Reality Check

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Parachute

I dream that I am on a train.

At first, the train is just a means to an end – I am stuck on it, I am escaping something else – but then my subconscious realises the glorious potential that being on a train can offer.

No more bad weather, failed connections and terrifyingly dark, mostly subterranean and criminal stations.  (By the way, is it only my subconscious that discusses marmite sandwiches with chess-playing gangsters?)

Suddenly, being on a train is about vistas, landscapes and wide, open spaces; a whole other type of escape.  There is possibility.

I remember how much I used to love to journey.

Today, every leaving of the house is a palaver, a logistical nightmare; is reminiscent of planning an Arctic expedition.

But I still long to travel.

I want to be somewhere, anywhere.

A lot of the time, I crave the excitement, the expectation of going somewhere.  I always love to plan, to research.

Oh, the thrill of being somewhere new.  A freshness to the eyes.

Neuropathy is not the only itch my feet experience.  I am often restless.  But perhaps that restlessness comes from being overwhelmed.  I want to escape the pressures, the burdens, the stresses of the here and now.

It’s easy to believe that the grass is greener just over there.  Keep looking for something better.  Perhaps it’s a useful instinct, sometimes, but, boy, can we go into overdrive on it.  It can be hard to settle, to be satisfied.  Content.

Sometimes I am desperate to get away.  But why?  And to where?  And how?  And then what?

We could always live our lives zooming from one thrill to another, one adrenaline rush to another but I’m not sure that it really does us any good.  Mongrel Beast, especially.  Because after the high?  Is the reality.  And, unfortunately, that’s where we live.

And perhaps ‘unfortunately’ is just further evidence of that attitude problem.  Contentment means peace and that can only be a good thing.

It does mean that I have to accept, make peace with, be at peace with whatever each day’s reality brings.  Is there good in everything?  It sounds very Pollyanna-ish.  Perhaps not in every little thing but perhaps in the bigger picture.  I am resting.  I am looking after myself.  No more adrenaline surges or blood sugar wobblies or constant eating in desperate pursuit of a little energy.  I am managing this disease.  I am alive and sometimes, even living.  There’s a lot to be grateful for, actually.  I need to take a deep breath and forget the lure of the novel, the different, the distant.  I am here, I am now.  I can be content with that.

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I am My Own Summer

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Pink Flower Portrait

In the depth of winter,
I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

In My Defence

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Yellow Yarn

Once upon a time I learnt to knit.

Or I tried to, anyway.

I’m not sure why I decided to ask a friend to show me how it worked.  Perhaps I was just taking an interest in her hobby, which sounds a little shallow or something, but I long ago learnt that most people have something that they’re prepared to talk about and that makes it so much easier for little ole me who hates talking and social situations.  Perhaps I really wanted to learn.  Although I’m not sure why.

There has long been knitting in my life.  I wore a lot of hand-knit jumpers in my childhood.  (I still have one of them now).  I knew a lot of people who knitted.  But I don’t think that I ever saw someone actually knitting.

My mother was always trying to get us involved in various handicrafts as children; maybe it was an attempt to introduce a level of refinement but I never found it particularly entertaining.  If you gave me a special kit of crafty things, I’d just want to save it.  Just in case.  Just in case of what?  In case I ruined it.  In case I needed it later, at a more important time.  There were a few that I had a go at.  Probably because they were given at moments of severe boredom.

There was a lot of needlework.  I don’t do needlework.  I still don’t.  My brother was better at the dutifully sitting and working something cute for praise than I ever was.  Or will be.  I couldn’t see the point.  It was boring.  It was fiddly.  It served absolutely no purpose whatsoever.  Did it really matter to the grand scheme of things whether or not I had just spent a two week holiday cross-stitching some circus-related square?  (That was the best one.  The others were far too twee for my tastes, even then).

I don’t remember having a knitting kit.  I remember my brother having a knitting kit.  I remember the little gold coloured needles hanging around in the drawer with the videos (remember those?) for years.  I’m not sure what he made, if anything.  A short, fat toy scarf or was it bookmark?  Did it get finished?  Did it ever do anything?  Yarn seemed more often related to needlework, winding it somehow through little scratchy plastic meshes to make, well, something.

So why did I want to knit?

I have no idea.

But after that first, brief lesson, I dutifully took myself to the department shop to buy ‘wool‘ and needles and to thus embark on that quintessential debut project: the garter stitch scarf.

I do not know what idiot decided that every wannabe knitter would have to go through the rite of passage known as the garter stitch scarf.  I do not think highly of them.  I feel even more sorry for the folk who, apparently, only ever knit the curséd things.

At least the Americans seem to prefer dishcloths.  A dishcloth would be infinitely more preferable, trust me.  It’s small enough to have some hope of ever being done with it and it would actually be of some use.  And people would be actually interested in the finished project.

Anyway, I made that scarf.

No one thought particularly highly of my scarf.  Apparently, I was the first ever learner knitter who had trouble maintaining stitch count.  Everyone else, apparently, had never, ever had this problem.

(I think this a lie.  I’ve seen beginner knitters at work since and I’ve even taught a few.  They all wobble).

My confidence was a little shaken by this feedback but I wasn’t to be daunted.  I had decided that I was going to knit and knit I would.

I wanted to be like all the other knitters.

This could never be a good thing.

So I decided that I would get on with some proper knitting, just like they all did.  (Because everyone else found it oh so easy!)  A jumper.

These days, learners have the internet.  I didn’t even cross my mind to turn to the internet for such things.  (Again, I don’t know why.  Perhaps it was the state of the knitting culture around me: old-fashioned at best if not plain backwards at times).  And with the world of internet knitting to tempt them, they take on all sorts of amazing, crazy stuff for their first project.  Because there’s nobody to tell them that they can’t or that they shouldn’t.

But I listened to the voices.  Voices have always been my authority, sadly.  Although I am perpetually accused of having a disrespectful attitude, I do listen to those ‘experts’, those who, apparently, know better around me.  Sadly, it hasn’t always done me much good.

So, the jumper.

Well, in my defence…

… nobody introduced me to the idea of tension.

(Other than to tell me that the lone bootee that I made between said scarf and said jumper was big enough to fit a four year old.  (I measured it recently, it wouldn’t.  But those words have followed me ever since)).

And in my defence…

… when faced with a limited and pitiful selection of yarns, I chose one I liked.  Which was a different weight to one indicated in the pattern.  But, let’s face it, there isn’t the greatest difference, to the eye or to the hand, between a DK and an aran.  In the English weight/ply system, one’s an eight and one’s a ten.  As opposed to 4-ply.

And in my defence…

… I know a lot of knitters of that generation now.  They never knit a tension square.  They read the pattern notes, they read the ball band, they cast on.  Sometimes they have to rip back an entire jumper.  Hey, it happens!  So, why was I suppose to know about tension and tension squares?

And in my defence…

… there’s also the belief that new knitters knit tight.  I don’t.  There’s also the belief that the stressed out and uptight knit tight.  I don’t.  But knitting loose is not a crime either.  Some people just do.  I am one of them.

And in my defence…

… I’ve found it difficult over the years to find reliable instructions for ribbing, a ridiculously basic stitch.  A lot of time if I followed said instructions, I would end up with seed stitch.  Or something just plain weird.

And in my defence…

… there was nothing in my instructions that explained where to hold the yarn when switching between knit and purl stitches on the same row.

Yeah, that jumper didn’t exactly have a lot going for it.  But I was determined and I stuck the abuse and kept on knitting.

It took me longer than I was expecting.  So when it came time for me to gift it to the lucky recipient, I had to present it missing at least one sleeve and a neck.  But hey.

But in my defence…

… all those perfect knitters who were giving me grief don’t knock out jumpers as fast as they were claiming.  A lot of them don’t even finish things.  I know this now.

It was eventually finished.

One knitter, despairing of my ribbing technique, started at least one of the sleeves.

And another, who felt that I had no hope of doing so myself, picked up the stitches and knit the neckband.

In my defence…

… I’m not sure which one of us actually cast off.  I think I did.  According to the instructions that I was given.  (The experts tend to disappear when you need them at key moments).  It has unravelled slightly.  But there’s something that I learnt much, much later which probably had more effect on this then my actual cast off technique.  Tying knots.  And weaving ends.  One of those you shouldn’t.  And one of those you should.

In my defence…

… no one showed me any finishing techniques.  I don’t think that I have even seen such things in print.  And those experts who criticised my work don’t seem to do things any better either.  And I only just learnt how to seam properly this year.  But at least I sewed it together immediately; some people have projects languishing for years just because of the making up.

In my defence…

… there is not a single hole in said jumper.  I have inspected it recently.  (Shortly after I bumped into one of those experts who was with my mother when I gave her her shawl and wanted to know whether there were holes in that too).  There are no holes.

In my defence…

… I twigged that I needed to go down at least a size or so to accommodate my yarn.  That’s quite advanced thinking, given all of the above.  It still came out pretty big.  As in down to the recipient’s knees.

In my defence…

… I knitted a jumper and it looks like a jumper should be.

What’s so bad about that?

In my defence…

… I am still knitting and I am still willing to learn.

What’s so bad about that?

(The lucky recipient kindly put it in on as soon as it was gifted but later laid it aside in a drawer because it was ‘too special’ to wear.  Now that’s a good father. 

Miss you Dad).

Jagged little pill: has the recovery narrative gone too far?

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Whether mental or physical, illness comes with a barrage of baggage – how you see it, how others see it, how society sees it. Is it naive or simplistic to hold out for a cure? And who does a sanitised view of illness really benefit? Food for thought.

purplepersuasion

I feel that in writing this post, which has been brewing for a long time, I am saying something that some might see as controversial. So let me start by making something clear. This post is not intended to criticise the work of the big charities – I am a proud member of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and have undertaken both paid and voluntary work for both organisations. I have also volunteered for Time to Change and made a TTC pledge at last year’s Mind Media Awards. A huge amount of good work is being done on a daily basis to challenge public perceptions of mental health and to normalise discussions of the topic. Time to Change is entirely right to highlight just how peculiar it is that mental health stigma continues to loom so large given that a quarter of the population is thought experience some form of…

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And I will Try to Fix You

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There is a fundamental flaw to chronic illness; it is perhaps what I, personally, rail so hard against with Mongrel Beast.  It cannot be ‘solved’, it cannot be ‘fixed.  No matter how hard I, or anyone else, tries.

Here’s a blog post, which I stumbled upon, on the very subject:

Living with Addison’s Disease: Fix It.

Addison’s Disease?  Here’s a link.

The Help Conundrum

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Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

Maybe it’s the easiest thing in the world to say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’ but what do we mean by that?  Do we mean anything other than that we’re expressing a vague sentiment of fellow-feeling, sympathy, pity, interest, concern …?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a bit like that other chestnut that we all spout in daily life: ‘how are you?’  (Or other less formal versions, if you prefer).  Is it a greeting or a question?  Do we really want an answer?  And what kind of answer do we want?  The truth?  Or just some socially acceptable platitude?

I like to think that I would help someone, I like to think that I would be prepared to do something other than just utter the words.  And I know that there have been times when I have specified, I’ve asked ‘can I help you with this?’ or ‘do you need help doing…?’  It’s easier, more practical for all concerned, me and them.

Truth be told though, I’ve been feeling more and more redundant in recent years and even pretty utterly useless at times.  I can’t believe it’s four years since we last had a vehicle and that, obviously, completely changed how I could help people.  And when.  And, nastily, it even made me increasingly reliant on other people.  I don’t like that.  I don’t like being a burden (to my mind, at least).

And there’s not an awful lot you can do about it when your body is conspiring against you.  It’s just taken me a longer time than it should to realise it.  Because … well, why would  I want to?  But forgetting, not realising just how much my body is failing me leads to sticky situations.  For example, a few months back, I went to help an elderly chap pushing a wheelchair because I am an experienced pusher and he was struggling and it wasn’t right that he was having to do it all by himself … then I realised that I don’t have the strength to push anything anymore.  Very embarrassing.

But if I can’t help other people, what is there left for me?  My whole raison d’être is to look after people, to care, to help.  It’s what I’ve done my whole life.  It’s the only way I can justify my existence.

Whatever I have, I share, I give.  It’s my nature, not a boastful statement.  Sometimes I give what I do not have.  I do not have energy nor health.  Not anymore.  And so I have nothing left to give.  There is nothing left.  I cannot help myself anymore.

And that is the most painful and humiliating admission that you can ever make about yourself.  I am utterly useless.

What is there left for me?

Off to the knacker’s yard?

Maybe.

So when people say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’, what am I to say?  How should I respond?  The same way that I steadfastly respond  to the ‘how are yous?’ – with a smile and a cheerful response?  Because does anyone really want to know the reality?  Because do I really want to share?  Because do I want to shamefully admit that I need a hand, that I cannot manage alone?  Because is there anyone actually listening?  There’s too much heartache and embarrassment in baring your soul to a wall that doesn’t want to know, after all.

I wish that I could be an island, self-sustaining, but I know that realistically that isn’t possible.  Or even healthy.  But I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain honour in trying.  But for how long?  And at what price?

This post was inspired by a post over at Dead Men Don’t Snore.  What do you make of her practical advice?

O Tempora! O Mores!

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[picture to follow when both computer and myself are feeling somewhat better; please check back!]

 

I never quite ‘got’ the grandfather clock song, it didn’t make sense to me that the clock just stopped when the old man died; clocks aren’t sentient, even if they can be sensitive, so how could the clock ‘know’, how could it grieve or pine?  Silly song.  (Unless maybe the grandfather was murdered, in which case, apparently, clocks always get broken so the time of death can be conveniently established.  Or mis-established if you really want to stretch and challenge your plot or your readers).

Old clocks don’t really seem to die either; their mechanics seem steadfast from one century to another, you just wind them and off they go again.  (Accuracy may be another matter, however).  And modern clocks?  Do they die?  We pop new batteries in them but probably get bored of the current design or model in our fickle modern way sooner than even the most skimpily-made clock dies.

Mind you, I have killed a clock before.  Or two.  But I would also like to indict my husband.  You see, we have a clock in our hallway, as most folk seem to do, but ours is right smack next to the loft hatch.  Three clocks later and we have a rule that the clock must be reverentially placed on a safe, flat surface in another room before any loft-bound mission commences.  We learn, albeit slowly.

It was the railways that brought standardised time, and the need for it, to the nation; although the time-counting passion had been fashionable for at least a couple of centuries before that.  I often wonder what the world was like before then, before all this time-keeping mania with its timetables and schedules.  A world before time?  In a certain sense, perhaps.

From King Alfred cutting notches in his candle (well, he did in my Ladybird book anyway) to the chap, or chap-ess, who first noticed the shadows revolving a stick or pole, we have long been fascinated, if not obsessed with time.  By marking out these divisions, we are seeking control.  And often than not, control over other people.  Maybe too, there is a feeling that orderliness can only be achieved with this mastery.  I don’t know, I still wonder at how it would have been with just the luminaries and the shadows to reveal the passage of time.  A more peaceful, a more natural existence?  Who of us can really tell?  We have a deep cultural impression of time seared within us now; we can choose to abandon the system and live wild in the wilderness but our ideas, our concepts, our mores of time come with us even if the clock doesn’t.

Dividing up our time, enumerating it, counting it, watching it, measuring it, what have we really achieved?  A sense, maybe, of just how little time we actually have and how little control we have over its relentless progress.  A two-edged sword, it seems, this time-keeping mania of ours.