In the name of the Father, the Skeptic & Son…

I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to mass every Sunday, made confessions, took communion. I attended catholic schools. My primary school was flanked by a chapel, a missionary monastery & a convent. By virtue of attending those schools most of my friends were also catholic. We all prayed before lunchtime, sang hymns in assembly and had regular R.E. Classes. What I mean is I understand how organised religion works. I was immersed in dogma throughout my childhood.

That’s not to say I always liked it. Even early on I remember having the distinct feeling that some it was icky. I didn’t like the bullying ways of my school chaplains. Some of the things my teachers hammered home did not fit with the whole peace & love vibe. Mass was never anything other than a thing to be endured. Catholicism always felt too rigid.

It wasn’t until I hit secondary school that I really started to call bullshit. I didn’t believe much of what I was being taught. More importantly I hated the intolerance. Catholic views on sex, sexuality, gender roles, abortion and so much more simply did not align with my own. Neither did they fit with what I had learned at home. I couldn’t bite my tongue in the face of bigotry dressed up as god’s word. Nor could I bring myself to do the cherry picking that many religious folks do. The catholic faith felt like a straight jacket & I would not be restrained.

Thus, I drifted away. I stopped going to mass. I let myself question everything I had absorbed. I dug into the history of the church and its current practices. The more informed I became the less respect I had for any of it. It’s all steeped in atrocities & injustice. Organised religion it seemed was just a way to control the masses. What better way to impose your will than to tell people it was in fact, god’s will. By the time I finished school I no longer considered or described myself catholic at all. I had & have no use for any organised religion. I believe there is a higher power of some description, but not some patriarchal judge in the sky.

Most of my family still belong to the church. I have friends of various faiths & none. I’m very much a live & let live type of person. As long as no one is trying to impose their beliefs upon me or actively do harm in the name of religion; I don’t consider it my business. I do however retain a distrust & distaste for the institutions. I want no part of it.

I tell you all this in order for you to understand how I felt when I received this comment on something I wrote on the anniversary of my baby’s due date.

Anger was my main reaction. I removed the comment & blocked the (blank) account. I hated the thought of someone more vulnerable than myself receiving such a comment. I felt angry that this so called church elder was trawling for people they thought they could manipulate. However, I didn’t want to give it anymore time or energy. They were blocked; end of story.

Unfortunately not. A couple of weeks later, on my birthday, I received an email. This time from a church elder named Liam McIntosh. It was more of the same. Insulting & ignorant comments about my life, offers of ‘support’ and that suspicious claim of referral from a concerned friend. There is not a single person in my life who if concerned would ask the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to help me. This contact enraged me. I have an excellent support system, a sense of purpose and lots of joy in my life. However, I am aware that many people do not. I remember how little it took to overwhelm me when I was in the depths of mental illness & grief. I am also cognisant of how easily some people who feel desperate may be manipulated. Both messages utilised abuse tactics; belittle, claim to be doing so for the victim’s benefit and then purport to have all the answers. A church setting out to prey on vulnerable people in this manner sickens me.

This kind of behaviour is exactly why I do not like organised religion. It is predatory. This organisation is clearly seeking out people they believe to be vulnerable in order to manipulate them. I am not that person. I share my experiences in order to dispel stigma. I find the ‘concerned friend’ tactic particularly disturbing as it purposely exploits the guilt & shame that many people in difficult circumstances already feel.

After receiving that email I felt sufficiently angry & concerned to act. I tried to track down both men who contacted me. I could find no trace of either on official church websites etc nor could I find any record of professional training that would qualify them to offer such advice. The only COFLDS that I could find in Hamilton has disbanded. I called Edinburgh & Glasgow branches, but neither wanted to comment. Nor would they provide details of anyone in a senior role to discuss these communications. Some elders though are obviously reading this blog, perhaps they would like explain themselves?

I’m not finished with this. I am worried about the harm these unethical strategies could cause. As a result I am working on a more in depth piece for publication. If you or someone you know has been contacted in this way, I would like to hear from you.

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If only I could hold you…

Dear Baby,

Today came around very fast this year. It frightens me how much time has past. You’d be older than I was when I carried you now. That feels incomprehensible. All those missed years. A grown man’s worth of memories. I can picture you at every age. Yet, I still call you baby.

We’re trapped together in this restless limbo. I hope it’s easier on your side. I dream of you kicking. Always the same sensation. Never the same place. We’ve travelled my emotional map together. You have been everywhere that ever really mattered. I wish I could give you more than words & dreams. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.

Love always,

Mum

Xxx

Come away with me…

Several weeks ago I came across a word I’d never previously encountered. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It encapsulates a feeling that lives with me, but has eluded succinct definition. The word is Hiraeth.

It’s Welsh and doesn’t directly translate to English, but it means a homesicknesses for a home to which you cannot return or perhaps never was. It was in an article and I didn’t understand. I had to look it up. When I read that definition it felt like I breathed it in and it found a spot inside me where it fitted perfectly. It explained something I already knew.

It is exactly what I feel in those moments that I’m not sure what I am doing or who I am. The thing caught in my throat when I hear children shout for their Mummy. It’s the longing for a world that only ever comes to life in my head. Except I can feel it. I know the intricacies. I have plans for every eventuality (& even strategies for the inevitable unknowables). Pet names, values & handed down treasures thump in my chest. The sensation of heavy sleeping breath and hot ‘it’s not fair’ tears. The music I play, the books I read them. Dancing in the living room for no reason just like I did with my Mum. I close my eyes and conjure how crushing the responsibility can be. Losing my patience, the swamp of guilt that follows. The days I am certain I said absolutely the right thing. The pain of knowing I missed the mark. I’m not imagining it; I can recall the emotions. They’re fizzing under my skin. The flick of hair from a face or a tut of exasperation are as decernable as memories. I long to go home.

Homesick for the home I couldn’t build. That’s the feeling that perpetually lurks. Now I know it’s name.

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I Do This All The Time…

It’s been a very hard month(?). Hard to be sure how long because my brain is utterly scrambled. In any case, there has been a lot of medical bullshit and I have not been taking care of business. I have been indulging in therapeutical level loud music, these are the songs that have been on repeat.

I Do This All The Time

Since seeing Self Esteem at Trnsmt. I have been a tiny bit obsessed with this song. Self Esteem is awesome in general, but this song really hit home. Its a cool uplifting anthem, with a ‘you got this’ message. This song has summer has hit written all over it. I suspect its success might be in part because of how well Self Esteem understands her audience. The lyrics really get into the thoughts and concerns of so many women. Our tendency to believe we’re not making the right choices, picking the right people or being good enough at all. Some of these lyrics felt like they were written just for me, especially the ‘you’re a stocky girl’ & ‘it was really rather miserable trying to love you’ lines. It is reassuring to hear someone get that and dispel it all in one upbeat banger. You didn’t think you’d live this long sun happily will get me every time.

Prioritise Pleasure Album Cover.  As slim white woman with blonde hair wearing black bodysuit , black hat and black knee high boots. She is posing with her arms in the air

I Am Not Ready

I discovered Olivia Broadfield via The Split. This soundtrack made the series even more heartbreaking. She is a lyrical genius. I feel these words in my bones. I am a sucker for a sad song and this entire album is perfect. I Am Not Ready works for either grieving someone who has died or lost relationship sense. Oh man, if you’ve experienced either, this one cuts deep. Broadfield’s beautiful voice begging to know if it ever gets easier is a killer. Let’s face it, we’re never ready to say goodbye to the people we want to keep.

The Split Soundtrack Cover. Four white women of various ages looking sternly at the camera

Cloud 9

I can’t even remember where I heard this song. I don’t know anything about Beach Bunny nor have I checked out their other music yet. I just find joy in this song. It’s a dreamy, lovey dovey, summer tune. It makes me smile when I’m stuck in a stifling waiting room. That’s good enough for me.

Cartoon of a women in shirts and t shirts. Lying in the ground with her legs in the air, holding a bunny in her chest

Worry Bout You

I found Kendra Celise on Tik Tik. She is a singer/songwriter with a kick arse country vibe. She was inspired to write this song after a phone call from her ex husband’s new girlfriend. I have to say I think this is the coolest way to deal with some daft bitch bothering you. Her lyrics are clever and this song is so good when it’s blasting all through the house.

White women with blonde hair sitting on the back of a pick up truck holding a guitar

Bronan isn’t always as delighted with my loud choices, but he does always forgive me.

Slightly grumpy black and white cat.  He is lying on a purple sofa with his paw on a pale arm

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And just like that, I’m not ok…

I have just finished the first episodes of the much awaited And Just Like That. I was excited for the return of the S&TC girls (I know). I loved the original. I even liked the slightly dodgy films. I was so happy to see them all again. And now, I am not ok.

Poster for and just like that featuring Sarah Jessica Parker , Cynthia Nixon & Kristin Davies

If you’re planning to watch & don’t want me to spoil it, stop reading now. If you’re still here, how are you doing? Did you survive that first episode? I was so unprepared. Not until Lily started playing those foreboding notes did I suspect that Big was in danger. Those sneaky fuckers got me. As soon as the scenes started cutting from big on the bike to Lily on the piano; I knew. I didn’t want to accept it though.

I was really enjoying happily ever after with Carrie & Big. He’s still hot. Still colouring outside the lines. Still an old school romantic. Carrie is still Carrie. The writing is good. The shoes are better. It was all working until they broke my heart. This is not the forever I was looking for. How can Mr Big be dead? Why on earth did the writers think we could cope with this storyline?

Still from and just like that. Carrie cradling Big in her arms

I can’t stop crying! Listen, I always cry at the sad bits. Books, films, tv shows, life. If it’s sad, I cry. However, I think after 2yrs of a pandemic and all it brought maybe everyone’s emotions are a little raw. I find it increasingly difficult to view a whole range of media. The news is obviously a very rough watch. Fiction isn’t really much easier. The stress, fear, anger, grief has been turned up so high in real life that I really struggle not to absorb those emotions from fiction. I start feeling sad about a storyline and before I know it I’m flooded with a million real things to be sad about. Repeat for anger and so on. I’m beginning to think that Covid has left even more of a mark on me than I realised.

I’m wondering if others aren’t feeling the same. We’re all aware of the trauma covid brought. Huge losses & life altering changes. I’m not sure we have properly thought about the long term impact on our collective psyche. Lots of us were lucky enough not to lose a loved one. Many careers have not crashed and homes are maintained. A significant amount of people didn’t even get sick. Nonetheless, everything feels different. Also, the same. Is this chiming with anyone?

I feel like the world should have changed. So much of it hasn’t and that feels incompatible with where we are now. It’s hard to climb out of all those extreme emotions we’ve been swimming in. It’s even harder not to feel the need to revolt against those who still can’t bring themselves to care. I can’t articulate it perfectly, but I feel something has shifted. It could be wishful thinking. I hope not. It’s like the other shoe is just dangling from a single toe now. The people who least expect it might be about to get squashed.

ly wearing tortoiseshell glasses leaning her head on one hand and looking fed up

Well, that was quite the leap. From a 90’s reboot to revolution in less than a 1000 words. I think that might actually prove my point; there’s a lot bubbling right under the surface. Anyway, in brief, whether you’re sad about John James Preston, the damage a global pandemic has wreaked or the craven shower we are governed by, I feel you. It’s hard to keep it in. You’re not the only one. Be gentle with yourself.

Even if I quit…

It’s another gloomy Sunday afternoon. It’s drizzling outside & the day’s main occupation is emptying my over stuffed washing basket. It’s not a terrible day. Just routinely tedious.

It would merely be one more underwhelming day if it weren’t for the lightening crack in my pelvis. The shock that spreads to my back and sinks into my thighs. A monthly reminder. A living memory who’s intensity at times pushes the familiar into trigger territory. What rushes in full colour into my brain? Blood

Blood in my pants

Blood on the floor

Blood on my thighs

Blood in the bath

Blood on surgical gloves

Blood on a hospital chair

A supercut of blood. Staining an array of places I’ve called home, polluting clothing & towels. I can feel the rush of blood in my ears as various medical professionals tell me things I never want to hear. The heat, the rhythmic contractions, the fear rush me from yesteryears.

I know all the tricks. I breathe. I describe my surroundings in detail. I repeat ‘I’m ok’ over & over & over. I pet my cat; hear his purrs, feel his super soft fur. I plant my feet firmly & watch my toes wriggle on solid ground. I’m here. I’m safe. I’m in this room. And I am. For long enough to switch reels.

I’ve clicked over to a different familiar. My heart is pounding & adrenaline crackles. My body gets there a fraction before the idea fully forms. It’s too late to call halt. The only thing that ever stopped the bloody horror is more blood. Controlled, purposeful blood. I can almost smell the metallic rapids.

No matter how many days, weeks, months go by without splitting my skin the connections remain. My broken brain leaps from trauma to maladaptive solution with confidence. I must convince myself all over again that blood isn’t the answer.

Don’t find that box

Don’t open it

Don’t slip a fresh blade on the handle

Don’t find the perfect spot

Don’t drive the scalpel in

Don’t let blood trickle & flow.

I know this trick too. Sheer force of will. I will not. I can not. I do not.

I have not for so long. I’m ‘recovered’. No one told the deep dark core of me. That fucker still yearns for it. Not every day. Maybe even not all that often, but I know it’s there. I know how fast the urge can rise. And, oh, I know how hard it is to continue saying no.

I can’t say with any certainty that these thoughts will ever completely leave. I’m like an alcoholic who remembers the relief of the first hurried gulp. Knowing that carnage follows is enough to stop me raising the glass. I just don’t think it’ll ever kill impulse.

I’m good. My life goes on. Tomorrow could be wonderful. I’m tired, though. It would be nice not to have to fight so hard.

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Little Green, have a happy ending…

It recently came to my attention that Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece, Blue is 50 years old. I find it incredible that words written half a century ago still cut right to the heart of me. I discovered Joni when I was around 12 and 28 years later I still love slipping into the blue. This week I have found myself listening to one song in particular on repeat. It’s Baby Loss Awareness week, as I see others share their own losses I find comfort in Little Green.

Little Green is perhaps the most perfect song ever written. I didn’t know precisely what it was about on first listen but I still got it. It still wrapped me in it’s magical sadness & hope. Green immediately struck me as a beautiful name for a girl. I decided there & then that should I birth a girl, I would indeed call her Green.

Little green by Joni Mitchell lyrics in background on green ribbon

I’ve been listening to that song since my teens. Dreaming of the tiny bud who would be my Green. In the passing years I have learned the true meaning of the song, talked to the Green nestled inside me & discovered the reality of loss. Joni was writing about a different, but similar grief. Her words remain entwined with my experiences.

When I dream of a daughter she is a gypsy dancer. All tangled red hair & high spirits. She likes the scent of pine trees & bracing herself against a strong, cold wind. She’s quieter than me, but chatters when excited. I read her everything I loved as a child. Take her to the places that made me feel big things. Her childhood is filled with standing stones & patterned tights & Joan Lingard books & seaside air & empowering women & red liquorice. She is exhausting, exhilarating & exquisite.

When I wake she is a girl in a song. A fantasy my mind summoned; fuelled by 70’s folk poetry and my deepest longing. Listening now is a sweet agony. Pressing my sorest spot because I can’t resist the beauty of it all. The intro wrapping me in the blanket my babies never had. The lyrics bringing the sketches in my head to life.

I’m glad we’re beginning to open up about pregnancy & baby loss. I hope others won’t have to spend so much time alone in their heads with their babies. It helps to talk about losses. To give solidity to those tiny unlived lives. It is such an enormous relief to have the world acknowledge our children.

Adult hand holding a child’s hand on green background

On the inside…

Dear Son,

It’s been another insane blur of year. The pandemic has given me lots of time & motivation to do big picture thinking. There’s been so much talk of the impact on parents & kids. The decisions to be made about keeping children safe, healthy & happy get trickier in times like this. You’re not here. Neither are your siblings. Being forced to stay home alone for extended periods really rams that fact home. I still think about what I would do. How I would make sure my children would be ok. I don’t think that will ever stop. I’ve thought through how I’d handle every stage of your lives; agonised over choices that are entirely theoretical. I can’t help it. I’m always going to be your Mum on the inside.

This year I will be spending your day doing something joyful. It came about purely by chance. Pandemic rescheduling dropped an activity unexpectedly. It feels strange. It’s not a thing I would have planned, but I think it is good. I’m trying to see it as a celebration of you. Of the tiny amount of time we had & all the wonderful that could have been. I know you would have given me so much to rejoice in.

Love Always,

Mum

Xxx

Sisters in arms…

I’m tired. To the bone exhausted. It’s been a relentless year, like everyone else I’ve just kept trudging along. This weekend I hit a wall. I doubt I’m alone.

The convergence of Mother’s Day, police violence against women & the flood of abuse/harassment stories that women have been sharing was overwhelming. Especially when I realised how many similar cases of missing or dead WOC I had never even heard of. Women the mainstream media had little interest in. Women who in some cases haven’t even had their death investigated. I’m not shocked by any of this. I know this is the world we live in. The abstract knowledge doesn’t make each individual case less painful. When you combine one’s own pain with the agony of the collective it’s crushing. It never stops. It never changes.

I’m aware that I’m feeling all this from a position of privilege. I have more space & safety to process. The police would likely pay attention to my family if I disappeared. I know my exhaustion is relative, but god, it’s heavy. I wish it were possible to ease the heavier weight I know many are carrying.

I don’t have any new answers. I’ll keep writing to MP’s, protesting, amplifying marginalised voices, putting my money where my mouth is. It’s a struggle to feel hopeful at the moment. So, I’m going add to taking care of myself to that list. I don’t know what that care looks like yet, but I’m working on it. I urge you to take whatever time you can & give yourself a little TLC too.

Illustration of horse, boy,Fox & mole from Charlie Mackesy
Charlie Mackesy

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Word therapy…

On one of my recent insomnia fuelled drives for distraction I stumbled upon an interview that persists in my thoughts. It was Anderson Cooper discussing grief & loss with Stephen Colbert. Both had significant losses early in life. Anderson talked of wishing he had been physically marked by the experience. This is of course a reality I am familiar with. Which led to some slightly self indulgent word therapy.

He talked about how he felt it might be easier to have a permanent sign of the damage so that others may be aware of his condition. An idea I suspect he’d soon realise the error of if he actually did bear a mark of loss. He continued that he thought people should know that he wasn’t necessarily the person he should be. Tragic events had diverted him from the person he started life as. This concept felt lifted from my very own brain. Of course much thinking ensued.

When Anderson talked of being marked he suggested a scar running down his face. His reasoning being that in the wake of his mother’s recent death people had offered condolences, but also shared their experiences of loss. He found this sharing to be comforting and it’s not a thing that generally happens. The scar would show his pain & people would feel able to have those conversations. Colbert agreed in part as he recognised the feeling of his loss being a continual part of his life, whilst the world at large rarely considers it. All sentiments I relate to. I do often struggle with just how often I think of my babies when they’re rarely acknowledged by anyone else. That led me to ask myself questions I had thought settled.

I understand their reasoning, my experience just doesn’t bear it out. The look of my self harm was never a factor I gave much thought. Outside of the need to hide it from others, the visual of impact was a non issue. I never cared. Ugly scars were just a by product of a necessary thing. The pain & blood & release & expiation were essential. If mutilation was a consequence of that so be it. I don’t think it occurred to me that I had another option. Yet, now, clothed in the aftermath it does seem fitting.

If I could exclude third party reaction it would make sense. I can see a twisted symmetry in my flesh being ravaged, but still living. At my core that’s how I feel. I contributed to my destruction and then I toiled to repair the ruin. Of course, you can’t escape the opinions of others. Those who care about you are hurt by the reminder of your pain. Those who don’t know you are as often cruel as kind. Carrying your story everywhere is a complicated matter. Anderson might end up preferring the anonymity of a metaphorical scar.

The second part is harder to reason. For a very long time I wanted nothing more than to be the person I was before. It took me years to accept that wasn’t possible & several more to realise that wasn’t my fault. I still missed that fun, capable, handle it all girl. Still wondered what she may have become, but I didn’t hate the me that life had created anymore. Little by little I learned to like myself. I started to believe that might be able to take all the broken pieces & make something beautiful.

The universe had other ideas. It really does enjoy smashing me up. Each time I lost a bit making a whole seemed less & less likely. Now that I know for sure how unlikely, those other mes feel important again. I keep thinking about who I could have been. Which variation of myself was I supposed to be?

I can’t help but imagine that original version of myself would have made a shinier, happier life. That 19yr old was a powerful force. She’d have been unstoppable at forty. Even if I’d sustained the original hit there all there a still multiple variants. All these possible lys that could have existed if you subtract chips along the way. Sure, that could probably be said for anyone; I just don’t know if everyone can so clearly identify the points of impact. It makes it easier to compare the before & after.

I had made peace with the person I am. I don’t reject her now. The what if’s have simply grown louder. There could have been so much more. In the end I don’t care about the scars. I’d even take Cooper’s imagined facial disfigurement if it gave me a chance at one of those parallel lives. The older I get, the more certain I become; I want the more.

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