talking about god/connections by Ailsa Fineron

closing my eyes and feeling the exhaustion. maybe it’s the sleep deprivation but this goes more than brain deep. bone deep. you said maybe I have hollow bones and maybe I do. maybe I have a hollow heart and filled it with people like you and when you’re sad and the deepest shade of blue so pure it hurts my hollow heart is filled with salted ocean depths. swallow too much salt water and you’ll drown or wretch. saline solution is cleansing but washing a wound too much stops it from healing. would I switch off this feeling? I don’t think so. loving is my way of being. but tell me, is there a way of loving without hurting when you hurt? all of you, precious hues, ever changing but growing means breaking maybe. maybe. break in half and half again. keep on going. shatter all you need to, my dears, you’ll never be nothing. and you’ll keep on growing. take a break if you need to. take a break if you would like to. I will be here for you. and I know I can’t keep the world from you or you from it but my heart is big and hollow if you need to rest a little while–

now you’re talking about god and my head is on your heart, my eyes on your hand. clenching into a fist I’ve never seen. clutching at anger you don’t inhabit. you say talking of god hurts you and I apologise 

it’s okay. 

another day and I am on the phone to you. white cuboid and radio waves connecting me to you. how are you? okay. you don’t really say. and you remind me of me. four years ago. four days ago. I had to learn this too. I say I can’t read minds you say you don’t know what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. it’s hard I know. humans are hard. minds are messy and madness only adds fog. I remember numbness and freezing fog. cold and knowing but not believing. holding hands but not feeling. only the roughness of your skin. only lines and spirals I used to run in now a maze I’m lost in. and those strings of eyelash frames and soft hair slipped from my fingers. you can tie them about my ankles again but my body’s dissolving. 

and I think yours is too. I can hold onto you but my arms will slip right through. you’re here but not all of you. you’re filling the room with cloud and I’m burning up. curled up as small as possible, the densest ball. your rain filled arms around me, trying to envelop me. steam burns too. closing this imperfect cocoon with a kiss on the top of my head. you say you can’t look after me all the time I never asked you to. I never ask anyone to. 

and now I’m feeling heavy and guilty because I came here to make you happy and it’s true you smile when you see me but I don’t think that’s the whole story. we read short stories to each other and your voice is deep enough to float in as mine is splintering and smaller than you’re used to. I’m smaller and sadder than you’re used to.

I know you’re watching me. your eyes making my lips part, stomach tighten. I know you love me from all angles but still I listen for the direction of your breath. It takes time to believe that I am beautiful to you in ways as yet unknown to me. 

reminders in your saying that you love freckles I have never seen; swim in colours in my irises my sight cannot perceive; blinks that the mirror does not reflect back into me. 

freeing and terrifying: knowing I do not control your perception of my body, my being, of me. who am I to you?

to many I am a smiling, laughing girl. dancing lightly, joking easily. I think you believe in a me that is someone I will never meet except through your words, your gaze, the sweetest stinging graze of your hands sketching the outline of my limbs. fine pencil lines I play within and outwith. still I am the one with the ink, the sweeping calligraphy pen.

We never know each other but I think this knowing is enough. I am both darker and lighter than you speak but still you show me depths I do not appreciate I swim in. direct my eyes up and down, side to side, to new ways of seeing this person I have been being for twenty two years but always changing.

and so we teach each other of the beauty only each of us can see in the person we love. each others looking glass with voice and choosing to remain open to all you display. I do not need you to lead me but seeing my face through where you place your lips on my jawline is a sweet sensation. you take me out of myself through pleasure, through drawing shaking breaths from between my legs. and I will not complain. this exhalation is one I will dwell in from time to time. I believe I know who I am but you offer up another recognition anchored to the cool, damp earth through your steady heart beating. reassuring to have consciousness of my existence in other worlds, in others’ worlds. and who would we be if we knew ourselves completely? 

 

Drowning floating resting by Ailsa Fineron

Words and phrases that have been running from my mind through my fingers. CW depression.

Feeling hurt. Wanting to scream but the fear of being heard dives down my throat. Plugging it with petrol soaked rags. Gagging on words crawling up and down my oesophagus. Fingers form a punching fist clenching around my lungs, squeeze the tongues I have grown and its hold tastes of burnt coffee. The promise of something delicious coating your teeth with bitterness so when you smile you smile through disappointment. Everyone can see. But only if they look. I understand. 

I am the sunshine girl. An easy stream to cool your feet in. Something pleasant to dip into. You do not want to see the depths where I have drowned many times. Nor do I. Still, I go diving there. Looking for pearls. For gems grown from choking on dust. For the light I turned to gold before it slipped from my fingers into this desperate maze of caves. Stone walls with bent mirrors at every turn. Once you’ve been pulled down here you cannot come up for air. So let go. Let the weight of your heart turned to iron pull you down down down. Don’t fight it. Drowning is only quicker if you attempt to inhale. Let the weight of your heart turned to an anchor drop through you, tearing at your lungs as its iron arms strive to prevent its descent.

Release your hands from each other. Broken fingers only leave you unable to write and then what would you do? Speaking is not an option for now. Use your words. Use this craft you have practiced in the hours when even the cars are sleeping. Picking adjectives from that hand carved hand smoothed treasure box under your bed and trying out each one until you hear the click of the right fit. Remember the satisfaction of capturing an elusive flying cloud mood and preserving its complexities on paper. Use your words.

Reach out and others reach back. Their messages make you laugh, cry, turn you to a marble statue, polished and shining. Warm hands on your shoulders, in your hair, framing your face because they know why you are beautiful. How you are beautiful. To them. And since you cannot see it for yourself you let them show you. This time is different. Reach out and others reach back. You are learning and I am proud.

People are kind. Others are kinder. Others are further away with every day that passes in this haze.

I’m disappointed in you. Me too. Should have seen this coming. Saw it happening and kept on going. Walking up stairs leaning back the way I came to accomodate you. Sitting on my shoulders, legs wrapped around my neck. Pretty metal chain I picked up willingly but a choker all the same. And if I fell I do not think I would blame you. You are oblivious and I cannot find it within myself to not excuse your ignorance. Maybe this will change. But I like being soft for now. Being soft makes you less brittle, less likely to break. And I do not need you. I never did. I need people but no one individual. And I love you still but it is no longer a tidal wave but a glimmer of reflected light on the water as the sun sets. I glimpse it from time to time. I do not chase it. I will let you blink and fade. Blink and fade and be carried out on the tide. 

Now is the time for resting. For walking home. Unlacing my boots with blood filled fingers, sitting on the side of the bath and  running my swollen feet under cold water until I can dance again. Sitting in the cool of the living room letting the bright lights fade to black on the back of my eyelids. Now is the time for gentleness. Yes, there is fear of loss. Terror of another time spent in something deeper than sadness. But the best you can do is be gentle. Feed yourself. Lie in warm water hearing the rain fall on glass. Inhale and help yourself to float. You are in a still lake in the cotton soft night, glowing blue sky, the breeze and ripples on your skin the breath of a world reminding you of your worth. Float half submerged: body in the transparent ink of expression you will only ever feel, lips just kissed by air, your arms have nothing to hold in this moment. Float for now in the comfort of knowing the depths below you. Rest for now in the fear of knowing that you can swim and drown and resurface gasping and jubilant.  Float for now between lives. Another will begin when it wishes. Rest for now.

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Summer musings by Ailsa Fineron

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This morning waking up in a room with no curtains. Lying in bed, floating in a tank full of sunlight. Feeling summer tugging at your guts from through your back with silver fishhooks. Can see the sunlight gilding blue water as you close your eyes to winter and open them to glinting evenings looking out on the ocean. Water constantly shifting underneath the day reluctantly leaving. Remembering summer nights where sleeping is a sin because why would you sleep when there’s light to live in? Lying on roofs watching birds fly through cooling air wondering where the sky begins. Lying on hot tarmac, enjoying the light pain of hard roads beneath your uncushioned head because romance was never sold as easy. Bare feet on brown grass and freckles splashed up across your face from running through the shallows chasing hopes with pretty boys and pretty girls. A map of white lines across your back: roads of bikini tops, spaghetti straps and halternecks which you travelled through June, July and August. Sandal strap timelines across your harder, stronger feet which never grow weary in these months of chasing the sun that never sets.

And each year the promising smell of spring kisses you on the nose and tickles your lips with flowers. A yellower sun caresses your shoulders and you close your eyes and turn your face like a sunflower towards it. Each year, you can see days by the beach swimming, reading, exploring. Evenings on a grass carpet in a community living room park drinking beer and laughing with friends and crushes and kissing as the sky cools through from blue to ice cream shades of peach and raspberry. And these times have happened. You have rolled down hills, bruising brown skin and staining pale jeans and holding hands with shining loves. But remind yourself now, before it gets too late, that you have been sad too. You have been walking in a cold fog that will not burn off no matter how strongly the sun shines, at a time when everyone else looks golden. You have squirmed in front of a bright reflection in a bikini and a body you wish you could sculpt the way you build sandcastles so effortlessly. You have sat by campfires, wrapped in blankets and that person’s bigger, warmer jumper which smells so much nicer as you talk and laugh and hope and nothing happens. You have walked around in shorts and t-shirt and sunglasses absorbing and reflecting light but feeling lost so you wonder what you’re doing being so bright. You have fed yourself on promises you read in paperback novels, become bloated on empty holiday ads and tied your happiness to a bunch of helium balloon teen movies.

And you will be happy when the sun shines, as you are now, floating in this swimming pool bedroom of clean air and smiling sunshine. But do not depend on warmer months to give you everything you thought you needed. Take a break now and bask in warmer spots of time. Do not rely on photosynthesis to grow. Life is beautiful all year round. Life is devastating all year round. You can create romance wherever you go. Whenever you go.

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Almost 4 years now by Ailsa Fineron

This is a piece about one of my close friends dying. TW: death, eating disorder and depression mention. Take care of yourself, loves.

Almost 4 years now since you expanded and exploded. Blew up into an opaque balloon of disbelief and then popped and erupted and spread ash across the sky. Cast a shadow across our worlds so huge nothing else mattered. Almost 4 years now since your presence spread across my whole existence because you had stopped living. 

Emptiness has a gift for filling you up. Seeking out cracks in skin you thought was whole and slipping in, freezing, growing, forcing you open whilst icing you over, cold. I remember the day you died the sun kept on shining, callous. I could feel my skin warming and freckling when it should have been marble. Heavy and unmoving. Wanted to be stone. Let them lay me down and carve into me all the life you lived. Let me never forget. Engrave us on the one who's left behind. When others hold my hand, run their fingers through my hair, let them feel the words you left on me. Ask about you, about us.

Give me the opportunity to tell them it was you who taught me how to talk on the phone for hours. Pissing off our parents as we laughed to express sadness. About your sarcasm and sweetness. Your intelligence and wonderful politics. The education you gave me in friendship and strength and not being so strong. How we dealt with depression and eating disorders alone but side by side. Holding hands clutching at telephone wires.  You were only ever young.

Now I'm older and I'm feeling lost without you. Miss being lost with you. Nearly 4 years on and there are times when I forget you. Because I have to. The first few weeks you were always with me. Your death made you omnipresent, always in my head, watching over me. The first few months I remembered you every day. Now we're past the first few years and I still remember you but so often you are silent in my mind. Because the world didn't stop when you died. And only a close few shivered in that shadow you cast. You were a universe and a moment in one small human. And though we screamed and I could've scrawled on the sky in storm clouds your name and my grief, the world didn't stop, didn't blink. And I'm still angry about it. And I still don't know have an answer. 

And those memories we grew in ourselves, planted in the space where we overlapped, cut into soft skin with things we shouldn't have seen. These are still scars you can see in certain phases of the moon. Flowers that bloom on your birthday, on the dates we birthed ourselves. But I can't remember your favourite joke anymore. Your face is smudged with tears and time and I can't smell you in the air at all. I miss you but there's no you to say you miss me too.

Almost 4 years now and you're bigger and smaller than ever. I still hold your hand sometimes but it's 4 years younger. Wish I could've seen how you'd grown. Wish you could've watched how I've changed. Wish we could've continued making the world better. Wish more than anything I could give you life again. 

And my world's still moving even as I'm still within it. So much bigger than me. Huge oceans whose tides keep turning. And sometimes you are silent and non existent but not today. And I'm happy I knew you, to know you, but why didn't you stay? My world didn't stop but so often it falters. Now I'm drowning and floating: not hitting the ground but unable to breathe in water.

newsletter #5: A ramble, an Angel and a writing by Ailsa Fineron

I'm gonna start posting my newsletters on my blog here. If you'd like to get them direct in your inbox each week you can subscribe here.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, 2005

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, 2005

One of my dreams in life is to be a cold hearted bitch. It's funny because it'll never happen. It's an impossible aspiration. It's also -and deep down I know this- not what I want. As with the moods that come with bipolar, I wouldn't give up the highs of loving being loved in return, for the lows. As painful as they can be. And the closest I've ever been to being a cold hearted bitch -when I stop feeling sad when loved ones are sad, or don't have a constant awareness of people I care about in my mind- is when I'm depressed. The numb, detached depression. Which is when I don't feel human. Or anything. And it's not fun. Those times would be scary if I could feel anything.

The friends with whom I share this dream of being an ice queen are also all the most compassionate and loving people I know. And we all know we'd rather be in pain if we can help others but it doesn't stop us wishing we could switch it off sometimes. Just not care about anyone else.

There's a conversation I've had many times, but once more again on Tuesday, post conspiracy theory film, with Rhodri. I was sad because one of the many things raised in this film was how horrible humans can be to each other. Which I know. But every time I encounter it it feels like I'm learning it again for the first time, apart from the weariness. There's always this surprise and hurt and always I feel like I'm 10 again and have just found out about war for the first time. And always my brain resonates with that childhood question which lesser adults shirked, Why? Not that I want to stop being surprised. I think the day I stop feeling the surprise and hurt will be the day I stop caring so much and trying to change as much. And I don't want that.

Anyway, we were talking and Rhodri was saying that surely once you've realised how wonderful and worthwhile leading a compassionate and loving life is, you can't go back. And I agree. Each day and interaction reinforces my belief that kindness returns kindness, and pain returns pain. But I don't think it's as easy as one day realising that you should be kind and that's it. At least for me, it's an ongoing thing. There is no end to it. There's a continual opting in. Opting into reaching out, offering support, giving kisses on foreheads, picking up litter, donating to charity, smiling at friends, customers and strangers. Choosing again and again to be soft and kind, even when it doesn't seem worth it. Even when people don't notice it. Or ignore it. Or lash out in response. In some ways it's an easy choice. Because of the aforementioned belief of kindness returning kindness. But it's also very tricky sometimes to keep on giving and loving in a world that tells you in many ways that you should stop.

A lot of the time, staying soft is the hardest thing. And there's no ending to it. I don't have a conclusion here. I can tell you what I do when I'm angry at people and the world for not caring as much as I feel I do: I remind myself of my other aspiring cold hearted bitches, and how their loving helps me and others, and how if we stopped the world wouldn't end but then what hope would there be? And then I choose to keep on loving again.

Apologies for the ramble there. Quick reminder: being soft and kind is not equivalent to letting people use you. A big part of being soft and kind is being kind to yourself too, which means laying down boundaries and not letting people use it against you. You can't protect yourself against everything, but you can be aware of what you can and can't give and who deserves your energy. And being soft and kind does not mean being small. Being soft and kind is being big, taking up space, it is powerful.

Someone who inspires me to keep fighting and loving is Angel Haze. I'm seeing them at the Fleece in Bristol on Tuesday and AHHHH I am so so excited! For now, I'm power walking even faster than usual around this town, plugged into Dirty Gold. And when I'm not on that, I've been listening to Rihanna's new album on repeat. OrFormation. All of this music has been sustaining and energising me as much as the plethora of bananas I consume each day.

Some of my favourite songs from Dirty Gold are:
Battle Cry (tw: self harm, sexual assault, suicide)
A Tribe Called Red
Deep Sea Diver and I fell for you hard babe/but I never quite landed
April's Fool you breathe like you had life trapped in your lungs
Angels and Airwaves for everybody who knows what it is/to feel like nothing but a memory that won't be relived

(Okay, so I think what we've learned from me writing that list is that I love the album and if you love me too you should listen to it all too. Moving on...)

Here's a brief thing I wrote about learning to be kinder to myself, a bit:

 

Sitting on the bed sending out emergency signal texts. Sobbing red. Reaching out is hard but this feeling is harder. Harder but slipping through fists. Impossible to catch mist. Easy to get caught in. Breathe in. Freezing lungs but your brain’s still on fire. No one ever taught you how to deal with this anger. Sadness and energy fuze into fury. Scared scared scared and scary.
 

 

Paper aeroplanes fly back through the rain. All of you busy. Call your parents and your pain reflected in them, out of them, onto me, stabs at yours eyes, helps you to cry. Sitting in this white box of a home. Sobbing red that cools to blue. Exhaustion comes and fight flees. Left alone, punctured balloon, bent at the neck, back and knees. Lost lost lost and losing.
 

 

But I can do this on my own. I have done this on my own. Other hearts help mine to beat in time but have never filled the hollow. So wrap arms around each other. Hands embracing back and shoulders. Feel each shudder as a body, as a lover. You are enough. These floating hands can stroke your hair but you will always be here. You have me. Hold hold held and holding.
Sitting on the bed, surviving. Learning. No longer yearning. You are enough.
And tonight I am grateful for what I do not have.

That's all for now, folks. It's 0140 on Friday morning so I'm just gonna send this out. A belated gong hei fat choi to you all! I hope that this year treats you well and kindly.
 

Writings: Grey/Colour by Ailsa Fineron

This is a piece I wrote a while back. I stumbled across it and thought I would post it here as I think it gives a fairly good peek into my world when I'm low. Please do not read this if you are likely to be triggered by descriptions of depression, detachment and so on. Take care of yourselves. 

Grey//Numb

The world is blurring again. Clear, clean lines which used to slice the colours into lovely shapes of startling originality are smearing, dragging the colours with them. As though someone has unthinkingly wiped their thick, clumsy hands on the landscape and left behind a smudged vision streaked with that unromantic grey brown you always mixed with your primary school paints. The disappointing sludge your vivid blue hippos wouldn't bathe in after they'd glimpsed the royal purple splendour you'd been planning behind your hopeful eyes.

There's a detachment. Sitting in a cool train carriage, the air growing hotter with the pressure of all the words thrown so carelessly into it by moist, hungry tongues.

I can almost see all these words gathering, like so many overfilled balloons, above the busy heads. They are brash red and yellow and blue, rubbing against each other, squeaking and screeching indignantly causing inconsequential lightening bolts of static.

But I don't feel trapped. I am indifferent to the balloons gradually padding the carriage, lining the sides and ceiling so they come closer and closer. And to the man with the fat slug lips and greasy eyes crawling over my face and body. Usually it makes me want to scream and run. But I am calm and only faintly puzzled in my old cloak of warm fog.

It’s been one hundred and eighty seven minutes on this train. I’m travelling towards you and I know I should be feeling.

It’s been around seven weeks since I last saw you. Still my heart rate is steadier than the wheels on the smooth steel track and I know I should be feeling but all I can focus on is letting my vision slide in and out of reality.

The remaining two hundred and three minutes pass by me without even lifting a strand of hair. Bristol station has automatic barriers and for once I am grateful for technology’s ignorance of romance. In the three minutes it takes to step off the train, mind the gap, walk down the left side of the stairs, through the concourse and the upright bodies shuffling, standing, leaning, shoving up the exit stairs I try to hoist a genuine smile onto my face. Imagine pinning it in place with kirby grips: two for my lips which feel heavier but thinner than usual, and two for my eyes. I think that maybe I should have applied some brightness to my eyelids and lashes to compensate for my lack of enthusiasm but settle with the old excuse of fatigue instead.

By the time I have fed the eternally ravenous barrier my ticket and stepped into your arms I feel that there is at least a curve to my mouth, though it feels more like a parabola than a rainbow. I almost wish I had a mirror to check if I’m remembering properly but then am thankful I can’t see the vacant look in my eyes.

It doesn’t seem to matter anyway because you keep me buried into your chest, in your warm cave of arms around me and chin on my head, for so long I feel myself stiffening up. I missed you. I missed you too. I don’t like lying to you but it’s easier with my eyes closed. Besides, I am sure that you will hear the numbness in my voice and call me out so I won’t have to confess. You don’t though and again I wonder at how often and how easily humans are deceived into thinking they can understand one another.

We walk the twenty minutes to our house in silence after a How was the journey then? Fine. I’m just tired. The train was at five thirty this morning. I’m relieved our time together has made silences normal and allowable.

Stokes Croft looks like a city. The murals and graffiti are still there, but they seem faded. The colours blend into the chewing gum studded pavement and it’s hard to distinguish between them and the leaden sky hanging heavy: its bloated belly prodded by the rooftops’ insolent chimneys and satellite dishes. The air is too hot and liquid. Walking requires pushing through it. The sickly custard resistance makes me sweat. I will have to shower again.

I showered last night. The first shower I’d taken in over a week. There was no point before: you only got dirty again and I didn’t even get dirty lying in bed or walking the same route around the woods again and again. It just seemed another pointless exercise that people use to fill up time before the next one. But I wanted to enjoy this time with you and that meant you treating me as normal. Me being normal. I suspected you would begin to worry if I turned up in a baggy faded t-shirt and pyjama bottoms with stringy, oily hair and smelling. I knew you knew that it took a lot for me to start smelling. So I had showered. And to my surprise it had felt good. For a short time I had felt clean and new in my fresh pink skin.

Now though, my cotton shirt is sticking to me and my bra -this being the first time I’ve worn one for a month- prickles and compresses my chest and lungs with its please-love-me lace.

Our shabby house is still new to us and I know it is lovely. I know it is because we looked around it twice before we rented it and I could feel the colours and light through the windows then. I say It’s lovely. and The kitchen’s even bigger than I remember! because I know that these are things I should say. I pull my smile back over my face with my cheeks. It feels wrong but I trust in your assumptions. Yeah, it’s great. with a squeeze round my shoulders. Keeping pulling. Keep pulling. I’ve never needed this much tension to express happiness. Then I remember I’m faking it.

The fog remains. Even as your mouth closes on mine, hungry, I taste tendrils of creeping smoke on my tongue. Cold fire. Your lips -usually unbearably soft with tenderness- are just lips. I move mechanically in response. I try to match my breathing to yours and mimic your moans and murmurs, but softer, because I can’t remember if I’m doing this right.

You are inside me now. I’m amazed that we are as close as we can get and you still don’t feel cold. I open my eyes and watch you for a while, oblivious, and so far away. Then I examine the ceiling. Note the damp patches spreading from one corner and how the light is ever so slightly off centre. Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough. So I shut out the imperfections and focus on matching your movements. I think how much I love you but I can’t remember why. Or what it is.

After a time you become still and hold me, kissing me sweetly on my forehead and then my lips and neck. I remember being unable to resist your touch on my neck. You kiss me again along with I love you. I open my mouth to reflect yours but I can’t say it back. It isn’t true at this moment. I think I do know what it feels like to love someone. I know the familiar all submerging wave of overwhelming love, descending on me and leaving me drowned and aching but happy. I do know it. But I can’t feel it. The distance between knowing and believing is vast. And I am so tired. So I contract my arms further around your body and nod, burying my face further into the safe place between your collarbone and jaw.

Are you okay? Yes I’m fine just tired.

It’s you who falls asleep first though. I lie awake with my eyes open thinking of ways to leave.

Colours//Feeling

Feeling again and forgetting. Forgetting the ability to flip the world and its people, places and animals into oblivion. Once again, the purpose of life is to enjoy it as much as possible. But the flawed logic remains stamped over and over across the inside of my skull by mechanical thoughts- there to read when my eyes close and roll upwards.

But I’m hungry again. Food tastes good. It tastes of different things. I relish the crunch and then sudden give of baby spinach leaves and their earthy green wholesomeness. My knife spreads the smoothness of the unblemished flesh of an avocado across crisp toast. It tastes wonderful. Everyday I eat at least one avocado and my housemates say I should vary my diet more but this is what I want to eat and I enjoy every bite and lick of my lips.

And the house is lovely. The kitchen is big and my room is welcoming. I decorate it with pictures of friends I can smile effortlessly at again. Friends I can look at, frozen and glossy, and have to take deep breaths to ease the pangs of sadness at missing them and their laughter. I build a reading den with sheets, pins and fairy lights in one corner of my room and hide away in it with tea and a book, utterly content.

I enjoy this as I can.

Mental health awareness week by Ailsa Fineron

Hello everyone. It's the 11th of May 2015 which means we have just started Mental Health Awareness week (MHAW). Though this year the focus is on mindfulness, I'm going to talk about combatting stigma a bit. This is purely because I am a mindfulness novice, whereas I have a fair bit of experience of being very open with people about my mental health/lack thereof. 

This MHAW I have decided to change my facebook profile picture to a self-portrait. However, instead of it being a self-portrait of me looking happy, or like an empress (it's a look I've been working on recently), it is a snapshot of what I look like when I'm depressed. It is by no means a full representation of how I feel when down, or even what I look like when down (often I'm faking a smile), but hopefully it will help to fight the silence and stigma around mental health issues a little. I've chosen to do this because I'm hoping it will make people face some of the reality of mental illness, and also confront the fact that we present a very polished version of our lives to the outside world- both face to face and through social media.

Facebook and other forms of social media are often seen as complete insights into friends' and even strangers' lives. They are definitely insights, but heavily edited ones. Rarely do I see people saying that they are struggling, that they are unhappy, that they need help. The majority of the time, people's profiles consist of photos of them having a laugh, smiling, surrounded by friends. This is definitely not a bad thing! However, it is all too easy to forget that these people whose lives we watch through a screen are actually real humans who have problems in their lives, who get lonely sometimes, and who may even suffer from a mental illness.

Though I have written in the past about my experiences of depression and bipolar II, I know that my facebook profile still only represents a few facets of my real life. If you were to scroll down my wall, your impression would be of a young woman who takes pictures of things constantly, has lots of energy and passion for fighting for inequality, who is confident and popular. Some of these things are pretty much true, but there's an awful lot missing from that narrative.

What you don't see is me lying in bed having just spent the evening meeting new people, agonising over how I talked too much, came across as idiotic and how everyone must think I'm an arrogant twat.

You don't hear the occasional tirade of body hating thoughts and urges that even now still come back to fill my head sometimes.

And last night you didn't see me curled up in a ball, sobbing, because I couldn't see the point of trying anymore. Even though I knew that good people still existed, it didn't matter in that moment because they were all outnumbered and outweighed by the apathetic people, and those who are intent on hurting others. You didn't see me shouting at myself and how I should be able to snap out of this and do something. Or hitting myself when I couldn't.

I know that the above is not a nice picture to imagine. Especially when you consider that I was also covered in snot due to the amount of crying I was doing. But it's an important one. 

I know that there are some people who look up to me and consider me strong. I think I'm strong too. But I also think it's incredibly important to look at what each of us means by 'strong'. 

All too often it means someone who is 'immune to emotions', who never admits to suffering, who doesn't need help. I think this is a very damaging idea of strong. When we hold up this definition of strong as ideal -and we do, particularly for men- it leads to people being unable to reach out for help. This would be fine if we were all happy and healthy but we're not. 1 in 6 British adults experiences mental ill health at any one time and the suicide rate in the UK has risen since 2007 to the same rate it was at in 2004, with men's suicide rates consistently higher than women's, and at their highest since 2001 in 2013. Clearly people, particularly men, are not getting the help they need and I believe that our ideas of what makes you a strong person contribute to this, in the form of creating stigma around suffering, mental illness and talking about our emotions.

I am happy to call myself strong because my definition is different from the above: I believe that to be strong is to be able to admit to being weak -because we all are sometimes-, to be able to be vulnerable in front of others, and to take the steps you need to to look after yourself. Being strong is bending so you don't break, but then, if that fails, realising that that' s okay, that you can ask for help, and that you can accept help when it comes along. Doing so is not weak, or self-indulgent, or attention seeking, it is necessary for survival. Being strong is admitting that you are not perfect and never will be and knowing that that's okay, it's human.

Unfortunately, for far too many, mental illness wins out over hope and help, with the aid of stigma. I want to be clear that I do not think that people who commit suicide are weak, on the contrary, I think that they are amazing people for holding on for so long. I understand that sometimes the pain is too much. However, I think that often this pain is preventable and lives can and should be saved. 

It may seem like a small thing, but being open about mental illness can lead to so much good. Taking care to watch your language and not throw around phrases like 'I've had such a bipolar day', 'you're so OCD' etc can make a big difference to those who actually suffer from these illnesses, unknown to you. And just saying that you'll be there for someone, even if you don't understand what they're going through, can be a life saving act. And, though it's hard, saying openly that you suffer from a mental illness can be a wonderful and liberating thing. If you're not in a position to do that, then that's fine. But if you do feel okay with doing so please consider it. I've chosen to also change my profile picture because I think it will be a stark, in-your-face reminder of how no one is happy all the time. If you would like to do the same then please do. Alternatively, you can share mine. Hopefully together we can dispel the stigma around mental illness and create a new, helpful narrative around weakness, strength and asking for help so that in the future, we can all get the help we need and deserve.

 

I'll leave you with a variety of resources which I have found helpful:

How to reach out to someone with depression
Samaritans
An excellent comic about experiencing depression
Part 2 of said excellent comic
Mind: charity for mental health

Musings #1 by Ailsa Fineron

I love making playlists. For friends, for me, for moods, for times.
Currently the playlists I have are:

alright
Always Alright
Baby loves me
BEYONCÉ
Busy being free
Disco//Very
Do you realise??
Fuck everything it’s okay
Girls etc
God help the girl
happyhappy
Hunt
Inspiration/mania
Mixed
So easy
they’d call you an adult in america
to make videos for
Top 10
Woman

After these years in my head, I’ve found that usually it’s the dark songs during dark times that I obsess over most. I think this is the case for most people. When you’re happy and everything’s great then music is wonderful and indescribably beautiful. But when you’re sobbing, or numb, or both, suicidal, hurting so badly- then music is what saves you. It tells you that you are not alone in this. That it’s fine not to have words for it because sometimes there are no words and then we turn to melodies instead. 

I remember listening to Bowie’s Rock & Roll Suicide on repeat for maybe a week. I loved it all but I listened for Bowie telling me I’m not alone: oh no love you’re not alone/ you’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair/ you’ve got your head all tangled up/ ... oh no love you’re not alone/no matter what or who your name/no matter where or what you’ve seen/ all the knives seem to lacerate your brain/ you’re not alone/ just turn on with me/ you’re not alone/ just turn on and be/ wonderful/ give me your hands/ cause you’re wonderful

I’ve just paused in writing this and made a new playlist: survival songs. They’re songs from years ago, from weeks ago which I’ve listened to which have kept me alive, helped me to survive. So I'm just going to end with this playlist.

Survival songs

Rock & Roll Suicide David Bowie
Another Travellin’ Song Bright Eyes
Horses Cherbourg
Walk Unafraid (R.E.M. cover) First Aid Kit
Into the West Howard Shore & Annie Lennox
Lithium Nirvana
Cold War Janelle Monáe
No Children The Mountain Goats
Serenade Emiliana Torrini
A&E Goldfrapp
I Feel It All Feist
Allie Belle & Sebastian
Both Sides, Now Joni Mitchell
Heal Over KT Tunstall
Little Talks Of Monsters and Men
Harder to Walk These Days Than Run Karine Polwart
Comptine d’Un Autre Été Amélie soundtrack
Don’t Change Your Mind The Broken Family Band
All is Well (Goodbye, Goodbye) Radical Face
Putting The Dog To Sleep The Antlers
Civilian Wye Oak