Coronavirus Emotions and Feelings

Last month (October 2020) I posted this on Facebook: Coronavirus frustration, tension and weariness seems to be a thing (or rather three things that are linked) right now. Please feel free to share your experiences, which I’ll possibly compile into an anonymised blog post. It might be cathartic. There’s a lot going on in everyone’s lives at the moment.

I received a number of replies, but the first one (not in response to my invitation) is particularly helpful and is shared with permission. I have simply removed one sentence (and part of another) to make it totally anonymous.

I don’t usually share how I’m feeling, especially here on Facebook, I normally just share the good stuff and keep the rest to myself, part and parcel of being an introvert I guess. […..] For sometime now, I’ve recognised that I’m not struggling, that’s not the right word to use, I’m simply overwhelmed with everything that is happening at present, you know when you reach saturation point? Well that’s me. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to watch the news (not constantly) without just wanting to close my eyes and hope and pray that this pandemic will simply disappear, puff, and it’s gone, but it won’t, will it. I desperately try and stay optimistic, and yes I know that one day, all this will be over, we will pull through. I think what I’m trying to say, is that I recognise that at the moment, I know it’s okay, to not be okay, and I’m not! I’m finding that at times I am anxious, fearful, trying to live in hope, but failing miserably! I know that everyone is struggling, some days for me are better than others, I wasn’t going to do this, but I feel I have to, for the sake of my own mental health. [….. I fear it’s only going to get worse.] I just feel, that at times, sharing how we really feel, when it’s safe to do so, is so important as we move forward during this time. I am not wanting or needing attention, that is not my intention, I just want to share, how I’m really feeling without any stigma or judgement.

Here are the replies I received in response to my invitation, each in a separate paragraph. They are posted in full and unedited.

  • I think lots of uncertainty causes the most issues with me and being away from all family for 5+ weeks now!
  • I live alone and I work alone (from home). I’ve been pretty much isolating since the start in February, mainly because both my parents were ill and moved into separate care homes and I wanted to be virus free in case I got the chance to visit them. I saw my dad in July at mums funeral, then last week dad died. It’s not the virus that bothers me, as much as the people who are dying alone and the families that are unable to see the people they love. My dad was so much in love with mum and hadn’t seen her since Valentine’s Day. If he wanted to talk about mum, if he wanted to share memories, if he wanted to be comforted it had to be done with a stranger in a care home and not by his family. It’s the craziness of the rules why you can buy vodka in Tesco’s but a child’s winter coat is taped off as non essential. It’s the pubs opening and closing suddenly at 10pm then the complaints that people are all leaving the pub at the same time and too drunk to socially distance. I’m fed up of the ****** four walls but there’s no escape. I’m fed up of people complaining that some stranger in the supermarket didn’t wear a face mask, I’m fed up of others complaining that it’s a hoax. I’m just fed up of the endless nothingless of it all.
  • We have been in strict lockdown for about 3 months here in Melbourne – this included curfews, not being allowed to leave your home except to work (if deemed an essential worker), exercise (for 1-2 hours a day depending on what month it was) or shop for essential items (and only one person from the household once a day). I’m not going to say it was easy, it truly wasn’t. I’ve been in relative isolation since March 17 as I have chronic health conditions and my doctors felt it was best, but knowing that even if I wanted to bend the rules I couldn’t made feel harder than it was. Having said that, every day watching the numbers tumble from 700+ positive tests daily to double digits to single digits to two days of 0 positive tests (and our testing numbers have still been quite high) actually gave me genuine joy. Knowing that we are protecting our health system and the vulnerable made it seem worth it. Today I went out for about an hour to grab some firewood and get our weekly shop because finally the restrictions are lifted (though we still can’t go outside our 25km radius of home, and I can’t see my family because they live in regional Victoria which has its borders closed to us suburban Victorians and city folk!) and to be honest, I was actually a little scared. I don’t want the numbers to go up again because people flaunt their new “freedom”, as I’m worried that will mean that we can’t see family for Christmas! I know things will normalise into whatever CoVid normal is in the future but right now it still feels a bit surreal. I feel blessed to still have my health (though I did spend 8 days in a hospital without having any visitors due to the rules during lockdown) and I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, but I’m sad I haven’t met my 8 week old niece, and I’m sad I can’t see my parents, sister and other nieces. Overall though, I’m just thankful for the life I have, for a warm and safe home, for technology to keep in touch with family and friends and for the ability to continue to work and earn a living when so many others have lost their jobs.
  • I came home from my after work walk yesterday and began crying uncontrollably as I approached and entered my home. I turned to tiktok, and even though I spent 2 hours on it instead of eating dinner, I was super happy! It makes me feel more connected to other humans than any other online platform. I think it’s because we enter one another’s homes and lives in a unique way there. And it’s silly as all get out too!

You might like to add your responses in the comments.

Sunshine in Lockdown (Naomi Ager)

I’m really pleased to share this guest post by my wife Naomi, one she surprised me with late last night.

Yesterday’s (Thursday 15 October 2020) visit to Sunshine Wood turned out to be quite emotional for me. No, not in a gushy crying way, but instead a rush of overwhelming relief that finally I’d found somewhere lovely, stimulating and safe for my youngest child Pollyanna to explore and enjoy learning opportunities again, one that involved little people like her and not just with mummy.


My older children, Freddy (5) and Matilda (4) have benefitted socially, academically, and emotionally from the daily toddler groups and play cafes we toured before they started school nursery and then fulltime school.
They also got to go to nursery from the age of two for 15 hours which really built their confidence.

Then coronavirus lockdown happened, resulting in Freddy and Matilda being ripped abruptly away from their school in Wallsend back in March 2020, and not being able to return to say a proper goodbye to their school friends before we moved house to Norton in Stockton. Pollyanna had just started her journey at Shining Stars Nursery before lockdown stopped it in its tracks.

I found myself, like many thousands of other parents, at home with the prospect of a whole new ‘adventure’ – home schooling! These children had been used to proper organised activities, play groups, nursery etc. How could I compare?

We remained sensible and only left the house to go for long walks in open spaces, and filled the rest of each day with learning games, drawing, talking together, playing, lots of cuddles, and togetherness as a family.

Eventually, the schools reopened, and in September, the big two started their new chapter at their new school. This left Pollyanna and me at home alone facing long daytimes, still with toddler groups closed. A few places I had heard about from friends only took bookings, and I guess because I wasn’t used to being pinned down and kind of forced to attend, booking felt too official for this mummy and daughter duo who just liked to wake up and go where we felt like going.

Anyway, when Pollyanna’s little friend and her mummy invited us to go, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get us both back into the swing.

Sunshine Wood greeted us with such warmth and friendliness, whilst still making sure the rules they had implemented were followed and understood. The facility itself was so clean and well set out and having a number limit really allowed those parents that were there to have a really quality experience with their child.

Pollyanna explored most areas at least once. Though she was particularly drawn to the excavators and rocks in the sand pit. She relaxed for ages there and found it really therapeutic to explore with the sand. In the hour and a quarter we (Mummy, Daddy and Pollyanna) spent at Sunshine Wood, watched our little girl come out of her lockdown shell and remember the fun she used to have with children her own age. She was a vet, a farmer, a shop keeper, and a builder. In those precious moments and she sparkled her way through every role. She also loved the painting area and proudly clutched her numerous works of art when it was time to leave.

As a doting mummy, I take copious amounts of photos so I can look back on the memories. Today, at Sunshine Wood, my heart took a photo, and they are always the best kind.

The Story of Alex (Jemma Smedley)

On a special anniversary (16 February 2020) my friend Jemma Smedley posted the story of Alex on Facebook. I was so moved by her story that I was prompted to ask if I could share the story here. With Jemma’s permission and final approval, I’ve edited her words to tell the story as a guest post in Baby Loss Awareness Week.

13 years ago today at 5.30 am our beautiful boy Alex came into the world sleeping, a day when I really thought I was going with him, but let me rewind and tell you the story of Alex Smedley…

It was the day before Valentine’s Day 2007 and off me and Richard went for my 20 week scan at QMC, we were so excited to find out whether our baby was pink or blue. We left Leah and William with my mum and promised to bring a present back from the baby, so first stop when we got to QMC was the shop a Barbie for Leah and a teddy for Will.

Then round to antenatal, booked in and sat waiting for my scan. You watch smiling couples walk out the scan rooms clutching scan photos, thinking that will be me in a minute. My name is called, yeyyyyyy our turn! I lie on the bed, cold jelly on my tummy holding Richard’s hand excited to see our baby, chatting to the lady doing the scan.

I can see the screen, then after a few seconds…silence and the screen is turned away…sorry I just need to get someone else. OK Jemma take a breath, this isn’t happening – I knew what was coming!

I’m silent, yet in my head I’m screaming. Another senior sonographer comes in, and they whisper while I stare at the ceiling in the dark and Rich squeezes my hand then the words, “we are so sorry we can’t find a heartbeat your baby has died at around 18 weeks.”

I ask them to check again, “there is nothing we are so sorry.” I see for myself, hands feet arms legs nose and face perfect outline of our baby, but no heartbeat. Gone, but still there inside my tummy, safe and warm. I cry, the tears won’t stop, I’m trying to wipe the jelly off my bump while I stand up. Now what do I do?

We were taken into a side room with pictures of lilies on the wall, and Miscarriage Association leaflets on the table with a box of tissues. This is the room no parent ever wants to enter, but here I am with Richard and a lovely woman. She’s talking asking me how I want to deliver my baby. What I think is, is she joking, not a chance they are taking him, I’m off home. I heard inducing labour with tablets or operation, at that I was out of the door, nope I’m keeping him, and I was sobbing and crying for Rich to take me home!

That’s where I went, home. I walked into the house and straight upstairs, I sat there numb. Leah and Will came up, I gave them their presents and told them that Alex sent them, but he had to go to heaven.

The hospital rang to say if I hadn’t started to lose Alex in 2 days I had to go back, that gave me 2 days with him. So, Valentine’s Day came, and Rich had twelve roses delivered from Harvey Nichols, they were stunning. I stood up to sort them, and blood was gushing everywhere. Shit, what had I done by coming home!!

An ambulance was called, and off I went to hospital. I was admitted onto the gynaecology ward to save me having to go to maternity with all the new mums and babies. By now it was late, the bleeding had stopped, and I was told get some rest, we will scan you in the morning…and they did. Great, back to antenatal to sit with all the pregnant women going for their scans!

I’m sat in my dressing gown hooked up to a drip in a wheelchair with blood shot eyes when just 2 days ago I was one of them, into the scan room I go.
Cold jelly, screen turned away, until I say no I want to see; and there again is my perfect beautiful boy. still safe in my tummy. I remember smiling just looking at his silhouette, and I asked for pictures of every angle, as I knew this was the last time I would see him.

Up on the ward I’m told that I’m booked in later for that day to have an operation. The anaesthetist came, forms were signed, I asked for the Chaplain, and I cry as she prays for Alex and tells me about the ceremony and cremation he will have at Wilford Hill. I felt better that he was going to have a Christian funeral, and we could go to the service of remembrance. The day dragged, I’m nil by mouth, waiting, waiting, waiting, then I’m told my operation will be tomorrow as they’d had an emergency. Fine, I get to keep him a bit longer. Richard visited me; we didn’t have much to say as we were both just numb. What do you say?

I lie awake watching the car park out of my window. I must have fallen asleep as it’s still dark outside. Suddenly, I’m woken by pain ripping across my stomach, I manage to get to the loo on the ward and OMG, blood everywhere again, I pull the red cord, alarms go off, I’m put in a wheel chair, and taken back to my bed. The contractions are coming thick and fast. I’m screaming in pain. At 5.30am I push Alex out, still in his amniotic sack, protected in his little bubble. The lovely young nurse carries him in her hands out of the curtain as I lie there, I feel a warm sensation by my feet, I look down and the bed is soaked in blood. I’m surrounded by doctors sticking drips in every vein possible, being told I need to go to theatre as the placenta is just bleeding out and it’s stuck.

The red button’s hit at the back of my bed, alarms sound. I’m dizzy, not quiet with it, and absolutely terrified, screaming for Richard. The porter comes with a bed, the nurse said no time to transfer me, I need to get to theatre now as they were waiting for me.

The porter runs with my bed, all I can see is the lights on the ceiling flashing by, the young nurse that took Alex is running by my side holding my hand, I feel the mask on my face and I’m gone…

…I wake up shivering in recovery, hooked up to fluids and blood. I’m soon back on the ward. I’m now known as the lady that lost her baby. The other patients were lovely, one even ringing her sister to bring me a cake in at visiting time and asking to see my scans.

The doctor that looked after me came to see me and hugged me. He told me I was as white as a ghost, but at one point he thought I was going to be a ghost! Two days later, I went home. I had Alex’s remembrance service at the hospital to go to, losing Alex broke me in more ways than I can say. When I lost the twins, we didn’t have any other children. People understood that we were childless, so we got support then. With Alex, it was “Oh, at least you have Leah and William.” The support wasn’t there. I do remember Richard’s dad buying me three boxes of chocolates. though he said nothing. But he didn’t need, to it was his way of saying sorry.

Today, I tell our story. We remember you; we miss you, but most of all we love you. Happy 13th birthday, my beautiful boy.

Sadness is not competitive

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I saw these wise words by Rev. Kate Bottley on Twitter today, and wanted to highlight them here:

Sadness is not competitive. Just because there are ‘others worse off’ doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel down. You don’t need to look on the bright side or be glass half full. It’s OK to want to throw the glass against the wall. You go right ahead and feel what you feel. Your feelings are real and valid. It’s OK.

Maintaining Mental Health

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Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Looking after our mental health is always important, but especially so during the lockdown associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As this BBC web page says: Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.

How has the lockdown affected your mental health? I asked this question on Facebook and the following are some of the responses I received. They have been sensitively edited and permission for sharing given.

Karen: I’ve been struggling big time with not being able to talk to people properly and my depression has hit an all-time low, but I feel it’s not fair to speak to my doctor about it because they’re so busy with everything else. We have a houseful, so it’s not caused by loneliness, simply not having breathing space and time to think. I’m finding I sometimes just have to walk around the garden alone and talk myself out of the way. I feel we’re all grieving as well as my nana died recently, so keeping busy is my only way of getting through it apart from my 10 minutes out time. Not sure how helpful this is, but helps to share how I feel and not feel like a failure as a person and mother.

Joy: For a couple of weeks leading up to lockdown I was really anxious about going into lockdown. I stood and cried in the chemist queue. I knew I was getting very low and feared what lockdown would do to my mental health. To be honest I envied two people I knew who had passed away before this. I was becoming forgetful, forgetting things like bringing the washing down in the morning which i do I every morning, and forgetting to take my daily medication which included anti-depressants which also didn’t help my mental health! Once I realised this was an issue I gave hubby permission to remind me every morning. First week of lockdown I woke up feeling quite panicky, but got better as the day went on. I’ve had to learn not to put myself under pressure to achieve anything great. Getting through the day is in itself and achievement. I always use my one allowed walk each day. Three weeks into lockdown and I’m doing better than I thought I would. I can now get my head round cooking proper meals, but still can’t keep on top of housework. Initially, I was more anxious about lockdown, now I’m probably more anxious about the virus. Sorry it’s a long one but it’s done me good to share.

Paula: I’ve found it hard, but have found incorporating daily exercise and limiting the wine has helped! I’m still working, and so is my husband, so that has helped keep some sense of normality!

David: I’ve not struggled as much as some, partly because I’ve been working from home for three years now. I have my own business, so actually having work to do every day has filled my day. So, in a sense, I didn’t expect to struggle, but there have been a few for me, just the unsettledness of the situation has had an effect on my concentration levels. I’ve been used to my daughter being out at school every day and my wife in and out all the time. Now there are three of us rattling around this modest 3-bed semi, it’s really strange and has taken some adjustment for me.

Kate: I’ve been up and down through this so far. Trying to keep busy, but there’s only so much to do. It’s the isolation that’s the hardest. I’ve been exercising a lot, which helps, and playing lots of music. And also allowing myself to feel a bit rubbish, because it’s a rubbish time. It’s ok to struggle a bit, it’s really hard.

Kevin: It hasn’t really affected me, I’ve spent a lifetime social distancing anyway. I think though if you are suffering, it probably helps to keep busy. Writing a blog or an online diary documenting your feelings and day-to-day experience is a good idea. Something you can share that might help others, who in turn can help you. There’s always cooking, gardening and a myriad other hobbies that needn’t cost a lot.

Kerrie: I’m an introvert and enjoy time at home anyway. I’m never bored and could often go a weekend without speaking to or seeing anyone, but having a two and a half-year-old on my own, and as a key worker also trying to work from home I’ve found it very hard. I don’t have time to do all of the things I can see others doing, such as reading and other hobbies. My mum can’t come and help at all as she’s on the vulnerable list. Getting shopping is difficult. I don’t drive and I’m a single parent now, my daughter also has a heart condition, so don’t want to risk taking her into shops so I rely on friends to get what I need and just muddle through. I feel huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my daughter and also huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my work. I’m a Domestic Abuse Practitioner and I know this is increasing at this time, but there’s little I can do with no childcare and a toddler on my own. My mum doesn’t have any facility to video call and we both don’t drive so are cut off. But I think of Anne Frank, Terry Waite and others who had to endure far worse and know we have to keep on keeping on.

Heather: For me physical exercise truly helps. As a nurse I encourage grounding techniques, there are many suggested. I also recommend: Headspace. Helpful techniques.

Finally, Sarah helpfully suggested some advice being given out to students:

  1. Reach out before you freak out! Call a friend, a family member, pastor (teacher in our setting) or a hotline – it’s better to talk before it’s too overwhelming.
  2. Be gentle with yourself. If all you managed to do today in this pandemic was make it out of bed to go to the bathroom or grab a glass of water or something to eat, well done – your survival brain is working hard enough for you so take the time to rest.
  3. We are all in this together – no one has it all together right now no matter what Facebook or Instagram says, this is an unprecedented time we are all trying to figure it out.
  4. Stand outside and ground yourself for at least 5 minutes (15 is better). Feel the sun/wind on your face. Touch the plants. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the earth below you. This is a scientifically proven technique to assist mental health, grounding is vital.
  5. Finally, just know that you are not alone. Reach out before you Freak out!

Thank you everyone for your contributions, feel free to add any more thoughts in the comments. Be affirmed, John.

A Year of Us (Naomi Ager)

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Naomi and I have been considering the adverse effect the coronavirus pandemic lockdown can have on couples, especially those (like us) with young children. I posted something to this effect on Facebook today, not because we had fallen out, but because we both recognise that couples need to work harder on their relationships in times of crisis. This is her guest post. Thank you Naomi, I love you.

I saw this book on Amazon and, given the stress we find ourselves under as a family, but more so as a couple in these days of lockdown, I thought engagement in a couple’s journal together might work in some way to deepen our connection and allow us to explore each other and not lose sight of ‘us’.

There’s always something else you can learn about the person you love whether you’ve been together for a week or 60 years. By sitting together each evening to explore the 365 interesting questions laid out in this book, I feel it will give us a beautiful insight into our hopes and dreams, as well as our most desperate needs that perhaps are going by the wayside right now.

I’m personally finding it difficult to do something as simple as engaging in meaningful conversation when the children have gone to bed. But, having explored this book prior to us starting it together, I think it will give us the opportunity to bring up issues whether deep and heartfelt or more whimsical in nature.

In this period of lockdown, it’s more important than ever to maintain healthy discussions as a couple and to ensure important things are openly talked about. Things such as family finance and sex life (for example) and hopes for now and the future when we are eventually released back into the big wide world again.

It’s also important to talk about our hobbies and interests with each other, and in turn to encourage the person we share our lives with and love with the things that interest them. I want to take even more of an interest and have a better understanding of what interests John. So maybe I’ll read up on stars, planets, space and the universe or listen to one of his weird and wonderful music albums.

Making time to talk about our interests outside of homeschooling the children and general survival at this time, in my opinion, can only solidify the foundation of our relationship and improve life massively, especially whilst living under such pressure.

I plan to share a lot of the daily questions with my friends on Facebook, so they too can sit with their other half, turn off the television, put pen to paper and learn a little more about each other.

Digital Wellbeing (Sue Thomas)

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Our lives crossed when I lived in Leicester and we’ve been Facebook friends since. Sue Thomas has some important things to say about digital wellbeing and I’m pleased she agreed to write a guest post for me. Her book is excellent, click here for details.

I have spent the last 15 years researching the connections between nature and our digital lives, trying to find out whether it is possible to get a real connection with nature through technology. After speaking with and studying many important thinkers in the technology industry, environmental psychology, design, and urban planning, I felt certain that it is.

At times, my findings have been seen as controversial, but today in the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed. Now, digital wellbeing is becoming a lifeline for people stuck indoors for days and weeks on end. Some of the techniques I learnt about, such as watching nature on screens, following wild animal webcams, and listening to recorded birdsong, are being recommended by health experts. More and more researchers now know that such activities reduce stress and anxiety. Even playing a video game with natural landscapes can promote mental wellbeing!

So here are a few tips to help you get the benefits of nature while you’re stuck indoors during the epidemic.

  1. First things first – what can you see from your windows? If nothing much, consider moving the furniture around. A good view of greenery, trees, or even just more sky, can slow your heart rate and help you relax.
  2. When you’re browsing through Instagram, don’t swipe too fast. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. Imagine the texture of those leaves and petals. Recall the scent of that bluebell wood. Remember running your fingers along the bark of that oak tree? The sensuous outdoors is right there in your phone.
  3. Choose a new wallpaper for your phone or computer screen. Research has shown that pictures of dense groups of leafy trees are very calming, so why not search for a jungle or forest? Then make sure you set time aside on a regular basis to just be with that image and sink into it, perhaps even meditate for a short while.
  4. Do you usually ignore your houseplants? Now you have the time to give them some love and be rewarded with a relaxing biophilic experience. Gently clean their leaves with cotton wool and warm water, make sure the pot is moist and they have the light level they need. Chat to them if you like. There are benefits for both of you.
  5. Search for recordings of birdsong. They are everywhere online but the BBC is a good place to start. If you can listen with headphones that’s even better. Just allow your senses to fill with the memories of all the times in the past when you have wandered through a wood, sat in the park or just been out in the garden, yet never paid proper attention to the birds. Now you have the time to do just that. Enjoy!

Other Information: Sue Thomas is the author of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age, available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. Visit her Facebook Page. She’s also on Twitter: @suethomas and Instagram: Digital_Wellbeing.

Sue also blogs here: https://suethomasnet.wordpress.com

See also: Recognising Birdsong

Don’t give up (Helen Austin)

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My online friend Helen Austin (who has previously contributed a guest post) wrote this three years ago. I share it here (with permission). Artwork by another online friend Adam Howie, a piece he chose especially for Helen’s words.

Don’t give up on people.
People are complicated.
Complex.
Don’t give up on them.

We are complicated and complex.
Don’t give up on us.

We are all broken.
Broken people.
But there is hope.
Life doesn’t have to stay broken.
It can heal.
Move forwards.
Be different.

It will never be the same again. As it was before we broke.
But it can be beautiful again.
It really can.
Beautiful in its brokenness.

Don’t give up. On people. On us.
On you.
Don’t give up on yourself.
You belong here.
You are loved.
You are being thought of right now.

Don’t give up.

This is me (Helen Austin)

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I’m pleased to share this guest post by my online friend Helen Austin. It’s a deeply personal story with an important message. This is my edited version (with permission and approval) of her original post that you can find by clicking here.

The iconic song This Is Me from the film The Greatest Showman performed by Keala Settle has partly inspired this post.

‘I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are’

My life changed forever 11 years ago, late afternoon, walking past a building site I had walked past SO many times before. It took me on a journey I had no idea about. The journey of being a victim. A rape victim.

I had no idea what to do, how to be, how to move forwards.
I just put one step forwards at a time and somehow managed it.

Looking back there are things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had told people, my friends, especially those in London who had no idea and no idea why I suddenly moved after deciding to settle there. I wish I had told my Mum instead of feeling this fierce sense of protection for her, and not wanting to expose her to my mess. I wish I had found other ways to cope without drinking and self-harming, and trying to die a few times. I wish what had happened hadn’t happened.

But it did, and despite now wishing I had done things differently, I have found peace with the fact that I did the very best I could at the time to survive. In 11 years I’ve learned and I’ve changed, I’ve changed from being a victim to being a survivor.

For years the darkness was present and often overwhelmed, as did the thoughts, the ones in my head that told me I needed to hide, to hide who I was and my feelings, because no one wanted to know or cared, or wanted me, this person in ‘broken parts’.

I spent years being ashamed of both my physical and mental scars. Yet, somehow deep in my soul was this ability to not be totally grounded down to dust.

‘But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious.’

I was fragmented, with lots and lots of different fragments (hence the name of the anonymous blog I wrote for many years), but I wasn’t dust, and I started to find my ‘place’. A place to be and belong, not as an anonymous person hiding behind my stories.

As me, Helen, the survivor.
As me, Helen.
I am bruised, for sure but I am also who I am meant to be.

I’ve learnt to laugh again, and love again, and find joy in life again. I’ve learnt to let people in, to accept support, to accept I am who I am, and that is who I was and am meant to be, shaped by my experiences but not beholden to them.

This last year, in particular, I have learned to embrace being a rape survivor as part of my story. It isn’t all of who I am, but it is a part of who I am and that cannot be changed. My rapist (and his friend who was there) didn’t beat me, they have not silenced me.

‘I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.’

On social media I’m passionate about talking about sexual violence and violence against women. As part of that I sometimes share my story. I know some people think I’m mad and some people wonder ‘Why’ I put myself out there in that way…

Well…

I do it because I am not afraid any more.
I’m also not afraid (and never have been) of what people think of me.
I genuinely don’t care if people don’t want to read what I have to say, as they don’t have to, although I hope they do!

People with voices and the ability to speak out need to be seen and heard. It’s 2018 and despite the successes (?) of online media campaigns such as ‘Me Too’, society still needs to see and hear survivors of sexual violence.

It’s 2018 and stigma still exists. Prosecutions and convictions are abysmally low and victims/survivors are failed every day across the country by local services and police.

So (if we are able) we have to speak out, challenge and bring about change.

I do this so other people know they are not alone. Being a victim of rape, or any sexual violence can leave you feeling incredibly alone and isolated and I spend a lot of time in contact with other survivors who find life hard, supporting them as a friend, and as someone who understands.

So I hope by beating the drum loudly if just one person knows they are not alone, and that someone out there cares, then it is worth it.

I’m thankful for the women who went ahead before me, beating their drums, mentioning, in particular, the rather amazing Jill Saward who was a forefront campaigner on this stuff, and a close friend, who personally taught me so much. We miss you Jill.

So, here are, 2018 and its 11 years on for me…

I am happy (apart from when the health stuff gets bad). I love life and living. I’m loud, bubbly, outspoken, fiery at times, passionate about Jesus; and loving people. I’m not where I ever thought I would be BUT I am where I am meant to be, and it’s a huge privilege to be able to use my experience to support others.

I am Helen, and 11 years later this is me.

Note: See also here.

Speaking Generally

1Wbooth

I’m grateful to my friend Stephen Poxon (author and writer) for contributing this guest post about William Booth. You can find his books here.

William Booth: Founder of The Salvation Army, Christian evangelist, reformer, friend of royalty, champion of the marginalised, wit, entrepreneur, and master of the soundbite.

So far, so good, but we must remember that Booth was preaching his message and espousing his spiritual and moral philosophy before any of the advantages of modern communications technology could be exploited. His was an era of voice projection and oratory that went largely unaided except by, maybe, primitive devices for amplification.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that so many of William Booth’s quotations have survived into the present age. Granted, many were recorded by stenographers and biographers, but General Booth’s feat is still special, especially as much of his (prophetic?) wisdom retains a fresh touch.

Such as, for example, his utterance that there might come a time when the fires of scorching faith that burned within his bones would somehow become

“Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell”.

Forgive the pun, but this is hot stuff; not for the faint-hearted (but then, faint-heartedness was a concept Booth never understood).

Was the old man right, though?

Take a look around. See for yourself a market-place swarming with pseudo-Christian philosophies (touchy-feely-feel-good mantras of consolation paraded in the name of some churches) and you might concede, he made a reasonable point! Denominations, I mean, that sometimes appear not to know their convictions from their desperate strivings to be ultra-relevant, and which, consequently (inevitably) dilute their ancient mandate to the point of it being nothing in particular and of little use to anyone.

And as for the penultimate utterance in Booth’s list of concerns, who can forget Alastair Campbell’s famous interruption of Tony Blair, reminding the then Prime Minister that “We don’t do God”?

How about this absolute corker:

“Don’t instil, or allow anybody else to instil into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

He wasn’t holding back, was he! Anyone voicing such opinions nowadays would be faced with any number of charges before they could say political correctness. Yet, allowing the dust to settle, we might just find ourselves agreeing with the outspoken warrior, albeit only grudgingly, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Is it even possible we might only, eventually, accuse him of speaking downright common sense?

Try this one: “The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

Notwithstanding the gender bias of the statement, how much does a contemporary age rail against notions of surrender, obedience, deference or conformity; in civil and legal matters, relationships, education, religion, societal structures, international political diplomacy, and the workplace (and so on)? Are we, can we honestly claim, the better for such prevailing tendencies and the tacit approval of creeping anarchy in the name of entitlement?

Read. Ponder. Agree. Disagree.