Silently Watching On Midsummer’s Night

dark angel

An act of indiscretion had confined the dark angel to her lonely mausoleum for almost six months. Several impulsive acts of indiscretion; several acts of abomination that had stunned the close knit village community into deep, dark mourning.

After her missed opportunity on All Hallows Eve, desperation and hunger had got the better of her judgement less than a week later. As the family community had gathered round a huge bonfire for the annual fireworks display to commemorate Guy Fawkes, she had swooped down, snatched a young woman from the edge of the crowd and disappeared soundlessly into the night with her. One bite was all it had taken to silence her victim. In the sanctuary of her mausoleum, she had drunk deeply from young woman’s blood, realising too late that her victim had been pregnant.  With the bangs from the fireworks echoing through the night sky, the dark angel had let out a howl of anguish. Even for her, this had been one kill too far. A breeding female should never be drunk from. One of the golden rules of her lonely existence.

From a distance, she had watched the village mourn the death of the young mother-to-be; had stood silently in the shadows observing the girl’s funeral, noting that her grief stricken husband held two small boys, twins, by the hand as the coffin was lowered into the earth.

Her carelessness had angered her. Her frustration had driven her to seek more human blood to rid herself of the taste of the young woman’s hormone filled nectar.

On Christmas morning, she had feasted on an old man in the graveyard who had come to pay his festive respects to his late wife. His blood had been watery and tainted with the prescribed medication that had kept him alive.

Less than a month later, she had swooped down on a lone mountain biker, who had been roaming the trails above the village. There had been an exotic taste to his thick fresh blood, hinting at origins from warmer climes than this God-forsaken Scottish village. Yet again, she had feasted on one of the small community. How was she to have known that he was the son of a popular businessman, destined for sporting greatness? What did it matter to her? His young, virile blood had tasted divine and finally quenched her thirst for a while. The taste of the forbidden young mother-to-be finally banished by the taste of his exotic elixir.

 

Summer was always a lean time for the angel. There just weren’t enough hours of darkness to allow her to hunt. Her three kills in four months had drawn too much attention to the local area, meaning she would have to hunt further afield but it was too light to travel unseen. The local media were spreading tales that the village was cursed.

Patiently, she had bided her time in the cool darkness of the abandoned mausoleum until hunger pangs had gripped her. The evil in her soul was craving more and more human blood to sustain her. Writhing in agony on the floor of the tomb, she had resisted for as long as she could before having no choice but to risk an early evening foray for sustenance.

Under the cover of a cloudy midsummer dusk, she had spread her magnificent, black wings and soared over the village, heading towards the hills behind. Relishing being outside once more, she soared high over the narrow road for almost an hour before spotting three adult deer on the edge of the forest.

Lightning fast, she swooped to the ground and had her fangs deep in the neck of one of the deer before her slender, leather clad feet had touched down in the bed of pine needles on the ground. As she drank deeply, savouring the gamey taste of the doe’s blood, her nostrils picked up another familiar scent, a heady, ferrous musk mixed with sweat. Listening closely, she heard it – the gentle rhythmic thud, thud, thud of a runner approaching.

 

Ever since his encounter with the dark winged apparition at Halloween, he’d avoided running through the village, preferring instead to pound the forestry trails in the hills behind the house. The spate of sudden, unexplained deaths in the community over the winter months had unnerved him, as it had many of his friends and neighbours. He’d avoided venturing out in the dark but, now that summer was here, he was loving the long, light, warm nights.

Feeling a little guilty at upping the pace, he’d dropped his running buddy half a mile back, enjoying the freedom to run at his own naturally quicker pace. Since he’d sped up, the midgies didn’t seem to be biting so much.  He could feel them in his spiky hair and his eyebrows. As he ran, he pondered how fast a midgie could fly.

He rounded a bend in the trail and stopped in his tracks. The hairs on the back of his neck were on end; the birds had stopped singing in the surrounding trees. Everything was silent. A dead deer lay in the middle of the path, it’s throat recently ripped open.

Behind him, he could hear his friend approaching; hear his heavy breathing as he gave it his all to catch up. He glanced back to see if he was in sight yet but the path was deserted.

Turning back towards the deer, he let out a gasp.

A dark winged female, with waist length raven black hair, stood between him and the carcass. Her piercing green eyes were boring into his very soul.

He stood frozen to the spot as she stepped towards him.

The purple tipped feathers of her wings rustled softly as she moved gracefully to stand at his shoulder. Unable to take his eyes off her striking, alabaster features, the runner noted the fresh blood at the corner of her mouth.

She reached out a long, slim hand with long, pointed, purple nails and traced her finger tip around the outline of the tattoo on his upper arm.

His heart was pounding out of his chest.

Closing his eyes, he felt her breath on his neck.

 

Thud. Thud. Thud.

 

“There you are!” gasped his running buddy. “You trying to kill me with that pace, mate?”

He opened his eyes. The dark angel was gone. The deer carcass had vanished. Turning to face his friend, he muttered, “Sorry. Just needed to stretch my legs for a bit.”

“Hey! You’re bleeding!” exclaimed his breathless friend. “You ok?”

“Bleeding?”

“Yeah. It’s running down your neck.”

Reaching up with a trembling hand, he felt the sweaty skin at the side of his neck. Sure enough, his fingertips came away covered in fresh blood.

“Shit. Must have caught a branch back there.”

“Must have been a thorny one. That looks like a puncture wound,” stated his friend. “Come on. Let’s get you home and get that cleaned up. It looks nasty.”

Together they set off at a leisurely pace along the trail towards the housing estate.

 

High up in the trees, the angel looked down on the scene. Thwarted again but at least this time she’d been able to savour a taste of a meal yet to be enjoyed. Running her tongue over her fangs, she sighed as she lingered over the final drop of his divine blood.

 

 (image sourced via Google – credits to the owner)

End of an era….. Start of another…

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I guess it’s more usual to write about the “firsts” in life.

I’m going to buck the trend here and write about some recent “lasts”.  Humour me….

After fifteen years all in….

I’ve made my last school packed lunch.

I’ve completed and signed my last permission slip for a school trip (Lord, I hated those forms!)

I’ve written my last note to a class teacher.

I’ve attended my last parent’s evening.

I’ve ironed my last ever school shirt – Hallelujah!!!!

I’ve driven to the school for the last time.

I’ve waved my Baby Girl off on her last school trip – prom.

 

It seems like only yesterday that I took her to school for the first time. Thirteen years have passed in the blink of an eye.

Back in August 2004, I took a tiny, shy, little, girl to school. (She was the smallest and the youngest in her class.)

Last Friday night, I took a petite, confident, young lady to school for the last time to attend the pre-prom reception. Proud Mama moment.

As I drove away, waving to her as she stood in line to board the bus that was taking them to prom, for a split second, she was that tiny, shy, little girl once more.

(image sourced via Google- credits to the owner)

 

The Soul Searcher II

With her heart pounding in her chest, she stared at the long-haired stranger in disbelief; with her heart racing, she felt herself flush scarlet as she noted how hot he looked.

Feigning anger, she drew herself up to her full height of five foot three and demanded, “What in the hell are you doing in my garden?”

“Enjoying the view,” he replied casually, noting her petite figure and the curve of her breasts. “And waiting for you.”

“You’re trespassing!”

“Technically, you are correct,” he agreed without showing any signs of moving from his reclined position on the bench. “Stunning view by the way, Anna.”

“How do you know my name?” she asked sharply, instantly feeling stupid. Of course, he knew her name! He had read into her soul back at the coffee shop. This stranger knew more about her than she was comfortable with.

He raised one dark eyebrow at her and smiled. Despite herself, she felt her heart skip a beat.

“You really need to learn to shield those thoughts, Miss Maitland,” he chastised warmly.

Staring awkwardly down at her feet, Anna confessed, “I don’t know how to.”

Getting gracefully to his feet, her uninvited guest said, “I can teach you. It’s easy once you know how. Now, you inadvertently mentioned a chicken casserole. It would be a shame for the wine to go to waste.”

“I don’t see any wine,” countered Anna, looking round for signs of a bottle.

Suddenly, she picked up on a thought from her guest and her eyes flew towards the beach. Sure enough, nestled between two small rocks, just covered by water, lay two bottles of wine.

“Two bottles? Are you trying to get me drunk?” she asked, the icy edge to her tone melting somewhat.

“Not at all. They were on offer. I can’t resist a good deal,” he said as he took a step towards her. “I’m Jarrod, by the way. Jarrod De La Cruz to be exact.”

“Fancy name.”

“Spanish ancestry,” he explained with another heart melting smile. “Now, can we talk over dinner?”

Silently, Anna surveyed him, sub-consciously probing his mind in an effort to determine if she was in danger.

“I won’t harm you,” promised Jarrod. “On my grandmother’s life, I won’t touch you.”

“Fine,” she relented, as her heart sang with joy. “Fetch the wine and come in.”

 

The kitchen of the small cottage was surprisingly spacious. It was one of Anna’s favourite rooms in the house, largely because of its picture window views over the beach towards the river beyond. A tantalising aroma of chicken casserole filled the air, adding to the warm homely feel to the room. While she waited on Jarrod bringing the wine up from the beach, Anna fetched two wine glasses from the glass fronted cabinet then turned to put two plates in the oven to warm. She had just set two places at the large pine table when Jarrod walked into the room.

“Sorry. I had to make a quick phone call,” he apologised. “Had to let the others know where I was.”

“Others? Those hairy guys from the coffee shop?”

“The very ones,” he said with a smile. “I told them I’d catch up with them tomorrow in Glasgow.”

Before she could reply, Jarrod added, “No, they’re not lying in wait to turn up here to rape and pillage you. Relax, Anna. They’re in an Indian restaurant in Paisley. And as for me, I’ve no intention of touching you.”

Her sixth sense caught the hint of the lie in that last sentence.

“So, what are your intentions, Mr De La Cruz?”

“Patience, Miss Maitland,” said Jarrod, opening the first bottle of wine and pouring two half glasses. “You might want to put the other bottle in your fridge or do I need to go back and put it in the river to chill some more?”

Obediently, Anna stowed the unopened bottle in her bare refrigerator then busied herself serving their meal.

“Delicious,” complimented Jarrod after the first few mouthfuls. “Now, how long have you searched souls untamed?”

“Pardon?”

“Your mind was wide open back there in the coffee shop. Shows lack of training. Who taught you how to read minds and search souls, Anna?”

There was a serious note to his voice that caught her by surprise.

“No one,” she answered honestly. “I’ve always been able to do it. When I was little, I thought everyone could do it.”

“You were born able to do it?” exclaimed Jarrod unable to mask his astonishment. “I thought there was something different to you. Tell me about it.”

It wasn’t so much a suggestion as a command and before she realised what she was doing, Anna had told her uninvited guest about the challenges of growing up, the torture of travelling to college on public transport as she was haunted by a cacophony of conversations, the mental cruelty of lectures where her mind followed every day dream of every inattentive student while she consciously tried to focus on the lecturer. She explained the immense relief and inner peace she had found when she bought the cottage and secured a job that she could do from the solitude of her own home. Understanding entirely, Jarrod nodded periodically as Anna told her tale.

“I feel your pain,” he sympathised warmly. “First lesson. How to shut out the noise.”

Anna stared at him open mouthed, “How?”

“It’s easy,” promised Jarrod. “Do you always wear that turquoise ring?”

Anna nodded.

“Focus on it. Focus on everything about it. The texture. The shape. The colour. The silver band. The silver setting around the stone,” instructed Jarrod. “Now, keep that focus but try to pick up my thoughts.”

For a few seconds Anna enjoyed blissful silence as she focussed on her mother’s turquoise ring. After about thirty seconds, she allowed her concentration to lift a little. Immediately, she could hear Jarrod musing about the colour of her underwear. Before she could shut him out again, he began to laugh.

“White lace works for me, Miss Maitland,” he teased as she flushed scarlet in front of him.

“That was cruel!” she protested with a smile. “Is it really that simple to shut the voices out though?”

“Yes,” assured Jarrod. “It takes practice to hold that degree of focus but you’ll soon get the hang of it.”

“Thank you.”

“Lesson two is just as important,” began Jarrod as he refilled their glasses. “You must learn to shield your own thoughts. Learn to preserve your soul from prying eyes.”

“I never suspected anyone was looking before today,” revealed Anna softly. “I didn’t know there were other people like me.”

“You’ve had a long, lonely journey, haven’t you?”

Anna nodded slowly.

“OK. Lesson two,” he stated. “You kind of need to cloak your mind. It’s another visualisation technique. This is harder. Takes more practice. There are a few ways to do it too so you need to experiment a bit.”

He paused to sip his wine.

“Imagine a thick, dense, fog then bring it down around you. Disappear into it. Lose yourself in it. Trust that nothing can penetrate it. Nothing can see you. Focus on it. Believe in it.”

Tentatively, Anna tried to imagine a foggy cloud around her. Her first few attempts were patchy and Jarrod easily managed to find a way into her mind.

Before she became too frustrated, he suggested an alternative, “Try visualising a mirror instead. The mirror side is pointing away from you. The mirror is reflecting everything away from you.”

Again, Anna experimented with the technique described only this time with greater success. It took Jarrod over five minutes to find a chink in her protection.

“Well done,” he praised as she finally let her shield shatter around her. “For a first attempt that was none too shabby. It’ll get easier with practice. Promise.”

“Thank you. I’ll work on it,” vowed Anna as she took a sip of her wine. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, but I reserve the right not to answer.”

“What brought you here?”

“There’s an obvious answer in there, Miss Maitland, and its parked outside,” he teased, playing with her a bit. “Business and pleasure though is a more accurate answer.”

“And the business bit?” quizzed Anna, trying to learn more about her guest.

“Well, I can’t say too much. I’m looking for something.”

“And the pleasure?”

“Apart from having dinner with you?” he teased with a smile. “The pleasure’s getting to ride with the guys I was with earlier. We’re touring around but I need to leave them in a couple of days.”

Jarrod paused for a moment then decided to take a risk, “You could help me out here if I find what I’m looking for.”

“Me? How?”

“Look after it for a short while.”

Alarm bells rang in her overly cautious mind. What if this charismatic stranger was a drug dealer? What if this parcel she was being asked to look after was illegal?

“Calm down,” he said quietly. “And did you listen to anything I taught you earlier?”

“Sorry,” apologised Anna. “But, can you blame me, Jarrod? This has not been the most conventional meeting or evening.”

“I guess not,” he said with a sigh. “I’m working under cover. Hanging with the boys is my cover. They genuinely are my friends, before you ask. My investigations and probing around have been quite fruitful today. I’m pretty sure what I’m looking for will be on the last ferry tonight. I plan on being at the ferry terminal to collect it. However, I need somewhere to keep it safe for a couple of days.”

“Under cover for who?” quizzed Anna, sensing he was being honest with her.

“I can’t say,” apologised Jarrod. “It’s confidential. I need to be in Glasgow tomorrow to catch up with the boys. We’re heading to pick up the owner of the package. If you could guard it for two or three days till I get back it would save me a lot of trouble.”

“Is it too big to take on the bike with you?”

“Not exactly. More like too fragile.”

“And I definitely won’t get into trouble with the police? No thugs are going to turn up here trying to steal it?”

“I promise you it’s safe. No police. No thugs. No one.”

Against her better judgement, Anna felt herself nod.

“Miss Maitland, I think I love you!” declared Jarrod smiling at her.

At the sight of his smile and those dark brown eyes, the last of her reservations melted. Something, fate perhaps, had brought Jarrod into her life and Anna felt compelled to go along with his plans. Swiftly, he explained that he’d leave around eleven, meet the boat and be back by eleven thirty.

“Where will you stay tonight?” asked Anna, realising that locally his options at that time of night would be limited.

“I’ve a tent in my rucksack. I’ll camp outside, if that’s ok?”

“Nonsense,” she heard herself saying. “I’ve a comfortable couch. You are more than welcome to sleep on there.”

“Only if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

 

Shortly before eleven, Jarrod rose to leave for the ferry terminal. While they had waited for the clock to tick round, he’d coached her on a few more basic ways to both use and shield their shared talent. When she had quizzed him on how he had developed the skill, Jarrod had explained that he’d developed the talent after a car crash when he was a teenager. The crash had killed his parents and left him in a coma for a week. When he’d come round, he discovered he could hear what everyone was thinking. With a catch in his voice, he’d confessed that’s how he had learned of his parents’ death. He’d read the mind of one of the nurses.

 

While he was gone, Anna cleared away the glasses and dinner dishes then ran upstairs to fetch a quilt and pillows from the airing cupboard. She left them neatly folded on the floor beside the couch, hoping that her guest would be warm enough overnight.

A short while later, Anna heard the distinctive roar of Jarrod’s motorbike, listened as it stopped outside then heard his footsteps on the path. He knocked at the back door before stepping into the warm welcoming kitchen.

In his arms, he was carrying a sleeping child.

Private Bubble

misty beach

Something a bit different for this week. It’s been a while since I shared any poetry, largely because most of them are too personal, too emotional, to share with a wider audience.

This photo was taken on the day at the beach that inspired the following poem a few years back. We arrived at Cape Henlopen, near Rehoboth DE, to a misty seashore. Having driven almost a hundred miles to get there, we were not about to be deprived of a day at the beach! Part way through the day I wandered off along the shoreline on my own and realised that the mist had closed round me like a cocoon. I couldn’t see another soul. I couldn’t hear another soul. All around me was the seabirds and the ocean….and for those few minutes while I sat on the sand and watched the waves roll in, it was bliss.

 

Private Bubble

As the mist rolls in from the ocean

Casting spirals around in the air

I watch the seabirds at play.

 

They rush out after each wave.

They run hell for leather as the waves rush  in to snatch their feet.

 

They chatter and flutter.

The waves crash and glide.

The mist soundlessly swirls and drifts

 

Sand between my toes.

Damp misty warmth on my sun kissed skin.

Not another human in sight.

Contentment.

 

(originally written 10 Sep 2008)

 

A week of reflection….

Back at the end of Dec 2013 I set myself the challenge of posting one blog post each week. It’s a challenge I’ve risen to and, to date, I’ve posted something every week.

This week I’m struggling to find words to post that don’t trivialise the tragic events of the past few days.

Invariably when I seek solace I turn to music and lose myself in the lyrics.

So this week’s blog is song that I’ve sought solace in many times.

Some of you may take the time to play the video link below.

(credits to the owner – sourced from You Tube)

 

Some of you may prefer to read the lyrics  like a poem so I’ve added them below too.

Blackbird

The willow it weeps today
A breeze from the distance is calling your name
Unfurl your black wings and wait
Across the horizon it’s coming to sweep you away
It’s coming to sweep you away
Let the wind carry you home
Blackbird fly away
May you never be broken again
The fragile cannot endure
The wrecked and the jaded a place so impure
The static of this cruel world
Cause some birds to fly long before they’ve seen their day
Long before they’ve seen their day
Let the wind carry you home
Blackbird fly away
May you never be broken again
Beyond the suffering you’ve known
I hope you find your way
May you never be broken again
Ascend may you find no resistance
Know that you made such a difference
All you
Ascend may you find no resistance
Know that you made such a difference
All you leave behind will live to the end
The cycle of suffering goes on
But memories of you stay strong
Someday I too will fly and find you again
Let the wind carry you home
Blackbird fly away
May you never be broken again
Beyond the suffering you’ve known
I hope you find your way
May you never be broken again
May you never be broken again
Songwriters: Mark Tremonti / Myles Kennedy
Blackbird lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Learn from yesterday. Live for today. Hope for tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter how old they get or how tall they grow…treasure every moment

Just-be-a-real-parent-quote-large

When you have children, people often say to you to make the most of the time you have with them when they’re small.

Repeatedly, you’re advised to treasure every moment; treasure every memory; treasure every hug as they grow up way too fast.

Maybe I’m getting a bit sentimental in my old age (who’s old? Not me!) or perhaps it’s the fact that Boy Child is in the last few months of his teenage years or the fact that Girl Child is on the brink of leaving high school but I’ve bene reflecting on things a lot recently. (Lord, maybe I am getting old!)

I’m by no stretch of the imagination a natural mother. I’m not a particularly conventional mother. I’m not even convinced I’ve been a good mother but they’ve both made it this far – whew!- and have grown into sensible young adults – well, most of the time.

I don’t think it matters how old they get or how tall they grow, Boy Child and Girl Child are still my babies.

I’ve watched them take their first tentative steps as toddlers. I’ve waved them off to school. I’ve made endless packed lunches. I’ve sat through countless dance shows, school shows, musical performances. I’ve been to dozens of parent/teacher evenings.

I’ve jumped in waves in the ocean with them. I’ve built sandcastles on the beach with them.

I’ve dragged them through numerous museums – they’ll thank me for it one day.

I’ve introduced them to my favourite foods, favourite films and books.

I’ve introduced them my eclectic taste in music.

But, possibly most important of all here is that I’ve let them make their own minds up about things.

We don’t always enjoy the same meals. We don’t always agree on which film to watch and they both disregard my thoughts on books. (I’ll be honest, that one winds me up a bit.)

As for music, Girl Child is still developing her preferences having journeyed through EMO, Swedish death metal to cheesy pop and, for now, a more indie band sound. Her tastes are more catholic than mine but we occasionally agree on a band or song.  Boy Child too has developed his own tastes and preferences but it’s safe to say we share a lot more common ground.

This was brought home to me earlier this week when I realised that with regards to music we’d come full circle.

Almost six years ago, accompanied by two of my friends, we went to see Iron Maiden at the SECC in Glasgow. It was the first gig he’d been to where we were in the standing arena. The mother in me was anxious to protect her baby boy in this crowd of thousands of rock and metal fans. I stayed close to him all night as we enjoyed the show together.  My friend even commented over coffee the following day how cute it had looked to see us both together, horns up.

Earlier this week, Boy Child and I went back to see Iron Maiden. This time they were  playing in the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, next door to the previous venue. When we arrived about a hour before doors open, we detoured into the SECC to use the facilities and Boy Child commented that he hadn’t been there since the previous Maiden show.

As we stood in the queue, basking in the warm early evening sunshine, outside the Hydro, we counted up how many shows we’d been to together over the years. Twenty six, including the one we were heading in to.

A couple of hours later, as we stood side by side in the crowd watching the support band, Shinedown (love those guys), I stole a glance up at him. My baby boy was still standing beside me, smiling and singing, horns up. I smiled.

An hour or so after that moment, as we were being pushed and jostled and barged about in the midst of the mayhem at the front of the crowd, I realised the roles had reversed. We had come full circle. My Boy Child was protecting me, keeping me close to him and regularly checking that I was OK. My heart melted.

The childhood memories you make with your children are to be treasured.

The ones you make with them when they’re young adults are equally precious.

Treasure them all.

And, yes, we were both still standing together, six years down the line, horns up!

Surviving or Thriving.. a personal tale

mhaw17-badge-tile

As I sat at my desk in the salt mine mid-week an email with the communications to be cascaded to staff the following week dropped into my mail box. In the body of the text I spotted one topic to be highlighted and discussed- Mental Health Awareness. (This week 8-14 May is Mental Health Awareness Week)

Immediately it crossed my mind to wonder how many of my peers may overlook or pay lip service to this highly emotive topic.

It got me thinking. How could I play my part in raising awareness? Part of the salt mine’s key focus for this year is on Wellbeing so this topic slots in nicely alongside that. The article suggested hosting sessions akin to coffee mornings to allow people to talk and share their stories.

I wondered. I pondered. As usual, I over thought every angle of this before reaching a decision.  I lay awake for more than an hour at 3am thrashing out in my head what I may or may not do. Could I do something to raise awareness? It was a risky strategy for me as I don’t open up easily to people about myself.  

I felt strongly though that I had to at least attempt to do something. Staying silently locked in my own security bubble felt all wrong. If I spoke out about my own personal brush with stress and anxiety then perhaps my peers would see things differently. Could I go through with it?

Last Friday, I bit the bullet and spoke to a small group of my peers at our weekly team session. I kept it short and succinct, largely to prevent me from becoming over emotional in front of them and feeling like a complete idiot.

I pitched it as a “show and tell” thing and took my three book babies as props.

The short story caught my peers unawares. I hope it opened their eyes a little. I hope in some small way it heightened their perception of what someone who on the face of things is “fine” is really going through deep inside.

And the story I told?

Well, I guess here I can hide in the anonymity of words. Those of you who are still reading this blog won’t see the tears that fill my eyes. My peers heard the abridged version. Here’s the full story or as much of it as I’m prepared to tell.

Four years ago today, I sat down in the early evening sun on my front doorstep (exactly where I am writing the first draft of this blog) and began to write a story. I’ve always loved to write. That story grew longer and longer as the words flowed before it finally became Book Baby 1 aka Stronger Within.

But what made me decide to sit down and write? Why did I do it?

Almost a year before that, changes at work pulled the rug out from under my feet in spectacular style. It damn near destroyed me. Now, I want to make one thing crystal clear here – I am not blaming my manager at the time nor my employer in any shape or form here. They have a business to run and had a business decision to make. I totally get that. No one, especially not me, could have foreseen the fallout from that.

The secondment I had been on for almost two years came to a fairly abrupt end; the team I had been a part of for eight years no longer needed me to be a part of it. Put simply, I stepped back down to my previous grade and changed role. I was moved to another team within the same building. To many folk that would have been water off a duck’s back. I wish it had with me.

Initially, the news was like a knife wound to my very soul. Leaving the team that I had worked so closely with for so long felt like someone stealing my children from me.

I got the news on a Friday afternoon that I would be moving to a new team in a few short weeks. At that time I wasn’t told which team. I was just told I couldn’t remain with the team I was in.  Devastated doesn’t begin to cover it. I cried all weekend, torturing myself by questioning what had I done so wrong.

On the Monday I drew on my remaining inner strength (there really wasn’t a lot that morning) and what was left of my pride and self-esteem, painted on my best Disney smile and went to work. This was to be a routine I repeated day in day out for months, years perhaps.

To the world about me I was coping beautifully with the changes that had happened. I was praised for the professionalism I had shown. To the new team that I joined I was initially the quiet stranger in the camp until they got to know me a little. To most people from my old team I became a stranger, at least that’s how I felt as most of them went out of their way to avoid me, unsure of what to say to me or how to react around me. (There were a few surprising exceptions and to those people I will forever by eternally grateful) I felt exiled. I felt worthless.

Life went on.

Out with work there were a few challenges over the summer and autumn months in my personal life that I’m not prepared to divulge here (sorry). In at least one of these challenges, I was seen as the strong calming presence. If only my relatives had known the emotional turmoil going on inside me.

Winter was approaching and my physical health began to suffer as well as my mental wellbeing. My stress and anxiety levels were through the roof. I’d lost my sense of self-worth, my pride was battered and bruised, my self-belief was in tatters. I felt totally useless to everyone, including myself.

I was drifting through life one miserable day after another with the Disney smile painted on for the world to see. Not even my closest family knew how I was truly feeling. I kept all the hurt, the pain, the stress and anxiety locked inside.

Eventually I dragged myself to the doctor. By now six months or more had passed. During that time I noticed more and more strands of hair on my hairbrush each morning. I could feel the difference in the thickness of my long hair as I plaited it for bed each night. I’ve never been blessed with thick hair so this hair loss was sending my emotions spiralling out of control. I felt permanently exhausted and drained. After a series of blood tests the doctor diagnosed severe anaemia, most likely triggered by stress. My iron levels were through the floor, lower even than they had been after the birth of my son and they had been dangerously low then. The doctor said that the anaemia was the cause of the hair loss. I was prescribed a lengthy course iron tablets to restore my blood to normal. But what about the rest of me?

Pride got in my way yet again and I never mentioned ongoing stress/anxiety concerns or even increasing feelings of depression to my GP. As ever, I kept it all bottled up.

A few short months later I was back at the doctor. This time I was formally diagnosed as suffering from IBS, again episodes primarily being triggered by stress.

I was falling apart. By now more than half the total volume of my hair was gone. Fortunately, there were no obvious bald patches and for that I am eternally thankful.

Something had to change.

That something was me.

I had to take control of “me” and get myself back on track.

As is my usual want, I turned initially to books and articles online for guidance. Voraciously I read up about what vitamins and minerals I could take to try to address the hair loss fears and to prevent the recurrence of anaemia. (I loathe taking iron supplements and they really don’t mix well with IBS symptoms so I wanted to avoid these at all costs.) I spoke to the staff in my local health food store for guidance on which strengths and combinations to try. I was warned it would not be a quick fix. Soon I had a shelf full of bottles of supplements. I looked at my diet, eliminating the worst trigger foods entirely from it. Bye bye ice cream forever.

I began to take more exercise and introduced a daily walk into my lunch hours.

Looking at my sense of self-worth and self-belief was harder, much harder. I wanted to do something just for me, to do something that up until then I’d only dreamed about achieving. Eventually, after a lot of soul searching, I realised I wanted to write.  I wanted to write a book.

And here we reach 8 May 2013, the day I finally sat down to write.

By the end of 2013 I had a growing pile of A4 notebooks brimming over with the Silver Lake story. All of Stronger Within was written. Most of Impossible Depths, Book Baby 2, was also written.

There was one final crippling fear to be overcome. I am terrified of letting people read what I write. (Right now, my stomach is churning at the thought of anyone reading this and passing judgement) This stems again from long established feelings of never being good enough and fears of looking stupid and opening myself up to ridicule. These fears reach way back deep into childhood and their story is one for another day.

I gave myself a stern talking to and on 29 Dec 2013 I wrote my first ever blog post as the first step towards addressing this fear.

I set myself a personal challenge for 2014 to write one blog post per week for the entire year. I did it! In fact, I’ve added one blog post every week since Jan 2014 to this blog page. Has the fear been conquered? Not entirely.

Could my Silver Lake story become a real book? Would anyone want to read it? Those questions hung in the air.

Again, I turned to books and the internet for assistance and discovered that anyone who is prepared to put in the effort can publish a book, an ebook, via Kindle Direct Publishing.

I began to type….

And really this is where the tale kind of stops. Finally, I was doing something just for me. I’d reached a place in my head and my heart where I was more comfortable. For the first time in too many years I was also comfortable with who I was.

The Disney smile by and large was replaced by a real smile.

I felt like “me” again.

Now, here in May 2017, I finally feel secure enough to share this journey. There have been a few pitfalls along the way. Life naturally brings periods of stress and anxiety but I’ve coped with them. I’ve never gone all the way back to that dark hole that opened up mid-2012. I’ll not lie, it’s been close a couple of times.

Writing is what keeps me going. Writing keeps me sane. Writing helps me maintain my wellbeing and mental health balance. To me it’s akin to the stress relief that other folk find by going for a run or going to the gym or practising yoga or going fishing. It’s an essential part of my daily routine. It’s oxygen. It’s part of what makes me “me”.

I still take the vitamin and mineral supplements regularly. The hair has never grown back but I’ve got my head round that more or less. I get excited when I spot a new grey hair as it means another hair has grown in. Sad but true. On the whole, the IBS is under control but requires medicating regularly. I’m exercising more than I think I ever have. I’ve even been known to go for a run, a major miracle in itself. I may not be as slim as I’d like to be (who is?) but I’m comfortable in my own skin.

Work in the salt mine over the intervening years has taken many twists and turns but finally at the end of 2015, I bit the bullet and applied for a promoted post. That in itself took a lot of soul searching and inner resolve but it was worth it. I was successful and got the job.

And the biggest achievement of this five year journey? My three book babies. Who’d have ever thought it possible? My name sits proudly on the cover of not one but three books so far.

Apologies if this has been rambling. It’s been written straight from the heart. It’s been written and typed through a veil of tears if I’m being honest with you. It’s been written with pride at having made it back to being “me”.

Surviving or Thriving? That’s the anchor line to this year’s Mental Health Awareness campaign. I’ve survived and yes, right now, I’m thriving.

As we journey through this week spare a thought for that friend or relative or colleague who suddenly seems a bit “off” or a bit too happy or a bit too withdrawn. Spare an extra few minutes to catch up with them. Check if they are “surviving or thriving”. You never know, their smile may be a Disney smile masking the truth behind it.

Thanks for listening.

 

For more information on #MHAW17 see the link below :-

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week