Category: Mental health

The Fear

I am part-way through the second draft of a long piece of writing. It’s book length, non-fiction, and that’s all I want to share. The fear has got hold of me, fear of if it’s any good, if anyone will want to read it, if I want anyone to read it. Perhaps I just needed to write it, and it doesn’t matter if no one reads it. Perhaps, once this second draft is complete, I’ll rest it, not look at it for a while, or never look at it again. I might just destroy it – a passing thought. I know I won’t do that.

I have written a paragraph to summarise the book, the kind of thing that might appear as a blurb, on the back cover. There I am, calling it a book, as if that might happen. Ha! I am drawn back to my MA class when Patricia, my tutor, would say, ‘What is it about?’ when we were discussing texts, or workshopping one another’s writing. And I find that the book is not just about what I set out to write. It’s also about loss, about grief, it’s about the toll that trauma takes on the body.

I wrote the first draft in two months, which is the fastest I have ever written anything of that length. I wrote a little every day, scared that if I missed a day, I wouldn’t return to it. Some days I wrote only two hundred words, others much more. I found that the gingerbread man timer I usually set to stop my wrists and back from hurting, if I type too long, had been ignored, and my wrists and back were indeed hurting when I stopped writing and noticed things other than the words on the screen, on the printed page.

Some things were hard to write, having held onto them in silence for so long, some for forty-five years. I felt better for speaking them, for writing them, but sometimes I don’t, and today is one of those times.

I didn’t plan this book before I wrote it, just wrote scenes and chapters as they occurred to me. I thought I could sort out the order later. And I find that they do make sense in the order in which they came. There is only one chapter that I might place elsewhere, or maybe cut it all together. I wrote it as light relief, as a positive story about that time, about myself. There are a few stories like that in the book. It’s good to remember those fun times as well as the trauma. Light relief for the reader as well as the writer. The reader! There it is again, the thought that someone might read it. Maybe they will, maybe it will go out into the world as a book. Maybe it will help others who have been through the same kind of things.

Early in the writing process, I wrote a dedication: For those that have not yet spoken, and for those that have. I must remember that, when the fear takes hold, why I wrote it. For myself and for others.

The ending is set on a day in March of this year, when I went in search of a tree to climb, in memory of my friend Karan, on the anniversary of her death. It’s a remembrance of loss, but also of hope, as the book will be. A memoir of grief, loss, hope, and understanding. Here is an extract, a reminder of facing the fear:

We slide down the muddy slope. It’s incline is one I would normally attempt, with a tree to hold onto on the first couple of steps down, then nothing to halt the slip and run towards the bottom. Bob goes first. He says, ‘Just go for it,’ and the rush of the last few steps is liberating, even though there is a risk of falling. How seldom we do this as older adults, just go for it, see what happens, risk falling on your face or your arse, and would that matter, after all?

I size up the horizontal branch. It takes a few attempts to pull myself onto it. I worry that I can’t do it. I just don’t have the upper body strength. Then I think of my granddaughter on a climbing frame at a playground a few weeks before. She tells herself that she can, when at first she thinks she can’t, when attempting scary climbs, or anything scary. I am doing this for Karan, to regain that childhood feeling, and I haul myself onto the branch, straddle it like a horse, and I am grinning, laughing. The seat of my jeans is damp and slimy where the mist has clung to the bark. My coat is splattered with mud. I am ten years old again.

Invicted – a guest post by SM Jenkin

I invited SM Jenkin to share her poem ‘Invicted’, as it lends itself to the theme of Little Big Steps. I know SM as Sarah – we were sister Medway Mermaids, part of a women’s writing group, and also share the experiences of being second-generation Irish women and living in the Medway Towns.

‘Invicted’ appears in her debut poetry collection Fire in the Head, published last year by Wordsmithery. It was also published in the anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, edited by Isabelle Kenyon, a fundraiser for the UK mental health charity Mind, and runner up for Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards, 2018.

Invicted

Victory
is getting out of bed, even though
it is past noon and everyone walking past
has seen that your curtains are
still closed

Victory
is having curtains in the first place,
and a net behind them, and
space to put them up and
keeping them there

Victory
is those sharp clean teeth and that cereal
that you swallow down and keep down
and the milk that is still OK to drink,
today

Victory
is remembering that above those sharp
teeth are lips that kiss, that shape
soft words:
you are allowed

Victory
is those clothes that keep you warm,
and those matching yellow socks
that remind you of
summer beaches

Victory
is making it beyond the chipped
front door today, and staying put
when they walk past, and see
right through you

Victory
is not telling them to go
fuck themselves, because really.
Who knows what their victory looks like;
is it anything like yours?

Victory
is going to bed and staying there,
not knowing if tomorrow is going to
be a victory day and
doing it anyway

____________

Over to Sarah, to tell us how she came to write ‘Invicted’:

‘Invicted’ was written as I reached one of the lowest points of my life, a culmination of what felt like a relentless conga-line of hurt and humiliations, large and small, and a couple of major health scares. It became difficult to get out of bed, to have any kind of energy at all; I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere. It became hard to find anything to celebrate when it seemed like everyone else was surging ahead in their lives, and posting such happy pictures online. I was isolated and not meeting anyone. My life seemed small and grey in comparison. So, to compensate, I wrote myself a checklist for myself of the things I was able to do and why this was important. It started off more as a way of reassuring myself that I was managing to do something, to remind myself that I was doing something. That, yes, getting out of bed was an achievement. Yes, staying in the outside world once you managed to get there was an achievement. Yes, now that you’ve seen this you can celebrate and recognise that this is, after all, a common and shared life experience. That we do not know what other people’s victories look like.

I wrote that poem because shaping the words helped me to shape my understanding, and how important it is to recognise those small steps of achievement. Writing that poem became an achievement for me, and sometimes, when the bad days return, I can say to myself, Victory is getting out of bed. There’s still a hangover that any talk about weakness is not the done thing. I’m a poet. I’m not always going to stick to the done thing, especially now.

It was important to me to make a reference to HMS Victory, the ship built at Chatham dockyard, where my dad worked.

It feels to me that there is still a macho hangover in some parts of Medway. An idea that a victory is something that has a very narrow definition,  only applying to “wins” such as a conflict (large or small), a business win, a football match.  I wanted to explore and expand that definition for myself. That winning mindset is hard to shake off.

SM Jenkin is a second-generation Irish writer, a lover of science fiction and an editorial advisor for Confluence magazine. A former chair of the Medway Mermaids writing group, chair and founder member of the Medway St Patrick’s day committee, SM Jenkin is a regular performer on the Kent Live Lit scene. She has performed internationally, and has been published in numerous literary anthologies and magazines. Her debut poetry collection Fire in the Head was published by Wordsmithery in 2018.

Social media: @sajenks42  https://www.facebook.com/SMJenkinWriter

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