(though not necessarily in that order)

(though not necessarily in that order)

Friday, 31 December 2010


Start walking. Walk past the few houses that make up the street. Walk down a steep bank, resisting the urge to run. Walk across the main road and up into the woods.

Keep walking. Make a decision, left path or right path, decide on left. Say hello to a nosy squirrel who stops for a chat.

Duck under a fallen tree, put your hand flat against the leaves on the ground to steady yourself. Feel the coldness, the dampness, the muddiness.

Keep walking. Walk in an almost run, get away from the sound of the road. Your neck feels like it will explode, your heart pounds. Keep walking.

Stop to take off your coat, tie it around your waist. Feel free - the only things in your pockets are a mobile phone turned off, but there just in case of emergencies, and a used tissue. A watch on your wrist, but no cross around your neck, no hair clip in your hair, no bracelet with sentimental value. You left the key to your house under a flower pot in the garden, so you don't have that to jingle.

Keep walking. Getting into the paths people don't walk on very often now, the ground is less of a muddy mush in the majority. The dog walkers turn around before this point, so none of them crush up the path. See a deer, in powerful beauty, stand staring at you briefly before disappearing into the growth again.

Keep walking. Glance at your watch, 45 minutes and no other humans. Start singing - not loudly, not spectacularly, just because you know no-one is listening. Your voice dissipates quickly into the trees and the birds' wings flap.

Decide this time to go on the right path. It meanders down a steep hill. One misplaced foot and you would tumble until a tree broke your fall. Would be hours or days before anyone found you in this place. Keep walking, spot a robin hiding in the undergrowth.

Keep walking. Roll up your sleeves. Feel the coldness of the air on your scarred arms. The animals won't judge and there are no humans to judge what was once your life.

Keep walking. Smile. The sky is grey, the trees are bare, the ground is in places green. Looking up, the world is monochromatic. Looking straight ahead, you get bits of greenery breaking up the perhaps gloomy looking forest.

Funny really. Last day of the year, you are going on a walk. Solitude. All part of the plan, to tire out your body enough for you to be able to get an early night and avoid hearing any fireworks at midnight. A day when it seems huge swathes of people are out celebrating together, but you want just to be alone.

Sing as if you are in the middle of a forest, as if no-one is listening. Because they won't be, no-one is nearby.

Keep walking, keep walking, forwards, forwards.

As if no-one is watching. Because they won't be, no-one is nearby.

Keep walking. Get closer back to civilisation, hear the cars roar past in the distance. Pull down your sleeves, for civilisation won't allow your arms to be on show.

Keep walking. Get closer and closer back to reality. Away from the trees, away from the deer, away from the undergrowth.

Keep walking. Say hello to a cow, "How now brown cow?"

Keep walking. You are the only one on this path, the only one in this forest. Nearly two hours without anybody to judge you.

The first person to walk on some of the leaves, the leaves that dropped from the trees in autumn. Crunching, squishing underfoot. Creating a new path, a path which is your own.

Cow looking at you oddly - doesn't matter, no more oddly than other people look at you.

Keep walking. You can see houses now, houses mean people. People mean people thinking things. At least in the forest there are no people thinking.

Keep walking. Out of the woods, down to the main road, up the steep bank, walk past the few houses, get the key from under the flower pot, open the front door.

Stop walking. Stop.

Friday, 17 December 2010


2010= 67 x 5 x 3 x 2

The psalm read tonight had the line
"Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning."(Psalm 30)
Last night I wept. Tears streaming down my face, a wet pillow, sobbing. Today has been a day of joy, which started this morning. The line stuck with me. (why do I seem to have a life which fits so nicely with the lectionary we use for weekday services? Each daily "urgh" thought seems to be somehow incorporated into that days readings - it is weird)

This time last year, people were almost convinced I wouldn't cope with the workload of my studying for 2010. Told me that they didn't want my degree to be the end of me and were worried I would crack under the pressure and fail and feel very very rubbish.
The OU rang me up to ask whether I realised how much work I was signed up to do. Pointed out that I was doing the maximum credits they will allow without special circumstances and considerations.
My care team suggested I should only do part-time as I didn't want to "go backwards".

However, if someone tells me they don't think I can do something, I'll do it with enthusiasm and vigour to prove them wrong (seriously, I'm so stubborn and bloody-minded I'll do it to prove them wrong as well as for my own benefit). With short term plans this is fairly doable, I get a bee in my bonnet and put my head down and work hard at it.
Longer term plans, like a year worth of studying, is more difficult. The momentum of the "I'll show them" plans invariably goes awry at points.
I think, having started proper at the beginning of February, I dipped mid-April. Did my normal "Why, oh why, oh why didn't I choose music as my life?!" thing.
Got back on track, then had a week in June where I couldn't even open a book. Got back on track (after a whiny session with my mentor in which she persuaded me to open my books with her sitting next to me to prove the pages weren't going to attack me and gobble me up).
August saw me going to Nottingham for a week of maths. Probably the hardest week I've had recently, as it was so full of stuff (including a few evenings chatting about music with my tutor and buying him pints...). But I came out of my presentation at the end of the week with a glowing phrase in my head "We were very impressed with your presentation." because they believed I was going to be rubbish but I wasn't as bad as they thought (they didn't realise I have jobs with a need for  leading groups...).
Then the exams led to a mentally weird bit of time as I was stressed. Then one exam went splendidly (I came out grinning as I just had a 3 hour romp through the fields, or rather, through the exam) and then the other was a disaster. It finished at 1pm, by 2pm I was drunk in a pub. At 6pm, I was attempting to hide my rather inebriated state from the youth choir I was standing in front of. Just an awful hard slog. I really thought I had lost the aim for the year in one 3 hour period.

However, from the marks published today I didn't. I've done it. I've done it. I'll pinch myself again and say it again, I've done it. People were concerned I couldn't manage full-time study, but I can. I can. I can't quite believe it.

After bombing out of my conventional uni education and having university security and two nurses rush me to hospital, I thought it was over. My dream of being an academic had been ruined by my desire to self-destruct. However, 3 months in hospital led to me signing up to the OU whilst on day leave (Well, I'm not dead, why bother spending more time sitting around staring aimlessly into space?). I got the books in the post when I was adjusting to having a home again instead of a hospital room, petrified of how I could turn my life back into a life instead of a four-walled existence. Now, I'm going to graduate only 4 months after the majority of my peers. I can't quite believe it.

Yesterday, I sobbed. I was tired, wound-up, sad and missing my life as it should have been. I was missing my grandmothers, wondering how one would have viewed my musical achievements alongside my academic, and the other being so proud of her eldest grandchild being a university maths student. Neither are here. I loved them both, such differing personalities (such differing social backgrounds: one never needed to work due to her father's great wealth and thought nothing of a grand piano in the drawing room and one came from a mining family of 7 in Wales where a tiny council house with two rooms for her two children was one of life's great privileges) yet such wonderfully strong people. Determined, in very different ways. I miss them both dearly, and last night cried for loosing them before I grew into a young woman instead of simply a girl.

Today, I can't believe it. I'll never take my academic perseverance for granted - I'll cherish every day I study (and I plan to take many further years devoted to mathematical studying yet) for once I couldn't.

A year in which I have grown as a person (you will find a pile of buckets to throw up in to your left, I apologise for the sentimental crap). Hugely. Finished therapy for one thing, so am doing life without constant nudging from a psychologist behind me. Turns out it isn't quite as impossible as it first may have seen.
Yes, I have another year of my degree to go. But I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.

Life seemed to be ruined. I had ruined it. Done a pretty spectacular job at ruining it too. I'm here now though, I'm working, I'm studying what I have always wanted to study, I'm teaching, I'm being paid to do music, I'm enjoying things, I'm alive. 4 walls doesn't make an life it makes an existence. Now though, people have their  work cut out trying to contain me to 4 walls. And if someone said "stay still" I'm bloody-minded enough to move for the sake of moving/defying a stupid command.

A day of joy. A diploma to add to my list of qualifications. A bunch of distinctions to add to my degree classification which I'll achieve this time next year (and I will, because someone has already said "Don't you think you should take two years to do your third year? We don't want you crashing.").  Here is to 2010, a year where I conquered public transport, started going to concerts on my own, studied my damn hardest and it paid off, where I played for my first ever wedding as an organist, where I started performing on the piano again, where I learnt how to stand alone. Stuff isn't always great, but compared to the last decade this year has been amazing. I'm living. *raises glass to the year*

[I know I'm early. Most people evaluate years in 2 weeks time. I have a slightly skewiff year based on current university results and really finished my proper, liturgical year 4 weeks ago. And 2 weeks isn't very long, and I'm perpetually early for things, so... errr... there.]

Monday, 13 December 2010

Two sides

So, latest thing is two distinct sides - the depressed and the vaguely manic.

The vaguely manic is prevailing when I'm around others most of the time, and then about 30 minutes after I'm alone, THWACK, we are back to the crushing brain fog/depressed/hurt.

This schism between me and me is causing me angst as I have no idea which is the proper current mood, and which is the slightly fake mood I'm hiding behind. Am I hiding behind being a bouncier version of my cheerful energetic self? Or am I hiding behind a utterly depressed version which is too difficult to deal with?

This huge chasm between me at one point and me at another point fills me with dread. I can't keep jumping between the two - eventually I'll get stuck on one side, or fall down the hole (and who knows what lies there.)

If the vaguely manic is some way my defence against letting people in, then presumably it can't last forever. Am I tricking myself into being happy? Lies never last. I've found that out before.

The musician and the mathematician. Two sides of me.
The teacher and the student. Two sides of me.
The responsible "thrives in a crisis" persona and the person unable to motivate self to get up in the morning. Two sides of me.

I can deal with being two different people for quite a lot of the time. But when one side is wanting to self-destruct but simply not having the motivation or the energy to do anything, and one side is bouncing off the walls I fear the worst. The vaguely manic is being held back by aching joints, otherwise I would have gone on another outing today for a long muddy walk. Which is fairly safe, but would have led to far more aching now.
However, I fear the energy and the self-destructing wishes are going to coincide. I stocked up my first aid supplies today having run down all the supplies I had from 18 months ago. Admittedly at the moment I'm using first aid stuff for non-self-inflicted injuries/preventing my hands from shredding with the splints for my wrists. I had forgotten what it felt like to stand in a queue at the pharmacy with 20 pounds worth of wound care supplies in my hands. The "must not make eye contact or look unhinged" thoughts with the person at the till. It still fills me with the same feelings as it did when it was a more regular occurrence.

I'll be fine. I always am. The highs and the lows will even out, the chasm will fill and I'll get back to an even keel again. I won't try to do anything drastic, I'll sit thinking about it before deciding against it. Just sometimes, just sometimes the what ifs led me down dark paths I wish not to go down, let alone plan.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Reading books

Reading books in public.

For me, reading books is a rare occasion. My dyslexic tendencies lead to jumpy words and a need for far more effort than I am usually willing to expend. So I tend not to read unless I have to. If I'm reading print, it is usually with the aid of a trusty green overlay and magnifying bar. Or printed onto green paper, if I've got the information in a format which I can do that with.
Other days, reading even with that stuff is nigh on impossible, so I scan in text from academic books and get a clever bit of software to read it to me. In clunky, clumsy, poorly inflected computer voice. Which is better than nothing, but not exactly brilliant.

On train journeys to London, when I have over an hour of sitting, I like to read. Makes it feel less like wasted time. And I'm not a fan of wasting time (though it often happens). On Monday, I went to London. So I took a text book which I read on the way up and the way back from London, but then I took a fiction book. Now, anyone who knows me knows I don't do fiction. I don't read much, so when I do, it is nearly always academic reading. Which is fine, and hasn't caused me any huge problems because there is so much academic reading which can be done.

I've read three non-academic texts in book format in 50 months. The first was Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. My CPN gave it to me when in hospital in the end part of 2008 as she could see I was running out of things to do. So I read it as she is the sort of person to follow up something with a discussion (which reminds me, I must read that article she sent me again before she next comes).
The second was read about a month ago. The Dead Beat by Cody James. A brilliant book, which I read to myself. Feels odd saying "I read a book" but it was such a novelty. It makes me sound like I'm some pretentious 5 year old, "Why yes, when I was reading Jane Auuuusten last night..." (I know kids like that. *shudder*) but for me reading a book is weird. Exciting and new. Anyway, that was the second book.

The third book was read on Monday. Sitting first at a table in a restaurant on my own, and then in a comfy seat I found in a foyer to a concert hall. It was cold outside, I had decided that 6pm in central London was a bit noisy, so found somewhere warm and quiet to sit. Pulled out the book which I had picked up from my "To read" pile. It was Charcoal by Oli Johns (no guesses needed that I got this and the book before from the same order. Check out Eight Cuts) and gripped me to the point where I didn't have a pre-concert drink as I wanted to finish it. (Which to those who even vaguely know me is somewhat an unusual event)

The thing with reading in public is that it is public. When reading academic texts, you are just seen to be a fairly enthusiastic nerd. Especially if you then take a piece of paper from your bag and start scribbling notes on it. Fairly easily identifiable, especially if it has diagrams and the like. Hiding behind this exterior of the dedicated student/academic person/geek is easy.
However, it is fairly obvious when it is a fiction text that you are reading. For one thing, the books are different shapes. Academic texts tend to be wider, sometimes A4 size. Fiction tends to be thinner in the horizontal plane, less words per line and the like. You read down the left hand page, up to the top of the right hand page, down to the bottom of that page, flick over to the next page and repeat.

I felt, in a way, as if I was being daring sitting there reading. Each time I looked up to give my eyes a few seconds of blurry out-of-focus long distance stuff, people were looking at me. In a "oo, she has stopped reading" way. Not just daring because I never read, but daring because I was allowing others to see me read. At school, in "bring a book" reading sessions I either brought a non-fiction text or bunked off. Because I couldn't read well enough or concentrate in a silent classroom for 45 minutes, so why bother? (Why bother when you could be sitting in a toilet cubicle pathetically weeping instead?)

I really struggle with silence. It amplifies any background thoughts to the point where they are no longer background, but very much foreground thoughts. So sitting in a public place with murmurs of other people, but not much was ideal amount of noise.

Reading books is quite good, I think I've decided. I know this sounds stupid, but to me it is new. It isn't as passive an activity as I had decided it was. I always thought that music, being music, drew you in, held you by the scruff of your neck until the end. Had you captivated from that expectant pause before the first note to the last. Where as books didn't do the same. I'm not sure they ever will in anyway compare, but turns out they can do just what I've described about music.

So yeah, reading. Me? Reading? I hardly believe myself either...

Sunday, 5 December 2010


I'm tired. Tired of being. Tired of being fake and happy. Tired of being sad. Tired of Christmas. Tired of being tired.

Right now, I want to have a nap. A 3 hour deep sleep, where I wake up having no idea what the time is. Where I twitch in my sleep as I'm sleeping so deep. Where I wake up shivering because it is so cold when I adapt to being awake again. Where I consciously allow the external noises my ears are feeling to cease to be - switch off my hearing, just before I stop thinking and slip into the sleep.

I can't. Because I don't have 3 hours before my next bit of work for today. Because it would screw up the vaguely functional sleep pattern that is currently here. Because even ten minutes now before going out again would result in me feeling far worse physically when I awake.

I'm tired. Creating energy for being "me" when out is difficult. Creating energy and bounciness (i.e. what I am) from this tiredness just leads to the tiredness becoming more overwhelming. I'm sleeping a good 8 hours most nights. I'm spending time sitting around not doing that much too. I shouldn't be tired.

Tomorrow, I'm doing a Grand Day Out. Getting out of this navel-gazing part of world and into London. But right now a day in bed seems preferable. It should be a great day, I can walk without a fake grin on because people won't start talking along the lines of "Oh, y'know Hannah, that young woman who is involved in X,Y and Z? Well, yesterday I saw her walking down the road looking really glum." like they do around here. Going to several concerts. My kind of brilliant day. Just need to do it, rather than wimp out. Or end up in a panic somewhere.

I'm tired. And now I need to go and get ready to familiarise myself with an unknown organ to do a Christingle service. Energy levels hugely needed. Energy level now: non-existent. Blah.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Latest edition to my head: sirens. As in those on emergency service vehicles.

It started on Monday. I was walking along a road, and could hear the sirens. I don't know whether it was actually an ambulance nearby or not. There were no visible blue lights, so I suspect it wasn't even started by an actual ambulance.

Anyway, it started. And is getting a bit annoying. I have no idea when it is a real ambulance/police car/fire engine, or whether it is my head. But you can't really just assume it is always in your head, so I spend time outside trying to look to see any vehicles that could be making the noise. As stepping out in front of one by accident is generally considered a bad move.

Once, someone called 999 because of me. Ambulance first response guy turned up first, sirens blazing. He warned me that the police were coming and like to make a lot of noise, so it would get noisy in a short while as they came. True enough, the police turned up, sirens blazing. Then the ambulance turned up to take me away, sirens blazing.

I can still remember all the fuss. The road was closed off, so loads of vehicles were having to turn around and be directed away by the police. The police searched my tiny bag which had a sheet of paper with maths symbols on (slightly perplexed them, and somewhat confirmed my madness), a load of things that they took to go and have strong words with a local shop (who sold me stuff they shouldn't have) and they also took something off me which is technically illegal to carry around in a public place. Thankfully (that is a hugely emphasised use of the word thankfully) the police realised that me having this object on me was the least of my worries at that moment and didn't take the matter any further.

By the time the police arrived, I was sat down on the ground. Huddled with my knees under my chin. Shaking. Trying not to cause any more fuss. An attempt to end everything which went horribly wrong. Then more police turned up to help direct the traffic. Probably having come some distance with sirens blazing (I think that this town only has 4 police patrol cars, and I counted at least that around me...)

I always said I'd never cause a big fuss. That I'd never jump under a train as the driver/people involved didn't deserve it. Never do anything to end everything in a public place as passers-by didn't need to see it. Then I snapped. So quickly. The sirens came, sirens blazing.

Ironically, it was the huge weight gain from the psychiatric medication I was on which actually prevented that action being carried out. I was too heavy to properly climb to where I needed to be to do what I was intending to do.

Sirens meant vehicles coming because I was causing huge fuss. I've currently got sirens attacking my brain. There aren't any voices, just sirens. And I'm unable to distinguish between the ones coming from inside my head, and those outside.

Sirens swishing around and around in my head. They aren't real, but I'm convinced someone has somehow decided I am properly mad and unsafe and need to be locked up so have called everyone to come and take me away. Which is stupid, as it wouldn't be a huge amount of sirens, it would be an AMHP in a Ford Fiesta or something...

Snow is getting in the way too - I walk to most things I do in a week (I don't drive), and with my inability to stay upright at the best of times, I'm slipping and sliding all over the place. I would be in a seriously bad situation if I caused myself damage more than the occasional blue bruise. Tomorrow, I'm accompanying an exam which has some fiendish music in it. Broken wrists would result in that being impossible. Broken legs would result in a complete rethink of all the music I've got planned for this month (playing the organ is a complete body activity). Leaping out of my skin because I'm convinced that a police car is approaching isn't exactly helping matters.

I'm in the local newspaper *again* this week. So that is 5 appearances in 4 weeks in the local press. This time the picture accompanying the article is just of the back of my head, but people have already asked whether I've seen my picture in the newspaper. I shouldn't complain, publicity for local groups in the local press isn't exactly draining. But being a community figure is. When the telephone ringing is usually someone wanting me in one of my roles. A quick trip into the supermarket this morning had 3 "Hi Hannah! Cold, isn't it?" type remarks, as people know me. Oh to be an anonymous observer of the world, rather than involved is so many different circles of people that I can't go anywhere without being seen. So the sirens would know where I was if they tried to find me, as half the bloody town seem to know me by sight/name.

Mixed with the brain fog of depression, all of this is meaning I'm slowly turning into a non-functioning person again. When I'm getting ready to leave the house when my brain is co-operating but I'm feeling odd I say "OK" lots. Yesterday I sat at my desk saying "OK. OK. OK." Aloud. To no-one. Just to try and keep calm. It didn't really help.
Sirens realistically aren't coming to get me. In real life, people aren't aware things are a bit foggy so no-one is worrying. I am turning into a bundle of fairly paranoid threads wrapped up in the noises of a odd head and then double wrapped in a massive piece of used, half-popped, bubblewrap. Just what I always wanted...

[Sarcasm seems to be the only way to look at this without just retreating to under a duvet never to come out again. Realistically, the things that make up all parts of my life could be considered one huge farce. The person who called 999 on me will give me a bottle of wine this weekend as a thank you for an event I'm doing for one of her groups. Last week she *made* me take home huge amounts of cake. She has put me in her funeral wishes to play for her funeral. You couldn't make it up if you tried.
Jumping around thinking the police are about to tackle you to the ground is so preposterous too. I think if I told my CPN when I see her in 3 weeks time she'd just probably sit trying to stifle laughter at how illogical it all was. From someone who spends time considering logic problems, the real truth is none is out to get me, however, it sure as heck doesn't feel that way right now.]