Seeing the Unseen

Magical winter with our two babies, experiencing all their joy.
New Year, seeking a larger home for our growing family,
hastily making a swift purchase for an uncomplicated move.
“The occupants died,” explains the property agent, in ‘that’ tone,
“Such a sad situation…” Callously perhaps, we avoid the subject.
We don’t want to know.
Asking no questions, we move in and await our third baby.
She’s summer-born; beautiful, adored, keeps her mother close by.
A darling infant, yet a fretful sleeper, waking often in the night
to be lifted from her white crib by our bed, and soothed.
Her focus develops, she is fixating on something unseen;
whatever does she notice near the coving in our room?
We don’t want to know.
Her gaze follows it, feed after feed, night after night.
Where wall and ceiling meet, her tiny face entranced
in the nightlight’s glow, as it’s traveling back and forth.
Pleadingly, I say her name attempting to distract her,
but she remains transfixed, while motionless in my arms,
mesmerized by this unrevealed vision she’s watching.
Night noises, unexplained, disturb us constantly:
“But –“ we reason, “It’s just an old house. It creaks.”
We don’t want to know.
Returning from shopping, I place bread on the counter
only to hear it fall tumbling to the floor after a while.
Bemused, returning to the kitchen, I replace the bread
far back on the wood surface; it cannot possibly fall.
Later, I hear a noise: the loaf landing back on the floor.
Leaving it there, I feel a shiver, afraid of what’s next.
The middle child often speaks of “The curly-haired girl.”
We try to find out who she means but never succeed;
she gazes out of the window when we ask the girl’s name.
Occasionally, she reaches for a hand only she can see.
“The Curly Haired Girl.” Of course.
We don’t want to know.
One night, hours after they have fallen asleep,
a row of books on the children’s bookcase is toppling.
Like dominoes they fall, book after book. After book.
I cry in our bed, what is this presence frightening us?
We don’t want to know.
Fourteen months old the baby stands beside me as I fold laundry.
Suddenly, she’s frozen, staring at the ceiling. I speak her name sharply;
Nothing. I say it louder. Staring soundlessly, she doesn’t respond.
Finally, a chilling movement, her arm slowly rises up in front of her,
stopping when her tiny index finger is in line with her fixed gaze.
Then, silently her finger and eyes, follow a force over her head and
she turns to the window, offering a barely perceptible wave.
The house is valued that afternoon, and up for sale the next day.
We don’t want to know.
The housing market’s quiet, sales are slow. Our desperation grows;
I throw away an antique French dress I bought for the baby,
give my late grandmother’s rings to a friend “for safekeeping”.
So desperate to rid our house of that which we cannot see.
Craving peaceful sleep, we spend weekends at a nearby hotel,
“A little holiday” we tell the children, so they won’t be afraid.
One day in the dining room, our oldest child asks
What the light is, moving on the wall?
“Where?…. Where?!” I demand.
“There!” he insists, pointing.
It is a grey day, no sunlight. The dining room has no windows.
We don’t want to know.
Concealing my alarm, I tell him it’s nothing. But he knows,
As, do I, although I have no explanation to offer my child.
Driving to school, he’s pensive, staring out of the window,
then, quietly our small boy makes a resolute declaration:
“It was a head, wasn’t it Mummy?….It was a ghost.”

The day we leave the house for good, we do not look back.
Still, we don’t want to know.

October

Photo @jcstaff_

October by @jcstaff_ , Sept. 2020


Green leaves, givers of oxygen,
begin to change
colours transform to velvety rusts,
golds, auburns, maroons;
colours of dying.
Though there is exquisite beauty
in their death.

Some cling to their last known resting place,
trembling, quivering in their final spot,
slight undulations with breeze’s breath.
Until they can hold on no longer,
liberated, they dance in a gust,
spinning, spiralling in air,
skittering to earth
in sun, warm and syrup-like.
This brings delight for children,
the dying swan song of the leaves.
The death of summer in the air.

Now, it rains. Dark autumn days,
the leaves blacken, colours stolen.
Plastered on the ground,
too heavy to fly free any longer.
Mildewing and losing their crisp voices,
as decomposition silences them,
robbing them of their elegant beauty.
They settle in the soil to rest, and wait,
to begin their next journey.

A Boy in A Pick-Up Truck

pick up

A Boy in A Pick-Up Truck – by JC Staff

An uncomfortable vacation with my mother; she’s irritable,
and so embarrassing. Everything’s a drama for her.
I’m sixteen – why did I come? Why?
It’s spring break in Florida.
Too good to miss, so I thought.
I spent yesterday in the sea, at one with the waves
and the salt, and my thoughts adrift on the water.
Today, red hot, crispy skin covers my shoulders.
Back at the beach, I cover my burnt flesh
with a baggy, summer sweater, in teal green,
worn gently over my swimsuit, inside-out,
protecting my parched skin from seams.
The sunburn hurts, and I’m aware of my fishbelly-white legs
self-conscious, surrounded by golden Coppertone bodies.
It’s so hot, I feel unwell, and need a break from the sun.
From my mother, and from the sun. Space and quiet.

“I’m going to look at the gift stores.”
My mother hates shopping; I leave her there on the sand,
scowling and wiping her sweaty face. She hates beaches too.
Reaching the roadside, I wait for a pick-up truck to pass.
A blond boy, older than me, rides in the back barechested.
Laughing, he shouts out two words: “You’re fat!”
And time stops.
I’m fat.
He has told the world in a moment of hate.
Everybody knows now, and despises me for it.
In reality, I’m not. I am not fat, or overweight.
But my true size doesn’t even matter anymore.
Cataclysmically lasting damage has been done.
The seed is planted in fresh, damp fertile soil.
He couldn’t know, but I loathe my body already.
Every damned piece of it, in all ways unimaginable.
His declaration, “You’re fat!” adds to a growing arsenal
of ammunition, the suite of weaponry that starts a war.
Assailing a healthy body which would endure much harm.

Many years later, I will question whether he even meant me?
I convinced myself he did, an accusation I did not challenge.
He wasn’t there when I ripped up my school photograph,
consumed in a rage of fury, certain I was the ugliest girl alive.
He did not know how I wished to melt my freckles away with acid
and yank out the wretched cowlicks in my wildly tangled hair.
He never found out I already thought I was fatter than fat.
Years have elapsed since I stood at the roadside,
in a flowy, soft cotton sweater, nursing sunburn.
Years have elapsed since I later stopped eating,
almost starving myself to death.
Yet I still remember that taunt
and sometimes, it still stings.

Stilling the Wind

Stilling the Wind jc staff, July 2020
Violent force, unseen, whipping my hair across my face,
branches of trees, decades old, lurch and jerk, directionless.
A ghostly moan – where does it come from?
Is it the mournful voice of the wind itself?
Turbulent, it is unsettling the way it stirs,
never soothes.
Because it is never soothed.
It is aggressive, discontented, darting –
moving recklessly, with unclear intent.
But it leaves the grass alone – stoic,
and untrembling.
Perhaps, the grass is too strong and anchored
to be sucked into the wind’s cruel game,
standing resolute in the storm-filled torment.
The courage of the grass against the wind
is the courage of my heart against my mind.
Be still, it whispers.
Even though it shan’t be heard.
Be still.

Photo by jc staff

Body-Mind Quandary

Body-Mind Quandary – by JCStaff

Prioritize your health.20200523_083146
Sounds simple enough.
But it is not. For some,
physical health and mental health
are diametrically opposed to each other.
I developed anorexia nervosa in my late teens,
Then spent a good number of years starving;
nearly to death, on occasion.
Today, I am healthy, physically.
My weight is in a normal range,
my bone density has regenerated,
my menstrual cycle follows the moon.
Though decades later, the anorexic brain lives on,
long after the calorie counting quietens to a whisper,
and average-sized women’s clothing on racks fits again.
Health is the priority, true: but choosing is a daily battle daily,
for those with disordered relationships to food.
Our mental health or our physical health;
Which of them matters the most?
If we eat normally, we feel guilty;
If we feel guilty, we want to restrict;
If we restrict food, we struggle with exercise;
If we can’t exercise, we feel enormous;
If we feel enormous, we over-exercise;
If we over-exercise, we suffer injuries;
If we are injured, we struggle with exercise;
If we can’t exercise, we don’t want to eat;
If we don’t eat, we cannot think straight.
This is not the end, but it gets tedious, doesn’t it?
All the while, quietly observing this tense game
of moral ping-pong is our tattered metabolism,
forever striving to end play, yet frozen
in a constant state of confusion.

Darling Sparrows

Darling Sparrows – by jcstaff

Were the leaves that green yesterday?
There seem so many of them presently,
blossom, fresh growth – like mid-spring.
But this beautiful decade has been tainted,
its hours are passing strangely, so slowly.
How peculiar our world feels, this planet
now foreign to us all; unchanged
only in name.
Outdoors, oxygen feels drenched
with a hazardous cocktail of
uncertainty, contamination.
So, we stay inside, secure.
Do the birds not know?
They sing louder now,
persistently inquiring
why earth is so silent.
Dawn chorus all day,
like the eerie backdrop
of a John Wyndham novel.
Oh darling sparrows,
your palpable fear is
our sudden nomality:
a life we didn’t choose
called 2020 lockdown.

 

Think of a Word….

Think of a Word…..

So, New Year’s Resolutions are kind of passé, right?

I mean you can make them, sure, but lots of us have agreed that actually, we are setting ourselves up for failure when we inevitably can’t keep them. Then we have a reason to be unkind to ourselves. Plus, we shared our well-intentioned resolutions with all those in our lives, and across our top four or five favorite, most-used social media platforms.  So now the resolutions have gone down the pan (mid-Januaryish), they all know we bailed out, given the nature of the digital goldfish bowl which our generation socialises in. Not a good look.

 

Instead, I see people choosing a word.  The word can be anything, and it’s trendily called a “watchword”, a “focus word”, or a “safe word”.  The past few years, I’ve fancied this idea, although as the end of December looms, people start identifying their chosen words, and I’m like “Think of a word!  What is the matter with you?  One word!  Just one fucking word!  How hard can it be?… No, the word cannot be ‘fuck’….”  So after this cute little convo in my mind during the first week of the new year, I’ve just given up.  And the Januarys pass. Until this year.

 

This year is different.  This year, I. Have. A. Word.

I actually have a word!  I will tell you what it is, but first a little context.  Some of my difficulty in choosing is that all the good ones are gone.  Does it matter if I pick a word that one of my friends is using?  Well of course not.  Except, who wants to seem like a copycat, right?  And it reeks of cliché. As well, a few of the words I considered, and indeed, the one I have chosen, are personal qualities, and as a person who lacks any sense of self-esteem, I don’t want to be seen as a braggart.  So, although I think I do embody my word I’ve selected, I also think it is an ongoing challenge to sustain that commitment to it, as situations threaten it on the daily. This helped me choose – it’s a word that I can stake a claim to at times, but actually a personal trait I’d like to aspire to and keep striving for.

 

Okay.  Ready?

Integrity.  That’s my word – my word of the year, the first year of this new decade (2020, rather a grand and gorgeous name for a year, don’t you agree?)  Now, before we look at the word, I would like to explain my discovery which is part of the reason I chose Integrity. While I was considering it as a possibility, I noticed something.  Another word inside it: Grit. Ha, you didn’t notice that before either, did you? Now, grit used to be synonymous with dirt, perhaps some particles of it inside your shoe.  These days, it is also defined as a sought-after quality.  It is in line with the ‘what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger’ concept (like the Kelly Clarkson song by the same name.)  It’s like grit is earned by surviving adversity and hard graft.  Then I started to think about the analogy of how diamonds and pearls are created (meme about this).  And I thought “Hmmmm…. Yes, I truly have experienced adversity at times.  I’d love to be a sparkly diamond-like person, or a shiny pearl-like person someday.”Image

Then, it all began to make so much sense. Having integrity sometimes means being faced with a shit hand dealt to you, and sticking to your belief system, even though this journey feels hard, and the path uneven.  It can be tough in those situations to do all those valiant things like “rise above”, and “be the bigger person”, but in the end, integrity wins, every time.  This is where the grit comes in.  Occasionally, put up with a bit of grit in your shoe, and grit your teeth through a challenging encounter.  All these are essential ingredients to cultivate solid integrity. They also contribute to long-lasting, unshakable integrity being built.  Just like the grit which helps make the diamond sparkle eternally, and the pearl shine forever.

To test this all out, I thought about friendships which turned toxic, disintegrated and finally dissolved over time.  Unpleasant situations where people increasingly behaved vengefully, spitefully and unkindly. I could have challenged their behaviour with justification, and naturally I felt hurt, betrayed and angry about it.  But even before revenge crosses my mind, the default setting is activated; Integrity, nourished by grit (steadfastness in the face of testing times.)  I walked away with my chin up, free from any responsibility for having caused hurt.

So, yes, I am pleased to share that after a few years of searching, I have found a word to call my own, and joined the “New Year Focus Word” gang, leaving the New Years’ Resolutioners to their disappointment (or not, in which case – well done you!)  The final thought I have on all this, is that given how long it took me (at least 3 years), to pin down a word for myself, please don’t be surprised if I carry it into next year too.  Januaryness is rather harsh, and it’s comforting to know I can weather it with my new focus word. By focussing on Integrity, embracing it and exhaling it, there is actually a good chance that one day, if I find some self-belief along the way, that I too may begin to sparkle and shine.

2020 love to you all! xxx

Definition of Integrity

Definition of Grit

A Guide to the Holidays with Eating Issues

A Guide to the Holidays with Eating Issues – by @jcstaff_
The festive season, yuletide, the holidays.
Days filled with tidings of “comfort and joy.”
A time to “eat, drink and be merry.”

Central to all of the celebrations, partying and gift-bestowing is food.
Food and drink. Food and drink in excessive abundance.
For most, this is the time of year that even those who normally declare “No, thank you – I’m being good” will be tempted and often succumb. Succumb to what, you ask? To partaking in what might appear to be the dark side, the naughty-food camp. This approach towards food is implying is that we must not enjoy the treat foods, that they are there as sinful temptation, and that eating unhealthily is bad. So perhaps applying that theory, then not eating is good….?
It starts to get complicated, as we know.

Now imagine the holiday season living with an eating disorder. Trying to get through each day with a mental illness or the remnants of one, which is keyed into everything that passes your lips. There are many people who were diagnosed with and treated for eating disorders years ago, who appear healthy today but still have the leftover behaviours from those grim days of being in the grip of anorexia or bulimia. I include myself in this category, having recovered from life-threatening anorexia three decades ago, and yet still living with anorexic tendencies to this day. Beyond this, there are countless people who have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but whose eating is skewed or influenced by the constant pressures to look a certain way, and all the fucked-up messages society impresses on us about our bodies, and our weight.

Living with eating disorder tendencies during the holiday season, November to January, is exceptionally challenging. At times it may feel impossible, trying to manage social occasions and not have a meltdown or eat too much/too little.
This morning, I began thinking about the days ahead and what strategies I have developed over the years to keep my eating and exercise on an even keel during the holidays. This next point is super important: although we may be surrounded by people commenting about laissez-faire eating, and alluding to getting back on track with a healthier diet in the new year, those with disordered eating patterns may not manage this temporary diet, psychologically. Eating out of the ordinary, and indeed, out of one’s comfort zone may set off a string of reactions, like a fishtailing car which rapidly swings out of control.

Now, I am not clinically trained, just merely someone who has tried over the years to find ways to ensure my eating does not get in a bigger mess during the festive period. The following tips may be of no help whatsoever, and if not, perhaps you can grab a notepad and create your own list which are more accessible for you? The main thing is to acknowledge that this can be an extra tricky time of year to navigate for those of us with a history of eating disorders. With that in mind, having some tactics to draw upon can help us avoid self-sabotage, downward spirals and extra anxiety.blog pic christmas

Tips for Holiday Eating
1. Think ahead about guilt. Those without eating issues will be able to cope with eating a mince pie and the guilt afterwards. “I’ve earned this!” they might convince themselves. They will make it look easy. Then when we try to have one, it sets off the guilt alarm which can cause urges to purge in whatever our choice method may be. Those who have used purging methods know how addictive they are and how difficult it can be to stop. So, on reflection, unless we feel totally cool about eating the mince pie, it may cause us less hassle to skip it and have a clementine instead.
2. Bowing to pressure from those around us, trying to encourage us to enjoy the food might feel the better alternative to the shame we experience around our restrictive eating, but again, it can cause us a raft of problems. Those close to us will understand we don’t need pressuring to partake. The holidays are about so much more than food. Feel okay to say “I ate earlier” if it saves us trying to contain our fear as we eat a thick, calorific slice of Christmas cake complete with marzipan and icing.
3. Drink lots of water. More than usual. Carbonated spring water is even better because it will make us feel full, and perhaps even a little bloated, but it is just water – no calories! This can help stave off the nibblies, so we feel less likely to graze on whatever tasty fare is sitting out on the coffee table.
4. Some of the trouble is that it’s a really busy time of year, and harder to stay in our routine. Mealtimes may be delayed, so it is easy to grab a treat as they are all around us, from pumpkin spice flavoured coffee drinks, to shortbread cookies. Plan ahead, stick to what we know, take snacks with us. Fruit in the car. Crackers in your handbag, grab a cereal bar and a diet cola at the petrol station. Whatever. It’s best to not rely on others to provide food choices we feel comfortable with.
5. Check in with healthy friends who have an admirably balanced attitude towards food and exercise. What are they eating? Follow their example. A friend of mine who is health-aware, thin and fit had a bag of dates one day and offered me one. Now, I buy them to keep in the fridge as a snack because I trust her dietary choices.
6. This might be a time of year to legitimise letting your exercise becoming a little obsessive. Make sure you ring-fence that time for yourself every day. Prioritise it. Normally, we do not want to let our exercise schedule run our lives, but by skipping our regular exercise at this time of year, food and eating can seem even more daunting. I go out for a run on Christmas day around 9.30am. My family support me and understand it is important to enable me to enjoy the day and have some Christmas dinner with them.
7. Be mindful of alcohol. There are two main issues with this – firstly the calories in the drinks. Secondly, once we have had a drink or two, our judgement starts to weaken. This could cause us to eat more than normal, drink too much or feel tempted to purge.
8. Late-night eating can be stressful – parties and entertaining can mean eating at different times, and later than usual, which can wreak havoc with our very sensitive bodies that are used to probably a generally inflexible time-table. Where possible, stick to routine. If we normally have salad for dinner, then have salad for dinner. Even if we are going out to a party where there will be food.  Everyone will be too busy enjoying their egg nog to notice what we eat or don’t eat!
9. Use a side plate, small bowl or ramekin to have portion sizes which we feel safer with. If there is a bowl of nuts or snacks on the table, and we end up eating a few handfuls, it might feel anxiety-provoking. Instead, get a little dish and put a portion in which feels suitable. Being able to visually quantify how much we have can help pre-empt us feeling stressed about it later.
10. The holiday season is full of excitement, anticipation, socialising and other aspects. As well, it can feel overwhelming, nerve-shredding and even depressing for some, for a multitude of reasons. I remind us of all this because bearing that in mind, it is no time to try and work on improving our disordered eating habits. Let’s stick to what we know, avoid pressure from others to over-indulge, focus on our time with loved ones and the all the pretty sparkling lights.

So to sum up, it may help to use an analogy. Picture our disordered eating as a sensitive little child who we are tasked with looking after throughout the holiday season. The child will have tantrums, feel distressed, and begin to lash out if they are put in situations they feel unfamiliar with. The best thing we can do for them to keep the peace, is to give them choices they are familiar with and help them to feel content. There is a new year on the horizon which will be full of many festive-free months. This will provide ample time to address any eating issues if you feel the need to do so. Who knows? Maybe next year, some of us will consume a mince pie washed down with a glass of Bailey’s without so much as even a flicker of panic. There is always hope!

Merry Christmas and love to all for 2020
xxx

Beat Eating Disorders

ANAD American National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

“Elsewhereville”

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Elsewhereville by JC Staff

Daydreams end at the edge of this town,
a place unconstrained by parameters of time and thought,
suspended adrift in this other-dimensional ambiguity.
Prior to entering, gate keys exchanged in agreement:
“All awareness is forbidden, and to be left at the gate.”
But awareness is cultured and bred in mind and body.
Do I choose to enter?
Do I submit to those confines?
Do I rush towards it, without touch or thought?
How did I just arrive suddenly, in this stillness?
Surrounded now by lonely silence, in limbo?
I just ran in, not listening to all those rules.
Body abandoned wherever I was before,
my mind has stayed back too,
because only the Self can slip
into Elsewhereville.

Not Mother Enough

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Photo credit JC Staff,  August 2008

Not Mother Enough  — by jcstaff_
Strangers’ reactions followed the same pattern,
they’d look, stare, then mentally ballpark the ages.
You’ve got your hands full!” then a familiar chuckle.
Did they all think they were the first to declare this?
I’d just smile politely, letting them think they really were.
Three, two and newborn; three babies aged three and under,
all planned, all adored, our little family complete and compact.
Fascinatined, I watched their development flourishing every day.
They looked to me for praise and approval, as they learned to walk,
say recognisable words, use crayons, spoons, come down a slide and read.
Like little ducklings they were, all three in a line.
I was so calm and mothering them came so easy,
I really could do it with my eyes closed.
Though they never let me sleep.
And I never minded.
“It will get easier,” people would say. But I knew they were wrong.
The birth until the baby’s 5th birthday is the simple part, a honeymoon.
Children smell lovely in their drowsiness, their tender breath sweet, gentle.
Glimpses of moonlight through curtain cracks, streaking the wooden flooring,
sitting in the armchair next to their cribs with one cherub or another in my arms.
Surely, that’s why they woke me, to snatch those moments of sensory delight.
I loved those secret minutes in the still of night, soft, warm babies held close.
Days filled with sparkling eyes, watching me with such endearment,
blinking amazed, like I was the best mother in the whole world.
Those were the days – I was right, it is more complicated now.
But has it become harder, or has my belief in my ability to mother, vanished?
It feels like I’m doing it all wrong these days, I’ve lost the map and compass.
Now it’s me looking to my children for their praise and approval.
I mostly raised myself from about nine, navigating my teens alone.
How can I guide our ducklings successfully, with nothing to go on?
Can I do this?  Can I help these young beings grow up into adults?
I have no confidence; I tell them.
“Sorry…” I say, “I’m sorry you got me.”
Then one morning, I arrive home hot and damp after a leisurely run.
I’m stretching on the steps as my middle child opens the front door.
Pleased to see me back, she greets me warmly and says,
“Oh Mum, I hope I can run like you when I’m older!”
Maybe, just maybe, I am doing it. Right now.
Maybe, just for today, I am mother enough.