunt (my father’s sister-in-law) exalting my father, as if he has done no wrong, played no detrimental part in the 4o-year relationship between my parents. Between the lines: my parents are each accusing the other of bullying, via solicitors. Another re-play of five years ago.

Meanwhile, my student, the one who is six years or more behind me academically, chronologically, who has yet to be viva-ed, has a permanent lectureship. And it’s not fair and it’s not fair, and it’s NOT FAIR. I am trying really, really hard to find academic work. I have tried hard to find permanent employment. But not hard enough. I’m not good enough. And this break is likely to mean I never will find permanent employment. I want to die. Another step backwards as the suicide ideation returns, unchecked. As my motivation to work ebbs away.

In church yesterday – ‘self-control is absolutely necessary and desirable to avoid conflict….this is a really caring church‘. A discussion in a service that I led – a church service that was intended to demonstrate reconciliation and a desire to work with mental illness in church – suggests to me that nothing in some Elders’ opinions has changed; that the message I tried to convey was not received. Working through emotion is absolutely necessary to avoid [bigger] conflict. It is these conversations that stick, rather than the enthusiasm and compassion of other Elders, who have listened. These conversations that eclipse the encouragement and assurance that things have changed. Another step backwards.

And literally: having recovered my ankle-foot orthosis from the hospital, I cannot get it on my foot. I cannot walk in it. Because it took so long to repair, I have to learn again how to wear it properly; how to walk appropriately in it. I can’t count how many steps backwards I’ve taken in not being able to wear it over the past few months.

Time is moving forward, as I am getting further and further behind. I don’t want to be left behind.

 

 

 

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Reeling

I had just settled in the knowledge that my ex-housemate is in prison. In prison, for a crime that, this time last year, as we adopted a cat, I could not have imagined him committing. Courts and police raids and threats assigned to the past, housing re-determined, myself returned more peaceful from Taizé, I was learning to manage without his support.

I was pacing through research, beginning to accept that I don’t have paid employment; at least not for now. And earlier last week, there was a tangible sign of progress: of real impact taking place. I was feeling steadier; less often overwhelmed. Living a day at a time was do-able.

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And then. Then comes a repeat of a conversation I had with my mother five years ago. Replace “I’m leaving your father” with “He asked me to marry him” and you’ve just about got it, spot-on. She is 66 going on 16 again, running off to get married. Literally. I don’t know her partner’s family, neither they me, so for us to be there would be embarrassing for everyone. Plus, I don’t like weddings anyway, and why does my brother feel similarly cut out?

Before I’ve drawn breath, please could I help her with the preparations? What is she going to wear? FFS. Weddings are not easy for me. They highlight rejection in so many ways; from not having a partner, to not being able to find a place not ‘already taken’ at the table. To not being invited to the table. But compare turning up, to face those things, or not, if the wedding is well-organised, to helping someone else get ready to get married, then to wave good bye to them, because they don’t want you there, that feels worse. Add that this is someone who has done it before, as a farce, on a false promise. Add that this is your mother. I exist because of a false promise.

I cannot. And her words  show that she does not understand in the slightest why I don’t like weddings. But, nevertheless, I should be happy for her, and I should understand the arrangement as best for everyone. I should be happy.

It is not best for everyone, it is easiest on her. And there is a big difference between those things. And no, life won’t go on the same afterwards, as she says, because she will not share my name anymore, and I will forever associate her birthday date as her anniversary; the expectation for normal wedding type celebration cards, for normal in every sense but the ceremony, already weighing heavy.

Living a day at a time is not do-able, because some days are really, really hard. And when I think I’ve got some things together, something else will fall spectacularly apart under me. And, as I was before speaking to a brother at Taizé, I am childish and selfish, and small, and living in fear of what that next thing will be. It could be that the next piece of unwanted news lands with me today.

 

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Garden of Trust

 

You’d think that after 5 years, leaving Taizé would get easier. It doesn’t. It gets harder.

The notes of a friend who, like me, journeyed to Taizé for the fifth time this year, returning to the UK a week ahead of me. She’s right. So right. This time, while others were willing the coach to come and pick us up, I really did not want to leave. Leaving meant facing what is to come. Taizé is time stood still for rest.

Taizé is home. Tents and stars and church and music and openness and stillness. There was small group and chores, and new chants and glorious Burgundy countryside. And for the first time, having nothing to do one afternoon, I went with a UK family’s children, to their Olinda play. Paul in prison. And it was hilarious and to-the-point, and the children’s reactions were priceless. And I felt lifted.

Other parts of the week were hard. The Veneration of the Cross. I went early in the afternoon, when it is quieter, cooler. But still it left me fragile, broken inside. Laying down so much; it all feeling like too much to cope with, even with God’s help. Too much. From then on, each silence, I was fighting, or in, tears. I am none the more able to discern than when I left. I heard so many times, in the readings and teaching, the phrase ‘do not be afraid’. But I am. And it is too much, too much, too much.

Taizé is community. A community of brothers who listen, as the first prior would listen, long into the night. And speaking to the brother of last year, he said that it is not my fault that I am afraid. That I have had much in the past to be afraid of. That in spite of the struggle, I can plant a garden, underground, of all the precious and good things that still happen. That I can worry about a day at a time. That God will be working in me, even when I can’t face Him; God does not abandon.

The brother said that I am called only to be myself. Taizé is home because it is where I feel closest to my true self. Where I feel more able to talk to people, and in other languages; where I feel a sense of belonging, glimpses of hope that I can be more like this at home.

I am afraid of what is to come. The fifteenth century words of Nikolaus Von Flüe have been written into a new chant this year:

Gott, nimm alles von mir, was mich hindert zu dir! gib alles mir, was mich fördert zu dir! Mein Herr und mein Gott, nimm mich mir und gib mich ganz zu eigen Dir!

A brave request. One I am not sure I can pray honestly. But I would like to. To go to Taizé is a pilgrimage of trust. God is trust. I am trying to trust Her with what lies ahead.

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Laying down and lying down

A shorter and earlier post this week. One to note that I am heading for Taizé, so won’t post again for a while. To stop, and reflect on what I am taking with me, what I want to leave behind, and on the spaces between.

Foremost, right now, a question of discernment. This last week has not been easy. I had a ‘good leaving’ from my current contract; lunch, drinks, a card, utterly hilarious and apt gifts, and I am truly grateful.

At the same time, not revealing how I really feel has cost. Three days of (mostly hiding) solid panic, folding under the stress of an impossible workload that should have been done by now, and intermittent uncontrollable crying – keeping that behind smiles and laughter has worn me down. The question – whether I return to academia, or leave it and the devastating effects its corruption and competitiveness has had on me, time and again, behind. Move on to working more directly at grassroots, where I have felt fulfilled and real, when I am ready to return to full-time work.

Questions surrounding prison visits and contact, where the quandary of last week still rules. And other, more personal questions, around the work I am doing in the therapeutic community, the work I will do there over the next 12 months. So many questions to take, to lay down.

To trust. To trust, when just as with so many trips to Taizé, the questions are unanswered, the future very unstable, uncertain. To trust when I feel completely broken. To trust, because I am going to Taizé. Because God is possibility.

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Jumble

The tolerance and kindness you have shown me has been vastly more than I could possibly have expected or hoped for.

It could end there. The last substantive sentence of the message my ex-partner, ex-housemate, left with his father for me. He got a prison sentence on Thursday. He will be in prison for 12 months, at least; the sentence is twice that.

And now I don’t know what to think, or feel, or do. I know where he is, and I could write to him. I could visit him and be back in my house inside a couple of hours. I want to know what happened. Why, in contrast to many others, commiting similar offences, he got an immediate jail term. Why the court was adjourned for half an hour. What drugs possession they eventually charged him with. I am kicking myself for not going to court.

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I am angry with him. So, so angry. That house was supposed to be supportive and stable, for three years or more. Instead, I had to move at a stupidly busy time. He lied about the drugs. I knew there were drugs, yes, but he kept changing the names, admitting and denying their presence. Laughing at my ‘poor memory’.
And the other charges, what they mean, what his pattern of offending means, for our past relationship.

I am hurting. I am hurting because I thought I could trust him to be honest with me, and I couldn’t trust him with this, so can’t with anything now. And everything reminds me of him. I changed the cat tag this weekend; removed his now defunct ‘phone number. She was supposed to be our cat. And how we would have talked about the new Doctor Who. The Taizé pieces on my MP4 player that he recorded for me. Belle and Sebastian. Donovan. So much music. On top of that, there are echoes and footprints everywhere I turn in this city.

I pity him. He is not the kind of person who will readily survive prison. He likes routine sure enough, social scripting, but also challenge and activity. He won’t be able to play piano or program while inside – and won’t have many opportunities when he’s released.

Most of all, I don’t know what to do. To leave, walk away, forget. Or to stay, and wait, and support. I am torn in two. And numb to the pain, but anxious and stressed, and hallucinating, and I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know what to do.

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