When a door is not a door


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How do we know when a door is just a door?

Chilled to the bone and suddenly aware that we are alone in the house and the clocks have all stopped their companionable tick, we turn and look up into panels of amused fury.

It stands, squat and important, holding back the unknown nothing and looking sternly into our upturned face.

It hovers in a malevolent hum of hinges, waiting for a touch to set it free.

It lurks insolently as you play a roulette chance and reach for the chilled handle.

With chiming teeth, you open the maw.

You try not to notice the movement beneath your feet and behind your eyes.

When depression and anxiety hit, every door becomes a potential trapdoor to an unknown emotion.

The choice of whether to go through a door is a rictus decision.

The possibilities are profound, unfathomable and heartbreaking.

Everything becomes nothing, becomes a moment, becomes the ticking of the reawakened clocks.


Bubbles in time, death and the process

The Time Puddle

It’s been nearly nine years since dad died. The anniversary is almost here again.

And I’m still trapped inside the bubble that formed around me when it happened. When I heard my Uncle’s voice on the phone.

This is time travel.

Outside the bubble, life has wound on through the years. I’ve changed, the world has changed.

Inside, I’m stuck with an unending wail – a token of disbelief for the ferryman to explain what strange joke we live in if it’s possible to suddenly go out. Like a star winking from the sky. A mountain suddenly disappearing from the Earth. An entire person vanishing from the world.

When it happened I began to grieve, only for my family to tell me to stop. I was too sad, too withdrawn. They didn’t like it.

This was like being ripped from surgery without finishing. Just sew it up, make it look…

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Bubbles in time, death and the process


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It’s been nearly nine years since dad died. The anniversary is almost here again. 

And I’m still trapped inside the bubble that formed around me when it happened. When I heard my Uncle’s voice on the phone. 

This is time travel. 

Outside the bubble, life has wound on through the years. I’ve changed, the world has changed. 

Inside, I’m stuck with an unending wail – a token of disbelief for the ferryman to explain what strange joke we live in if it’s possible to suddenly go out. Like a star winking from the sky. A mountain suddenly disappearing from the Earth. An entire person vanishing from the world. 

When it happened I began to grieve, only for my family to tell me to stop. I was too sad, too withdrawn. They didn’t like it. 

This was like being ripped from surgery without finishing. Just sew it up, make it look ok on the outside. You’ve had long enough. 

And inside, the blood still oozes, the incomplete stitches unable to hold. 

I remember at the funeral, I was shocked at the sight of the coffin being sucked behind the curtains. It seemed to represent the relationship I had never had with him, the lost closeness, the never-had of the father who had his own problems in an uneasy life. 

I wanted to sit there a moment and try to say goodbye. But I was sucked away in the vacuum of the public how-it-looks, again by my well-meaning family for whom paralysis is verboten. Keep moving, keep struggling, don’t think, just run run run. You have to come on, they said. We have to clear the room. There’s another one in a minute. 

Another one? 

More revelations – finally face to face with foggy truths that I should have experienced when I was young. Milestones of development that we can better absorb when we are small and our brain is still developing. 

When I was a little girl, I pulled away from those learning moments. Ran away. Screamed away into an abyss of lost memories by a brain that could not face anything. A brain that learned to turn away. 

And my family encouraged this. It was better not to feel, not to dwell. Not to wallow. 

Years later in an AA meeting, I became incensed at the message I was yet again hearing. This time it was couched in the no nonsense terms of that tough crowd – don’t feel sorry for yourself. While I recognised the wisdom in not turning a self-involved, unproductive pity light inward to the detriment of getting on with your life; I also saw the reality of the message and its demand. The demand to deny that you are broken, lost and alone and that you are wretched and that you feel

Feeling hurts. So much better to turn away and marshall our armies, our stiff upper lip. 

But if we don’t process our feelings then the surgery is never completed and we are never fully whole again. 

And oh dear, there’s another one waiting. 

Caked mascara and buyer’s remorse


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I’ve always found that the longer it takes for me to get something, the less I want it.

When I was younger, if it took more than ten minutes to get ready I would end up exhausted and listless. I would sit in my finery, my mascara caking and perfume stinking in a house that seemed too quiet, too laden with expectation and assumption. My stomach leaden, the idea of going out seemed reckless, my destination perilous with its people and sound. Suddenly the silence of my shadow would close around me like an ice blanket, lulling me hypothermically into dazed contemplation of a spot on the wall.

I would shake myself out of it and either reluctantly trudge to my fate, or make an excuse and stay in – peeling off my “out” clothes like you’d disarm an enemy, carefully and in pieces. Pyjamas pulled me back into the world.

I would write this off as the reaction of an introvert were it not for other examples of Wait Fatigue.

From waiting for a visitor, to waiting for a package – I can’t hold the idea in my heart for long enough. It wilts and then scurries to hide. My regard can be cruel, but my indifference can be truly brutal.

I am buying a house and the process is becoming interminable. I am four months past the original excitement, and have visited the house three times.

I am trying to hold on to the feeling of hope and change that carried me through the initial decision, but I am becoming sludgy and still – eyeing the journey from here to there with suspicion and a little regret.

Muttley has shown signs of a similar loss of motivation if things get too difficult and he loses sight of his prize. However, prolonged visibility of a small piece of chicken perks him up no end and he then shows alarming persistence. I am trying to be more like him and have begun bounding to my letter box at the first sight of my mail, virtually slathering over the envelopes as I check for word from my conveyancing solicitor.

Last night I had a nightmare. Like one of those fixed camera night vision horror stories, my new house was full of demons and malevolence. It was rundown and squalid, and as I struggled to feel at home and make it mine, things started to move and turn toward me. The house itself advanced on me. It didn’t want me, and yet it needed me. I tried to explain to my family but they suggested paint and carpet. In the meantime I was trapped in a sinister house full of creaks and snaking cables.

In the dream, I ran screaming and rented the house out while I pursued a successful and thrilling career in marine planning. But that’s beside the point….

I’m trying not to taint my image of my new house with the fear I felt in the dream, but I can feel that sludgy malaise dripping into me.

I have to move – but will it be a hopeful, exciting step into a shining future? Or a reluctant trudge toward remorse and ice cold paralysis?

Floating in the notes


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The day the music died was the day that I lost my father.

This was actually a day long before the phone call, the aneurysm, the shocking revelation that life was a staccato dance full of overlap and overtaking.

It happened when I was a little girl. I didn’t make a decision to walk away, it was like a reflex – an involuntary reaction which shot me through the years like a sneeze. By the time I had realised what I had done, it was too late. His flawed, vulnerable, dreaming hands were out of reach.

On the day he died, I felt a void open up somewhere else in the world. A gap in time that tugged at me. It wasn’t a man who had died, or a father: it was a concept that had previously tied me to the earth.

Now I was untethered and in full knowing of the secret truths that I had been protected from by my youth and luck. The truth that things pass.

My father loved music. He played the guitar and listened to a huge variety of bands and musicians. I have spent most of my adult life with musicians (poor choices for my bed for the most part) and entertained them as a kind of penance. I have never enjoyed listening to music, finding the sound mechanical and business-like. It made me good at providing a critical ear, but it never allowed me to access the joy that my father had heard. It just made me sad.

I hung around the notes in the hope that I would feel closer to him, but of course that kind of magical thinking just bends back into you like a broken promise.

I didn’t even realise all this until he died and I inherited his music collection.

I have dug into it with the zeal of a desert-broken thirst. The tunes and voices of my childhood that were previously separated from me by tall walls of dust and cotton fog were suddenly playing in front of my hands. My fingers shook as I touched these cobwebbed tunes and finally heard what my father had loved.

And I loved it too.

I haven’t kept everything – I chose what I liked. I revelled in being able to do that without interference or pushy opinion. No one could tell me what I should like to hear – it was a journey that was mine alone… mine and Dad’s. My iTunes collection is uniquely mine and transports me daily to a world where I am queen, warrior, loved, happy, sad, valued, free.

Music is no longer the trigger of painful memories, forced into jarring boredom by my desperate and shocked little girl’s mind.

Now each song is a safe space in which to travel. To the past or the future, or the infinite present. I can float in the notes, knowing the song will end. And another will begin.

Graceless in motion


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For a dog, the daily walk is about catching up on the news. Each sniff is a paragraph in the daily update: who’s in town, what they’re eating, who’s poorly, who’s feeling frisky.

How much Muttley gets to absorb is entirely dependent on my mood. Sometimes I let him browse an entire Sunday supplement when I stand patiently, looking up at the sunrise. Other times I give him the Metro tour – concise summaries outlining the main points.

Unfortunately there are also those times where I drag him along at a frog march, barely letting him sniff the headlines.

These times remind me of being a young and impatient mother. The times I would fast forward through a bedtime story because I was tired or cross or bored. When I hectored her through her tea because I had somewhere to be. When I didn’t have the patience to listen to an explanation, and instead lost my temper.

It occurs to me that I had very little grace during that time.

As I watch my daughter continue to blossom into a well-adjusted, patient and deeply caring adult, I am amazed and so grateful that she rose above her genes and her childhood.

I have mellowed over the years, it’s true. But Muttley knows all too well that my grace is fragile sometimes.

Like those times when I lose my impatient temper and put him in the kitchen while I go and cool down.

Well, time to cool down is only part of the reason.

Sometimes I just can’t bear to see my graceless self reflected in his sad and loving eyes.

Living with pastry and revolving doors


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Sometimes life feels like a long dressing-gown cord trailing out behind me, catching in all the sharp and pokey lost places. Each tug reminds me of a treacherous mistake and causes pin-prick tears to form in my horizon-blind eyes.

Other times, it’s a revolving door – pushing me forward, always at my back but never letting me out. Round and round until the tedium makes me nauseous and familiar territory fades into worn contempt.

And then there are the days when it bites and roars, chasing me into a future I barely have time to identify. I stumble into each challenge and then on to the next. I layer the stress in my life like a fine pastry and then gorge on it until my bed becomes the next hurdle, no longer a source of peace or rest.

Always, it is a separate thing. Insurmountable. Non-negotiable. Immovable.

I am flotsam on its wild waves.

Believing in Dad


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I am a brave explorer, holding fast to pencilled maps,

Made in faith when I was still glistening.

(Daddy told me I could do anything, because I was his.)


Now hopeless time falls from me in angry tides;

My body changes more with passing skills;

And dusty guilt is smeared upon mistaken hands.

He never told me it would hurt so much to get this far!


When the people in the letterbox called him home,

He lay there unafraid at last,

Cold and un-mysterious.

Radio 4 played in the background

As they broke his door and felt his stagnant pulse.

And he never got to tell me how all alone it ends.


Now the hurt feels bitter hard and salty shine,

And my maps are inconsolable and dark,

But my feet are dream-tipped still in his believing stars.

(Dad told me I could do anything, because I was his.)

A wonderful and terrible halfway note


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The wonderful and terrible thing about dissociation is the effect it has on your memory.

On any given day, I am in battle with unwelcome scenes from my past. Even the most innocuous memory can morph into something that lives next door to a monster in my mind. Everything is connected.

So, I consciously try to forget as much as possible, and my mind happily goes along with the plan.

Sometimes I’ll stumble across a gap, a whistling smooth-sided chasm that blows up my skirts and makes skittering noises. Come in, it says. Investigate that strange smell. Here, into the corner; into the shadow; under the eaves. That’s where the really interesting stuff lives.

I shudder and skip past. In my wake, I deploy cerebellum-pixies to reinforce the defenses and put up signs: NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

I wipe the faces of the people I meet from an internal Etch-a-Sketch before they have fully left my sight. If I store their images in memory, I have a tendency to focus on them later. Their faces are dredged like bloated remains from inky wet depths. Every negative thought I had during our conversation, every regret or mis-spoken word returns to me and I have a moon-like face floating in front of me to cringe from as I re—live each conversation over and over.

Music is particularly evocative. I’ve learnt to allow myself to skip across a song, like a stone across a pond. If lyrics start to unearth scaly reptilian thoughts from a chapter in my life where I was small, then I pull a switch in my head and focus on the tune. I remember the video that accompanied the track or I make my own video in my head out of favourite film scenes in my huge Hollywood store.

I choose. I change. I control.

Photographs are tricky. I haven’t yet been able to find a way to look at photos without remembering what it had been like to live that moment. It’s a poor memory, a snapshot out of context sometimes, but I can smell the sea salt and feel the scratchy jumper. I feel the hope and I feel the pain from knowing I’m not being the person I could be.

Some photos are ok. I’ve been able to rescue a couple and put them on display in my house. When I look at them my brain only gets as far as the glass. When it tries to dig past that barrier and get to the meat of the image, to burrow into it and taste the metallic bite of it? I have two legs and I use them. I turn away.

Today I woke with a hollow feeling.

I looked at my dog and felt empty. His hopeful tail wag couldn’t raise a smile. I felt like all hope had been syphoned from me in the night, and part of me was angry at the mutt – he’s supposed to be protecting me from all that goes bump.

Inside, I was an empty warehouse in an overgrown lot. Only echoes moved within me, and in the bushes were rats of opportunity and unforgiveness.

I am under-medicated at the moment because I’m having trouble coping with my pills at the dose I need. After all these years my body is starting to rebel.

Last night I started a new regime. I am hopeful, I guess. But first there are the side effects, and then there is the wait. It is forever until I will be on a dose that does the deed. And in that forever moment of waiting, will I be able to push past the grasping, shouting memories? Will I be able to chase them away from the deadlier black spaces inside me?

Anyway. Back to this morning. I had to walk the dog. Even if the world was going to end at 2pm this afternoon, I had to take him to do his business, sniff for signs of cats, catalogue all the dog poo and wet patches and pull, pull, pull because around the corner might be a juicy steak, a tennis ball, or a pal to play with. Usually his optimism is endearing and infectious. But this morning I couldn’t see past the storm that was dragging my insides across rough and broken ground.

As we trudged along I found a note in the pocket of my coat. It was clearly my handwriting, but I couldn’t remember when I had written it. I’m in the habit of making notes on scraps of paper and I hadn’t worn the coat in quite a while.

This is what it says:

“Am I trying to create my moment? Or gently nudge away from the in-crowd, the popular majority who can live the lives I read about in my Enid Blyton books when I was young?

No. It’s just that I’m trying to do something difficult.

As usual. (That’s a negative pattern of thought – stop it!)

Today was about showing the universe some willing. I am meeting it halfway. Not just waiting at home for a call. I got into the car and made a pilgrimage. Not to any of the places I visited really, but to a part of myself that has decided not to give up.”

I don’t need to remember when it was written in order to respect the hope and faith of the writer. So. I have decided not to give up. I am meeting the universe halfway yet again.

I took Muttley to the fields and we looked for rabbits in the blissful Land of Now.

Through the Looking-dog


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I’m seeing myself through my dog’s eyes. Sometimes it is just a revelation of the importance of kindness and the unimportance of aesthetics. Sometimes it is profound.

Over the past few weeks I have had a couple of dissociative swings, which leave me hunched and still, silent and inexpressive. My mouth does not break upward for even the cutest face or funniest film.

Mutt has found it hard – much harder than I thought he might. I had lofty ideas that he would nuzzle up to me, tenderly leading me back toward the world. Instead he turned away from me and acted like a spurned child. Miffed and a little accusatory.

While I was stuck behind my darkened glass, watching the world on the other side, I watched my little Mutt.

The sight of his woebegotten slouch in mimicry of my own shot a pang of guilt into me. I realised that he was a Looking-dog, mirroring my horrible illness.

Each time I returned to myself, Muttable sensed the change and shook himself from tail to ears. 

He does this regularly. If he is stressed or tense, overly excited or worried, he throws off the mood like it was so many droplets of water. His tail starts wagging and he trots off in search of the next loving hand or exciting adventure.

I wondered whether one of these days he would just give up on me.

So, I vowed to look at things a little differently.

I wondered whether I could shake my mood off – or whether I could get through the Looking-dog to the other side.

Some of it is beyond my control. My face looks stuck and cold because my heart is frozen in a paroxysm of fear – fear about the world, its leaders, its germs and geology, my family, the air, the plants and trees. It is endless and I wish in those times that I could press a button and disappear into the void.

But I can still move my arms and legs. It’s harder than usual – everything feels like varying densities of treacle pushing against me – but I’m not entirely without motion.

No matter how small the spark, I believe that we always have a pilot light of free will within us. Sometimes when the world is darkest, that’s when we feel it: warm and fluttering and asking to be asked. Like a bouncing loving dog, it wants to love us and to lead us toward ourselves again.

The last time I felt the heavy waves drop around me – my depression following like a tide lapping gently at my skin and bones – I grabbed dog and lead.

We went for a walk. Then we went for another one.

I began to calibrate my mood through my reflection in Muttley. If I saw him looking worried, I gave him a cuddle and a game of tug. If he withdrew from me, I took him for a walk or played fetch in the garden.

I may not have been smiling or talking, but I was connecting. He was my early warning system, and my lighthouse home. And soon – sooner than normal – my face came back, my voice came back, I came back.

I wish I had learned this years ago.