Living Differently – Heartpoint (for Catherine)

Living Differently Project

I’m still getting over my most recent energy crash. It takes a lot of self-discipline to care for myself this much. And I don’t mean the physical side of taking enough rest or eating properly but the emotional component. That one I find pretty tough. For every step I take towards self-compassion a voice rears up in my head reminding me, with great authority, how indulgent I’m being to take it this easy and that I should be doing more.  It’s an hourly battle not to be crushed by this inner dictatorial voice and I find myself losing the ability to see what I need with any clarity at all. To feel so in the wilderness with nothing but my own punishing thoughts for company can be a pretty lonely place and I begin to wonder if I’ll ever find my way back home. Now I’ve written this down I can see it does sound rather melodramatic. It’s also the truth.

Chronic illnesses have wavering symptoms, ranging from just about nearly OK to absolutely bloody awful and if the ghastly period is unrelenting the fear can hold you pretty tightly in its grip. The whole process of going through a crash, relapse, or flare is extremely traumatising. After the metaphorical storm has passed I find myself wincing at even the tiniest drop of rain. I know I’m not alone in this and that the unpredictable nature of long term sickness can be very anxiety producing. This is perhaps why so many of us turn to meditation, buddhism, a spiritual practice or a creative outlet to aid our navigation through these rough seas.

So, it will be no surprise to hear that recently I had given up on magic altogether, even in its most human form. That was until my friend Dina invited me over to her studio for a prolonged session of recuperative yoga. It’s not the first time she’s done this and I’m always grateful. The session lasted over two hours and Dina put me in a series of prolonged resting postures on mountains of bolsters and blocks, covering me with cosy blankets until I drifted in to that safe and hypnotic space between waking and sleeping. She is an expert at arranging the equipment and I often felt like I was floating in space, momentarily free of the burden of gravity.

One thing that struck me was Dina’s attention to detail. Even my skinny wrists were supported by rolled up blankets. We often think of holding on as something we do with our hands but our wrists can also carry a great deal of tension, the support I had enabled me to let go at last, to take flight. I decided to find out what mysteries our often neglected wrists held and discovered the location of Heart Point 7  described as an acupressure point to quell anxiety. It also served as a reminder to me that when we are feeling our most fragile the seemingly smallest things make the greatest difference and hold the key to our emotional sanctuary. I’ve called this heartpoint to highlight that even in our most difficult times there are clues everywhere, tiny doorways to love and tenderness and it’s in the silence and stillness that they are revealed to us.

NB: This post is dedicated to my friend Catherine who is in the middle of a storm right now.


Living Differently – Making it Better

Living Differently Project, Personal Journey


Despite all my protestations of self-enquiry I’m not that unusual, I want to feel better rather than worse, to see change happening without having to break my back doing it. Well, I say that but is it true ? If there’s one thing this lengthy illness has taught me is that I am not the person I say I am, even to myself.

My old friend Kitty sent me a photo taken decades ago in a photobooth. She remarked how carefree we look. I’ve scrutinised my gaze seeing if I could find clues of a future me. Nothing, except my hair is much the same and I’m a little anxious, as ever. What stings of course is not how young we look but how carefree. Of course this is the order of things and the luckiest amongst us get to have at least some taste of freedom in their childhood. But I keep asking myself what happened, where has that open-ness gone ?

Chronic illness is a rattlebag of unwanted and much needed lessons. I say unwanted because I would much rather be happy without having to try and this sickness squeezes the juice of gratitude from you. Because, in the end, being thankful is the only way to live. Bitterness is not an option but I am drawn to its magnetic pull frequently.

Over the last 18 months I’ve played different mind games with myself. Distraction is not the preserve of those who are ill, but it is for those who are suffering. Better not to feel the pain than feel it, it can all get too much at times. And distraction, even for the mostly housebound like myself, can take many tempting forms from watching light-hearted entertainment to being online for hours, from obsessing over personal relationships to close companionship. It is not always a bad thing and sometimes it’s a life-saver.

Sometimes the distraction is enough.

Picture This – Jocelyn Page ‘Shadows Point East’

Personal Journey, Photography, Picture This Project, Poetry

During my recent spell of ill health I assembled a portfolio of photographs, Still Life. I invited some high calibre poets to respond to these photographs for a project called Picture This. I have been overwhelmed by the beautiful work I have received. I also worked with photographer and film-maker, Craig Thomas, on a short film containing a selection of these images which you can enjoy below.

I feel very lucky to know poet Jocelyn Page. I was overjoyed when she chose one of my more abstract photos to inspire her poem here. Her poetry quietly and confidently beckons me in, then wakes me up to seeing the world in a whole new light.

Jocelyn Page is an American poet living in South East London. Her pamphlet smithereens was published by the tall-lighthouse in 2010. She teaches at Goldsmiths College where she is working toward a PhD on the topics of inspiration and collaboration.

Shadows Point East
By the time we get to camp
and our unpacking, line setting
horse staking, fast eating,
fireside click-clacking is through –
I finally get to the words,
blazed in charred shadows
in my head, by then the opposite
of their brilliance, like the noon sun
stamps itself in the deepest black
on the backs of the eyes.
So nothing I write tonight, dear,
will come anywhere near the idea
that I had, that I had to tell you
this afternoon, out stalking the west.

Pyjama Life

Personal Journey, Photography, Poetry

It’s taken as a given that writers wear all sorts of things to write in, from top hat and tails, threadbare old cardigans to absolutely nothing at all. OK so I lied about the tails. The point I’m making is that it’s broadly acknowledged that what you wear whilst you are writing the great novel, symphony or latest blog post has no effect whatsoever on what you are producing.

Truman Capote famously described himself as an ‘horizonatal author’ saying “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.”

John Cheever declared “To publish a definitive collection of short stories in one’s late 60s seems to me, as an American writer, a traditional and a dignified occasion, eclipsed in no way by the fact that a great many of the stories in my current collection were written in my underwear.”

Flannery O Connor, who lived with lupus, noted “I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”

O’Connor’s quote really resonates with me. My ill health means that my energy, and accompanying symptoms, vary enormously. Good (ish) days mean that I can sit here at my desk at 1030 am and begin to write this blog. On bad days after getting up and making breakfast I am back in bed before lunchtime my head spinning, limbs leaden and heavy, exhausted just by sitting up and not able to read or listen to music as everything sets off intense dizzy spells.

And that’s why on the days I don’t venture out of the house (which are the majority at present) I prefer to stay in my ultra comfortable pj’s with my cosy dressing gown bought for me by a very kind friend. Another friend, not alone in his opinion, was well meaning but ill informed. He said he was worried that my experience of ill health (and my attitude to it) could be exacerbated by my choice not to get dressed. I know he was concerned that I would define myself by my illness and nothing else. For him, putting on sweatpants and an old t-shirt made him feel tired and less inclined to do anything.

In fact he does have a point.

Picture This – A F Harrold ‘Just This’

Personal Journey, Photography, Picture This Project, Poetry

During my recent spell of ill health I assembled a portfolio of images, Still Life. I invited some high calibre poets to respond to these photographs for a project called Picture This. I have been overwhelmed by the beautiful work I have received. I also worked with photographer and film-maker Craig Thomas on a short film containing a selection of these images.

An empty chair has a poetry all its own. Today’s poet, the highly esteemed A F Harrold, has written a touching and elegant piece that brought a tear to my eye when I first read it.

A.F. Harrold is an English poet who writes and performs for adults and children.

Just This

Autumn days seem longer
when the low sun slinks,

before mists rise up
and afternoon puts evening on.

There are spaces in them,
crisp and airy where no bird sings,

which open simply
into a long view of all that’s gone.