Daily Archives: October 30, 2016

Papyrus Speaks Louder Than UNESCO | commentary


Thick Skinned & Battle Ready

I want to unzip this thin skinned costume, take my skeletal self and step into a thick skinned, battle ready version of me. Historically the onset of fall brings on deep depression, psychosis and hospitalization. I can’t forget in 2014 I had the most intense manic episode followed by a suicide attempt. I spent Thanksgiving in the psych ward. I woke today with a heavy body. Tears hanging on my eyelashes before I was even awake. I don’t think I slept a wink. I agonized over everything and nothing. All. Night. Long.
In May, one of my two cats (they are sisters) died suddenly. She was my pal. My darling furry friend who often laid on top of me while I cried in bed. I could just look at her and she came a running to spring in my lap. She had a love of boxes. She would sit on top of them, crawl into them, somehow jam her pudgy body into every crook of cardboard. We always seemed to have a new box for Sage. She even liked old ones. Whenever I took out the recycling, and brought back in the “clean” empty box she would make a beeline. So, when she slinked into the dirty box half full of recyclables I knew something was wrong. I knew this was it. I couldn’t get her into the vet fast enough.
I tell this story because I am seeing signs in my other, remaining kitty. She has always been a little more aloof. You have to coax her to come to you. We named her Beyoncé because she seemed to dance around you. Things are very much on her terms. But, she has become my pal. I’m hard pressed to get her to sit on my lap, much less lay with me. She is who she is. So, I’m hyper aware of bizarre behavior now. I watch the way she walks, sits, responds, eats, drinks. I’m nervous.
Last night as I tried to sleep and heard her fussing, I had visions of Sage without breath alone in her box. Sadness filled my being. I got up and tried to comfort Beyoncé, she relaxed and settled a little. Back in my bed, I laid in darkness and listened to make sure my last furry friend was breathing. Morning came and we couldn’t find her in our 1200 sq foot house. She wasn’t coming to the sound of my voice. Finally I shook her bag of food and out from behind the washing machine she appeared. Bizarre behavior noted.
I feel paralyzed. Should I take her to the vet and hear the words I am afraid to hear? Spend money I don’t really have. Should I just anticipate, given her sister’s passing, Beyoncé may soon leave us. She is resting on my lap as I write this. I’m gently petting her, reminding her I love her. I just hope she knows she’s loved!
On the cusp of November, rain is falling hard on this Sunday morning. Its dark and dreary. As is my mood. I don’t feel battle ready. I feel fragile. Vulnerable. When I have the energy I’m going to seek my thick skinned replica.

Beating Bad Thoughts

I saw a meme today. It said:

“Just do what you can today, okay? It will be enough.”

Instantly my brain said, “No, it won’t.”

My brain, uncooperative at all but the very best times, has a habit of telling me bad things when I’m in a depressive episode: “You’re useless.” “You’re pathetic.” “Everything you do fails.”

For some reason, positive thinking memes and slogans bring out the worst in my brain. If a pass-along or a bumper sticker tells me that tomorrow will be brighter, my brain says, “No, it won’t.” If a meme says, ” I hope the situation you worry about favors you in the end,” it says, “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”

Is my brain simply cranky and uncooperative? Well, yes. But these intrusive thoughts reinforce and deepen my depression, chip away at what self-esteem I still have, deny my progress in healing, and make me resent the whole happy, smiley world that apparently everyone but me can see.

Is there anything I can do to make my brain shut up, or at least pipe down with all the negativity?

I’ll tell you what doesn’t work for me: daily affirmations. My brain tells me these are lies and that I shouldn’t believe them. I can’t look into a mirror and repeat five times, “I am a good, worthwhile person” or “I deserve happiness” or “I will overcome my problems.” It’s like the problem of seeing cheery, encouraging memes on the internet, only having to inflict them on myself. If anything, they make me feel worse.

If these sorts of things work for you, fine. I’ve no objection. I won’t make fun of you. I’m truly glad you’ve found something that helps you.

They just don’t work for me.

So what can I do?

I have gleaned two helpful hints from my psychotherapist. Both are visualizations, and both are metaphors. And both involve animals. (They are variations on a technique called “thought stopping,” which is simpler and more direct. But I find visualizations easier to remember and do. I love metaphors.)

The first comes from a mindfulness meditation that Dr. B. asked me to try. I’m not much good at meditation, because of both my intrusive thoughts and my anxiety. Sitting still for that long is difficult, and so is emptying my mind of thoughts to concentrate on my breathing, for example.

The narration that guided the meditation had a solution for this. When your mind wanders and your thoughts drift off to somewhere else, think of them as puppies that wander away when you’re trying to teach them something. Gently corral them and nudge them back in the right direction. You don’t have to panic and shout, “There they go!” and run off after them. You just give them a little push toward where you want them to go. If they wander again, do the same thing. “What about the mortgage payment? Come back, little puppy. Over here.”

The other technique is for the kind of bad thoughts that I often get: anti-affirmations or negatives that deny any suggestion of peace or happiness or accomplishment. For these, Dr. B passed along an idea that another client had given her. Imagine that your bad thoughts are naughty cats, who jump on the kitchen table or try to go fishing in your aquarium. Then imagine spraying the bad thought (cat) with a bottle of water to make it stop what it’s doing and scram. “I never do anything right. Psssst! Psssst!”

When I’m profoundly depressed, I doubt even these clever dodges will work, though I’m certainly going to try them. But when I’m just starting on the slide down, I predict they’ll be just the thing to trick my brain into submission.

Take that, brain! Psssst! Psssst!




Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: "thought stopping", bipolar disorder, coping mechanisms, daily affirmations, depression, intrusive thoughts, meditation, mental health, mental illness, mindfulness, my experiences

James and the Saucer of Vengeful Doom

James? Is that you?

James? Is that you?

This is a story I read last October at a horror night at the Doncaster Brewery & Tap, which was held by author Craig Hallam. It helps if you like “The Princess Bride”, as well as Halloween.

Warning: Swearing; also, do not read while eating, or if you have a weak stomach.

For Colin, who said he liked it.

James and the Saucer of Vengeful Doom

James Harrington celebrated his last Halloween alone: eating the fun-size Smarties his ex-girlfriend bought for the trick-or-treaters, drinking beer, and watching “The Princess Bride”. His ex was disgusted by the sweetie eating, and contemptuous of his film choice.

“The Princess Bride’ isn’t a Halloween film, and all those sweeties and beer will make you fat,” Nikki managed to say before James rang off, leaving the question of whether or not there was an “er” at the word end of “fat”. By then, disgust and contempt were Nikki’s factory settings: the ones she reverted to whenever she was speaking to James.

That Halloween, when evening had not yet given the nod to night, he had happiness: crunchy, rainbow-coloured joy, with beery, carb-filled bliss, and Inigo Montoya on top.

A rainbow of light: a window display at Lord Hurst's, a fab Doncaster teashop

A rainbow of light: a window display at Lord Hurst’s, a fab Doncaster teashop

“’You murdered my father: prepare to die’!” James bellowed at the telly. There was only him, and the goldfish, to hear it, now Nikki was gone. That speech was his favourite, and the brave swordsman Inigo by far his favourite character.

In truth, he loved them all. Even the princess: who, although bossy, at least loved the hero. Unlike a certain, recent ex, James thought, as he took a final swig of “Town Fields” ale, and reached for another bottle of beer.

He wiped his mouth, and observed the smear of red, green and blue Smarties on his right hand, and wrist. Observed, but did nothing about it. Who was to know? The trick or treaters who weren’t likely to arrive at half nine at night, and whose treats he had eaten? Bob the goldfish? The film’s princess, who had other things on her mind?

Not another goldfish: art by Tom Brown, from "Koi Carpe Diem"

Not another goldfish: art by Tom Brown, from “Koi Carpe Diem”

James could do whatever he wanted, now: eat all the sweets, drink all the beer, sit around in his pants with the central heating up full blast. So what if Nikki said he was “damaging the environment”? He paid all the bills. Well, most of them.

He’d taken his shirt off awhile ago. Now, as he stood up to remove his jeans, and reveal his Spider-man pants in all their red and blue glory, he caught a foot in a leg of his trousers, and stumbled, knocking over his beer in the process.

“Tragedy!” James sang, not caring whether Abba and the film’s background music went together well. “Trag – Oh, – !”

James broke off the song, and swore, as realisation hit him like a sword blow from Inigo Montoya himself. The bottle of Hobgoblin which was spilling its liquid guts all over the hardwood floor was his last beer.

James swore for England, France, Scotland: all five of the rugby nations, plus some football teams, too. He couldn’t go for more beer: not at this hour, not in his Spidey pants. Nikki might not have been a lot of help with the bills – well, except for food, and heating, and lighting – but she did do most of the cooking, and all of the washing up, gardening, and laundry. Plus, the washer was hers, and it was gone: removed by her brothers several days before Nikki left. Perhaps, James thought, as he watched his last pair of clean trousers turn into a pub towel, he should have seen their break-up coming, after all.

Of course, James’s thought process was not actually that coherent. It was more like this: “Washer! Fuck! Beer! Offie? Asda? … pants! Pants, pants, pants!”

Then, oozing out of his mouth like drool, “Beer … sponge. Beer … saucer.”

Even when pissed, Nikki had certain. .. standards, she called them. James’s usual response was to blow a raspberry or three. Yet, he’d fallen, mostly, into line, and hadn’t had a single cold, and only one case of food poisoning, during their two year relationship.

“Saucer!” James yelped, as he tripped over his own, wet trousers.

This is not going to end well, the garden gnome thought, with a smile

This is not going to end well, the garden gnome thought, with a smile

For Nikki, the garden meant time alone with her thoughts, and the local sparrow, blackbird, and robin populations. For James, the small, grassy area behind their house was some place he visited twice a year: on summer Bank Holidays, when he poked meaty, smoky objects with a long fork, whilst holding a cold one in the other hand, and wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals. Hobbling out there with no shoes, and no clothing except for a pair of beer-soaked Spiderman pants, on a cold, dark night at the end of October, was a new experience. Some might even call it –

“A quest!” James slurred. “I’m goin onna quest!

He crashed into a bush. If Nikki had been there, she could have told him it was a hydrangea. To James, whose eyes couldn’t have differentiated between a dustbin, and a Dalek, that was no hydrangea, that was a Triffid: an exceptionally hungry, angry one.

“Bollocsh!”James screamed, whilst leaping into the air as a firework exploded into noisy colour, high over his neighbour’s garden, then landed in what one of the nurses at A & E later told him was a holly bush. A keen gardener, she recognised the leaves she and her colleagues removed from his pants.

He’d all but forgotten what he was after, why he was even outside. Then, he saw it.


He tipped the contents of the first saucer down his throat.

“Sausher!” James cried, as he guzzled the contents of the next, deeper one.

It was a bit lumpy. James put that down to a stray berry, or three. Yes, that was it: brambles, maybe a stone. No harm in a pebble, was there?

“Bit of roughash,” James said, as he felt his way round the damp garden. “Good for you … hair on chesh.” Unlike some of his mates, James thought waxing was for girls, and moustaches.

“Housh,” he murmured, as he began making his way back toward the path. “Warm housh.” The effects of crawling around on wet earth, and grass, in just his Spidie pants, was starting to dawn on James. He pulled over one gnome, two small, defunct lights, and several thorny branches in his way back to the path, earning a couple of bramble battle scars along the way, as well as a stain on his Spidie’s which looked, and smelt, suspiciously like a pooh from Scruffy, his neighbour’s cat.

You can call me what you like, it doesn't mean I'll show up.

Scruffy? Who you calling scruffy?

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” he muttered, as he pulled himself up to a Neanderthal version of a standing position, and felt the shock of cold cement on bare feet. No film character, however heroic, could have moved faster than James, as he sprinted into the kitchen.

Having pillaged a cupboard for a can of shandy, and a packet of peanuts, he collapsed on the sofa, where he surveyed his bramble-scratched legs, and arms, and the shit stain on his pants.

“No pain, no gain,” James said, as he pulled the ring on the shandy, and glugged it down. “Better than nothing,” he told the characters on the film.

They had reached James’s favourite part of the film: the scene where Inigo confronts his father’s killer.

“’You murdered my father, prepare to die!’,” James recited along with the actor, although in James’s case, it was said with half a packet of peanuts in his mouth.



Peanuts which went the wrong way, as James realised that a third person was saying Inigo’s lines.

“Wha – cough! – the – cough! cough,” James wheezed, as he clutched his throat with a grass and Smartie coloured hand,

“Prepare to die!” cried a tiny voice.

This time there was no mistake: the only sounds from the telly was dramatic music, and the clash of blades; from James himself, that of a bloke choking on salted peanuts.

There was someone else in the room: someone small, and very, very angry.

“Back – ackk! – door,” James managed to say.

“You murdered my father, prepare to die!” the little voice insisted.

Half-doubled over, James focused streaming eyes on something the size and shape of a small, glistening, beige-coloured turd.

“You’re a – acck! Wheeze! – slug!”

“And you’re a murderer!” it replied, fixing him with its stalked eyes.

“I’m an – acckk! – accountant!” James wheezed.

“You’re a murderer!”

“I’m a – hack! Splutter! – wimp! Ask – ack! – anyone! I tell people I don’t wax my chesh because it’s for girls, but it’s because it hurtsh! I’ve never killed anyone.”

A glint of silver flashed before James’s streaming, pain-filled eyes. Was that … a needle? Or a tooth-pick sized sword the slug held in his … okay, it wasn’t a hand .. tail?

James gulped, and swallowed, hard.

Acckkk!” James said. “Your father? I didn’t know slugs had – cough! – fathers.”

“Of course, we have fathers. I had a father, ’til you murdered him.”

James looked at the slimy thing which was standing – did slugs stand? James wondered – on the floor, lit by the flickering of the television screen. The small, sharp object glittered like the larger sword held by the now victorious Inigo, in the film.

“Murdered? I told you, I’m a wimp. I don’t kill slugs. You’re thinking of Nikki. She – “

James’s eyes, still wet from his chocking incident, widened. “That … in the beer. That was no pebble. That – “

“ – was my father,” the slug finished James’s sentence. “He was already dead, but …” the slug trailed off, and flourished his miniature sword, “I want his body.”

Had the circumstances been slightly different, James would’ve been proud of the volume, and depth of colour, which he spewed onto the carpet. As it was, he could only heave, as he watched the slug pick through the vomit with the point of his sword.

“Peanut … Smartie … pizza!” it said, as James gipped, and whimpered.

“See,” James said, “I didn’t kill your dad. I didn’t even swallow him.”

James wretched again.

The slug turned his stalk-eyes back onto the young man who cowered on the leather sofa.

“Oh, you swallowed him, all right,” the slug said. His stalks swivelled, one looking upwards, the other further down James’s body. “The question is … where to start?”

By the time he’d recovered enough to ring for an ambulance, the slug was gone. All James could tell the staff at A & E was that he didn’t know what the chap who made the small, precise cuts to his stomach did for a living, but he was reasonably certain he wasn’t a surgeon.

Slug eyes? Don't think so, but they sure look angry.

Slug eyes? Don’t think so, but they sure look angry.

If you enjoyed this story, please check out my short story collections, “What! No Pudding?” and “Koi Carpe Diem“. If you fancy a signed print copy of “Koi Carpe” with art by Tom Brown, please contact me. For something a bit more sinister, please check out my dark fantasy, “The Woodcutter’s Son“.

Tagged: Craig Hallam, Doncaster Brewery & Tap, fantasy, fiction, Floristry at Lord Hurst’s, Hallowe’en, horror, humour, Koi Carpe Diem, short story collection, speculative fiction, surrealism, The Princess Bride, The Woodcutter’s Son, Tom Brown, What! No Pudding?

My Anxiety’s So High, It’s Been Smoking Pot

Yesterday started out with a harried trip to get my kid to school because I was so cold, I literally could not force my butt out of bed til 7:35. By the time I got back…I bundled up and knew I’d likely fall asleep. (I’d been up til after 1 talking to a newcomer to chat, and it was awesome, hope it helped her as much as it helped me.) Alas, I was due at the shop to repay the texting chihuahua for some money I borrowed. (Oh, get this…For all his fussing ab0ut money and me owing him twenty bucks…He made a simple call to the  bank the other day, said he wanted to transfer money from X account to Y account…in the amount of TEN GRAND!…Yeah, my fucking heart bleeds for him.)

He said show up by ten. Meh, I woke up at ten and got there by 10:45. Lately he’s been playing fast and loose with shit while expecting me to jump thru hoops and I called him on his bullshit. Also took my tablet with so I could chat while bopping around for his demands. Kind of to make a point…ANNOYING WHEN SOMEONE IS HERE TO DO ONE THING AND YET SPENDS ALL THEIR TIME ON A DIGITAL DEVICE, AIN’T IT?

I survived,barely. But then I went to get Spook and he says, oh, do me one more favor…With spawn in tow, I had to brave Friday traffic on the main drag and go to Ace Hardware to 37 cents worth of screws and nuts. My kid, of course, was yapping (school halloween party sugared her up to demon proportion) and demanding I buy her this and that, and I’d been out of my safe zone almost 5 hours…I started to come unglued. When I begin to panic in the dish, it starts out as anger. Cursing. (Move your car, assclown, get off your phone, you cockweasel!) Then comes the breathing problem, the sweating, the mind spinning off its rails…GRRR. Hate when he pulls shit like that, asking at the last minute, knowing how much it stresses me out to drag her along with.

Bit of a respite at home then had to go pay car insurance. Of course, spawn was wound for sound, talk, talk, talk (good thing about no muffler, car drowns some of her noise out) and she wanted every item she saw and it…was just stressful. Overwhelming.

Today started out lethargic. No get up and go cos I gave so many sporks yesterday. But wait, there;s more! A big cookout at the family’s to celebrate my nephew’s correspondence school high school graduation. 30 people, only 7 of whom I am related to. My brother was having one of his bipolar pouting angry moods. My kid was fed sugar out the ears in spite of me saying enough. At least mom didn’t go for the throat, for a change. (Her brother survived his surgery and got to go home, so she’s feeling better about that.)

I survived three and a half hours there. The worst part (other than my dad yapping about the auction they’d gone to and had car parts and this old car went for X amount of money and blah blah) was cake time. My sis got an ice cream cake, forgot to thaw it a half hour ahead of time, so it was solid as a brick, took three people to get it sliced up. All of us crammed in this small kitchen, my kid sitting on my lap, while I was sweating bullets and trying to paste on the smile and do the civilized banter thing.

Leaving and coming home to my hovel has never been sweeter.

Except then Spook started yammer again, not pausing for a breath, and trying to manipulate me any time I wouldn’t kowtow to her demands and I am just like…ENOUGH NOISE!

So, yeah, my anxiety is high and it’s been smoking the good shit.

The weather changed again, suddenly got warm and sunny, I wore a tank top today and turned on a fan. Yes, after spending a day or two mummified in my Mermaid blanket with chattering teeth. FFS, weather, make up your bloody mind! I can’t get any equilibrium here.

I am supposed to take Spook to a trunk or treat thing some church is having tomorrow afternoon since I  bribed to get out of her school function (parenting academy, nope) so I am going to have to face more dish time, plus trick or treating Monday night. And she wants to be a zombie but won’t let me dirty up her hair and clothes to make it authentic and it’s like Z Up, damn it, there are no posh zombies!

Tuesday she has a dentist appointment 30 miles out of town.

Maybe by Wednesday I can breathe?

Just a reminder to everyone…If you haven’t checked out the Freshly Depressed chat room, come on by. I’ll send an invite to anyone who asks. Sometimes the mood is light hearted, sometime *s not. You can always steer the conversation to whatever you want to talk about. IMP  

(aka Bex) and I are there 3/4 of the time. (Check out that link to her blog if you want to get to know her better.)

And that’s all she wrote, folks.

P.S. Whoever is selling all this pot to my anxiety disorder…Stop it,already!

Happy Halloween