Saturday, 27 November 2010

Hibernation Vs. Going Out

It's a bit cold. I am wearing two vests, a long sleeve t-shirt and two cardigans, furry slippers, jeans, and am almost lying on the radiator. Somehow the cold seems to be in my bones, and I'm very tempted to get into bed and stay under the duvet for the rest of the day.

I don't know how I would cope living in somewhere like Alaska. I just don't think I'm used to the cold, even though I should be a tough Northerner, to be honest I'm totally soft. I feel like hibernating until it gets a bit warmer.

As usual, there is so much I want to write about. Mostly personal. I want to write about how rubbish I am at anything remotely like love. Or how I wish I was less of a worrying kind of person. Or how I am so very far from understanding what my life is all about.

But, I will resist.

Instead, I will tell you what I've been doing to force myself to be a more sociable writer.

I went to Beatification, a Monday night poetry and beat film night organised by the infamous John G Hall. The highlight for me was seeing Tony Walsh read his massive brilliant clever funny sad amazing poem about Manchester. He said afterwards that he thought it didn't go down very well, and sent me a video of him going down a storm with the same poem. I think it is seriously one of the best poems I've ever heard.

Then Paradox, another Manchester poetry and music night. I'm not sure what my highlight was. It was a bit of a mixed bag to be honest, and perhaps not in the right order, and lots of chatting by drunk people while the poets were reading. I suppose that's the downside of mixing poetry with a music night on a Friday night, and keeping it going until 3am, although god, I didn't stay that late. I read two poems, my Dear Man with the Bicycle poem, and 'Out Dancing' a prose poem about my Burnley days, which is in the Flax Anthology This Road We're On. It is quite tough reading to a room filled with drunk people, so I just flung my voice out there, read loud and slow into the mic, and didn't worry how it was going down.

Then, I went to the launch of new Manchester publisher's Hidden Gem Press. A brilliant, very well attended launch, there were loads of people, not enough chairs for everyone who crowded into the Anthony Burgess Centre, and some great readings from Claire Massey, Zoe Lambert, and the main act Emma Unsworth. Emma read from her novel to be published in June by Hidden Gem, Hungry The Stars and Everything and it was a bit bloody tantalising, especially as we now have to wait until it's published to hear more...

It's been good getting out and hearing people read their writing, bumping into people I know, having a drink and a chatter. There are so many interesting events going on in Manchester, I love that I live in such a vibrant literary city.

I might even go out tonight to another event, if I can pull myself away from the radiator.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Mindfulness and Doing The Ironing

I'm slowly reading this book The Mindful Way Through Depression. I say slowly. I was first recommended this book by a friend who found it useful, secondly by my therapist, thirdly by my acupressure lady. It took me a long time to buy this book, and then it sat on my bookshelf for many months. I actually forgot I bought it, and finally I searched it out and asked myself why am I putting off reading this book?

Perhaps it's the subtitle: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. It sounded like a troublesome difficult read to me, not exactly bedtime reading. Also, I wondered am I chronically unhappy, what's the difference between plain unhappiness and chronic unhappiness?

Anyway, a hundred other questions later, and I'm reading the book. I'm three chapters in. It's actually fairly brilliant. It's written by four practitioners who have different experience working with people with depression. It draws on the Buddhist practice of 'mindfulness'.

I'm still in the early chapters, but there have been many recognitions, raw nerves perhaps, and yes moments. It's interesting. Their view is that the idea of 'fixing' depression or problem solving it or taking a 'doing approach' actually drags people deeper into depression.

So, I am trying to learn a 'being' approach, involving being mindful and aware. It's interesting and not a natural way to go about things for me as it involves being in the moment with the difficult experiences as well as the good ones. So, actually focusing on the sadness instead of making it go away. I can understand why, it's just a bit of a scary idea.

The first task in the book is to eat one raisin. In a mindful way. I know, it sounds a bit nuts...!

But it's an interesting way to demonstrate mindfulness. Putting the raisin in your hand and looking at it, properly, in a way perhaps you have never looked at a raisin, see it for the first time, see how it feels to the touch, bring it to your nose and smell it, be aware of how your body responds to the smell. Put it in your mouth slowly, don't chew yet, just be aware of how it feels in your mouth, then chew slowly deliberately, being aware of each bite and the tastes that come from the raisin, blah blah. The key is to be aware of the whole process to experience it, not just chuck a load of raisins in your mouth and chew, swallow without even realising what you're doing.

How many times have any of us eaten a meal, shovelling it into our face without even tasting the food, or really care what we're eating, just because we're hungry and we've got to eat? Especially lunch when I'm at work and haven't got time to eat and I grab anything, eat while driving or typing, worrying about all the things I've got to do, or what I've just done, or what I need to do next.

It's all about being, rather than doing. I've been trying it practice mindfulness while I was doing the ironing. I know!

I guess there is something about the smell of clean washing, the feel of the fabric as the iron runs over it, the steam, smoothing out all the creases. Yes?

I tried very hard, but found my mind wandering here there and everywhere. Wondering about a problem I have, trying to work out how it might get better, worrying it might be about me, then thinking about other worries, whether things will get easier, or harder, what I might need to do, thinking about next weekend, a weekend three weeks ago...etc etc. Ha!

It demonstrated why I might need to be more mindful... to focus on the moment, experiencing it instead of thinking and worrying my way through life. I don't suppose it's rocket science, but ahem, it's not something I'm very good at.

The next chapter is about breathing! I'm hoping I might have some skills already in this area.

PS. Sorry if Forgetting the Time is becoming more depression and angst than writing and books. As usual, heart on sleeve, I'm writing about what's on my mind, and being more honest than possibly some people might approve of. Don't care (sticks out tongue). This is my life, my blog and I'm tired of hiding, pretending, and living in a slightly embarrassed inadequate-feeling kind of way.

Anyway, this post IS about a book...

A Prize

I won a prize at the Allotment AGM on Saturday. I'm the proud recipient of a voucher, given to me by the committee for my hard work on my allotment. How lovely is that! The voucher came in a little 'baby' card, seemingly all they had left in the shop, but actually I thought it very apt. In allotment terms I'm still very much a baby gardener.

In celebration of my award, I did more hard work: dug over my old onion bed and dug in four wheelbarrows of horse muck, planted garlics and red onions, cut back my raspberry canes, and half-built a very wonky looking compost bin. I also had to do some repair work, after the 90 mph winds last week.

Harvest this weekend was leeks, for my delicious leek and potato soup. I've never made it before and have to admit it tastes amazing. All down to the gorgeous leeks I reckon.

It's very tempting to hibernate this time of year, but I'm doing everything I can to resist this urge. I need as much sunlight and time with friends as I can get...

Monday, 8 November 2010

little see-saw of life part 3

Current Ups
Cuddling with Sissy in this cold weather. Planting onions and shallots with my sister. Going out dancing. Seeing my friend Rosie sing in her band. Late night chats. PJ Harvey. Roasting my own home-grown butternut squash. Writing again. Sesame Snaps. Gorgeous Autumn leaves everywhere. Breaking Bad Season 2. New little cowboy boots. Getting the chance to say goodbye. The Eighth Day. All my lovely girl friends. Jacket Spuds. Allotment of course.

Current Downs
Damp dark days. PMS. Rejection. Health niggles. Government cuts. Heating bills. Stroppy or low moods.

our bonfire

We had a lovely bonfire down at the allotments on Friday. Perfect actually. We've all cleared bits of wood, branches and brambles over the past weeks and abandoned it on Carol's plot. She'd cleared her pumpkins and squashes especially. Somehow miraculously David and not sure who else built it all into an amazing bonfire that burned for hours (with the little bit of accelerant needed to get it going in this gorgeous British damp).

It was a wonderful gathering of plot-holders, their families and friends, and masses of food and drink. Eric and Dave got the barbeques going and we had a zillion sausages, burgers and chicken drumsticks, with Seamus's delicious potato pudding, and a whole heap of home-made cakes. The trestle tables were out, and our odd collection of chairs. We had a few fireworks, a brilliant Catherine Wheel nailed to a shed, and some rockets, and fizzy, screechy, banging things.

It was the best bonfire I've been to as an adult. Cosy, safe and friendly. We all got to throw more wood on the fire (no safety barriers needed!) and we toasted our cheeks by standing a bit close to the fire. Kids and big kids waved around sparklers and we laughed and chatted and made lots of wooing sounds when the fireworks went up, and of course, there was tea aplenty

I don't think I've had anything like this as an adult, it's like a little community, and I love it. It's been a year now since I got offered my little half plot. It seems to have gone really fast, and I can't quite believe how much work I've done, how much I feel part of something great, and HA, how much work I still have to do. I feel dead lucky that I was offered my plot number 21, and on the most perfect site.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Catching Up...

I have a lot to say at the minute. About writing, about me, about life, about changes that are going on, good things, bad things, emotional things, daft things.

In the words of the Wombats:
'And I don't know why I want to voice this out loud,
It's therapeutic somehow.'

Down at the allotment, everything is dying back, I'm harvesting the last of my Summer and Autumn veg, and getting prepared for next year. There is a lot of digging to do, a lot of horse muck to be spread, plants to be composted. There is something very therapeutic about it: letting the old die back and rot down so it will fertilise what I plant next year.

I suppose it makes sense then that I seem to be working on letting go of a lot of other dead stuff in my life, to make way for the new. Old patterns, old ways of doing things, old feelings.

I've been doing a course called 'Beating the Blues' for the past eight weeks. Only one session left. It's a course my GP told me about because I really don't want to go back on medication if I can help it, and this course is supposed to be as good as medication, so the blurb says. It's pretty much a self-help course, focusing on cognitive behavioural techniques to change thought patterns, challenge negative inner beliefs, develop better strategies for dealing with anxiety and depression. So, for example, I've been focusing on things like, developing better sleep patterns, working on problem solving, challenging errors in my thinking and replacing these with more useful ways of thinking. It's very practical and more thorough than I'm able to explain here.

The hardest part has been identifying my inner beliefs. All well and good if these are healthy, positive and self-affirming. But some of my inner beliefs (being honest) are a bit messed up and it was tough coming face to face with them, realising some of the deep down things I believe about myself. I was supposed to find evidence against these inner beliefs, and funnily enough at first all I could find was evidence that confirmed them.

It's strange how powerful inner beliefs can be. Even though, my head will say 'these are not rational beliefs, they make no sense,' somewhere else deep inside the beliefs are wedged tight refusing to be moved. And I really need to unwedge them. Otherwise I'm going to keep getting depressed or stuck or anxious. And life is passing, you know. Quicker than I want it to.

I was very emotional for a week or two. It spilled out onto all kinds of people and into all kinds of situations. This is something I usually feel really bad about, bad about myself, reconfirming all those negative inner beliefs blah blah. So, often I hide away when I feel emotional, and wait for it to pass. But I decided not to do this. And actually, I've been met with a whole load of kindness, hugs, and warmth from friends and people I don't know that well.

And it's interesting writing blogs like this. There are probably a lot of people that think I'm nuts. Heart way too much on my sleeve. Far too confessional, and all that. But, this is me, right? So... I'm writing it.

And this is what I want to do next.

Write more often and more of what I want to write. Write the novel. Write stories. Believe I can do it. Say yes to every opportunity. Be confident. Even if it scares me, still do it. Get on planes. Meet new people. Stand in crowded places. Talk to strangers if I want to. Learn. If someone is mean to me, believe it's about the other person not me. Let go more. Be spontaneous. Be me, actually. Chatter. Laugh. Be enthusiastic. Don't care what other people think. Stop bloody worrying. Get out there. Spend time with friends. Focus on now. Love deeply. And find some peace inside.