Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.

I’ve been ill.

Nothing glamorous or dangerous. Just a funny virus that has had me laid out most of the week. I have called it ‘flu but that conjures images of a nasty, oozy sort of cold and as I haven’t coughed or sneezed (or even oozed) it seems that’s the wrong word. Bone aches, sickness, muscle pains and cramps, fever, exhaustion, total lack of appetite. I even stopped drinking coffee; the very thought made me nauseous. I struggled to keep water down the first day. Tea came straight back up.

So I’ve laid down, dosed with pain killers and slept. I could have slept for England, were it an Olympic sport. Given my problems with insomnia, you can tell how poorly I’ve been by the hours that slipped by with me being mostly insensible of them. We have a chiming clock that chimes not only the hour but the quarters too and I remember being puzzled about how it had chimed half past two and then it chimed five o’clock five minutes later.

I’ve also not been quite in my right mind. I’ve been a little delirious which these days is quite entertaining. First time I was delirious it was when I was thirteen and had a bad case of chicken pox and it scared me. This time it didn’t. I watched the room shrink and grow and thought only of Alice and her Eat Me and Drink Me treats. I saw my plain white walls become transformed with swathes of pink roses rather like the ones in my childhood bedroom, but which moved as if blown by a summer breeze. I saw tiny crystalline fairies dance on the pillow next to me. When I slept I dreamed horrific vivid dreams, full-on with all the senses and woke shaking and drenched with sweat. If dreams are prophetic then one of these has me as the next Patriarch of Jerusalem, going by what I was wearing. I make light of the nightmares because it’s easier that way, and taking them seriously as more than perhaps fodder for novels is a bit beyond my strength right now.

But what I noticed between bouts of hallucinations and sleeping was how my mind was working while it idled. It didn’t feel like MY mind at all. It hopped and skipped around, jumping from thought to thought like a grasshopper. I didn’t recognise the patterns of thinking, the images, the ideas of my own. It was like going to sleep with the radio on and having the alien outside narrative intrude and take over your dreams. Odd, and rather disturbing, yet strangely exhilarating at the same time.

As a kid I recall seeing black and white footage of the last pit ponies being brought up from underground for their annual holidays. They’d stand for a moment, looking at the wide expanse of green grass, then they would go wild, hurtling into the field, kicking their heels up. They’d run and roll, gallop and gambol, flinging themselves around in sheer unfettered delight. That’s what my thoughts had been doing.

Normally I have a train of consciousness that is going on quite modestly, commenting on what I see, formulating ideas and images and I’m in control. I can stop the thoughts (usually) and change direction, but most of all I recognise them as my own. This time, I found it a struggle to see the ideas and images as having any connection to me at all. At times, along with the dreams, it felt as if another dimension, another reality, was pushing into my own and in many ways it felt quite welcome. It was like eavesdropping on another life.

Hemingway once said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I think I understand the concept a little better now. Due to my unusual condition my body resists things like anaesthesia and pain killers so my experience of things like morphine(and other medicines) has been disappointing compared to accounts of what others felt. Yet the loosening of mental control from illness seems to have been extraordinarily liberating. To have been cut free from certain constrictions of what I experience has been a bit of a holiday, as has a long spell where I’ve been unable to do much physically.

I don’t really do enough of the “standing and staring” and letting my mind idle that I think it desperately needs to be able to access the kind of creativity that many take for granted. I may be seeing a silver lining where there is none but this spell of illness has given me a glimpse of gold beyond the horizon. 

Bruised #small stone 6


Bruised #small stone 6


The bruise on the back of my hand has blossomed like a strange demonic rose. “That’s going to bruise,” the nurse told me and she was right.

From a tiny red bud where the cannula failed to slide neatly into my vein, livid petals have emerged, spreading to cover most of the hand. The centre turned a deep angry blue red, before the dying blood seeped further under the skin, discolouring it in a fascinating and horribly compelling rainbow, changing each day. Most petals are now the brownish colour of rain-rotten roses fading into a sickly yellow at the edges. The furthest end of the mark, where the vein enters my wrist has a hint of green.

I am so tired of blood, in all its incarnations.

Darkness is Uncreated Light


Darkness is uncreated light


The last few weeks have been a hard time for me; physical health issues following an operation a week before Christmas became compounded with my cycle of spiralling through periods of low and high mood, and came to a head on Christmas Eve. For days I sat and read through tweets and Facebook status posts about how excited everyone was and all they were doing and felt dislocated and isolated. It had been a close run thing that I was able to be at home for Christmas; the post operative infection was near to sending me back to hospital to be tied to an IV drip of antibiotics. But the collective excitement and frenetic happiness that the outside world seemed to be presenting to me did not cheer me. In fact it just brought home to me quite how false most human celebrations actually are. What is at the core of them may not be false but not that many get to the core. The tinsel and the cake are just external manifestations of that core and mean nothing in themselves(except perhaps calories and expense.)

On Christmas Eve, it started to coalesce into a painfully clear-eyed understanding of the whole concept of depression. The essay I wrote at that time may be posted at some stage; a few people have read it in its current form but since the overall theme was written from a place of immense pain, I am not certain it would benefit many to read it as is.

The nub of the essay was that depression is a product of the removal(whether willing or not) of the usually unseen barrier between true objective external reality and the reality that lives inside our minds. This is something that happens at times of great grief or disappointment in particular. When someone dies, we cannot pretend(at least, not for long) that they are still with us; when we fail to get the job we were sure was ours we cannot carry on as if we did. Other triggers are common; how we look, our talents and skills, our relationships and so on, often do not match what we have in our heads. Clinical depression is often described as being a result of chemical imbalances in the brain but even this is not being backed up by conclusive research. Not to mention the whole chicken and egg conundrum: which came first, the imbalance or the depression?

I spent much of Christmas Eve either crying or fighting tears. This isn’t that unusual; when I have been in this space before, for the same reasons of the veil between the realities being suddenly absent, it usually takes going through the pain to come out on the other side. The fact that it was Christmas, the time when everyone is meant to be happy smiling bunnies, was at once a major contributing trigger to the epsiode in the first place and at the same time, something that just added continuous fuel to the pain. I know I was ill, feverish and in pain, and anxious, and that this was probably why it happened then and not at some stage in the future when I cannot hold the dark matter of reality apart from the marshmallow world of sweetness inside my head.

But there were things to be done and I did them. My husband put up the Christmas tree and the decorations and as I looked around the house, transformed from its workaday look, a tiny feeling of release began. OK, so the two realities didn’t match; but for a while, it simply didn’t matter as much. Christmas Eve picked up slowly. I managed to eat a little. I felt a tiny bit better. And when Christmas Day dawned, I was weary but all right, and the day had a quiet holiness about it and as a family we had a good day. Boxing Day we went to visit my family, about two hours drive away, and stayed there till yesterday afternoon. It was fine, pleasant and good to be with people I loved.

Last night, as I was trying to settle to go to bed, I picked up the prayer book that sits by my bed. I do not have a regular discipline concerning either prayer or prayerful reading; I sabotage myself every time I have tried for the last 30 or more years. I figure that I need to follow the flow of my life, not something dictated by another person. The book is the Celtic Daily Prayer, a book from the Northumbria community in the north of England. Look them up if it interests you. I probably dip into this book a couple of times a week, and usually find that the words move me. The words for Christmas Day sprang off the page for me:

Do not be afraid to walk in darkness for I am uncreated light. I will cause you to look on darkness and not be afraid.

It speaks of several kinds of darkness but the last lines of the passage carried most power for me:

The darkness of despair and unanswered questions may require that we reach out and hold His hand in the darkness, even by faith, and just keep on walking.

In the end, surviving depressive episodes for me have to be about keeping on walking, holding a hand that is unseen and unfelt and having faith that however alone I feel in it, there truly is One who is there when nobody else can be.


Girl, interrupted

I had a pretty awful weekend and not one I planned either. Early on Saturday morning I woke with very bad pain in my lower abdomen and after taking some tablets, I found I was becoming more unwell and realising that I was going to pass out, woke my husband up. I’m too tired to write much but as a result of the pain, my blood pressure dropped through the floor and I started to lose consciousness. The ambulance came and whisked me away, a lovely paramedic called Steve gave me morphine to try and deal with the pain.

I spent all weekend and yesterday in hospital, but without what I would call proper resolution for the problem. No scans but  those for life-or-death patients are available at that hospital during the weekend so I was kept in till Monday, and even then didn’t get one. There is something fundamentally wrong with a hospital that doesn’t get that people get sick and injured at weekends and make appropriate arrangements.

Hospital is not a good place for a sensitive spirit; noise and lights and constant lack of privacy are only a few of the things that make resting impossible, so I am very glad to get home to rest.

I have had some interesting thoughts, but am still to befuddled to put them down so it may be a week or two before I can write them.

Not good

I made the mistake of ringing home at lunchtime and thus am I here now, having come home missing my last hour of teaching.

The vet didn’t have good news. When they got a proper look, it seems that it’s not a cut but a tumour that has done the damage. Now in dogs, any cancers of the mouth are often aggressive and malignant.

All the way home my inner voice was saying “it’s not malignant, it’s not as bad as it might be”. I don’t want my inner voice to be a liar, but I also don’t want to be an ostrich.

If you pray, please pray for my dog.

Sleepless in a Hospital bed.

Sleepless in a hospital bed
My world has shrunk:
Bordered by weakness,
Walled with pain,
Curtained by wakefulness.
My world has shrunk
To this one bed,
This room, this ward;
My leash, an IV drip.
I'm anchored not by hope
But by stubborness,
A sheer bloody-mindedness
That stops me escaping in sleep.
Determined to live
Each uncomfortable second
Each awkward moment,
Each pang of pain or fear
Holds me tight as arms.
I'm safe, I know;
My fears are fools
With louder voices
Than my common sense
Whispering of Occam's razor
And going home well again.
But the whispers are drowned
By the night noises of the ward:
The crying in the next room
Of a confused distressed old person
Going apparently unanswered;
The bleeps and clicks
Made by machines
Surrounding us-
And the traffic slowing
But never stopping.
I watch the curtains
Billow softly around me
In the night wind
Blowing warm from heaters
And finally let myself
Begin to drift
Into the safe painless

Harbour of sleep