Shadows.

Shadows.

This is part 3 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

At 6pm I put the finishing touches to dinner. James had finished work early and been to his parents already, so should have been home around 6.30pm. I tipped some frozen peas into a pan and listened to them sizzle while watching the clock’s second hand crawl around the face. My picture was finished, and I’d attached it to the fridge with the tiny footprint magnets which still awaited the real photograph. I brushed my fingers across the pencilled surface and imagined the feel of a baby’s skin.

Below it on the fridge was a photo of my sister and her husband standing beside James and I. It was a double date in Summer last year and we’d visited a zoo together. The sun had caught the lens of the camera so that a star of white blocked the view behind us. By it’s very nature, it’s my favourite picture in the house. My sister’s arm flows behind her husband’s back so that it can poke little bunny ears above my head. The week after this my sister was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move. In the photo she is tanned from a recent trip to France and poking her tongue out at the camera. A week later she was unable to breathe. I’m laughing in the photo at something my sister had just shouted across the group, a joke to the camera man. A week later her heart stopped beating, it gave up and exploded, leaving my own with a sister-shaped hole.

I knew exactly what luck I’d had with my sister from the moment I started school. All the other girls would moan about their brothers throwing things at them or calling them names. All the other sisters would steal their toys or pull their hair. My sister let me play with her dolls and play dress up with her lipstick and shoes. She was two years older than me and mum was very strict with numbers, so when I was seven my sister was allowed to play with makeup while I still wasn’t. There was a picture in a photo album hidden under my bed of my sister and I after a makeover session. I’d dragged her smooth golden hair into two very uneven and matted pigtails. She’d managed a fairly neat plait on one side of my head. We’d both plastered bright pink lipstick around our mouths, and neither of us had been good at keeping colouring in the lines. I took it out from time to time when my heart was feeling strong.

By 6.30, James is still not home. I pick up the phone a number of times and dial his number before replacing it onto its hook. There’s a little photo of us in a heart-shaped frame beside the phone. The heart is a little glitzy and pink for our taste, but it was a gift from his mother for our engagement. It houses a picture of us shortly after he asked me to marry him, taken at a professional studio which was also a gift. We’re both wearing our favourite clothes, which do not match in the least. His dark denim jeans and flannel shirt are so incongruous with my slimline black dress that I almost made him change, before deciding that this portrayed us as we truly were. Independent. Together. Perfectly different.

James smiles at me from the photograph, unaware of the tumult inside me at his being twenty minutes late home. I picked up the phone twice more, and checked on dinner before turning the cooker off and settling on an armchair beside the window with a book. Drunken words stare up at me from the page, dancing around like an untamed ocean as I look over them at the street below the window. At 7pm I pick up the phone and dial James’ number, but before the ringing begins there’s a knock at my door.

The policeman’s badge sports a photograph of him in his uniform. I realised that this man was a shadow of his former self, we are all shadows of who we once were. Where crevices now lurk beneath his eyes, there is clear, fresh, young skin. It stands up straight and bright, ready for the day after a night of sleep with a clean conscience and lack of regrets. He stands before me now, a balding image of himself. The lips which are pulled into a friendly smile in his photograph are now drooping like a dead flower as he opens them and speaks slowly. As he holds onto my arm to stop me from falling.

 

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Loving In Tough Times.

Loving In Tough Times.

When life gets difficult we sometimes push the people that we love away. I’m not sure why we do it. Whether it’s an attempt to pretend we’re okay, or to keep people at a distance when we’re feeling vulnerable. If not, perhaps it’s because we just don’t feel like we’ll be good company, don’t want to cause a fuss or need to cuccoon ourselves within a duvet, and cuccoons aren’t as efficient with a partner. For whatever reason we do it, it seems to be a human instinct to distance ourselves from others when we’re struggling with life.

This can make it hard for those around us to show love. When we feel pushed away it’s only natural that we back off, if they say that’s what they want it makes sense that we do it because we love them. While sometimes this is a good thing, it can mean that people end up feeling isolated and there are ways to show them how you feel despite their desire to be alone. The first of these is really easy to do, simply sending a text or giving a call to tell them you’re there when they change their mind is important. It lets them know that once they’re feeling up to company you’re available, it lets them know that the door isn’t closed. It lets them know that you care.

If someone doesn’t want to chat you can always offer alternatives. Rather than talking perhaps they’d like to watch a movie and eat junk food – I know that’s always a good option for me. Otherwise there are board games, video games, reading a book side-by-side. There are no end of options where you can spend time with people without talking to them. These moments can build a bond between you, you’ll each know that you went through the struggle together, even if you didn’t feel up to talking about it.

Another alternative is helping them with whatever they need. If they’re feeling unable to leave the house perhaps they could do with someone to collect groceries (or even some sweet treats). I’ve lost track of the number of times where I’ve been too ill to go out, and friends have dropped off chocolates, crisps, tea-bags, even cigarettes although they’re often less willing with that one. It’s a great help as it lessens the worries in our head and has the added advantage of forcing us to see someone, even if they do only stay long enough to hand over a bag of goodies.

Sometimes it’s good to push a little, when in the depths of struggles it can be hard for people to know what is really good for them. For example, when I’m at my worst I could hide in my room for days only emerging for a cup of tea if I got really desperate. I won’t cook, step outside of my front door or respond to most messages I receive. However, this isn’t actually very good for me. If I do this I end up feeling worse. It can be really helpful for friends to encourage me out of the house and come with me, or even come over to bring me downstairs or into the garden for a chat.

In the event that someone does want to talk about what they’re fighting through, be there. Listen to them and take note of what they’re saying. Never judge them or allow them to think that their troubles are not worth being upset over. Allow them to take their anger or hurt out on you a little bit, it can be good for them and they’ll really know that you love them. Don’t try to fix their problems, but be there for them to talk to and give advice if they ask for it. If you’d like to read more, click here.

 

I know this was a pretty concise guide, and that’s probably because I’m definitely no expert. But what I do know is that it’s important for people to know that struggling with life or illness does not make them any less precious to you. It’s vital for them to know that you love them, that you’ll be there for them whenever they need you. If you deal with tough times in this way, rather than pushing you apart, they can push you together. They can create a bond between you that makes them a valuable experience, however horrible they may be at the time.

If you’re finding life really hard at the moment please contact the Samaritans, or your local GP or crisis team! You’re not alone, no matter how much it may feel that way. 

Taking a Break.

Taking a Break.

If you read my post last week you’ll know I’ve just started 365 days of self care. (If you don’t know what this is check out my blog here, or my twitter page for updates.)

I’ve learnt something in this week of taking care of myself: often the most loving thing to do is simply to give yourself a break. While I’ve enjoyed taking time to do some colouring, watch a movie or treat myself to an unhealthy snack, some of the most helpful things I’ve done this week were just taking time to sit or have a nap. Essentially… the most helpful thing I did was to do nothing at all.

Regardless of whether you’re taking part in this challenge or not, I think it’s helpful to remember that you don’t have to be up and about doing things all of the time. I know people who run around constantly working, meeting up with people or volunteering, and while this is all good stuff to be doing it can wear you out. It’s important to have those moments where you sit by yourself without feeling pressured to be productive with your time. It’s okay to take an evening off and just have an early night, or sit in the bath until your toes get wrinkly. This doesn’t make you weak or lazy, it just means that you know how to take care of yourself.

This is especially important if your mental health causes problems sometimes. I know that if I spend all of my time doing activities I get exhausted and spend a couple of days completely unable to do anything. This isn’t because I’m weak or pathetic or because my illness makes me less able than anyone else. It’s because I have an illness which I need to manage, and if I don’t manage it well then it’ll start to affect my daily life. That’s why taking time out is important, if we do it strategically without waiting for it to become a problem, we’re less likely to experience the problem at all. It will make it easier to manage the illness and lead a regular life.

So whatever you’ve planned today, I’d urge you to remember to block out some time just to rest. To make sure that you’ve taken a little bit of time to do nothing.

Artistic License.

Artistic License.

This is part 2 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

8 months seemed a long time to wait for the little addition to our family. We wouldn’t even have a black and white scan to frame for a few more weeks and I’d looked for frames of that size and couldn’t find one anyway. I’d bought some little footprint magnets and stuck them onto the fridge ready. One pink. One blue. One yellow in case we changed our minds and wanted a surprise. I’d told James last week and he’d been dying to tell his parents but we’d agreed on one month. He was going to see them after work. His parents stand in a little frame with slightly forced smiles on their faces, over by my mother on the windowsill. They hadn’t really wanted him to marry me, unemployed for two years with so many health problems we’re all surprised I haven’t dissolved into ashes already. They worried about him making enough money to support us both.

Housewife. I looked like one in the frame in our room. Above our bed, a canvas print from the wedding of course. We’d got the proofs the day after I’d told James about the little parcel with a long wait for delivery. We’d scrolled through them ‘cooing’ and ‘awhing’ and laughing together, admiring our beautifully made up selves in the crisp clean print of the photographs. We’d ordered the canvas in the middle size and stuck it on the wall as soon as it arrived. I was leaning in James’ arms, laughing with my eyes closed. Pure joy. Leaning into him to demonstrate my submissive, demure position as his wife. His arms were wrapped tightly around my waist, new ring glinting in the sunshine, bright teeth all on show as he smiled.

I’d wanted a career before I got ill. The problem is that once you get that diagnosis you’re screwed, no one wants to employ you after that. James made me think that was okay. It was alright to be disabled and spend your days pottering about the house because you can’t face going out: cleaning and drawing and preparing dinner. There’s a picture from before in the office where I draw and never produce anything that sells.  It’s me collecting an award at school for organising an auction of art to support a charity. I forget which one, I think it was probably cancer research or something because that’s what schools always seem to push you towards.

I’d finished preparing dinner now, and moved in to my study, fuelled by nostalgia after thinking about my career. The study was my room. The only thing in the house that James didn’t share, the only part of me that wasn’t intrinsically linked to him. There was only one photo of him in there, sitting atop the dark mahogany desk by the window. He was kissing me on the cheek and I was laughing again, eyes closed in glee. Contentment. I was always content when he was around. When he was at work my life felt a little empty. Each sound a little too loud. Each footstep bringing a tiny ray of hope that he’d walk through the door in his crisp grey suit, cheeks flushed from the walk home, dark hair fluffy from rushing.

I picked up a pencil and began to sketch a face. Eyes closed, laughing. Gums on display as a giggle escaped from the mouth. In my head the picture was in colour, but I couldn’t remember where I’d put the coloured pencils. In my mind the baby was in hysterics over a face James had pulled, his tongue out, blue eyes crossed the way you would to make your daughter laugh. I’d be beside them, smiling, eyes open to watch the two people I love most in the world feeling happy. I’d finish this picture and frame it, compare it with the face of my little baby when she entered the world, a screaming bundle of baby fat and blankets. I’d probably got it entirely wrong, but I used a little artistic license. It was my baby after all.

At this time my heart is open, not yet closed by the events of the day. That is because they hadn’t happened yet. Until now, my heart is full of longing to meet the child inside me, and to see my husband after a long day at work. Later it will be empty. Devoid of feeling, it would become a chasm within me, ready to swallow me like a black hole.

Learning a Love Language.

Learning a Love Language.

In 1995, Gary Chapman published a book called ‘The 5 love languages: the secret to a love that lasts’. In his book he wrote that we each have one primary and one secondary love language and that we tend to demonstrate our love in the way we would like to receive it. In other words, if we feel loved when we get presents we’re most likely to show people our love through buying gifts for them.

The five love languages, according to Chapman are:

  • Gift giving
    • Self explanatory – these people feel most loved when they’re given a gift.
  • Quality time
    • These people feel most loved when they have your undivided attention.
  • Words of affirmation
    • These people like to hear words which tell your feelings for them.
  • Physical touch
    • To these people, nothing shows love more than being held/kissed etc – a physical display of love.
  • Acts of service/devotion
    • These people need displays of love through actions that show how important they are to you.

Ideally, you’d speak the same language but this isn’t always going to happen. Imagine if you were dating someone who was a different nationality to you and you didn’t share a language. How would you communicate? In the same way (although less extreme) if you don’t understand love languages, you can end up being unable to communicate or understand love with the other person. You could end up buying them gifts all day long, but they’d only truly feel loved if you gave them your undivided attention for a while. They wouldn’t feel the love that you were trying to communicate because they don’t speak your language.

In my mind, there’s a couple of ways around this. The first is knowing what language the other person speaks (and which language you do). There’s a quiz for this online (Click here) which is quick and actually quite enjoyable. My top 2 were ‘quality time’ and ‘words of affirmation’, just in case you want to show me some love. You can probably also figure this out through watching them or having a chat about it, however you find it out it’s important to know how they understand love. Once you know what language the other person speaks, you’ll be able to understand when they show you love in a different way to what you’d prefer. Next time you get bought a gift, you’ll understand that that’s the way they show love and therefore will hear their message – I love you.

Another way to cross this language barrier is to learn their language. If they’re not understanding that you love them through your doing the washing up maybe try speaking in a language they do understand. If one of their love languages is physical touch, why not go and give them a cuddle. Or if they speak in affirmations simply say to them ‘I love you’. Message received… problem solved. It may not be the easiest thing for you to speak another language, but it will definitely be worth it if you want to build any kind of relationship.

 

365 Days of Self Care.

365 Days of Self Care.

Yes, it’s a Wednesday and nobody starts something new on a Wednesday. Or do they? I certainly am. I’m putting my dislike for irregularities (I hate when things don’t start on a Monday, or on the hour) aside in order to invite you with me on my journey.

I’m sure you’ve heard of 365 days of self care, if you’re on twitter it’s almost a given since it’s all I see on my feed. Basically, it’s committing to doing something purely for yourself every day for a year. If you’ve read many of my mental health posts you’ll know how important I think self care is. Giving yourself that time to do whatever you fancy doing and enjoying it is really good for your welfare and mental health. Taking this time isn’t selfish or lazy or a waste of time when you’ve got better things to do. It’s actually really useful for making you more productive during the rest of your day since you’ll be more relaxed and probably more cheerful after you’ve done it.In fact, not taking this time to care for yourself can actually cause some serious problems and damage to your mental health, because we need to care for that in the same the way we care for our physical bodies.

You wouldn’t go a day without brushing your teeth or having a shower or eating and drinking would you? In that case why do we think it’s ok to go without looking after our minds?

The things you do don’t have to take long or be expensive. I’ve scheduled in a bit of time this afternoon to write a letter to a friend – self care, maybe 20 minutes, free. Tomorrow I’m planning to treat myself to a flapjack at uni – self care, 5 minutes, 75p. It can be absolutely anything that you want to do. Having a bath. Reading a book. Watching a movie. Having a glass of wine. Meeting a friend for a coffee. There are so many options and a lot of them will be quick and easy and mean that they don’t take too much time out of your busy schedule. Even if they do though, it’s important to have the time to enjoy yourself.

So I’d encourage you to join me (and most of the twitter community) in committing 365 days to self care. And remember – if you miss a day, let yourself off the hook, that’s the most caring thing to do! You can find me on twitter @KayleighHather and Facebook @KayleighNHather. If you’ve decided to join in please let me know, we’re in this together!

 

If you’re really struggling, please know that there are people who want to help you. In a crisis give Samaritans a call (or your GP or crisis team) let them show you some love when you’re struggling to show it to yourself.

 

8 Months.

8 Months.

They say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I’m not sure I agree.

It wasn’t raining on the day my life fell apart. It was actually quite a nice Summer day and I was considering taking a walk that afternoon.They say you can tell when something bad happens to a loved one.  I was feeling a little unwell, but that wasn’t unusual. In fact the nausea may have been a projection once I’d found out what a terrible day it really was.

The sun was smiling at me through the windows and the slight breeze seemed to snicker as it wove through the opening. I chopped the vegetables for dinner and threw them into the slow cooker, coating them in oil and a layer of rice. Two presenters  babbled away almost inaudibly from the retro blue radio I’d been bought as a wedding gift. I didn’t really like to listen, the nonsense they spouted got on my nerves, but I liked looking at it. James would turn it up when he got back and dance around the kitchen with me balancing on his toes.

Pictures of us smiled from every surface. A mural to our first meeting stood beside the radio: the two of us laughing , frozen in time and trapped inside a photo frame. I wore a sequined skirt and t-shirt that was tied up to reveal a generous amount of untanned flesh at my waist. He wore a flannel shirt and skinnies. He’d waxed his hair to perfection but forgotten to shave, so that tiny forgotten hairs sprouted covertly from his chin. We’d both had quite a lot to drink at this stage and as frequently happens with inebriated people, it had quite slipped our minds that we’d only met an hour ago.

It was Win’s idea. She’s framed in our collection of photos on the wall by the TV. All of our friends in different sized squares sitting on the wall to be admired. It’s a bit strange if you think about it too much, but I think she’s pleased to be there. I’d known her since school and she’d taken me out with her work friends after a particularly dull week to ‘blow off some steam’. I’d done that. I’d also met the love of my life. Win had spent the night making out with various strangers until she found someone who was ‘skilled enough’ to warrant taking home.

I was interrupted from my reverie by the rude bleeping of my phone. Mum. She rang almost every day to ask if my life was married bliss. We’d only been back from the honeymoon for a week and already she wanted to visit, to intrude on our peace and bring noise into our home. Mum’s honoured with a small frame on the windowsill. It’s right above the radiator so she’ll never get cold, I think she’d like a bigger space in our house. She’s smiling in the photo, standing with her arms around two small children with pigtails. They’d be matching if one didn’t have glasses and the other a grin that revealed teeth which didn’t fit into her mouth. I’m the one with the big teeth.

I balanced the phone between my shoulder and ear while I poured boiling water into a mug and added instant coffee and a splash of sugar. We may have been able to afford to decorate our flat with a vast array of photographs, but ‘posh coffee’ as James called it, was out of the question. We lived on a healthy (and cheap) diet of mainly vegetables, snacking on nuts and porridge with honey for breakfast. We ate the same things. We’d taken a cooking class last year and  a huge canvas of us proudly flaunting our creations hung on the wall in the kitchen. I’d been intending to call James at lunch time but mum had stolen the opportunity. I didn’t think about it at the time. I was too busy telling mum about a new photo that we’d be framing in about 8 months.