Where The Swings Used To Be

I jotted this down as a note a few weeks ago on my phone. My husband and I had gone up to Gloucestershire to visit my parents for a few days, and on the first evening we took our dog out for a short walk before bed.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know that my teenage years were a little difficult with school and the bullying that I encountered there. This feels like a good time to share this writing… not only as a follow on from that, but also because I’ve realised that going back to a place can stir up so many different memories, emotions and even behaviours. However, I have also realised that a ‘safe space’ doesn’t always have to be co-ordinates on a map, it can also be a person.

I am very lucky, that my safe person is my husband. I realised when I spent time in Gloucestershire a couple of days ago without him, that I felt very different to how I feel when I am at home in Somerset. He helps to ground me, here in the present. He reminds me – often without words – that I am safe, I am loved and that I am not a scared fourteen year old girl any more.

I still have a lot of healing to do – but I have been with him now for sixteen years. Sixteen years of visiting my parents and not once did I attempt to bring him to this place described below – it was too painful. However, as an adult, with him by my side, with the healing that I have started to do I felt brave enough. However, as you’ll read, it did also stir up a lot of emotion.

This is unedited.

I was going to take him there, to show him the spot where a smaller version of me would sit, and wait

I never knew what for, but I knew where I didn’t want to be, where I couldn’t be, who I couldn’t face, again

Two swings and a slide, bark upon the ground. It was like a little secret area but it wasn’t a secret at all.

My mum once told the woman from the school that I could be anywhere, that I knew those alleyways like the back of my hand… I didn’t know them tonight as a woman. I lost my way, doubled back.

It was gone, all of it. I looked at the house that now stood in its place, it was established.

Nearly 20 years on and I am not established.

Bricks and mortar don’t erase a place. They don’t erase the sadness that a place can hold.

I wonder if when they tuck their children up in bed, they know that a girl once sat in this place because she didn’t know where else to go.

That she was so lost, just 5 minutes from home.

That in 20 years she would hold her husbands hand as she looked for that place, the place that is so vivid in her mind and find that it was long gone.

Just another house, in another cul de sac.

But one full of memories.


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Validation Isn’t Just For Parking Tickets

Image by Jason Rosewell @ Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, I reacted to something inappropriately – I dismissed something that my husband was feeling and I realised as soon as the words left my mouth what I had done, but by then of course it was a little late to take it back.

I’ve been having a lot of thoughts lately surrounding vulnerability and validation. I think vulnerability may come up more in its own post about the subject, but validation is so very important.

And I neglected that.

A bit of background information would be helpful here… My husband has an old Mk 2 Golf that is very much a project car. We have named her Christine after the Stephen King novel as she is, lets say, high maintenance? (Although she hasn’t tried to kill me yet, so I’m taking that as a bonus 😉)

Anyway, Christine has some relatively nice alloy wheels. On this particular Saturday we had to pop out to pick up some toilet seat hinges (such a glamourous life we lead!) and also a few grocery bits. However, before we got to Screwfix, my husband had to do a three-point turn which was tighter than anticipated and he scraped the front passenger side wheel on a curb. He got out to check and it had left ‘a huge gouge’ in the paint. He was pissed off – mostly at himself, but also because of all the time and effort he has put into that car, and now something else, so easily avoided had gone wrong. It had already been a hugely stressful week, he wasn’t looking forward to fixing the toilet seat, it was hot, we were tired and hungry etc etc…

We went around to the supermarket and as we got out of the car, he came around to take another look, I also looked and… I couldn’t see anything. I was expecting ‘a huge gouge’ out of the paint. I’m not into cars in the slightest, to me it just looked like a regular alloy wheel. He pointed it out to me – a scrape along the outside edge and… well, I did the worst thing I could possibly do, I laughed.

Not in a cruel way – I wasn’t laughing at him, but in more of a relived way. I told him that it wasn’t that bad and hardly noticeable. I did the one thing that I always try not to do, I minimised his feelings, I invalidated his concern.

Of course, this did nothing to improve his mood. I tried to explain to him that my initial reaction was just relief – for him – that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. But it was too late – the fixing of the toilet seat when we got home was punctuated with swearing and the slamming down of screwdrivers, which was completely understandable. I hadn’t heard him, I hadn’t realised that actually, it wasn’t about the wheel at all.

It was a build up of things, of worry and anxiety that had filled our week off. It was the driving to and from Bristol which had stressed him out for a number of reasons. The additional driving down to Dorset to a specialist vets appointment which was anxiety inducing, hot and once again gave no real conclusion to an ongoing concern with our dog. It was the social obligations which had taken their toll, it was the thought of going back to work after not exactly having a relaxing time off. It was the lack of decent sleep on and off for a fortnight due to stress. It was the thought that Saturday and Sunday should have just been two days to finally chill out – and now because of an error of judgement, there was something else to ‘fix’.

But… it wasn’t my job to fix this situation, and it is never our jobs to fix other people’s problems. My job – which I neglected to notice – was just to hear his frustration. To recognise it, acknowledge it and act accordingly. Because when we feel heard we feel empowered, we may not realise it at the time, but we do realise when we aren’t heard and the space that it puts us in.

I should have said sorry and bought him chocolate 😊

My husband, upon reading it to this point

However, this ‘trying to make things better’ is something that I think we have all been guilty of at some point or another. Its horrible to see someone we love and/or care for upset, angry, or frustrated so we try and do what we can to bring them out of the situation. It can also sometimes be uncomfortable for us and so we want to move past those feelings quickly so that we can get on with our day and put whatever unfortunate happening that has just occurred behind us.

Is that selfish? No, I don’t think so. I think that we all experience uncomfortable feelings – definitely in adulthood but we would have done so as children as well. We all have our own feelings about feelings – I am uncomfortable with anger for example. If I am ever angry then I don’t know how to safely hold and sit with that emotion, and if someone is angry at me or around me then I don’t know how to react, so I go very quiet, very small and just take it. But we would have all had instances in childhood where we felt strong emotions – such as anger, resentment, sadness and also the extremes at the other end of the scale such as love, generosity and giddying waves of happiness. How those feelings were reciprocated by parents and caregivers when we were at the cognitive developmental stage where we didn’t know how to express ourselves, will undoubtedly shape how we learn to deal with them as adults. This also applies to when we see someone else expressing these emotions that we struggle with – we react in the ways that we were reacted to.

With the incident with the car, I just wanted to make it better for him – but he was also angry, and I didn’t know how to deal with that and so my innate reaction was to get us both out of that situation as quickly as possible.

It didn’t work – and why would it have done? Making light of the situation wouldn’t have made the scrape in the wheel go away. We could have held hands and laughed and skipped our way into Morrisons, but his feelings of frustration and anger would have still been there. The situation that caused the discomfort wouldn’t just disappear if we ignored it.

Our feelings – whatever they may be – need to be heard. Talking about feelings, with a partner, friend, parent, child etc is such an important step in honouring our true selves and opening up those bridges of communication. If I made my husband feel silly over the car or if I repeatedly tried to distract him or judged or minimised his feelings every time something went wrong – even if its not about a subject that I am particularly knowledgeable on – then he’s going to stop communicating when he is upset, and this won’t just apply to what is happening in the garage. However, it is also important to realise that his emotions aren’t mine – I don’t have to crouch down and hold my head in my hands and get angry and frustrated at instances like the scrape in the tyre, I just need to communicate that I can see that he is upset and angry and keep the dialogue going.

Instead of laughing, I could have said something like ‘Oh dear, that must make you feel frustrated’ – and then instead of storming off into the supermarket ahead of me, he perhaps would have said ‘Yes, I had just got the car how I want it/its going to take time to fix/but its not just that…’ etc. It would have opened up the space for him to communicate and to have his feelings heard.

It isn’t dangerous to have our feelings out in the open – even the ones that can feel really difficult to express.  No bolt of lightening is going to come and strike us down if we dare to actually feel these difficult emotions and communicate with each other about them, in fact, much the opposite will happen. Learning to recognise our feelings and our emotions for what they are allows us to be more in tune with ourselves and with those around us – it allows us to communicate honestly and openly and it teaches us that our emotions – whatever they may be – are valid. In turn, this plays an important role in being able to trust our own instincts, for example if we begin to recognise fear or unease for the emotion that it is – instead of squashing it down and ignoring it because ‘it doesn’t feel very nice’ – then we become better at protecting ourselves and those around us.

I’m not there yet with anger. I can now recognise it as something that I need to be mindful of and work on – and I am very fortunate that I have some wonderful friends and a wonderful husband that are more likely to encourage me to talk about my anger when I feel it and help me unpick it, rather than try and ‘fix’ it with platitudes, but these things do take time and a lot of patience. When I have been angry in the past and I have pushed it down and tried not to feel it because I have had that belief for 34 years that ‘anger is bad’ – where has it gone? It hasn’t come out of me, no, it has stayed and whispered in my ear that what I feel doesn’t matter, that what I feel is ‘wrong’, that what I feel makes me a bad person… and do you know what other name we have for that voice? Depression.

So, encourage people to talk – those that you love, those that you care about. Let them know that it is ok to feel what they are feeling and that no emotion – however hard it may be to experience is ‘wrong’. We cannot be shining beacons of light and grace at all times; life doesn’t work like that.

In order to appreciate the light, we must also experience the dark – and the dark can look different for each any every one of us.

Philippa Perry has written about this subject in her wonderful book ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did)’ and during my most recent round of therapy, I have found this book – and some of her talks on YouTube to be highly illuminating.

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Together


Photo by Maarten Verstraete on Unsplash

I told him that I was frightened of my own mind
again

And he wrapped me up
took me out

And he held my hand whilst we counted the stars
together

And the universe, and he
calmed me

Again
together

The Four Month Wedding

Whilst I am all for honesty and openness around mental health and recovery, I feel that yesterday’s post was a rather heavy one. Today, it is Friday, it is also my best friend’s birthday – so pop on over to her page and give her a little read if you have a moment ❤

So, a bit of a lighter post for today. I have noticed a few mentions on Twitter this week regarding weddings, and anxiety. It’s billed as the most magical day of your life and, boy, does that ramp the pressure up! The thought of planning a wedding for someone with anxiety is pretty stressful to say the least – you have to make phonecalls, you have to arrange things, you have to make decisions and it all leads to one day – a day when you will be stood up in front of people and having to speak! They will all be looking at you!

I got married in October 2017 to a man I had been with for 14 years and engaged to for 9 of those! We had gone through phases in those nine years of discussing the whole wedding thing; we had been to view venues, we had been to a couple of wedding fayres, we had made lists of guests and ideas – there were some interesting ideas mixed in – namely having me walk down the aisle to the Terminator theme tune and also a ‘cheese rave’. We had been to other peoples weddings and told ourselves to just get on with it and have our own, all the friends we knew that were in couples were either having babies or getting married! Our relationship was going from strength to strength, but the whole wedding thing kind of loomed over us a little.

We visited some beautiful places in the UK, whilst also debating whether to just elope – Gretna Green, Lapland, Poland… we talked about just doing it and not telling anyone until after the fact, but deep down we both knew that if we were going to do it we wanted to do it surrounded by people we loved.

I studied with the Open University and in June 2017 I had my end of year exam. For months, I studied, wrote, revised… then the exam day came and went and suddenly, I had all of this spare time. I decided that now was the time to sort this whole wedding thing out once and for all! I had heard snippets of conversations that the registry office in our local town had moved and it was really beautiful, so I started looking into that. I had my husband write a list of who he wanted at our wedding, the bare minimum, and I did the same. We were going to do this…

I had always wanted an autumnal wedding. The colours that time of year are beautiful and both my husband and I are huge nature lovers. I think that there is also a sense of building excitement at that time of year – you have Halloween, bonfire night and then Christmas isn’t far away; to me it has always felt rather magical, what better time to get married?

October was four months away.  16 weeks.

It was that or wait yet another sixteen months – and, hey, I’m a Sagittarius, I wanted to do this and I wanted to do it now. I rationalised it with the fact that with a timescale like that, we wouldn’t have time to overthink and panic, we would just have to get on with it and get it done – how romantic, eh?

When I called the registry office to book, I was so nervous. How does one book the biggest day of their lives? Is it just as simple as calling someone and asking what availability they have for weddings in October?? Um… yes, it really is. The woman I spoke to was lovely and within moments, it was done, at 1pm on Saturday October the 14th, I would marry the man I loved.

I have had anxiety for years but in 2017 I was doing pretty well, things were under control and manageable – my husband, who has never been formally diagnosed with anxiety but exhibits all of the symptoms at times – was the one needing the reassurance. We came to a deal: I would plan the wedding, and he would sort the honeymoon (and the groom stuff). I do like to reassure myself that it wasn’t the prospect of marrying me that made him anxious – but I could understand where it all came from. He would be the centre of attention for a whole day (as an introvert, this is very daunting), he would have to make a speech, he would have to make decisions, his parents – who had divorced 16 years earlier – would have to be in the same room together, for the first time. It was undoubtedly overwhelming and there were times when we almost called the whole thing off, but I am so pleased that we didn’t – and truthfully, so is he.

For four months, my best friend (my other one) and I planned my wedding. She was absolutely amazing ❤ We went and checked out the venue, we went to different hotels and pubs to sort out the meal afterwards, I was a very lucky girl and had 3 hen do’s! (One with work colleagues, one with family, and one with my closest friends where we went to Pride in Southampton) My husband spent his stag do walking in a very wet Devon with two of our closest friends and his brother – I think this was the highlight of the four months for him 🙂

Everything just seemed to come together – I fell in love with the first dress I tried on and although I did try on others, the first one was the one I felt the most drawn to. My husband found his suit, the right size and colours on ebay for £15, worn once. The animal sanctuary where we had rehomed our dog from the year before were so helpful in agreeing to take him for the weekend (Akita’s mixed with a houseful of excited people – no). My sister’s boyfriend, a photographer, offered us wedding photos as our gift. Even English Heritage, custodians of the beautiful castle ruins we wanted our photographs to be taken in were so generous and helpful.

My brother arranged to borrow his boss’s car and be my chauffeur, a family friend offered to do my flowers. My parents visited Somerset countless times and we planned and talked and came up with magical ideas. The country inn we had chosen for our wedding breakfast could not have been more perfect, local artists used the bar area as a showcase for their work and the food was to die for. The only thing, the most unexpected thing, that I struggled with – was music.

Now, I love music. Lyrics are a big thing for me from all sorts of artists and all sorts of music genres. I’ve written about Nina Perrson before, how her lyrics resonate so strongly. The same goes for Shirley Manson, Phoebe Bridgers, Damien Rice, Laura Marling, even Lana del Rey, amongst many, many others…

I had many ideas of what I wanted to walk down the aisle to before we made any real plans. One of the choices was The Minstrel Boy, an instrumental by The Corrs. It’s so beautiful, however, my husband thinks it sounds ‘like music you would hear in a morgue’ – so, that one was out.

Next was a beautiful instrumental by Nordlys. We agreed on this one! It’s a beautiful piece of music… I played it to my mum and she remarked that it reminded her of the theme to a Swedish crime thriller where everyone got their heads chopped off – so, that one was out.

Then I found a gorgeous piece of music, it was called ‘Fairytale’, it was sweepingly, soaringly and breathtakingly perfect… it was also from the movie Shrek – it was out.

I found the same with the Jurassic Park theme (which is actually really pretty and a favourite film for both of us), but for weeks friends tagged me in various dinosaur memes on Facebook. Again, that one was out…

I was starting to struggle a little. It needed to be short, but not too short, it needed to have a certain type of arrangement near the start so that my bridesmaids could walk in before me, and it needed to be something that we both liked.

There is a TV show that we both adore. It has apparently finished for good now – although I hold out hope they will bring it back – it’s called The Detectorists, and yep it’s about metal detecting! But it is so beautiful, so simple. It’s written by and stars Mackenzie Crook from The Office (uk) and it’s just about two guys, chatting shit and metal detecting whilst living pretty normal, mundane lives. Each season has been set during summertime in the English countryside and each season you wonder if they ever will find that treasure, which is usually right under their noses. But then as each episode passes you realise that it’s not about getting rich and finding stacks of buried gold or historical arrowheads, it’s about having a good time with your best mate.

The theme tune is beautiful. It’s a song written especially for the series by singer/songwriter Johnny Flynn, and, it has those all-important lyrics that I am always so fond of.

One night, fraught with stress over this aisle walking song, listening to pieces of music that had no real meaning to us, I put on this song for a bit of a break… my husband was sat in the lounge and he just went…

“Well, why not this?”

And why not this?

Will you search through the lonely earth for me?

Climb through the briar and bramble

I will be your treasure

I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind

I knew the call of all the song birds

They sang all the wrong words

I’m waiting for you, I’m waiting for you

Johnny Flynn – Detectorists

Its nature, its countryside, it fitted with our woodland theme and it fitted with us, we both love it and we both love where it came from and how we came to hear it.

And he was waiting for me, at the end of the aisle. His back straight, his heart pounding. In all honesty, I didn’t even hear the song, because he was right there in his beautiful suit and he had the look in his eyes that he gets when I do something great, and he was all I could see – everything, all the years of stressing over how we were going to do this, all the visits to places where neither of us felt comfortable, all the discussions and anxieties and planning over the last few months – it all came down to that one moment, and in that moment none of it mattered.

That evening, my sister’s boyfriend, the photographer who had been stood in front of us getting some wonderful pictures and who had a different view from anyone else told us how he had a lump in his throat as he watched my thumb stroke the inside of my newly wedded husbands hand, a subconscious and re-assuring gesture as if to say ‘It’s all ok, it’s me and it’s you and it’s all going to be ok…’

Eighteen months later, that song still makes it onto nearly every playlist I make – and whenever I hear it now, I see him standing there; I remember the moment he turned around and watched me walk down the aisle towards him and I know, this is what love is.