Friday, 25 June 2021

Day 20

    I think I'm finally discovering what seasoned menstrual trackers have been saying for quite a while. During the first week or two of my cycle, I felt emotional and philosophical. Everything carried meaning and I was so invested in curling up and writing things down. Something startling happened on Day 14 which has always happened, but I never understood why. 

   I have periods of feeling a little 'down'. For lack of a better term, and it's always felt so cyclical and related to my period. Then one day, I wake up and I feel suddenly much better. I feel more explosive and energetic. My skin care and exercise routine enthusiasm returns. I want to talk to people. I want conversations that span into the early hours of the morning. I want to share my ideas. I want to get more stuck in. This month I noticed it kicked in dramatically on my 14th day and has continued to buzz all week. I am so much less emotional and feel far more extroverted, analytical and energetic. I have been talking to my family non-stop all week. I have been able to keep talking and talking to students and colleagues all day. 

   I feel happy putting a pause on my menstrual blogging for now. I'm going to continue charting in private, and I'll be interested to see if the pattern remains the same and if I feel better knowing the changes are going to come like clockwork. 

   I hope that this window of openness and focus on periods is as helpful for you as it has been for me. Thanks, again, to Jenna for inspiring the activity!

Take care saplin's.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Day 8: keeping my feelings in mind

    When I started this exercise, charting my cycle for a month to see what might happen, I was unknowingly holding on to a misconception. I think it's one we all hold at times until we are reminded otherwise: the menstrual cycle is all about the period. It felt highly necessary to track during Day 1 and 2 because those are the days that feel so heightened. There's nothing like bleeding to get you to pay attention to how your body feels and the emotions that come with it. Now that I have stopped bleeding, I would usually continue to enjoy the Spring and Summer of my cycle. Increased energy and motivation, higher focus, more easily regulated body temperatures, and much nicer underwear. This time, however, because I am attempting to track my cycle and I've been making notes on it, I've realised that there is so much importance in the changing seasons. 

   Over the last few years, I have worked really hard on my mental health. I have been through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and have seen a drastic improvement in my anxiety overall. This has meant that although my periods can still cause some pretty unpleasant emotional symptoms, I have had a much better time recognising them and processing them. 

   One of the most poignant lessons I have learned in my reading has been this: your thoughts and feelings are not always (and usually are not) the same thing. When I first came across this idea, I saw it as nothing much more than a concept. We're all used to seeing phrases like these spread across sparkly backgrounds and uploaded to instagram. They sound good, they're easy to like and share because they're vague enough to interpret however you need to, and you get to feel as though you've got some kind of control over yourself. However, it is only during these periods of self-improvement and soul-searching that I have come to realise what those words truly mean. 

   Now, more than ever, we see and hear phrases that have been born to validate and support victims of any description: "you are not to blame", "it is never the victim's fault", "don't victim-blame" etc. Like many others, I believe these statements wholly. The blame should always lie with the perpetrator. However, after some slightly difficult discussion, my therapist helped me to uncover the way in which my feelings were not matching up to my mind. I might say to her, "yes, I know it was not my fault and I don't blame myself. I was 15 years old and I didn't know what I know now". I truly believed that, but I also believed deep down that my 15-year-old self could have and should have done things differently and that perhaps that manifested as self-blame. This degree of cognitive dissonance went completely undetected by me for years and has shown me how far I have to go in the way of self-compassion and forgiveness. Whilst I work on this, it has also really helped me to look critcally at my thoughts and feelings as separate entities and has given me permission to assess my feelings honestly instead of trying to force them to align with what I think I should be feeling. 

   In part, this is something I really needed to write about right now whilst I'm thinking and feeling it. However, it's been highly relevant to tracking my cycle and thinking about my emotions. Getting my period and experiencing the rollercoaster of feelings has always been something I've joked about as I said in my first entry. However, I notice now that it is also something that I have squashed, ignored, and demeaned and I want to do that less, and hopefully not at all, in future. This is really just a post to say, let yourself feel what you're feeling instead of trying to cover it with what you think you should be feeling. Be angry at things you don't think you're supposed to be angry at, be sad about things you think are ridiculous to be sad about, and let anything and everything fill you with joy in an ever-increasing cynical and gatekeepy world. 

   I wasn't going to write anything today, and then I decided to clean up some folders on my computer. I came across some writing I did when my therapist taught me that there are five basic emotions: anger, joy, guilt, fear and sadness. She taught me that joy is just a fifth and that there's no sense in feeling ashamed for feeling the other ones too. When I wrote these notes, I remember feeling ashamed about the way each emotion feels for me. When I re-read it today, I feel empowered at my ability to recognise and describe the way I truly feel, and not distort it with what I think the correct/healthy way is to articulate them. I will share this with you, and hope it inspires you to do the same. Take care, saplin's.

When I am happy, it shines out of me. I know because everyone else around me starts to feel happy too, and I can see the starlight shooting past their faces and gleaming in their eyes, just like mine. The electricity is complete and unapologetic, and I can feel nothing else but its bursts in my heart, and light in my head.

   When I am sad, it starts small. A small, cosy, familiar flicker. I can hold it in one hand. But it can grow. It can engulf me, and I will boil and bubble over. It can roar, it can seethe, it can latch onto anything and anyone who comes close. It can go on burning for days and days and days.

   When I am guilty, it stings. I am paralysed by sharp spines that sink into my skin and pin my bones together so tightly I cannot breathe. Shoulder blades sawing, ribs protruding, teeth bared. It is ugly and unbearable and unrelenting. When I am guilty, my face looks pinky-yellow and swollen and monstrous and I banish every mirror from my memory.

When I am fearful, I am at home. I swaddle myself in the comfort of preparedness, knowledge, and the loneliness of knowing I can only trust myself again for a little while. Fear is being on your own. It is flying away from the world around me and swooping into a darkened cavern, making up the twists and turns as I go along. Fear is my penalty for ever allowing happiness to come in.

   When I am angry, I scoop its viscousness up into a bottle, a stopper sliding neatly into place. I tell myself I will open it again, but I gather more and more in my arms, scalding my skin, soothing the burns with my sadness and guilt. When it gets full, I quietly spill it away, the fumes intoxicating, igniting my wounds. Nobody must ever see. Anger is only for me.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Day 6

    This week I have emerged from hibernation and walked into my spring. I've been so bouncy and full of energy, that I've found it really difficult to want to slow down and focus on anything like writing a blog post. On Day 3, I was snowed under. It felt like I was lying face down under a thick blanket of heavy ice and I poked out my nose only to take in melted water and heat from the glow of nearby light. I blame it somewhat on being on Day 3, but mostly because it was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays are the worst. 

   On Day 4, the tight, fetal branch of my spine suddenly unfurled and extended and everything was blossoming again. I can only speak for myself, but I never took notice of how I naturally connected my desire to hibernate and comfort myself during Day 1-3 as a result of bleeding. However, I have continued to bleed up until today, which is just a whisper. For the first time, I have realised that bleeding isn't necessarily the cause of my withdrawal from emotional and physical sensations and that the return to exercise and other good habits have come about by pure motivation and desire to do them irregardless of the current. This discovery feels like a good outcome of this exercise so far.

   Day 6 brings freshness, a brighter outlook, smiles, energy, and the lack of motivation to write a lengthy blog post. So rather than force myself to do that when I don't feel like it, I can just go ahead and leave it here. 

Take care saplin's, 

Monday, 7 June 2021

Day 1 & 2: pain


   One of my friends, Jenna, is an infinitely calming and grounding influence on my life. She just seems to understand what's important and ultimately why we should care about anything and why we should keep caring. Do you ever meet people like that? People who are super validating of you and your experience by embodying self-possession and who inspire you to be the same? I just think she's really cool like that. 

   Recently she has been doing excellent things with her blog, The Red Circle. Where she charts her cycle. I've been reading the blog, reading about the charting that others have been doing, reading recommended stuff, looking into the theory. I'll level with you, I never thought I'd be remotely interested in doing this, but something clicked recently that has been in the process of clicking for several years. 

   Yesterday, I found myself lying on the bed, my legs hanging off the edge and my pyjama bottoms dangling around my ankles. Groaning, rocking back-and-forth, pressing a heated neck massager into my pelvis. I am, of course, talking about period cramps. Last Christmas I bought my partner an electric neck massager. Everything is stressful 'at the moment', by which I mean for the last few years, so I purchased a nice, warm shiatsu experience without realising the cramp-busting potential.

   I've always made light of periods. Not in any attempt to degrade or humiliate or otherwise depict it as something disgusting or private, but really just to frame it as an annoying companion who knocks on the door once a month and insists on crashing with me for a while. In a way I've attempted to make it kind of cute, even. Just my uterus playing up because I've not provided it with a lodger, oh bless. Sometimes it's still fun to do that, and I would encourage anybody who experiences it to process in any way they deem fit. It is especially true that with people who experience, we don't always need to get into it any more than that. 

   However, I have noticed that making light of it to myself has started to feel really invalidating. Yesterday, I lay there with red, mottled skin because I'd burned it with a hot water bottle. When my partner suggested I use the massager (t h a n k y o u !), I was unable to stand, knees pressed into the carpet, face planted into the sofa as I cried. It was a cold-sweat pain that hurt so much it was difficult to talk through it. Everything inside me felt like it was pulsing. My head throbbed and everything felt uncomfortable and heavy. I recognise that not everyone wants to discuss periods in detail. If you're squeamish, if you rank periods as scatological, or you're really just trying to eat your lunch - I get it. However, I want to get into the habit of at least calling it what it is. Menstruation, period, bleeding. A conscious effort to avoid calling it Aunt Flo or the monthly visitor, because who are we doing that for? Maybe I used to do it for myself to avoid shame, but I'm feeling tired of being embarrassed. If I have to lie there in agony, tears running into my ears and crying out because I don't know what else to do, I'm going to address it by name. 

   I realise I might seem woefully behind on this. Haven't feminists already done this? Haven't we already addressed period stigma? In my echo chambers, it feels this way. But pipe up in any group of people that you're on your period or, god forbid, retrieve a sanitary towel from your bag and you're still going to get mixed reactions. I've stopped hiding my sanitary towels and stopped using the cute little codenames for my period, and every time I feel validated, and closer to the self-possession I want to feel. A few weeks ago I openly told my coworkers I was having a 'bit of a week' due to being on my period, and both the honesty and the supportive reactions felt like a weight lifted. 

   This ramble is the kind of thing that makes me feel better when I'm bleeding. I feel hot and frustrated and claustrophobic. I'm wearing two pairs of underwear and my self-esteem plummets to it's lowest. It arrived 4 days early so I'm annoyed that the plans I made for my annual leave weekend were clouded with my period causing a migraine flare up. So whilst I'm sitting at my desk, working on spreadsheets, taking and making phone calls, dipping in and out of various instant messaging services and emails - I know so many others are doing it whilst bleeding too, and I'm tired of pretending it isn't worthy of words and expression. 

   On Jenna's advice, I am expressing whatever I need to in this ramble after a very painful Day 1 & 2 and also resolving to focus on my needs. Look inwards, focus on what I'm pulling away from and what I'm drawn to. Let myself indulge in what I need, let myself spend whatever time I need alone. Let myself be open and honest that bleeding really sucks, and it's okay for me to say that instead of needing to make it comical for the comfort of others. Day 1 & 2 are balls of rage and pain. They're "I'm sorry I didn't answer your call right away I was just finishing something (read: I was just crying on the toilet). They're the days I want to hibernate, and the days I feel angry at the world for not letting me slow down and do it. They're the days I worry that I'm lazy or failing as a human for not being able to brush it off and carry on. They're also the days I give myself permission to just let things go, and pick them back up tomorrow. They're the days that have been the very best opportunity to learn self-compassion, and I hope that tracking the cycle with its ups and downs will solidify this learning. Let's see where we end up saplin's.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Significance of Telling Your Story (Someday)


   I remember exactly where I was when I drew this picture. I can conjure up every detail in my mind and yet I can choose which details to share, which things to describe, and what feelings to imbue it with. It was summer, the air was warm, and I had settled down with a pencil case full of sharpies to see what would happen. The pencil case is one I still use now: a fuzzy grey Totoro case bought for me by my friend Zoe. I always smile when I look at it because when I thanked her for it she said "it's okay, I know you like that big cat". And, saplin's, she was right. I do like that big cat. Some of you will smile or perhaps just understand. Some of you might need to Google "Totoro". Some of you will do none of this and read on because you don't care about the pencil case at all. 

   There's something multi-directional and explosive about story telling. It fills up every piece of fuzzy atmosphere floating around us. I could write anything at all, but I'm choosing to write this. I'm thinking about Wonka's glass elevator and how story telling is like pressing a button and whizzing passengers away to the next unimaginable place. Then I think about how it isn't like that very much at all. Now I am sitting in a muted purple computer chair. Now I am thinking about this quote:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart and bids it break" - William Shakespeare, Macbeth

   During my teens and later during my time at university, I didn't appreciate Shakespeare. I remember sitting at my kitchen table crying over an assignment about Hamlet because I felt I couldn't understand it. My mom still giggles when she remembers the time I said in frustration, "if I could go back in time I'd tell him to put the quill down". A few years later, now I can enjoy it without a follow-up essay, I am finding so much wisdom and comfort in the words. I might even re-read Hamlet for the bazillionth time and experience it differently...but don't hold me to it. 

   I have had, you might say, a bit of a month. I love the start of April. It starts to feel like spring. Even when it rains, it smells warmer outside. There's lots to be enjoyed and thankful for in my personal life, especially during this time. I've been sitting and thinking about exactly what to write about "this time", and then I started typing about what the rest of April is like for me. I deleted all of it, the words stopped sounding crystal clear in my mind, my vision started to feel like it was going white and buzzing at the edges. Deep down I believe that telling your story is so important and I have always been so encouraged by others to tell my stories, make use of my writing, and produce something personal and individual. 

   I am not telling my story today. I'm not going to take you on an adventure in a glass elevator or fill every synapse and neuron of your minds with images that might give you a glimpse into what it might be like to walk around in my fluffy slippers. Perhaps I'm finding value in allowing my grief to knit itself up a little bit before I start tugging at the loose threads. My story is mine to tell, and I'm still working on the courage to tell it whilst I listen, in awe, to all of the stories being told to me. Please know that if you have shared your story, reading it is filling me with the strength to share mine - someday. 


Thursday, 31 December 2020

My Year in Books: 2020

Hello saplin's, 

   It's been a while. Although 2020 has encouraged me to indulge in a number of activities, writing has not been one of them. Sometimes I have returned to my blog with every intention of writing something new, only to see the previous post and feeling suddenly unable to focus on any single thought or feeling or word. I know that many of you will feel the same when I say that this year has been unimaginably awful. I have, however, punctuated the carnage with books as usual. Unsurprisingly, concentrating on reading anything has also been a challenge, so I am very pleased I made at least some attempt. Just like last year, please continue for this year's reading round-up. 

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse - Charlie Mackesy

What a beautiful book. I am so pleased I began the year with something so uplifting and human as this. Something everyone can and should read, if only to bring you a little peace for a little while. 

The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

So delightfully unique, plush and delectable. I was enchanted from the first sentence and have remained enchanted with it, so much so that it makes my heart ache and my head feel like it's floating. It is the book which made me turn to someone and say, "can you be intoxicated by a story?". 
If you want an adventure, here it is. 

Help Me! How self-help has not changed my life - Marianne Power

You got me, I'm one of those people buying the self-help books - no wait! I was. It was a turning-point in itself to discover that I had received a sort-of self-help book for Christmas. However, it turned out to be the best self-help book I've ever read. Because of Marianne Power, I have not since bought a self-help book and won't be buying any more. You see, she points out the obvious which is that self-help books do not work for the majority of people who read them. How does she prove it? I imagine you ask. She decides to follow a self-help book every month, to the letter, for an entire year. Sound easy? Guess again! 

The Vagina Bible - Dr. Jennifer Gunter

If your first thought was, "why are you reading that?" consider that you might benefit from reading it. Humans don't know half as much as they should about vaginas, some people never actually having looked at their own. Yes, you read that correctly. 
Without wishing to be the feminist waving around the vulva imagery, something so politicised is something we should know more about. 

"Buy this book if you have a vagina or if you spend any time at all in reasonably close proximity to one" - Ayelet Waldman

Varjak Paw & The Outlaw Varjak Paw  - S.F Said

By this point, we were in lockdown. The world had not yet started to feel like it was crumbling, and I was encouraged to do a little more reading in the extra time I was getting from not having to catch the bus in the morning. I used this time to read my favourite childhood books. I am convinced that these two stories have contributed to my identity as a reader and to who I am in general. I always felt a little bit like an outsider and an ugly duckling, and these books gave me comfort and a narrative which told me I could still work hard, gather strength. and find friendship. 

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

This novel had somehow managed to escape my attention until last year. I watched a charming film called The Bookshop with Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy where one of the characters is captivated by Farenheit 451 and urgently seeks out Ray Bradbury's other works. The next time I saw it when I was out shopping, I impulsively picked it up and finally felt inspired to read it because I was teaching a module on utopias and dystopias. It was good, and it was cold. It made everything and everyone around me feel fleeting and vulnerable, like the walls of my house were damp cardboard, and would cave in if I pressed on them too hard. 

Whispering to Witches - Anna Dale

I smiled when I typed the title. My earliest memory of having a favourite book. It's whimsical and magical. It's like sitting in front of a warm fire in the middle of winter. I can read it over and over and every single time I feel like a child again. 

Alice - Christina Henry

I felt compelled to write about Alice at the time of reading, you can find my scrawlings here. One thing I would like to reiterate here is that the reason I love the darker retellings of Alice in Wonderland is because they capture the anger and the volatility bubbling under Carroll's characters. I have always likened living in Wonderland  like being in a relationship with a red-faced bomb that insists on lighting its own fuse. 

The Familiars - Stacey Halls

Beautiful and earthy and it left me feeling heartbroken for all of the richness and texture of lives lost and stories unheard. How people suffer, and how they defy.  

Pretending - Holly Bourne
As an established fan of Holly Bourne, I was worried I would not like this book. It started very strongly in a mindset I recognise so well, and it was difficult to look at. It was all mangled pain and fury and fear. I didn't know how to look at it without feeling hot buttons all over me being prodded and pushed in. However, it's Holly Bourne, after all, so I pushed on. The growth and the strength displayed at such a time that it felt like she wrote it just for me. I know so many others will read it and feel the same way. It's a book for when you're ready to heal. 

Who Goes Here? - Bob Shaw

A book recommended to me by my Dad. I turned pages swiftly, smiled often, and was frequently intrigued. A spoofy introduction to sci-fi for someone who has hardly read any. I sense a re-read is necessary as the first time round was spent mostly in confusion and repeatedly saying "what?"

The Priory of the Orange Tree - Samanth Shannon 

I must say, I admire my optimism starting this book when I was feeling so low. Despite it being so large, I found myself really sad when it was over. I had grown so attached to the characters and their individual quests and desires, and when everything finally came together I spent the latter half of the novel in a state of bliss and awe. This book is worth reading for the dragons, the lore, the swashbuckling, and the romance, but I could read it for the mouth-watering descriptions of food alone. 

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

I can't not read something by Matt Haig. His most outstanding feature is imbuing every word with hope and understanding. Wonderfully indulgent but also sobering, to explore so many lives you could have lived and to ask yourself: why not do the best I can with this universe and this reality? (because another me might visit it someday?)

The Red Queen - Christina Henry

Something strange happened here. I felt completely enthralled by Alice, but reading The Red Queen felt quite difficult. Not because it was not just as good as Alice, because it was, but because it lost it's anger and morphed into a kind of sadness which felt neverending. Though I tend to favour sad storytelling, something about this felt defeating. I think perhaps the loss of some characters and the lack of satisfying resolution for others made this one a little harder. 

How to Argue with a Racist - Adam Rutherford

When I opened this book, I thought I was in for something that would take place in the realm of Twitter and various isms that would fall neatly into the context of the conversations I have had this year. However, it turned out to be a fascinating discussion about race and racism within the context of genetics. If you'd like to see how it helps in arguing with racists, I recommend trying it out. 

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson

Far be it from me to try and sum this up when Jeanette Winterson has already used the perfect combination of words. An outstanding retelling of her life, which she recollects however she likes. 

I am currently in the process of reading Angela Carter's collection, The Bloody Chamber, which is grizzly and excellent and nauseating and addictive. You can read about it next year, or maybe you'll decide to read it yourself. 

Take care saplin's x

Friday, 21 August 2020

The Bluebells Are Ringing

    Hyacinthoides non-scripta, known to some as Campanula Rotundifolia, is known to most of us as the bluebell. Gentle flowers which sway in the wind and bow their heads to the woods. It is said, in the language of the flowers, that the bluebell is a symbol of humility, constancy, gratitude, and everlasting love. The folklore surrounding bluebells is old and curious and, sometimes, very bleak. There is so much sparkling wonder and beauty in a sea of bluebells, and there is also so much sadness and loss.

   One of the last things my Grandma ever painted was a beautiful bluebell wood and I know she would have eagerly listened to these stories over a cup of tea and a slice of lemon cake. I can hear her voice commenting on them, expressing surprise at the darker parts but also filing them away in her mind. I imagine her painting the bluebells, letting the sunlight fall on their tepals, not to be confused with petals, to bring out the light, and casting dark shadows from the trees to acknowledge the dark. I know we could have had a conversation just like that because my Grandma loved to learn, loved to discover new things, and loved talking about all of them with her family. In fact, she would have the perfect recommendations for books that could tell you all about them; facts you would never have guessed; what kind of gemstone would make the perfect bluebell; how bluebells were used to bind books; how the toxicity of bluebells might help to cure illness. However, she would not need a book to tell you the exact shade of blue you need to paint thousands of watercolour bluebells. Though I believe it to be a coincidence that my Grandma painted flowers that symbolise all of her own qualities, humility, constancy, gratitude, and everlasting love, I take comfort in that coincidence, nonetheless.

   I do not know how to express how much I will miss her voice. I will miss the way she likes to wear button-up shirts that used to belong to her sons. I will miss seeing her hair pulled back in headbands because she likes it out the way. I will miss the way she walks – briskly. I will miss the funny stories she tells. I will miss the way she pretends to scold my Grandad. I will miss the way he smiles at her when she does it. I will miss the way she says, “let’s just play one more game”. I will miss the way she likes to feed the dog from her plate. I will miss being told that no matter how old I get I will always be “Cuddlebun”. I will miss the way she does not like tattoos, but she has decided to like mine because it is part of me. I will miss her saying “never mind, it will all work out in the end”. I will miss watching the way her fingers turn over the tiles in Bananagrams. I will miss being able to tell her everything and listen to what she has to say. I will miss sitting across from her in the camper van, eating ham sandwiches after we’ve had a walk together by the sea. I will miss the way her face scrunches up and tears roll down her cheeks when she laughs. I will miss the tight hugs every time we say goodbye. I will miss knowing that I will always see her on Wednesdays.

   There are so many funny, wonderful, important things about my Grandma that I will never be able to express in any language that exists, but I hope she knows that the many days we have spent together, playing games, painting pictures, drinking tea and splashing around on the beach are part of who I am and that I would not be who I am without her magical influence.