An Open Letter Regarding Mental Illness

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Dear everyone,

I am writing this letter because mental health, or mental ill-health, is something I have quite a lot of experience dealing with. It would be good to use my experience to help others who might be going through the same kind of stuff. A lot of people who live, work, interact with people who are mentally ill don’t know what to say that might help. For that reason, it’s often the elephant in the room. People don’t want to upset the person with the illness or make things worse. Which is understandable. I get it; I really do. But, sometimes, it’s the most unhelpful response. So, these are my thoughts. They are things that do and don’t help me. Everyone is different, but these are my experiences, based on my struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD …

The most important thing to say is never, ever try to minimise what we are going through. All your, “Ahh, there are those worse off than you,” and, “Sure, you just need to make up your mind to get better, and you will,” speeches are the most unhelpful you can give. Don’t tell us, “Just get over it, you’ve been wallowing for long enough now. It’s time to move on.” You don’t simply move on from mental illness. You don’t just get over it. The amount of times my dad told me to do just that. Even though he constantly battled depression and anxiety, frequently giving in to it. If only it were as easy as just moving on. I suspect there would be very little mental illness in the world.

For me, the most important thing people can say is that they care about and support me. To tell me they are here for me if I ever want to talk, and that they love me whatever my illness makes me say and do. I appreciate this isn’t an easy thing to do. There are times, I’m not an easy person to like, let alone love. It takes a lot of patience to watch someone relive the same nightmares every night for years. It’s hard to understand how things don’t improve. Or, even harder to understand how they do improve, and then revert to a place that seems worse than they originally were. But, please remember, if it’s frustrating and heartbreaking for you to watch, imagine what it’s like to experience it first hand. You won’t understand, unless you’ve been there, but understanding isn’t necessary. You just have to listen and let them know they aren’t alone.

It’s important to remember we are speaking about mental illness. I know it’s been said many times before, but it is an illness. Physical or mental, if you’re ill, it isn’t your fault. Don’t judge mentally ill people. Don’t be afraid of them. You can’t catch their illness. Spend time with them. We are people who deal with an illness in the same way that someone with angina carries their spray around to help them out if things get bad.

I think it’s important you aren’t afraid to discuss difficult subjects. I know it’s easier to ignore the things that scare you. But, ignorance can have terrible consequences. Please, never be afraid to discuss subjects such as self harm and suicidal ideations. When people are experiencing these, I guarantee they are feeling incredibly alone. So, let them know you’re there. Hold their hand. Ask them if they have any plans to end their life. You may be surprised how big a difference getting them to open up and talk about their plans can make.

So, what helps? Patience. Support. Love. Friendship. Time. Being unafraid. Understanding. What hinders? Ignorance. Judgement. Unwillingness to try to understand. Impatience. Hate. Fear.

You know what helps the majority of the time, though? Being treated as though I’m a normal person. Because I am. Every single person on earth is unique. That’s how I look at it. My illnesses dont’ define me. But I do deal with them every day. I used to be ashamed, but not any more. I’ve been through a lot, with mental illness as the end result. But I’m not just mental illness. I’m a writer, a wife, a friend, a niece. All of this things come before my illnesses, and I want everyone to remember that.

Rachel

Magic Carpet Ride

This is something I wrote about someone who is the star sign Pisces, incorporating the following Piscean traits: big heart, kind, compassionate, extremely positive, intuitive, follow instincts, dreamers, escapists, enigmatic, get lost in own imagination, emotional, spiritual, romantic, artistic, creative.

 

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Magic Carpet Ride

Matthew sat cross legged under the old oak tree. His hands, placed palms up on his thighs, he breathed slowly. A hush came over him, and the whole world disappeared.

As his lungs became cleansed with the clean, fresh air he was breathing, a warmth spread through his body. He cleared his mind of all the stresses of teaching his Year 10 Art class that afternoon. Sarah Baker’s catfight with Polly James faded into insignificance, and his heart became filled with love.

“Hey, Matt, I thought I’d find you out here.”

Rosie. The girl who made his skin tingle in anticipation of being touched by her. Opening his eyes, he brought himself back to the present. “Hey, you.” A smile spread across his face. “You’re looking beautiful.”

Watching her face colour as she dipped her head towards the floor made him need to kiss her. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her down and pressed his lips to hers. A corkscrew of electricity wound its way through his core. Pulling back, he caressed her face. “I mean it, you know. You are beautiful.”

This time, she kissed him, and a forcefield of static buzzed around them. It signalled the course of true love between soulmates, and, in that moment, Matthew knew they would be together forever.

When Rosie pulled away, she leant back against the rough bark of the oak. She sighed and picked a blade of grass,

“What’s up?” Matthew always knew when people had things on their minds. His mum told him he possessed a sixth sense. It was what led him to his spiritual path. Knowing that he could intuit things that others wouldn’t begin to see, he had to share his gift with the world. As for the non believers, they were the ones missing out. And so today, he knew Rosie was unhappy. Although, admittedly, anyone could have picked up on this one.

Rosie swallowed and opened her mouth to speak. But her breathing was shallow, and her words wouldn’t come.

Taking her hand and kissing the back of it, Matthew turned his whole body to face her. “Hey, this is me you’re with here. You can tell me anything.” He continued holding her hand.

“I hate my job. No, I hate my boss, and I can’t do my job.” As she sobbed, she stared back toward the house.

Edging close enough for their hips to touch, he draped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed, then kissed the top of her head. “Damian. I should have guessed he was responsible. What’s he done now?”

“Nothing new. Only undermined every sale I made, then told me I have to see an Occupational Therapist to assess my abilities, since I had six weeks off sick with glandular fever. He hates me, Matt. He thinks I’m rubbish at my job.” She let out a wail of unhappiness and Matthew hugged her tight.

“The guy is an ass. You should quit. You don’t have to put up with that kind of crap.”

Shaking off his arm, she rounded on him. “And what would I do, exactly? I’m trained for nothing. And, can you imagine the kind of reference he would give me?”

“Hey, it’s okay. I was thinking about the book you never have time to write. You could do that. I’m making enough money teaching to take care of us. We have some saved away. We’d be fine. And you could become a world-famous writer and we could travel the world, promoting it.” His blue eyes sparkled as he spoke, but Rosie just shook her head.

“I can’t quit my job to write a book I don’t even know if I can write. It’s too risky.”

“Okay. Well, oh yes, even better. We’ll both quit, and we could travel to remote areas of Africa or, like, the Himalayas, or somewhere, and we could teach them. We wouldn’t need money. We could volunteer with charities. Oh, that would be so good. Wouldn’t it?”

He looked at her as a lone tear drifted down her cheek. Using his thumb, he wiped it away. It hurt his heart to see the love of his life this unhappy. He kissed the spot where the tear had been. “Sorry, I got a little carried away, didn’t I?”

With a laugh, she smiled at him. “Yes, just a little. But you’re right about one thing: I do need to find a new job.”

“And I’ll help you. We’ll get you away from that nasty piece of work that calls himself a boss. I won’t let him hurt you again. I promise.”

“I know,” she said as she started to stand.

Holding onto her hand, he pulled her back down. “Don’t go inside just yet. Sit here with me on my magic carpet, and I’ll take us on a ride of your choice.”

After tapping his arm playfully, she said, “Okay. The Maldives, please. Expensive and showy, but I need some white sands and sun.”

As he began to describe the scenery in the countries they floated over, he could sense Rosie’s shoulders relaxing and her hurt melting away.

the ledge

The Ledge

the ledge

at night, he crawls through the
crack in the curtains;
false teeth snarling,
rotten gravestones covered in scum,
. . . which one is for me?
i cocoon myself in the
puppy-dog covers
(all that’s left of my youth)
a tremor in my little finger
the only tell of my
f e a r
eyes scrunched up,
years of training bid me,
don’t look . . .
cognac and old spice,
which have no right to
linger on a young girl’s skin,
flip my stomach and
heat rushes my cheeks
as i swallow the bitter
in my throat.

when i wake,
frigid night air dimples my skin,
strong hands grip my arms
and the voice that speaks my name
has that
sexy American twang
i peek at my husband
whose animated eyebrows
dance on his
crimson face,
and like a far-off view
through someone else’s binoculars
the room comes into focus;
i’m an adult
i’m safe
except for the window ledge and
open window
over which i hover.

i step down,
into his arms
and weep.

Lullaby

Well. Here is a surprise. I have another happy poem to share today. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s most unusual, that’s for sure.

To be honest, I did have a prompt for this one. It is: “In poetry form describe inner peace – the quiet of the soul – the place where you find that moment.”

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Lullaby

A quiet Sunday afternoon,
with sun stretching over the
field next to our house,
we sit out back
together—
no words needed
appreciating the warmth
and the golden hue of the crop …
a dazzling dragonfly
skitters
between us, sending out the tiniest
vibrations of good will,
but other than that the air is
s t i l l,
l a z y,
blackbirds chirping in the old oak tree,
I close my eyes and listen to their song,
and my heart slows and beats its own
lullaby.

A romantic Friday night,
wrapped in David’s arms,
watching some old movie we’ve
seen a hundred times before,
his warmth permeating
my body
love
latching onto my heart and keeping it
safe;
laughing together
at nothing important,
the tranquility that settles in my stomach
with one touch,
and my heart slows and beats its own
lullaby.

Each day as time marches away
I am able to look back and find more
happy memories,
moments frozen in time,
perfectly formed stills
of childhood,
my mind is sifting the vast
catalogue
I hold within,
dispensing with all the hurt and
pain,
and retrieving the times I was loved;
a mother so proud,
a father who tried his best,
and when I am lost in these reveries
my heart slows and beats its own lullaby.

An Ode To D.

Today is my hubby’s birthday. Now, I don’t write romantic poetry. I’ve tried, but it’s just not my style. I’m much more comfortable writing about depression and bleakness. However, I’ve written this poem for my husband. He is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I love him with every fibre of my being. (See, I don’t even write romantically in my introduction.)

Dear Me Heart

An Ode To D.

One click and my life
changed;
one cautious reply sent to
another.
A reaching out of souls,
both shrouded in pain.
Living fractions of lives,
with shards of dirty glass
cutting
though the ropes that held us together.
Frayed ends all we had left,
we were running
out of time and
will,
then we
connected . . .
Through dogs called Jake
and Edgar Allen Poe
we mixed ourselves into
one,
a blend of love emerging.
I’m so pleased we’re both a little
crazy
because if we weren’t we
wouldn’t have risked it;
but we did,
and I’m glad
the pull of our magnetic hearts
attracted
each other.
So now you’re living in a country
so cold, your chattering teeth have their own
repertoire.
I’m sorry, honey,
but we’re worth it, right?

 

The New Arrival

Harriet beamed at her husband. “He’s beautiful, isn’t he?”

Dan stroked his new son’s head and smiled. “Perfect. Just . . . perfect.” He turned to his daughter and said, “Lola, come and say hello to your little brother.” But Lola was having none of it.

“No. I don’t want to. He stinks.” She stuck out her bottom lip and crossed her arms. This little girl was ready for battle. She had known, from the moment her parents told her there was a baby inside her Mummy’s tummy, that bad things lay ahead. Now, here she was, faced with this ugly, little ball of pink, and already her parents loved her less.

“Don’t be silly, Lola. Come and give him a kiss. He wants to meet his big sister.” Harriet spoke softly and held out her hand.

Still scowling, Lola took her mother’s hand and stepped closer to her parents. She stood on tiptoes and peered underneath the powder-blue blanket.

“Lola, this is Thomas. Isn’t he wonderful?”

Lola harrumphed, and stood back down. “He looks like a pig.”

When her father berated her, his voice was louder than usual. But rather than frighten her, it only made her more determined. “An ugly, stinky pig. Mummy, why did you grow a pig in your tummy?” Her turquoise eyes sparkled as she realised she had her parents’ full attention.

“Lola Kay, you say you’re sorry. That’s a horrid thing to say.” Dan’s voice quivered as he tried to maintain control.

The little girl didn’t move. She could taste victory. If she just kept this up, they would leave her horrible, attention-grabbing brother at the hospital, for someone else to take care of him.

“Say you’re sorry. I’m sure we never raised such a hateful little girl.”

Dan’s neck and face flushed red, Lola noticed; her bravado backing down. They would choose her over her brother, wouldn’t they? Her chin wobbled, but still she remained silent.

Harriet stepped in. “Lola, honey. You have to treat Thomas kindly. He is your brother. He may be little right now, but he will grow bigger; like Daddy.”

The doorbell rang, making the little family jump. “I’ll get it. It’ll be Mum and Dawn.” Dan jumped up, and his daughter watched him carefully as he left the room.

Turning back to her mother, she raised an eyebrow. “Thomas will be as big as Daddy?”

“Yes. He will. And when he is, he will look after you. You never know when you might need him. You know what I think?”

“What?” Lola rested against her mother’s leg, and cast a surreptitious glance at her brother.

“I think he will love you to the moon and back, and what’s more, I think he will hope you love him just the same.”

Chewing her lip, Lola took a longer look at Thomas. He wasn’t so ugly, she supposed. With a swift movement, she planted a kiss on the top of his head. “Okay, Mummy. You can keep him.”

As she ran to fetch her toy box, Harriet shouted after her, “Daddy and I love you, Lola! To the moon and back.”

The Legend of the Accursed Mountains

The Legend of the Accursed Mountains

 

Accursed Mountains

Daybreak crept through the small window in the room Sihana shared with her sister, Ajola. Dust motes floated in the beam of light, and Sihana stretched and yawned.

Dressing without making a sound on the cold, dirt floor proved difficult. Even harder, was creeping past the room where her mother would just about be waking for the day. Somehow, though, she managed to exit the small, wooden shack she called home without detection.

Crisp morning air washed over her face, waking her senses. Her nostrils twitched at the acrid scent of rain that lingered in the air from the night before.

As she found the loose stone path that zigzagged into the Accursed Mountains, doubt began to set in. What if the legend is true? What if I really do become cursed?

Shaking her head until all doubt fell out, she marched along the loose stone path. Before long, she came to a dense thicket of spruce trees, with a dark blue lake swelling around the rocky banks. As she stood next to the water’s edge, the lapping sound soothed her anxieties, giving her the strength to keep walking.

Sihana didn’t know why it was so important for her to enter the mountains. Prokletije, as her mother always referred to them, held some kind of magical power over her from the first time she heard the legend.

*******************

Two men—brothers—were hunting in the mountains, one beautiful summer’s day. These brothers were always in competition with each other, and often squabbled over who was the best hunter, fighter, lover. Until one day. One fateful day. Whilst out hunting, they came across a beautiful fairy. With long, golden hair and blue eyes the size of tea plates, the two men stopped, transfixed.

The first brother, Leotrim, took it on himself to demonstrate his physical prowess, while the other, Rezar, simply talked. He asked the fairy questions, told her she was beautiful. When it came to the end of the day, the brothers’ sense of competition reared its ugly head. They asked the fairy whom she liked best. They forced her to choose. But she couldn’t. Instead, she replied, “Leotrim, I love you for your strength and bravery.”

“Ha! Bad luck, bro!” Leitrim said, slapping his brother on the back.

“Oh, no. I haven’t finished,” said the fairy. “I love you for your strength and bravery, Leo. But, I love you, Rezar, for your good looks and gentle disposition.” She smiled at Rezar, and he touched his fingers to her cheeks.

In an explosion of rage, Leotrim took his dagger from its sheath and plunged it into his brother’s chest. “Now, you can only love me, fairy,” he said, grabbing her wrist and striding back towards his home.

By the time they got back, his mother was waiting for their return. “Mother, I have battled with my brother for the love of this beautiful fairy. Her name is . . . “

“Elira,” she hissed.

“Elira. We are to marry, mother, isn’t that wonderful?”

It took a moment for his words to register. When it did, his mother’s face flushed as she said, “No! How dare you?! Rezar was your brother, and you slay him like a goat on the hill. I curse you and your new wife, and I curse those wretched mountains that caused the evil in your mind. May every child you ever bear, and the children of your children have nothing but bad luck and unhappiness as long as they live! And those mountains . . . may all who enter looking for love, come away with hearts filled with hate.”

********************

Sihana shuddered. Every time she thought of the story, her skin tingled. As she reached a steep incline in the path, she heard the oddest, most out of place, thing: singing. A male voice, deep and rich. There were no homes in this part of the mountains; nobody lived here. Yet, his voice travelled towards her, filling her with warmth.

As she reached the apex of the hill, she saw him. A small pool, with water of the deepest blue, sat in a level grass clearing. Inside the pool, a young man with dark hair and eyes, swam. As she moved closer, she could see his clothes, discarded by the edge of the pool.

Even though she knew she should walk away, she couldn’t. Invisible strings pulled at her clothes, forcing her closer. She cleared her throat, and the man looked up.

“Oh, hi. You made me jump. I was just having a little swim before the start of day.” He swam over to Sihana and climbed out of the water. She was relieved to see he hadn’t removed his breeches. He held out a dripping hand and said, “I’m Dashurie. It’s nice to meet you.”

As their skin connected, a spark of electricity fizzled through her arm and into her chest. “Sihana,” she replied.

Hours passed, as they sat on the edge of the pool, talking and laughing. When dusk settled around them, Sihana rose to her feet.”I have to go home. My mother will be worried.” When he took her face in his hands, she melted inside. Their kiss felt warm and natural, like their lips were made for each other.

As she ran back down the path, Dashurie called after her, “Come again tomorrow, my love. I will be here, waiting.”

Pausing to look back at him, she said, “Okay. I promise I will.”

She ran all the way home, not caring how angry her mother would be, or how skeptical. The legend of the mountains was rubbish, and she knew that as a fact. She had nothing but love in her heart. Love: not hate. The mountains were magical. She had always known that. And where magic resided, anything could happen.

 

*This story is loosely based on a legend surrounding the Accursed mountains in Albania.*

Pink Fluffy Unicorns

Unicorns seemed to be everywhere at Christmas last year. In fact, all year they grew and grew in popularity. And so, for today I am posting something a little different to my usual dark and gloomy writing.

Unicorn1

Shaun, The Pink, Fluffy Unicorn

Shaun was a pink, fluffy unicorn
who lived on a cotton cloud,
as cute as a coot, one day he was born
and his parents shrieked out loud.

“He’s pink!” cried his Mum with eyes so wide,
his Dad backed away on his hooves:
“How can it be that you and me
such a creature could produce?”

When Shaun opened his eyes and they shone bright green,
his mother’s heart did melt,
for he stared at her and uttered a word:
“Mumma.” It was heartfelt.

On trembling legs, baby Shaun stood up,
encouraged by his mother’s nose.
He shook his hair, and it sprung to life,
“Oh my God,” said his Dad, “it glows!”

His brothers and sisters gathered round,
all perfectly white, pristine,
guffaws from each one and sneers and snides,
poor Shaun felt so unclean.

“Don’t you worry, my son, for in my heart,
beautiful is how you’ll stay,
they are only jealous of how unique
you were born. When they’re wet, they look grey!”

Shaun kicked his heels and squealed in glee,
his confidence was restored,
with a wiggle and a shake and a slice of cake,
he spread his wings and soared.

Married In New York

wedding-bands

Married in New York

Swamped in dripping heat
two lovers stand
hand in hand,
they move
to cross
the road
to marriage,
on the other
side, they make their vows

 

 

Butterfly Form

This form was first created by Michael Degenhardt
Meter is syllabic and in this order: 5/4/3/2/2/2/3/4/5.
Stanza length: 9 lines.

Missing Mum

 

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It was the annual Christmas Party on my Mum’s side of the family yesterday. Mum was one of ten children (eleven in total, but one died age three months), so I have a lot of cousins. Consequently, each year, we have a Christmas Party and a Summer BBQ. It’s a lovely tradition, and one I have always looked forward to.

This year, I found myself feeling sad, though. The older I get, the more of Mum’s siblings are no longer here. Only five remain, and one of those lives in Australia. My cousins are all married with grown up children, and a lot of them have moved away.

Yesterday, only sixteen people came to the party. In one way, it was nice because I hate being amongst too many people. The smaller number meant it was easier to talk to people. But Mum’s loss felt huge. It always does. She died in April 2012, so it’s not my first Christmas without her. I should be used to her loss. I think, maybe, I was already feeling sad before I went yesterday. Something inside made me sad, and I felt old and like my life is going nowhere, and like all the good bits have gone forever. Old feelings, for me. But I wished they had stayed away yesterday.

After losing Uncle Rob in August this year, I’ve felt like Mum’s family (and my connection to her) is disappearing. Which, I know, isn’t true. I worry about my Auntie Beryl. She’s always been my favourite. She and Mum were next to each other in line of birth, and they spoke two or three times every day on the phone and saw each other once a week. Plus, she is the kindest, most generous person you could ever meet. She’s seventy-four and has a better social life than me! She’s always on the go. But I worry about her. She’s had two heart attacks in the past.

I didn’t intend to write this post today. I had a story all ready to paste into here, but my fingers had another idea. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, don’t take those you love for granted. Love them and hug them and laugh with each other. Spend precious times like Christmas together. The company of loved ones is so much more important than presents and Christmas lunch. Enjoy the time together, make memories you can fall back on when you have the mean reds.

I will share this poem with you, though, in an attempt to brighten the mood a little:

 

The Silver Trousers

The moment I dreaded was finally here,
My auntie’s house, full of festive cheer,
With twinkling eyes, she gave me my gift,
Uncomfortably, on the spot I did shift
“Open it now,” she said with a grin,
“Show everyone what you find within,”
Smiling back I carefully unpeeled
the paper, saw the present, I reeled,
Silver trousers, shining bright
I had to shield my eyes from their light,
“How festive,” my dear husband said
“You should try them on, go ahead,”
Grimacing, I climbed the stairs,
Into the bedroom, I sat on the chair,
One leg first, then the other,
They fit perfectly, “Oh bother!”
In trepidation, I rejoined the crowd,
My husband actually laughed out loud,
I shot him a look that plainly said,
When we get home, my love, you are dead.

Sliver Trousers