Aren’t you a little short…

May 3, 2017

It’s Star Wars day again and it is the first one without Carrie Fisher. It’s safe to say that Princess Leia (the true people’s princess) was the first love of my life, in that weird, fuzzy, muddled, way that seven year olds have crushes on character from films, television or baby sitters, I absolutely adored Princess Leia. As for Carrie Fisher, I had know understanding of who she was but I can’t help feeling that being attracted to the woman who became such a wonderful spokesperson for the mentally ill was an omen for my future.

As she cheerfully acknowledged herself, around the time of filming Star Wars, her life was a complete mess. It was a way to get out if her environment and away from all the triggers that set her off. I can see the beauty of that right now, the way the world changes but doesn’t until  it all becomes too claustrophobic to bear. 

There is this great myth that surrounds mental health problems and women, the Betty Blue, Ophelia, Sylvia Plath romanticism that goes on. It’s patronising in the extreme. I’ve met as many absolute life destroying horrors of women with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health problems, wreaking a trail of havoc through the world as I have mentally ill men who are the kindest, most gentle people you could meet. I have to state that I also know absolutely lovely crazy women and awful men too. In short, I’ve met people. 

Hollywood has been guilty of perpetuating so many negative stereotypes of the mentally ill, from Jack Torrence and his axe, Norman Bates and his mommy issues, the bunny boilers and single white females all add their weight to the myths and misnomers around mental health issues. Carrie Fisher became such a fantastic spokesperson for the mentally wobbly for all her honesty in dealing with what became all too public health issues. 

The problem that anyone who has, for the want of a better phrase,  gone a bit mad is that however crazy you get and however far from normal you get, the world is a lot madder. So much of living is about spending all your time doing things you don’t want to do, like going to work in fundementally pointless jobs to be given bits of paper in return with a promise scrawled on them so that we can give that promise to other people for things we mostly don’t need and to do things we don’t want to do. Society is an organised form of collective madness that we are obliged to buy into and once you have deviated from that norm it is so hard to find your way back to it as, from the outside, it is as clearly as bonkers as anything your wildest imaginings could cook up. Just imagine how bad it must be trying to find where normal is in somewhere as fake and transient as Hollywood, where imaginary is everyday, where rampantly inflated egos are tolerated and drugs are commonplace. 

Sixty seems so awfully young to loose someone so vibrant and with so much to contribute as Carrie Fisher, someone so honest and who did so much genuine good for others, but then the ways of the force are elusive and mysterious. May the fourth be with those of us left for many years to come.


February 2, 2017

I was asked for a definition of poverty recently…. It’s a hard one.

All poverty is relative. One definition is being beyond a certain percentage out from the rest of your peer group, another being where you fall on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs spectrum. A pyramid diagram where on the bottom level lies, food, clean water, warmth and shelter and, as it narrows, things like education, comfort and self fulfilment become available but the relative availablity is shown through the narrowness up to a tiny point where so few people get their hearts desire. On the other end is the term “fuck off money” the ability to tell anyone you don’t like to “fuck off” with no consequences to your  wellbeing or standard of living. I know a few of these, they buy my art occasionally, they have a fascinating outlook on life. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buffer you from an awful lot of woes. It also buys you time… Time is the most precious gift any of us will ever have, well, along with health and, no, we can’t buy that either, but we can safeguard it. A friend of mine is alive today because his parents could afford to go private and jump a queue, he has two children who would not have been born. I’m way beyond a socialist and have sacrificed a lot for my principles over the years but I would go private like a shot if I had to and the money was there, which it isn’t. That said, the nhs saved my life and I thank its wonderful  staff every day of my life.

My own experience of poverty is this…

I was born to elderly parent in 1970s in North London. Dad owned a small central heating business, mum was a secretary. They both worked and I was brought up by my nan mostly. They had a bit of money left after the mortgage and had a few luxuries, in truth too many. For some people, poverty is never that far away, it lurks like a monster in the shadows, one illness, one accident, a simple change of fate and there it is. Like many of the working class, my dad the guy in the pit village who left for the navy in the Second World War and never went back and my mum and her parents not able to comprehend the importance of an offer to attend one of the best schools in England and not going, my parents weren’t brought up to handle money carefully or understand the dangers of having credit. When they had money, they spent it, when they didn’t, they spent it still. And then came Thatcher. My dad’s business went down the toilet and, in a fit of desperation, he hit upon the idea of selling a three bedroom house in London in 1978 to buy a place in Yorkshire. My mum was so out of it on Valium that she put up little fight. I remember the screaming and the arguments though. Both then and for years later when the bills and the bailiffs arrived. There was no work for either of them up north, my dad leaving for the evil south and bringing one back to the heartland. People were backwards then, they still can be now sadly, but about different things. No work, predudice, freezing in the winters, hiding from people chasing debts. No phones, no going anywhere, wrong school uniforms, decaying shoes and the bulling that went with. There are things that stay with you forever, the look on my mum’s face when she had to sell her engagement ring and her dead mother’s wedding ring for next to nothing will haunt me to the day I die. 

They refused to go under though and one, then both, went to seek work in London leaving me in the care of my sister with mild learning disabilities. Mealtimes were interesting and school was infrequent as the ease with which I could pull the wool over my sister’s eyes was spectacular. When I broke my arm on my bike I never went back for a year. I didn’t miss much mind, the school was fodder for the mines and the army if you were a boy and retail or pregnancy if you were a girl. In a way that year of saved me, I sat there in front of the television and there was nothing to watch but schools tv and the open university. I still can’t do long division but I know an awful lot about the strangest of things.

The quality of the local hospital and my almost feral behaviour led my parents to drag me back south where they could keep an eye on me. I slept in a camp bed at my nan’s at first and was put in the remedial class at school, I was smarter than that but had little motivation. My horizons and expectation in life were limited and once in that class, the second you showed any drive, intelligence or ambition, the other kids beat it out of you. These were third generation unteachable children mostly, dads in prison, mum’s on the game, doomed from day one. It put the wind up me and I wanted to get out, even if it was just so I didn’t get punched in the face every day. It wasn’t long before we were homeless, the house worth a pittance in Yorkshire wouldn’t sell and remained dormant while my brother (see numerous daily mail articles) sold my nan’s house, which was in his name, just to spite my parents. My Nan was granted a one bedroom maisonette by the council and in we all moved. My nan, who instantly went from forgetful to senile slept in the double bed with my sister, my mum on a camp bed in the same room and my dad and I took turns of the sofa and camp bed in the living room area. There was both black and green mould up the walls, the flat was infested with silverfish and woodlice. The toilets in the flats above would overflow as would the river nearby. Everything I owned was constantly damp and smelt bad. We were ill permanently and the lack of personal space affected everyone. My grandma took to shitting in the bath and to absconding in the middle of the night to either Walthamstow or Peckham where she lived as a child to be brought back bewildered by the police. Then, irony of ironies my nan died just a month before a family member was legally entitled to continue the tenancy and eviction proceedings began. I remember we were interviewed for the today show on radio 4 as Norman Tebbit had come out with his “get on your bike” speech and the housing charity shelter thought being on that might help our case, it didn’t. 

After much fighting, eviction day came and we found refuge in a very strange place, a tiny bungalow that was in the middle of a garage forecourt. The rent was cheap, but there were catches, lots of them. What little electricity there was, was put in in the nineteen thirties. Bakerlite  switches would buzz and arc in disconcerting ways and the rubber cascaded from the fittings like toxic dandruff. I had no electricity in my room, but I had a room!! My parents had a pull out sofa bed and my sister a grotty room with electric but no daylight. The worst thing was the lack of privacy though. The mechanics kept their parts in a room off the kitchen and their mot book and security embosser in a secret safe in the front room. They were in and out constantly and there was never an evening or weekend went by without some idiot ringing the bell at all hours to drop off car keys or pick some up. 

It was about then that my dad had his first heart attack and my sister started to get strange headaches. Heart attacks begat strokes, begat heart attacks and my dad became more disabled and brain damaged, my sister was going through the long and painfull process of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent a lot of my free time caring for both of them, nursing my sister and escorting her to Barts and Moorfields hospitals and changing my dad’s pissy trousers and washing stuff there wasn’t much time left but I managed to do art foundation course. Walking half the way sometimes and skipping lunch to pay for paint and pencils. Doing  a degree was out of reach though. My family situation caused me to fall inbetween the cracks in the local council’s system and I was prevented from doing further edjucation until I was 25. So I plugged on, working, caring, doing evening classes. My mum was pensioned off and left me caring for my sister but, whilst absolving herself of the rent and bills, still spent nearly as much time in the crazy bungalow. At twenty five I went to university and at twenty five my dad died, leaving me with two traumatised people to deal with. The student loans came in and the grants disappeared and I paid my way by getting up at four am and  doing the books for a building company before heading for campus. I got my degree through, and was immediately headhunted by a prestigious Japanese designer. It was impossible to survive on the starting wage though. Poor people are locked out of progressing in the creative and media industries by all the unpaid foot in the door jobs, without independent support. I had friends at the time from similar backgrounds who only survived by becoming drug dealers just to keep going on their chosen career path.

Lacking the mindset to become Pablo Escobar, I went back to my old job and promptly went mad. The squalor of my home and the lack of official tenancy documents meant no paper trail. No paper trail, no housing benefit and once I had racked up every debt I could and sold everything I owned, I spent a couple of years off the grid, sofa surfing from relation to relation, friend to friend, I never did the rough sleeping thing, but wasn’t far off. I spent a decade in the white elephant house in Yorkshire on sickness benefit, barely leaving the it, severe depression, severe anxiety, almost a shut in. I never stopped learning though, never stopped making things. Taking every small opportunity back to something like a life. Eventually I got one…. Just in time for the Tories to get in. It was simple, I couldn’t hold down a real job, still can’t. Now I get by on things I make at home in the peace and quite and then the occasional phenomenally well paid thing that leaves me wiped out for the next few days. Then though, it was a case of turning up at a medical every three years by which point I was a gibbering wreck and then they would  promptly wheel me home again.

Then came Atos and the work capability assement, a benign scheme created by new labour that was turned to a witch hunt by the Tories. The first one I promptly failed, I found out three days before Christmas, followed by a year of appeals, meetings, sick notes, scraping  by on emergency money, psychiatric assements, culminating in a tribunal which left me mind fucked and in tears. They found in my favour and I had a year of relative peace…. And then it all started again. Next time I went mobbed up, a massive paper trail, a social worker, a legally trained advocate and I passed. It wasn’t the end of it though, in a new dodge I was put in the active work related activity group, where you are forced to jump through hoops and be patronised and demeaned at ever turn. There was another option though, and that was to become self employed.

The last few years have been exhausting, whilst I have had cash flow, made sales aplenty and done some pretty amazing things, knocking up sales on every continent bar the frozen ones, it goes straight out again. Materials, fees, printing, it all adds up. Going without food and warmth to pay for £250 a metre bear fabric, being awash with debt whilst investing in the next project. This could all blow up in my face any second though and I will end up back where I started or worse. Poverty is hiding in my shadow, poverty is breathing it’s foul stench over my shoulder, only the beta blockers and the ssri’s keep it from swallowing me whole.

For nearly forty years now poverty has been in my life and that of my family. One thing after another, affecting health, affecting sanity, everything having a knock on effect, setting off the next one, you never catch up and with every struggle you sink further and further into the quicksand. Living in poverty is living in fear, I have all the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, you get that from spending time in combat situations normally. 

The worst thing about being poor is other people though. You buy one nice thing and it’s pure hatred, as if that new t shirt would have cleared all your debts and left a bit more to invest in a pension. Then there is socialising, standing at a bar buying drinks for people you don’t like that would have fed you for a fortnight. Even joining things, there are never the right clothes or you are expected to chip in for such and such’s wedding gift, or God forbid! they ask you round for a dinner party, a day’s food on wine, another on afters and then you have to do a return one. Poverty ghettoises you so you can only hang out with the equally poor who would never do something as cruel as to invite you to something and so there you stay, stuck on the same level, never making contacts or getting opportunities.

Worst of all though are the do gooders. Well meaning people who unwittingly rob you of the last of your dignity, without even knowing it. Trying to empathise but never truly knowing what it is like to live without hope or to realise what it is to know that you are so far behind in the race of life. When you are that in need of help it is so demeaning, you have nothing left, not even a sense of self worth. Plus you can feel the warm glow that you are giving them in return for doing their good deed, the trade off is never fair. 

The way a lot of people cope is to just give up, just sink into the mud and stay there like a good little peasant. Sink into the oblivion of drink and drugs, throw what little money they have at a betting shop or on scratch cards. I wish I could do that, I wish I could just give up, but a little voice in the back of my head keeps pushing me forward, inch by slow inch and it reminds me that this is my one life and I better make the most of it.

Hope is a dangerous thing to have if you are poor, it takes you forward but it also torments you at every chance. According to Dante, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” is written across the gates of hell.”  Those words are not a warning, they are a piece of kind advice.


October 20, 2016

At the moment I am trying to train myself out of looking at Facebook, which is awkward seeing as I have to using it to promote my artwork. The nearest I can liken it to is an eating disorder, and I completely acknowledge that compared to those it is completely trivial, you have to eat, you just can’t cut it out of your life and walk away.

I have had addiction problems in my life, I am obsessive by nature and I try my best to channel it all into art and creativity but at various points in my earlier life, before I learnt to control it, I became addicted to painkillers and to cigarettes. I quit both eventually but it wasn’t much fun. Everyone has things they do all the time, little ticks, little phrases. I say “ooh!” an awful lot for example, I was joking with a friend yesterday about how it must be like the Inuits having many words for snow. I have a myriad tones for the word “ooh!” There is Ooh! Someone nice is at the door, there is ooh I’ve just spotted some trainers or a t shirt I would like to buy, ooooh I’ve just see a gorgeous designer toy, OOOH! I’ve just had an idea, OOooOOH!!! There is a naked lady in my home. It’s so ingrained that it is part of me. Sometimes we carry on things way past when we need to, I still waft an imaginary cigarette around when I am talking and a lot of my anxiety, most people’s anxiety in fact, is carried on from things that happened  in early life that I am still trying to  protect myself from that don’t even exist any more. This is where it gets confusing, if you remove a key habit from your life, are you still you? What exactly is “you” anyway? I’ve been guilty at times of trying to point out things in people’s life that is obviously doing them harm and it never works out well, people can only ever come to conclusions for themselves. A year into three years of counselling, I worked out what was blitheringly obvious to the counsellor from day one but she could never have told me. It’s all that giving people the gift malarkey. Some people try and circumvent (god I hate this phrase) personal grow by going on some weekend, sort your life out, course, paying hundreds of pounds to magically fix your life. An old college friend of mine who had to be rescued from a cult calls these Cult Lite, they use the same programming techniques but combine them with some sort of pyramid scheme. The truth is, changing yourself in any way takes bloody hard work and time.

I have been trying to create healthy loops, ticks and habits over the years, going for a long walk every day, reading, trying to eat healthily (I’m still working on that one), creating things…. This is where it gets into eating disorder territory, writing this blog is a loop and sometimes it’s a good way of getting the thoughts out of my head that would eat me alive if left in there, sometimes it entertains or explains something but sometimes it gets me into trouble, same with the artwork, it isn’t  always that clear when I am crossing a line from useful or interesting to offensive and hurtful, it gets into so many grey areas that you can see nothing else if you are not careful. 

I’ve been doing a bit of knitting recently, I used to knit all the time and have done since a teenager. I stopped a while back because it became too trendy and I didn’t want to be associated in any way with the sort of people who had jumped on the bandwagon. It’s  nice doing it again, knowing that my hands remember everything, but once I’ve made a couple of hats for myself I shall stop again. Where as it used to be a passion, it is now just a useful skill to have. It doesn’t define me, not the way it would the quirky straight guy who would do it in his twenties which was me back then, doing a degree in constructed textiles and getting praises heaped on me and a strange admiration from women. 

There are similar questions I ask myself about the difference between being child like and being childish. I have a huge collection of toys, ones from my childhood, art toys decorated or designed by other artists from around the world, toys that are technically very small sculptures, I make teddy bears and there are plenty of mine about the house as well as examples of some of the most interesting ones I have found by other people or companies. I am fascinated by the shapes, the colours, the textures… I try and see the wonder in most things, beautiful skies, shapes in clouds and trees. I am curious to know what is behind doors, over walls, underneath stuff and I make up my own versions which are usually but not always much more interesting. Childish though is probably more about all that nasty playground stuff, gangs, who’s in, who’s out, doing things with a lack of thought that effect other people, not thinking things through, not seeing the consequences of your actions or not really caring about them, showing off… Plus I’m not intentionally trying to act like I’m young on some slightly embarrassing mid life crisis trip back into an idealised version of  my youth. I think I’m ok on all those counts so I think I am safe to keep the toy fixation loop going.

The Facebook loop though… I think over the years it is fifty fifty, I’ve got back in touch with some lovely people and it’s got my artwork to some places it wouldn’t otherwise have got  to but it’s also caused an awful lots of arguments and falling outs and I have seen things that I would rather not have. It’s damaged the distance I have tried to keep from toxic people and unintentionally  upset some nice ones, people have definitely got hurt I am sorry to say, including myself and people I love. Over the last half a year or so I have cut down what I see  of other people’s lives, particularly the one’s who’s loops, ticks and childishness are particularly  tedious and I have become incredibly selective about who sees my stuff which is no mean feat with all the privacy settings keep changing all the time. The next thing is to learn how to leave my iPad well away from the bed area so that it isn’t the first and the last thing I see each day.

In time I hope to replace my social media behavioural loop with a book again, as obsessive habits go, being a voracious reader is a good one.


October 14, 2016

I started writing this as a form stress release and distraction, yesterday I went to bed all afternoon with chest pains. Today I woke up with them, and numb fingers, both signifiers that my heart problems could be coming back. They could have meant other things, the most likely being the panic attacks that have plagued me for as long as I can remember.  It actually came as some relief  a couple of hours later when I started getter a high temperature as in all likelihood I have just picked up a bug somewhere. Over the last year or so it has dawned on me that living life without a romantic relationship or family in close proximity is a scary thing, I have wonderful supportive friends but I am also concious of not taking advantage of them, I’ve seen what happens when friends turn your life into an extension of theirs and the results aren’t pretty. My independence means a lot to me and it is hard to ask anything of anyone at the worst of times and the thought of being as vulnerable as I was earlier this year is terrifying. 

Terrifying… And in that one word we have the source of the problem. It’s hard trying to work out what your body is feeling when it is flooded by the responses designed for our cave dwelling ancestors to escape wild animals on a daily basis. That is why, last year, on the second most miserable Christmas that I have ever had, I managed to get fifty yards down the road before the crushing pain in my chest and the numbing pins and needles sensation in my left arm made me turn back and go to bed for the day, comfort and joy my arse, I actually still thought that there was still a fair possibility that I was still having a panic attack. 

It’s amazing how a human being’s mind can do itself so much damage that it can  be almost identical to a heart attack, how  all those bodily systems that should quietly be ticking away, minding their own business, suddenly start acting up and demanding attention, chest thumping, heart racing, shallow breaths and the shakes.  I’ve got so used to managing the symptoms over the years that it was almost my undoing, constantly trying to divert my mind and risk asses situations so as to minimise their occurrences, avoiding common triggers, enclosed and overcrowded places, loud noise, drunk / potentially aggressive people, in other words having much of a social life and in the boozy, druggy, attention seeking town I live in, pretty much none. It manifests with people in different ways, I’ve had to stand back and watch as someone I care about flushed their life away trying to avoid any confrontation with their friends and family that would set off a panic attack, witnessing their time, energy and money being chiselled away into nothing for fear of upsetting anyone and causing friction, watching as the demands got more and more unreasonable  and the lengths they had to go to to stay in everyone’s good books got more ridiculous. If you aren’t careful that need to avoid panic and unfortable situations can leave you at a point where you have missed all your chances in life for no more reason than lacking the courage to take them. You are a long time dead, it’s important to bear than in mind always. 

It gets to a point though where one has no life at all and I have been there. I now manage my panic attacks in various ways, the first being learning to let oneself of the hook when things go wrong and you have a bad day. What’s done is done and if I lose a day to a panic attack, so be it, if I lose a friend, well, they weren’t really a freind in the first place. Secondly, know yourself, know your limitation, challenge them occasionally if you can but never be affraid to speak up if you feel you are being forced into something harmful to you, it’s ok to say no. Thirdly learn techniques that help you, be that distraction, cognitive behavioural therapy, neurolinguestic programing, tapping, aromatherapy, whatever works, we are all different. Finally, go and get a check up at the doctors from time to time, while the last thing I want to do is give anyone cause to panic further but stress and panic can cause heart disease, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

P.S it probably was my heart. Bugger!

Blursed (Memento Vivere addendum )

September 14, 2016

It usually takes a little while for a blog to brew in my brain but by going out earlier than usual I managed to generate a whole different set of occurrences that bared ponderance over.  I had to pop out early today to deliver a pack of assorted stuff for sale at a high profile gig on Hastings pier this Saturday coming and as such saw my usual morning outing upside down, meeting an entirely different set of people. The most interesting factor was how so many people were in a rush, a rush for trains, a rush to be elsewhere. It did make me wonder as the last golden rays of sunrise made even the st leonards concrete look ethereal and the light played on the surface of the bluest of blue seas why anyone wanted to be anywhere else. Money  guess… 

As I walked along, watching the sea, feeling the wind in what little hair I have left, trying to remain in the moment, preventing my thoughts from wandering into areas of my life that I have no control over and making me feel sad, I remembered my daily walk in Doncaster eight years ago. A mile and a half round trip to the co op and back, a bleak little under stocked shop on a soulless 80s brick version of a hamet. A walk past house upon house by the same developer with only the slightest variation between each. Often the journey would be lowlighted by obscenities hurled from cars, the mindless local kids taking out their frustrations at their pointless little lives on anyone foolish enough to do anything as bizarre as to actually walk somewhere without wearing the prerequisite knock off sportswear uniform. Contrasting that with the now, conscious of soaking up every moment of loveliness before the weather turns and the price of the lovely summers comes back threefold on seaside dwellers like myself.

As I walked along a friend of mine squealed to a hault on her bike, stopping briefly on her way to her own meeting. A few weeks ago she and her son put up posters for my art show about the old town where they live, it was heartening to hear her feedback of how many of the shop, bar and whatever owners knew and loved my work. As she sped off I thought about this, and how the genesis of the things that make so many people happy came out of so much sadness. My need to mentally escape the bounds of that northern housing estate, rootless, mad, lost, bereft of a role and a place in life, trying to connect through the outer world by the burgeoning Internet and a world over the far horizons. None of what I have now, for better and for worse, would be here in the world without that point in time and it’s important for me to remember that. 

There is a lot going on in Hastings and St Leonards, you can while away all your time so easily doing this and that, meeting this person or that, trying to meet everyone’s demands and petty whims. I am both blessed and cursed at the same time blursed? cressed? shudder! with a wild imagination and and abiliting to appreciate the wonders of the world without the need of booze, drugs, party hats, bells and whistles and the constant need for attention that seems to be so popular hereabout. For good or bad, every day is a party in my head and one to which I can sadly wish I hadn’t been invited sometimes. I have a strange relationship with real world parties though, I have an open invitation to so many things but people now know that it is awquard both for them to ask and for me to politely decline. If I was more pretentious I would liken it to Sir Lancelot’s permantly empty seat at the round table of Camelot… The reality though is more likely a crumpled plastic glass by a bottle of fizzy mineral water and a plate of stale twiglets at a party.

Free though from that constant maintenance of egos and balance of invites and social reciprocations and the drain of finances, energies and the resultant hangovers and other repercussions from things that can never hope to live up to their expectation, I can get on with  so much more than would the leaking rusty bucket that would be social Christopher, he had his reign up to 1998 and it was a messy, hazardous one not to be repeated at pain of death… Mine. 

Anyway, I now have to reluctantly get on with my day, a route March delivery to Hastings with a rucksack full of stock that I really shouldn’t be carrying. And when I’m back, presuming my heart and back hold out, I shall illustrate this piece and send it out into the world. 

Zen and the art of image manipulation

September 7, 2016

I am aware that this will sound strange but when I watch or read dystopian fiction be it JG Ballards The Drowned World , I am legend or the book The Omega Man from which it came, to me it sounds like a travel writer describing an idyllic holiday location. The idea of a world where I can quietly get on with my art has some appeal. And I mean SOME appeal as there are plenty of people I do get on well with, but then again, there are plenty I don’t. I have spent too long in the past, working in various jobs dealing with the public, having to tolerate the rude, the unkind, the unstable, the dull, the self absorbed and the egotistical (and that was just other staff members) and I try and keep my contact with such to a minimum now. I realise there are people out there who would lay the same accusations at me for various reasons and they are at perfect liberty to do so, I try and remain self aware and self critical and would only ask that others took as equally hard a look at their own motivations and actions before they question mine. 

With this in mind, I was recently underwent a curious form of counselling with a pair of therapists. One of the ideas that came up was to have a look at a website called headspace which centres around ways of achieving a healthy mind.  Yesterday was probably the first day I’ve had for a long while that was quiet enough for me to seriously look at everything that they suggested. Well yoga was out for a start. Being dyspraxic and dyslexic anything that involves balance will end badly, plus the second you get group activities, you get people and then they go and invite you to stuff and try and talk to you. Bloody hell! That sounds awful doesn’t it? The thing is though, whilst I can happily pass the time of day with most people, it doesn’t take long before either my eyes glaze over because some random idea pops into my head or I go off on some massive tangent and lose them completely. So no to yoga or indeed any group or class activity. 

The other suggestion was mindfulness…  Blimey! Now where do I start with that one? Trying to quiet my mind is like trying to put out a forest fire with a thimble full of water. I am constantly being buried by an avalanche of thoughts, feeling, ideas and sensations and it is a struggle to get the constant stream of ideas down in some form that doesn’t eat me alive. Be it paintings, drawings, writing, whatever, there are all these things going on that need to be dealt with. I have done a fair share of cbt in my time and have done an amount of talking therapy, enough to be aware of what goes on in my mind and to be aware enough to keep a lid on the most negative of thoughts that creep into my head. Not all but most. So mindfulness, nah! 

Over the last couple of days, I have been stuck in a sort of loop. I have been cleaning up an image I drew of a local band in Photoshop. Due to the amount of detail I need to get in, the drawing was huge, which meant that I needed to have it commercially scanned. Like anything that doesn’t happen in house, once you lose control things start going wrong and need correcting. On top of that, there were things that didn’t quite sit right in the image. So for days now, I’ve been working on the same image, evening up eyes, darkening areas, losing stray lines. Day after day, a bit here, a bit there, making judgement calls on how much to straighten up lines before they cease to look hand drawn. Working out the optimum level of wonk in a the final image. Every now and again, there will be a blissful moment where my mind is emersed In what I am doing and I cease to be deluged by stray thoughts. It doesn’t last long though, just moment, but even a moment of calm can be blissful. 

It’s not the only quietness though. There are moments just staring at the majesty of the sea or little human moments of feeling the sun on your skin. If you are really lucky, there are those lovely sensual moments of someone stroking your hair, or hearing another’s heartbeat as you hold them close. I do so welcome those little engrossing moments, lost in thought, brush tool here, hair stroke there, pencil tool, clone, kiss,  erase,  sunshine, smudge, touch, Save as. 

War Zone

July 29, 2016

Well that was interesting! As someone who has suffered from what is now called Recurrent Depression (it used to be called Chronic but I’ve been rebranded in some sort of mental health marketing campaign ) I have seen my fair share of counsellors , therapists, practitioners, whatever. I have started to feel like the Norman Stanley Fletcher of getting your head straight and, like the classic old prison lag, I tend to think I have seen it all. Today though, I experienced something quite odd and remarkably insightful. I don’t know quite how to best describe in, a tag team, buy one, get one free, double trouble? What happens is you sit in a room with two therapists from different disciplines, say one talking therapist and one cognitive behavioural therapist, and one of them interviews you. Then this is where it gets weird, they talk about you in front of you, like a pair of sports pundits dissecting a football match. It gives you a strange feeling of being outside yourself, through the interpretation of a third person. They talk about you as if you weren’t there, trying to reach some kind of decision about what makes you tick and about the best way to help you sort out your problems. I think that is always the most important point, that it is you who needs to sort it out, we can have every help under the sun but if we don’t make the effort ourselves things will never change. 

Change is scary though and when we try and change we often hit a lot of resistance to that change, from friends, from family, from our own routines and rituals. We arrange the pieces of our lives in certain ways and, once we do, it’s hard to move them as everyone gets used to them being there. The alternative to change though is stagnation, without realising it, we miss boats in our lives all time. I missed the chance to own my own home and the chance to have children, amongst other things, and I’ve had to come to terms with that but then there are other boats I haven’t missed and none of them have sunk yet. I have now learnt to be more aware of these metaphorical departures from our port of call and I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I have seen amongst my family where problems have been ignored for so long that they are now set in stone. Decisions haven’t been made, matters haven’t been faced and now the consequences of those actions have walked right in , sat down, kicked their shoes off and demanded a cup of tea and the television remote control. 

To make counselling work you have to be honest, honest with the person asking the questions and honest with yourself and sometimes you will hear things about yourself that you don’t want to hear and you have to be prepared for that. Even then our self deceptions and misconceptions can colour our realities so much that we don’t actually realise we are lying to ourselves. A good counsellor can pick this up but it takes time. The beauty of having a second counsellor observing the procedings seems to be that that removal from asking the question to the client gives them a better opportunity to pick things up that may otherwise have been missed. 

I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account on everything that came up, not out of a need for privacy, in my experience secrets end up owning us and I can’t be doing with that nonsense. What they did mention though was a word I hadn’t heard before and that was “hypervigilance”. Probably the most likely reason I hadn’t come accross this word before was because it is most often a symptom associated with post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD for short is most commonly associated with military personnel who have experienced active duty in war zones. It comes from spending far too long in situations of threat, be it perceived or actual, and it manifests as a constant state of being overly aware of every little detail that surrounds that person. Only in this case it was caused by my own childhood, not a war. In short, as Larkin would say,  “my parents fucked me up”. Or, to be more accurate, a combination of being brought up by a hostile mother and squalid surroundings and the pressures of poverty, homelessness and debt gave me the same problems as a soldier who had spent too many years in Vietnam.  The theory that they came up with, and it holds a lot of water, is that over the course of many years I have taken the symptoms of this, the way I pick up on tiny little details and draw in information at a rate that can leave me exhausted for example, and turned them to my advantage, using them to make art.  There are other issues that need to be factored into this, dyspraxia for example , but what they said made a lot of sense. So how does one deal with something like this? The truth is none of us really knows right now. Whilst giving something a name can be comforting, and hypervigilance is a doozy of a name, it doesn’t really change anything else about the situation as of yet. I am still the person I have always been and am still on the same journey, just with a fabulous hypervigilant hat on at a jaunty angle. 

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