April/May life round-up

The top of a tree covered in pink cherry blossom against a bright blue sky

Obligatory spring blossom photograph

Life has continued to be hectic and stressful. I have a lot going on at work. The mice returned and we had to get pest control in to deal with them. I felt bad about it, but nothing else worked. Then a couple of weeks ago, I had a terrible toothache. Apparently, the tooth is fractured and will need a crown. That’s gonna be expensive.  

It wasn’t all bad though. There has been some nice weather. We visited the Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing Exhibition and it was pretty amazing to see the drawings close up. Then we saw Thea Gilmore live and that was excellent. 

Film 

We saw Captain Marvel and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I’m not really into the Marvel universe, but this was a good time. 

Reading 

I read a few crime thrillers. The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson is a proper literary thriller (post coming). I enjoyed The Dry by Jane Harper, but didn’t think it quite lived up to all the hype. The Old You by Louise Voss is a twisty thriller that’s probably best read on a plane, or the beach. 

The Ark by Patrick Tomlinson is quite a fun SF thriller and I really liked Una McCormack’s novella, The Undefeated. I’ve got a big pile of science fiction novels on the go at the moment. 

I’m chipping away at The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin. He’s a brilliant poet, but I am finding all the self-loathing and mid-century sexism a bit hard work. Still, he did write my absolute favourite poem set in the month of May, ‘The Trees

Television 

Of course we’re watching the superb Gentleman Jack. 

We started on The Orville, the premise of which is basically Star Trek: The Next Generation if the crew were ordinary people. I am a little surprised by the high quality of the storytelling on what appears (on the surface at least) to be quite a silly show.  It has me hooked. 

 

8 Years (Part Two)

My father died eight years ago this month. The anniversary surprises me every year. I feel restless, unable to settle to anything, abandoned and uncared for. I start to look for attention in all the wrong places. Eventually, I remember that I have been “abandoned” by the person I was closest to for most of my life, the person who made me feel seen and upon whom I could depend for a response.

I still grieve the loss of his support and the way he died. My father did not have a good death. We watched helplessly as he suffered terribly, both mentally and physically, through his last few months. I feel haunted by regrets, and sometimes guilt, even though I know he would not have wanted me to feel this way and that one of the last things he said to me was, “Enjoy your life”.

Eight years on, what do I want to say to you about grief? First, you don’t “get over” the loss of someone close. You can adapt to it and, if you’re lucky, your life expands around the loss, so that it no longer feels as all-consuming as it did at the beginning. But you always carry it with you. I remember a colleague, who lost his mother when he was five, telling me that even as a middle-aged man, he could always be pulled back into that pit of grief.

I still feel like I’m adjusting to the situation. On the one hand, it seems like my father has been gone for a long time, but on the other, if I walked into the kitchen in my parent’s house tomorrow and found him sitting there in his usual chair, it would just be a relief to discover that I had been mistaken.

I think that one of the biggest adjustments in bereavement is accepting the changes to yourself. We construct our identities in relation to other people and losing them changes us, often in ways we do not like. I feel like I did not, and would not have, consented to these changes in myself.

That’s another thing. Grief is such a bizarre and unexpected experience. It does not manifest how you think it will. I expected to feel sad and miss my father, but I did not expect to be having panic attacks almost every day for years. I’ve got the anxiety under control now, but I still have anxiety attacks whenever I’m confronted with a problem that my father would have supported me with. I’m just more able to recognise that this anxiety is actually grief.

Your relationship with the person doesn’t end with their death. It just changes. In a way, I feel like I know my father a lot better now that he’s dead and I can see the whole story of his life. I can also see that I did not address the difficulties in our relationship and never confronted him about the ways that he failed me which, if I’m honest, were as significant as the ways that he supported me. I think he knew this too, but we never talked about it because it was too dangerous. I never would have been able to think, let along say, this when he was alive.

Despite the silences and unacknowledged difficulties in our relationship, I still think about my father every day. I will always regret the way he died, miss him and feel the loss of the support he gave me.

Part One

For grief support “that doesn’t suck”, see Megan Devine, Refuge in Grief

Managing Emotional distress

Ever since October 2017, I’ve been experiencing attacks of what I can only call extreme emotional distress. I don’t want to get into the details of what happened back then, but basically, a particular “event” seems to have somehow released all the emotional pain that I’d been repressing for about twenty-five years.

This has made my life really difficult. I feel like I can be ambushed at any moment and plunged into a pit of grief, despair and rage. Once I’m in there, it’s very hard to climb out again.

After a few weeks of feeling okay, I had another attack yesterday. I felt awful all day, aching chest and head, depressed, constant intrusive, negative thoughts, and it ended with a full on screaming/crying meltdown in the kitchen.

I’ll give myself yesterday, but I really need to get on top of this. The first thing I think I have to do is accept that these feelings aren’t just going to stop or go away, which is what I’ve been hoping. The gaps between attacks do seem to have got longer, but I think that’s more down to me getting better at avoiding the things that trigger the feelings, then any actual healing. When the feelings do come, they are as a strong and overwhelming as ever.

I know could get more proactive about managing my emotional state on a day-to-day basis, but here are some things that I think I could put into place for those times when I do feel myself being dragged into the “pit of despair”.

Continue reading

March Life Round-up

This month has been busy and a bit stressful. I’ve had a lot on at work, we both got lingering colds, and our flat was invaded by mice, thankfully now evicted. But it’s also been a very good month for cultural activities.

We kicked off with a local folk festival. The acts were really high quality and introduced us to new music from Welsh bands like DnA and VRi. The festival ended with a quite astounding set from Nick Harper, covering songs written by the famous musicians he grew up around.

I went to see the RSC tour of Romeo and Juliet with my Mum. It’s a dark and serious production, clearly aimed at an adolescent audience and raises questions about gang violence and gender. I don’t think my Mum liked it very much, but I thought it was innovative and interesting. Great set design too.

I had to go to London for a work conference, so we made a trip of it, hung out with an old friend, and visited Gay’s the Word.

Work also took me to Liverpool. I’ve never been there before, which is odd, when you think that it’s where my Dad’s paternal family is originally from. I didn’t have time for more than a wander round the docks, but would like to visit properly at some point.

Finally, we saw Kristin Hersh (electric trio) play live and it was fabulous, as always. Touring with two long-term collaborators, this was a loud, life-affirming gig from people who truly enjoy playing together.

Reading

I finished Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr. and have many thoughts about it, which I’ll try and post at some point. I read Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress, which was an enjoyable SF thriller, and Acceptance, the last novel in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.

I finished 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro, which was fascinating, if you’re interested in early modern history and literature.

And I loved Jane Hirshfield’s collection of poetry, After.

Television

We watched Season 5 of Stargate: SG1 which is good comfort TV and have started a Babylon 5 re-watch. We’re persevering with Star Trek: Discovery, even though it’s irritating the hell out of us on several fronts.

February Life Round-up

Another quiet month.

We had a little trip to Bath for my birthday where we did touristy stuff like visiting the Jane Austen Centre. We were watching a film about Jane Austen’s time in Bath when my partner blurted out, “This isn’t the Jane Austen Centre, it’s the ‘Jane Austen Liked Bath Really Centre!'” and I started having hysterics. It was a bit like that, but it’s fun as long as you don’t take it seriously. I was hoping to find a tea towel in the gift shop to replace the one my aforementioned partner SET FIRE to last year, but none took my fancy. Strangely enough, The Radical Tea Towel Company has a good one.

I think the only other activity worth mentioning was a visit to Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair. I’m not particularly into vintage stuff, but we always enjoy this fair and usually pick up a few bargains. Well, I’m set for silk shirts for the foreseeable future anyway!

Reading

I finished The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner. It was quite an enjoyable read, but felt overlong and padded. I read Revelation by C.J. Sansom. I generally like the Shardlake series, but Revelation is extremely gruesome and pushed my tolerance for that sort of thing almost over its limit. My bedtime book was Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worlsey which is a nice read. Finally, I read a book of poetry (yay!), Unravelling at the Name by Jenny Factor.

Television

The only thing we made an effort to watch was Season 2 of Star Trek Discovery. I think the second season is better than the first, but I have a feeling that I want to like Discovery more than I actually do like it. I do like the characters and that’s keeping me engaged, but I’m not so sure about the rest of it!

Otherwise, we watched Season 2 of Poirot which is one of our comfort things.

Forty Two

I turned forty two last weekend. I never feel like I really settle into the next decade of my life until I hit the second year, so I’m quite excited to see what will happen.

I had an incredibly rich intellectual and activist life during my twenties, but I was lonely,  completely bonkers, and on an emotional roller coaster the whole time. My thirties were a period of great personal development, including a proper relationship and a ton of therapy.  I’m hoping that my forties will be a time for self-actualisation.

But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never know what life is going to bring you, so I’m just going to try and be open to whatever comes my way.