Looking up – a true story.

At the age of 51, he was finally consumed by the very thing he loved to consume. He died peacefully in his sleep. Pat, his wife was sad but knew it was inevitable. She carried on.

9 months later her son Kevin went on a Summer camp. He was 15. The camp site had been shut all winter. 2 days before the start date, the camp site had been checked by officials and declared safe. The lads arrived with great memories of the previous year and masses of energy and excitement. They started with a race. With a big smile on his face, Mark flew to the finish line ahead of everyone else and was instantly charred.

Pat’s family wanted to take care of her. They moved her from her family home in Surrey, to a house closer to her brother’s, in Essex.  Pat went quiet. She silently and diligently pulled the shafts of her hair out from their roots one by one till she created white little clearings on her scalp. She scratched those clearings with such vigour that they turned into raw, red, weeping craters. She would empty the kettle before plugging it into the mains. She wore her clothes back to front, inside-out. She stood by the window for hours, waiting. She drove down the motorway in the opposite direction. Her family couldn’t help her. They thought she needed to be moved to an Institution for the insane.

A doctor in the Isle of Mann was well-known for his abilities in this field. Pat’s sister-in-law asked him if he would make an exception and help Pat even though she did not live on the Isle. He kindly agreed. He saw her. He unpicked her heart. He unwrapped the wounds in it. It was an excruciating process. She felt he was cruel, forcing her into the darkness of her soul with a torch, untangling the tight knots in her mind, wading through whirlpools of turbulence within.

After 5 weeks he invited her to live in his family home. He encouraged her to walk down the street. The first few times he went with her. Thereafter she walked alone, with her eyes fixated on her shoes. He suggested she try looking up and tell him what she saw. “Blossoms on trees, the church spire, white fluffy clouds, birds, light…”

By the time the hair-dresser had finished with her, she was ready to go home.

(If you or anyone you care for needs support after loosing a child to suicide or addiction: The Compassionate Friends : Supportive weekend retreat for bereaved parents: 6-8th July 2018: https://www.tcf.org.uk/content/events/91-supportive-weekend-retreat-for-parents-bereaved-by-suicide-addiction-or-substance-use/)

 

 

Road signs

One turn of the pedal after another, cycling along happily, cocooned in my own contentment, sliding into a meditative state by the repetitive action of the legs, almost zoned out, I was within a mile of home. The afternoon was warm and a caressing breeze was gracefully nullifying the warmth, making it dream-like. Out of the blue, a loud rude honk shattered my trance and sent a shock up my spine. What was the point? If there isn’t enough space for him/her to overtake me, it’s not my fault. What does he/she think he/she’s going to achieve by making a racket?

There was nowhere for him/her to go. He/she had to follow me. This was the perfect opportunity for me to do something I have never done before but wished I could – show him/her the finger! While keeping my attention on the bike ride, I put my right hand out at right angles and stuck a finger out. Oh! That was my thumb. Saying completely the opposite of what I was trying to say. Cancel. Delete. Try again. Out went my arm again and this time it was a finger but it was the index finger! Wrong again! Take it back. This was turning into a joke. I was obviously incapable of doing the simplest of jobs while cycling. I had to give it another try. Got it right this time. Yay! Success at last although I suppose by now, he/she is thoroughly confused  – ‘well done’ followed by ‘one’ or ‘don’t you dare’ followed by ‘ I am annoyed with you’.

A few yards ahead, I stopped by the side of the road, letting him/her pass. On the next road, we were met with an almighty traffic jam. I spotted the silver Saab I had interacted with before. I merrily trundled past him on my bike, with a big smile on my face, humming a little tune to myself. There was plenty space for me. Only if honking could help him now.

(Moral of the story:  Practical skills get better with practise. I need practise.)

Inheritance of fear

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
– William Falkner. Requiem for a Nun.

The echoes of past traumas get subconsciously played out by us in our everyday lives. Sigmund Freud called it ‘repetition compulsion’ – an attempt of the unconscious mind to replay the unresolved so that we can ‘get it right’. This mechanism drives its way through generations. Jung also noted that whatever is too difficult to process does not fade away. It gets stored in our unconscious and finds expression in other ways. He says,” When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.”

Here’s an example: Jake was 19. He hadn’t slept a full night’s sleep in more than a year. He had developed dark circles around his eyes and a blank stare in them. He looked at least 10 years older. He had been a star student and a great athlete but the insomnia had left him lifeless. This thing had no explanation and none of his doctors or psychologists or naturopaths could figure it out.

It had started with Jake waking up shivering one night at 3.30 am, frightened to death. No amount of woollen clothing warmed him up.  Soon, insomnia became a daily ordeal. Despite knowing that his fear was irrational, Jake was helpless and could not relax. The ‘freezing’ feeling associated with the first episode was quite peculiar.

On exploration of Jake’s family history, this story came out: His mum’s brother, Uncle Colin,  whom he had never met had frozen to death at the age of 19. He was checking power lines in a storm in the Northwest of Canada. He struggled to hang on but eventually fell face down in a blizzard, lost consciousness and died of hypothermia. The family never spoke his name again.

Now, thirty years later, Jake was unable to slip into sleep at the same age as his Uncle. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jake, falling asleep must have felt the same. Once Jake could see this link, he was able to free himself of it with the help of healing techniques taught by Dr Mark Wolynn, a neuroscientist with an expertise in breaking inherited family patterns.  His book “It didn’t start with you”, describes some of these practical tools.

Scientists are now able to identify bio-markers as evidence of traumas passed down from one generation to the next. Studies on Holocaust survivors and their children have revolutionised the understanding and treatment of PTSD all over the world. Be it fear, guilt, low self-esteem or anxiety, the roots of these issues may reside in the traumas of our parents, grand-parents and even great-grandparents.

 

Rascal Moon – A short story

His substantial shoulders supported a shapely head of midnight black hair – a Number 1 on the sides and a Number 4 on top. When he was born his grandmother had made him a small blue cotton pillow stuffed with black mustard seeds, for his head to assume that gorgeous shape. His skin was the colour of almonds. His wide creaseless forehead came down to a pair of perfectly symmetrical arched black brows underneath which two deep brown wells belied his 20 years. They were a cocktail of ancient wisdom of an old soul, dark torment of a lunatic and pure white innocence of a toddler. Nose, as if borrowed from the Buddha. A lazy stubble, almost deliberate. Smile, bright and generous as a Moroccan sky, giving him wings.  A shy dent in the middle of his chin. His man-child voice, lightly raspy yet gentle, had a penchant for accents. His favourite was Vietnamese. A peculiar whiff of teenage-testosterone tinged perspiration plus Lenor floated around him.

Despite his age and size, he delighted in the physicality of affection. He would douse his head in coconut oil to encourage Cleo, the family dog to lick it all off. She loved the taste of it. They rolled and tumbled on the floor like kids immersed in a game of ‘dog and head’. His ability to connect with others, be it man or beast was superhuman. In all his solid self-assuredness, all he wanted was to belong.

His drum kit was his Mecca. His passion for ‘rock’ percussion anchored him to the Earth. Strangely, this softie’s songs were – Catatonic, Heartless, Chimaira, Smoke and Mirrors, A Semblance of Life, Bleed, The Blackening. The dinner table often shook rhythmically as he sat playing imaginary drums with his fingers on his thighs underneath, carrying a faraway look in his eyes. If he wasn’t creating rhythms on the bonnet of a car, a table top, a random plate, a serving tray, a window sill or a Djembe, he was inviting them to flow into his brain through his ears and the world disappeared.

The rascal Moon turned green. Its beat was better. It thrusted its powerful yet silent, surreptitious rhythm on him. It got him like a mongoose gets a snake. His consciousness started to expand and contract with the pulse of the lunar cycle. As the tide rose, his beautiful head exploded. As it ebbed, he shrunk into nothingness. He couldn’t belong to anyone or anything. Not his shadow or his drums, his friends or his Mum, his beating heart or the air in his lungs. He couldn’t belong to his smile. He took refuge in the ritual of neatly rolling tobacco, blowing smoke out of his Velux windows. There was nothing anyone could do. All his kin watched the pendulum swing with impeccable timing.

The wretched Moon forced acknowledgment. On the brightest night that autumn, the young man typed his last message on Facebook: “Bigass mooooooon. Innit?”

                                                  ___  ___  ___

(Middle English lunatik, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French lunatic, from Late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna; from the belief that mental stability fluctuated with the phases of the moon)

 

Room 9 – A short story

One dank dark evening I walk towards my hospital thinking, ‘why me?’.

5th night-duty in a row – running around screaming babies, stressed out labouring mothers and their families. A place where temperatures and emotions run high. I love it and it kills me. My sleep cycle is mushed up into a ball and my head is scrambled. I want to turn right around, head home and dive straight into bed. But there is one more night of madness between that bed and me.

The master-board directs me to Room 9. I get changed into scrubs, one size bigger than usual, just for comfort. I get my hair out of my face and bind it in a scruffy pony tail. I sling my mid-wife ID lanyard around my neck. It’s heavy. I look in the mirror to check if the concealer has successfully hidden the semi-lunar hollows under my eyes. It hasn’t. Well. Do I really care? One more night and then I can get back to normal until the next time. Deep breath!

I am told to expect Mrs Natalie Cunningham, 33, in the next few minutes – first baby. Cunningham! Hmmm. Nice. I smile a feeble smile. I prepare the room and look up some of her records on the computer. She seems unchallenging.

A wheelchair is being pushed down the main corridor. She’s slight. She smiles politely in between contractions. All she has is a bump. He shoulders and ankles are slender, like a teenager. Her skin, clear and radiant. Her face, kind and content. She knows how to breathe in synchrony with her contractions. An ideal patient. She apologises before calling her husband. He’s visiting his mum who’s not well.

“Hi darling. I am in. Don’t panic. All is well. Come when you can. No rush. Plenty of time yet.”
“Can you pick up the i-pod from home on your way? I forgot to pack it.”
“Great. Thanks. See you my love.”
He’ll be here soon, she says. I check her in, get her changed into a hospital gown, put on some monitors and settle her down. She’s easy to work with. Thank God!!!  I leave the room to get a few things from the store.

I return with the drip stand and such after about 8 minutes. She’s not in her bed. The man bending down to plug the i-pod into the wall stands up. He’s Matt. Matthew Cunnigham. My Matt. I freeze. He looks up and clocks me. After 3 years and 4 months.

“I am 28. I want to travel and keep my career options open. I am not ready for a family” he had said.
“I am” I had said.

That was that.

The bathroom door clicks open and Natalie declares that her waters have broken. I want to snap back into work mode but I am paralysed. I need air. There is none in the room. I leave. Someone swaps into my place. I creep into a quiet, dark corner and sit. For as long as I can remember.

It’s a boy!

4th May 2018

It’s not a tranquil lake. It’s a torrential flash flood and it’s fast approaching. It’s coming towards me and I am putting up a big fight but not winning. I am being pushed towards it by the boulder of time. Another turn of the wheel. The approach is a rough zig-zag path with exhausting ups and 3G downs, jagged corners and innumerable pot-holes. It goes thud-thud-thud. My brain hits the hard inside of my skull multiple times as it comes closer and closer. Am I going to hold my breath when it happens?  Am I going to be submerged for longer than I can hold on? I don’t know how to swim and my limbs are pathetic. What am I going to do when it hits?

6th May 2018

It’s here – the 24th birthday of a man-child who didn’t reach his 21st. It’s a blessed day. A happy day. But it doesn’t feel that way. A painfully long weekend filled with his absence. A trip to the local park. An ice-lolly. Carrying his djembe around in the sun like a mad woman as if it’s my baby. Baking raspberry, pistachio and chocolate brownies. Holding back tears all day. Being with ‘it is like this’. A visitor. A long evening. A nice meal. An enormous hole. Massive nothingness – a vacuum that my love wants to get into but there is no way in or out. It’s sealed like a submarine.  Not a drop of water or a molecule of love can enter or leave. The void sits in the middle of my living room. My life. Starving my love of all expression. Suffocating me.

7th May 2018

It came and went. I lived. But I am not getting anywhere. I want to be someone I am not while accepting everything as it is. How can these two positions be compatible? It’s like being night and day at the same time. Not dusk or dawn – they are too serene. Do I have a realistic hope of ever getting there or am I delusional?

Does unconditional peace exist? Apparently, some folks have experienced it. I have too, for brief snatches of time. To have it as a native state of being – unblemished, pure and vast consciousness. It seems unachievable. But they say it’s possible. May be. Some day…

(Buddhist teachings by Ajahn Anando: ‘Knowing in the present’: https://www.amaravati.org/speakers/ajahn-anando/page/2/)

 

I love tree-tunnels.

IMG_6360

I love tree-tunnels and I know why. They are proof that in every separation, there is a meeting. A river separates its two shores but also links them. I once heard a story of 2 prisoners in solitary confinement. Their cells were separated by a thick wall. Over time they learnt to talk with one another by a particular pattern of tapping on this wall. The very thing that kept them apart, connected them.

Every year I seem to forget what this time of year looks like. Then I am surprised and delighted by the blossom and the fresh greenness on the trees. Even on a dull day like today, walking, looking and driving through tree-tunnels, channels light into my life. The trunks of these trees stand on either side of the road but the roots intertwine underground and the leaves meet up in the air and dance together. It feels like nature is not just giving me permission but actively encouraging me to enjoy life and look beyond what is visible. I need to give the same permission to myself. This light is mine.

Maybe this apparent separation from my darling Saagar is not at all real. Maybe this chasm is the link between me and my higher self. Maybe the greatest life lessons come to me through this gorge. Maybe this deep cleft of pain has been created for growth to take place. Maybe this fissure has appeared to make more space for love and kindness in our world. Maybe.