2019 (a year in a poem)

2019. the year of

anxiety & sunshine

& beauty & depression

of drinking good coffee

& soul-nourishing gallery visits

of leaning into therapy & pain

of hours & days lost as buried tears were found sitting on the kitchen floor while Saturn played

2019. the year of

feelings felt & found & held & felt

of grief faced & waves crashing

food uneaten, weight losing

chasms opening

heart cracking & life shaking

of questions asked

& answers found wanting

as festered rage & long-accepted values

were both…released

2019. the year of

pain & striving

for peace

of lost memories found & faced

of emotional breaking & life & self shaking of inner light dimming

& slow sparking match-light reviving

of healing through

the mind-soul-body medicines

of meditation & journalling

of 29minute whatsapp voicenote musings

of beauty & art

& poetry & space

of lush bath-bombs & masturbating

of beautiful smells & netflix binges

& m&s champagne sipped

by fairy light

of radically

abundant

self grace

& the gift of

space

taking

& making

& giving

space to me

to breathe & be

& feel & see

& wonder & wander

Nayyirah Waheed

2019. the year of

taking-up

space

to cry & laugh & rage

the year of breaking

boundaries & beliefs

of (nearly) breaking apart

& being held in the breaking

2019. the year of

losing

& finding

& freeing

of shuddering beauty

& (beautifully) ugly crying

of breath quickening & catching

& deep exhaling

2019. the year of

frustrated containment in white spaces

of colour seeking & power claiming

of being unseen & seen

of being unanchored & held

in grace & love

2019. the year of feeling

& being

more

more

more….

of me

Desiderata-living

My eye caught this beautiful scene of the sunlight through my front window this afternoon & I paused to take it in… the roses & green grass behind and, in the middle, this framed calligraphy of the beautiful, guiding poem Desiderata.

As I take time off following the end of a beautiful, hard job that stretched, broke (in bad & good ways), grew, shaped, blessed, fulfilled & thrived me…

As I take time off to think & feel & plan & be, before starting a new challenge & path ahead…

As I take time to enjoy art & reading & space & friendship,

this poem speaks to me anew & I am enjoying living it’s advice to (poem summary ahead):

Go placidly amidst the noise & haste & remember what peace there may be in silence.

Be on good terms with all persons.

Listen.

Don’t compare.

Enjoy plans & achievements alike.

Be at peace with God. See the beauty amidst the ugly drudgery it the world.

Be yourself.

Yes, be yourself.

Be yourself.

Through this hard year I have learnt the value of being more myself.

Of self-awareness, understanding & acceptance.

Acceptance which leads to better growth – of self & others.

And to the beautiful power & freedom of working, living, relating from a place of ever-more Me-ness as I continue to push on and let go.

As I continue to grow into the stunning living poem I am & write & draw my own story as I go.

Sunflower counselling

Yesterday evening, for a WILD Friday night, I had my first counselling session. It’s been a long time coming. And I found a therapist I related to, who gets my comments about gender and race and keeps up with my flicking between received pronunciation and street language. A therapist who is REAL, in her gold reeboks, natural black-girl hair & statement t-shirt!

So 50minutes of ranting/ mature sharing later and I’m feeling ‘yep, I could work with you’…. and then the price was shared. Pow! The tears which had been building as I’d so freely shared my anger & pain spilled out. Cos it felt like a door that was opening had suddenly slammed shut!

Fast forward five minutes, as I came to the bottom of the stairs of her office I saw that the cosy waiting room was empty (cos y’know, it was FRIDAY NIGHT!)… so I walked to it to sit, cry, pray, & process.

AND THEN I SAW THIS: a Sunflower painting.

And I knew. This is my place. This is my counsellor. This is my God / the wall (delete according to your theistic belief!) confirming it to me. Saying ‘I see you, I’ve led you here, trust and proceed’. To add a little context, my nickname is Sunflower. But it’s more than a nickname. My being is Sunflower. I am Sunflower. So I sat, cried, listened to soothing music & prayed: I will go forward & TRUST the money & timings will work out. As sunflowers move to follow the sun, I’ll keep moving into this space that’s been offered, following the sun & helping to put the shadows behind me.

Face towards the sun

A car-park poem. (Got your attention!)

I sketched this after three minutes just standing in the car park outside my work building last Thursday. Such was my need for sun on my face and soul.

A deep, visceral need.

By myself, eyes closed, just standing.

Image: Pinterest

NLB

face towards the sun,

feet planted firmly.

Wind blowing,

whole body shaking,

feet planted firmly;

shaking not falling.

Face towards the sun,

eclipsed by the passing cloud,

Sun re-revealed,

smile spreading,

sun blessing.

Feet planted firmly,

face towards the sun,

as clouds and wind blow.

Flowers in the grey

This is a hard week. Of a hard period.

I’m struggling with feeling flat, my sparkle is gone and my smile – MY smile – is lost; my usually instant, beaming, deep, radiant smile is sluggish & dimmed.

I feel I’m in a period of emotional, spiritual, relational & physical unpeeling. It feels like life is a sea where some days waves constantly splash salty water in my face. Some days I’m sitting on the shore with my ankles in the wet sand, stuck, while everyone else is swimming. And some days, the days I’m myself, I’m enjoying gently paddle boarding, floating in the sunshine, my heart JOYED by the beauty of the shimmer on the water.

Today was a salty wave day. It was hard.

BUT as with the days before this… I showed up! I felt great singing & leading praise music at work this morning (yep, Christian places do that-at work!) – then my emotions & brain capacity went up and down like a chapati-rising one moment then flat as a chapati (or a pancake!) the next. Flattened & lifted & flattened more & lifted & flattened (you get the picture!).

This period gives me the choice – of hiding behind pride or of pursuing the path of Radical Vulnerability. I choose the latter. So in today’s greyness I wore my face as a mirror of my inner self-flat, empty, dull. Not ‘my face’- no NLB smile or glow today folks. And that’s OK. I’m being authentic and congruent.

And I’m being open with my beloveds (& now with YOU too!). I reached out to my Husband, Caramel Sister & Work Wife, sharing my flatness & asking for prayer. And WOW-the opportunities to receive grace that being honest gave me!! The kindness of loaned headphones so I could be lifted by music-my heart language & salve-as I worked! The perfectly timed deep hug & tearful chat. The food & homemade fairy-cake set aside for me. The gentle, slow-paced meeting with my manager & help from a kind colleague. And the ping of email to tell me of a ‘delivery’ at reception, bringing my first ME smile of the day when I saw the surprise delivery of flowers from my husband to bring a ‘little spark & smile’ to my day.

I’m not out of the emotionally thick woods yet (to mix my sea & land analogies!).

But my heart is not dull. It is warmed. I am so loved and liked just as I am. I have enough energy & contentment for the evening. And my home smells like flowers.

The regret trinity

I generally think regret gets a bad name.

I regret a lot in life: not persevering with learning a language or instrument; not trying harder in school; saying I Love You back when I didn’t mean it (!!); having cheese and crackers tonight after a day of healthy eating; repeatedly going to bed too late, and lots more!

I think the idea that is oh so popular on inspirational Pinterest posters (ugh), that regrets are bad and we should have none just misses the whole point and deep value of regrets! They can be the best motivator and prod us to grow into the people we aspire to be; to be better friends and lovers etc, to improve at work, to save money and take better care of our health etcccc.

Regret isn’t shame.

Shame labels us and makes us stuck.

Regret labels behaviour and moves us forward (well, for me it usually takes a few regrets to get the lesson but hey, it counts!).

Anyway, I was mulling on this recently and this short poem came to mind…

Regret:

The gap between

What you do

Who you are,

And what you want to do

And who you want to be.

Shame:

The gulf between

What you do,

Who you are,

And what other people want you to do

And who others want you to be.

Freedom

Neither wallowing in regret,

Nor ignoring its painful lessons,

Rather striving to do and be

What and who you want to be.

And not letting others’ (imagined?) views hinder your quest.

NLB 3.1.19

Jerking away from oneself?

 

Photo: NLB 2018

As I lay in the Ghana sun –

book in hand,

warmth in bones and heart –

I freeze as I feel something

crawling down my leg.

I jerk firmly

to reclaim my body from this crawling invader

who may mean me harm.

Only to realise in that moment:

it was just a bead of sweat.

How often,

I wonder,

does what comes out of us

make us jerk away

-in fear?

-in surprise?

-in disgust?

A (chronically) fabulous weekend

I had *such* a good weekend-hosting another ace LB party, followed by a 36hr mates movie weekend of late nights & being up early enough for McDonalds breakfast (with 2hrs to spare-such is our dedication to fitting in an extra movie!).

The cost of this fabulous exertion for me, however, is increased aches, pain & more tiredness than my non chronic-pain-enduring friends. So instead of doing the few things on the To Do list I diligently wrote up before bed yesterday, to do when my mates had left, I crashed on the sofa & napped instead of going to church this eve (very disappointing as it’s a great talk topic at the mo!); dinner was brought to me on the sofa by my kind husband who knew enough to rouse me to eat tonight when I’d have rather slept but actually needed the energy & enjoyment of the eating more (he’s a keeper!). The weekend’s activities were absoluteeely worth it (!!!) but in hindsight, having the movie weekend off the back of the party was over zealous social planning (I can hear other chronic-pain endurers going ‘duh!’).

OK, I know that describing two days of mooching on the sofa watching (brilliant) films & eating guest-made treats as ‘exerting’ sounds ironic but it’s not. I also know I am FORTUNATE! Yes I wake in pain every day & sometimes cry in pain or, moreso, from the physical & emotional tiredness from it but, hello, I danced, chatted, served, laughed & ate & drank from Friday to Sunday, & had more fabulous fun & conversation than many healthier peeps this weekend! Amidst the hosting, I let my friends/guests wash up each morning while I got my pilates groove-on cos hey, I’ve learned how to receive love & help (well, am learning), & also because I believe that it’s kind to let others show love & appreciation through service if they want to.

The time with mates has been so wonderfully nourishing for me mentally & emotionally as we watched great stories, had fun & scintillating conversation, deepened new friendships & ate & drank heartily. But it’s also been two eves in a row of 5-6hrs sleep for a body that needs-& rarely gets-9+hrs to be rested, but which will still wake in aches & pain every single morning regardless of how many hours sleep it gets, cos, y’know, chronic pain life. Nonetheless, now I’m more & more aware, & ACCEPTING, of the need for chronic pain *self-care* planning, I’m learning to plan better in future. So I’ve written off the To Do list: I’ll just have to suck in choir practice tomorrow as I haven’t the energy to rehearse tonight, & I am cashing in on the on the best perk of my job (well second best after the free coffee!) & am going to work from home tomorrow-a luxury for which I am immeasurably grateful!! So this is me being open. As I write that my face is saying ‘ugh’ as I hate vulnerability & showing any weakness! But, I’ve realised that is colluding with internalised ignorant societal norms which dictate that physical & mental health = strength when, in fact, it takes *real strength* to recognise, accept & acknowledge one’s needs & limitations. So here are some of mine laid bare. And they don’t make me any less (chronically) fabulous!

Life’s knocks, resilience & therapy

I was chatting with someone recently about a friend of his who needs therapy.  What was interesting about the conversation is that The Myth came up. You know The Myth. The ‘it’s not that serious, others have been through far worse and they don’t need therapy so why should I?’. I HATE this myth; I believe we ALL need, or at the very least would benefit from, counselling.

I know people who’ve endured sexual & other assaults, abusive childhoods & not had any therapy & who are reasonably fully functioning, healthy(ish) people.  And I know others who had secure, middle-classed lives in comfortable homes with loving but stressed parents who worked a lot, who have recognised areas in which they need help unpicking emotional issues so have gone to therapy.  And I celebrate and applause that choice because we can never be too emotionally healthy.

Some people can endure grief, illness & getting fired with supportive mates, hot baths or long runs, while others would be pushed to the edge by just one of these events. But it’s not a question of one person being tougher or another weaker. Some people have more emotional resilience and often it’s the people who, ironically, had the uncomfortable childhoods because they know it can be harder but that it gets better. And maybe they’re the people who have developed (hopefully healthy) coping mechanisms cos they’ve had longer practice.

The chat with my mate made me think of how you can drop your phone a dozen times on a hard floor and it’s fine. And then it falls 2 inches onto a carpeted surface one time and dies a thousand deaths! That’s what I thought about re resilience and life’s knocks. We can’t see the inner workings or structure of the phone; we can’t see how those minor knocks may have loosened wires and weakened the screen preparing the way for the fateful smash onto a soft, seemingly safe surface. Life can be like that. We can’t see how people’s emotions & thoughts are scratched & made brittle by words & events, but hopefully, we can listen to our own hearts & minds, & actively listen to others’ so that we are all more resilient.

Well, how??  Personally, I love using a simple ‘check-in’ technique to help identify what’s going on inside my head, sometimes just by taking a deep breath for 10 seconds to think of 5 words describing how I feel and then praying or journalling about it. And honest, open chats with emotionally intelligent friends. And reading the kind of books, & watching the kind of short vids, that make me go ‘ahhh, so that’s the word for what I’m feeling’. (Thank you so much School of Life & Alain de Botton!).  But when an objective, professional thought & emotion-sifter could be of more help, chatting with a counsellor is a fab idea.

stillirise.jpg
Photo: contrariwise literary tattoos

You (Don’t) Complete Me…and That’s OK!

Any movie fan or anyone with ears recognises the line ‘You complete me’, those heart-warming words uttered at the end of the movie Jerry Maguire that prompted a collective ‘awwww’ from cinema audiences across the world.

They are, however, bollox.

Ok, I overstated that for attention (gotcha!). But it’s a sentiment with which I’m definitely in conflict.  See, in many ways, yes, my husband completes me-I feel ‘home’ when in his arms and all that jazz and if everyone else around me got sucked into an earthquake crater, I’d be ‘OK’ with having just him survive (sorry folks).  Obviously, I’d be miserable and distraught but he’s the one human I root for before all others and the one whom I love the most.

But he does not ‘complete’ me (whatever that phrase even means!)…  And nor should he.  I am a multi-faceted person who enjoys philosophical, intellectual discussions one minute and Bunny Suicide cartoons the next; I love sociological films and also The Avengers (well not the last one!); I have enjoyed reading Shakespeare and also Fifty Shades (judge away but there are several similar themes-frankly Juliet and Anastasia are both insipid characters!).  So no, my husband, one human being, does not complete me; that is what God made friends for. And music. And books. And TED talks. And work. And colleagues. And films. And travel. And sunshine. And gin. And prayer. And good food. (you get the gist).  No one person completes me and nor should they.

you-complete-me-is-that-your-job.png

And yet we see the myth of Romanticism take hold of so many relationships; the myth that our spouse/partner/other half is supposed to ‘complete us’ and be that one person to whom we turn before all others.

WHY the hell should he be that I ask? Why should the person with whom I share my bed & my life also have to be the one with whom I share my thoughts and feelings if they aren’t the best person for that particular job? Personally, I am blessed with some close friends who share my social joys, intellectual passions and mirror my own emotional intelligence and interests. Some who love watching Grey’s Anatomy and discussing the ‘characters’ as if they’re our friends; others who love discussing sociological, political or relationship ideas, and who allow me to hone and critique my thoughts by listening to their views on issues that are my equivalent of mental/emotional oxygen… and the equivalent of disposable scented razors to David (yes, they are ACTUALLY a thing, ugh).

So no, my beloved, wonderful partner does not ‘complete me’. And for me, THIS is the splendidly ingenious recipe of being ‘completed’… My husband gives me the support and confidence to think (& use him as a sounding board when like-minded & interested friends are unavailable) and the loving space to actively seek & invest in relationships with people who will nurture & stimulate me in the interests & areas where we diverge (and I do the same for him).

And in THIS gracious, creative way we go some way to completing each other far more than we ever could in and of ourselves.  By supporting me in finding my people, reading the books, listening to the talks, dancing to the music, preaching the sermons, travelling to the places (without him), laughing at different comedy & socialising with friends he doesn’t wanna spend an evening with (& those he does!) my husband does help to complete me.

So let’s please discard the deceitful myth of a partner’s role being to complete us. And breathe life into the truth that a partner’s role is instead to nurture us to seek out & find the beautiful variation of people, ideas, and ways of life which, along with our partner’s deep love & faithful support, pour life into us-not to ever be ‘complete’… but to be grown.