Snow Globe Storms

The snow globe has been a stormy place to be over the last week. Perhaps because it is just me and my blanket sitting in the middle of a clearing of flattened earth I feel very over exposed and raw. The wind within the snow globe comes in gusts hurling autumn leaves and broken twigs in all directions. It is battering me. Stirred by the pressure and the happenings of the world outside the glass, the storms hammer down on me leaving me feeling shattered. My blanket gives me very little protection from the thunder, lightning and rain. I feel so fragile, like the next falling leave could crush me.

I go from being on the brink of shattering into a thousand glittering fragments of snow one minute to staring at glass so thick it’s opaque and wondering what the point of any of this is the next. Sometimes the atmosphere of university makes it so hard to just be in the present. Everything is so geared up towards the future, to the vision of the now as a stepping stone on the way to some happily ever after. It doesn’t make sense. Time as I’ve learned, does not come to a standstill after a certain number of years or a certain degree of achievement. There is no happily ever after, there is only now. What is the point in planning for tomorrow if I can’t survive today? So I need to shift my perspective. To work because I love it, to do things because I want to, to be present in the now not a future five years from now that may never come to be. Maybe if I can really focus on that, the storms inside the snow globe will calm enough for me not to feel so overwhelmed. I can’t continue bouncing from weekend to weekend constantly on the verge of tears.

Despite the wind and rain, I have, very faintly, sketched the beginnings of my library. It will be a quadrangle with an arch facing the forest and buildings on the other three sides. For the moment those buildings remain rudimentary shapes with no thought to detail, eventually I’ll develop them into seats for the three values that matter most to me: creativity, compassion, curiosity. 

Being the Architect

Much of the rubble has been cleared away, leaving behind it flattened earth and grass stretching towards the edge of the woods behind me and the meander of a river ahead. I set down one foundation stone a few weeks ago, but since then I’ve stopped. I’m sitting cross-legged on the compacted ground, my blanket around my shoulders, half afraid of even raising my eyes. I have in front of me a blank paper page and a pencil. There is a reason I stopped trying to construct my snow globe library and that reason is this: I had no clear idea of what I wanted it to be. Building would have been putting brinks any which where and hoping to somehow create secure, stable walls and ceilings. So here I sit, coaxing myself to look up and to see, to really see what matters to me, what I want and what I feel so that I can begin to translate that into plans for my library. I am coming to accept that this is something that won’t be built overnight.

I have explained the snow globe and what it means before, I want to explain why the library. Why if I want so badly to connect with the world outside am I putting effort into building things within the snow globe? The reason is this, the snow globe in itself is not a bad thing. It is my mental landscape, it is the universe inside my head, it is a place of safety. I hope that one day, eventually, the glass surrounding it will have a door so that I am not trapped on one side, out of phase with everyone else, but the snow globe itself will still exist. That is why I am building the library. The snow globe is my mental landscape, I want to build somewhere I can be happy, I want to turn all the parts of my mind that have gone feral over the years into something beautiful. I want to feel like my mind is my palace rather than my prison cell. Of course it’s a library, it’s where I feel at home.

The past week I have spent so much time immersed in studying and worrying about studying I’ve barely given myself a moment to breathe. To stop and breathe can be terrifying. Stopping and breathing means putting a pencil to that blank sheet of paper and beginning to sketch. It means looking out across my snow globe landscape and seeing the shadows at the edge of the wood, the slithering snakes in the grass and fast, swirling current of the river. To stop and breathe means really looking at myself, so that I can begin to construct a library with solid foundations, so that I can be real.

I don’t know exactly what shape my library will take, I’m not entirely sure what is still lurking in the shadows, but this song, the essence of it, that is where I want to end up.

Interlude from the Outside world: Jado Kuin Do

As I write this, it is still World Mental Health Day, although by the time I post it, it may have past midnight. This entire blog is, after a fashion, about my mental health so it seems a waste to let the day go unmarked. I am not writing to tell my story, if you’ve known me for a while or you’ve been reading this blog, you know that story already. Instead I want to write about something that helps me come very close to edging out of my snow globe, Jado Kuin Do.
Jado Kuin Do, for those I haven’t tried to drag along yet, is a martial art founded in 1998 by Master Jake Ogden. I started going to the Banbury class around February. At the time, if I got up and dressed it was an accomplishment. The walls of my snow globe were impenetrable. The first time I went, my mum had to walk to the class with me, I must have used half a bottle of rescue remedy in the hours beforehand and I was still trembling when I walked out of the front door. When I arrived in a hall full of strangers, it took everything I had not to run away. Mum left, I stayed. As nervous and disconnected as I was, the thing that struck me the most was how quickly I stopped feeling like a specimen in a jar. Whenever I was around people I felt exposed; as though my skin had been peeled away, they were dissecting me with their eyes and finding faults. Even in that first class, when I knew nothing at all, I didn’t feel judged. I felt exposed, but not dissected.
Getting myself out of the front door was the hardest part. I had so little energy and I would get so anxious that sometimes I would spent most of the day in bed trying to convince myself Jado was worth getting up for. It still took antianxiety pills and more rescue remedy to get me from my bedroom to the other side of the front door. Some weeks I didn’t manage it. It always was worth it when I did though. Before the summer, the time I spent at Jado and the half an hour or so afterwards in which I giddily detailed what I’d been doing, was the only time I felt good about myself. There were weeks when the only productive thing I did was go to Jado Kuin Do. I think of everything I could have picked to use my energy on those weeks, Jado was the best decision I could have made.
Of course it hasn’t been the only thing that has helped my recovery over this past year, but it has had a huge impact. From very early on, people cared, people took the time to learn my name and who I was. People noticed when I didn’t come to class and they were genuinely pleased to see me when I came back. People made an effort to talk to me, remembered things I said and in doing so reminded me that there was a world outside of my head, my house and my family. When I had a meltdown in class, nobody made a big deal out of it. Nobody walked on eggshells round me or treated me like a fragile broken thing. I didn’t feel the need to run away and not look back.
Somewhere between April and July I stopped needing the antianxiety pills and rescue remedy to get me out of the door. I stopped feeling exposed. I started feeling safe talking to people. I started to care. Without Jado I don’t know if I would have had the courage to go back to university this year. Jado Kuin Do has given me enough confidence that I can shout in front of strangers without being in the midst of a meltdown. More than that it’s taught me to believe in myself again. It’s brought back my ability to focus, it’s ignited my withered determination. It has made me feel like I can do something.
I come home from university every weekend, partly that’s so I have a break to look forward to at the end of the week, mostly it’s so that I can go to Jado Kuin Do on Saturdays. . I’ve got my White Belt, I’ve just done my Yellow Belt grading, I’ve found something I refuse to quit. I want to earn my Black Belt. I still don’t feel good about myself a lot of the time, but Jado is still one thing that always manages to improve that, even if it’s only for the hour I’m in class.
To my instructor Mark and to everyone at the Banbury (and now Bicester) class all I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is thank you.


Laying a Corner Stone

As I sit among the rubble of the snow globe cottage I still have barely begun to rebuild, the ground beneath me has finally stopped threatening to rupture. I am not, it is safe to say, numb any longer. All I can do is offer my deepest apologies to anyone I inflicted my volatile self on over the weekend. If I was grumpy, withdrawn, waspish, prickly, snappy, overreacting, angry or any other negative variation on ‘moody’ while I was with you, I’m sorry. It was almost definitely not your fault. I have been, for the most part, empty of emotion for a very long time and now that I can feel more than the odd deluge of panic and the occasional flicker of something else now and again, I’m not entirely sure what to do with it all. The closest I can come to explaining myself is that I felt much the same as I did as a small child when I would be quiet and perfectly well behaved at school then come home and go to pieces. The intervening years have improved the length of time for which I can be a semi-functioning person from around five hours to around five days. The resulting sense of being utterly overwhelmed by everything was much the same.

This blog was going to be about Jado Kuin Do, but I’ll try to get to that later in the week. Instead I want to explain why the rubble and wreckage of my snow globe cottage is a fairly accurate metaphor for where my mind is. I am still inside a snow globe. The glass now is, in places, thicker than ever. Sometimes when I’m out walking I can barely feel my feet touch the floor. I mean that in a literal sense rather than a euphoric one. It is as though everything is a dream and just as in a dream you can be terrified or heartbroken, so I can react emotionally to what goes on. Like a dream though there is that occasional sense that there is something just out of reach, that this, what I am experiencing isn’t real. I have to remind myself that other people don’t simply snap in and out of existence depending on whether or not I am looking at them. This level of disconnect is disconcerting to say the least.

The rubble then. I don’t know how to be a person. It’s like coming back to university but scaled up a hundred fold, it isn’t about remembering or relearning, it’s about trying to build an identity from scratch. Like it or not the truth of the matter is I am not twelve years old anymore. I can’t go back to who I was then. I will say now, no matter what your personal feelings on the matter are, please don’t reach out to me with platitudes. I am trying to articulate how I feel and the precise words for that are still just beyond my grasp. Pointing to illustrations of how I am a person with a personality outside of depression, anxiety and generally having faulty mental wiring is not going to help.

So why is twelve the age that springs to mind? Why not eighteen? Because I didn’t feel like a person at eighteen either. As a child, with all my eccentricities, all my infuriating faults, between the meltdowns and social ineptitudes, I had an imagination. I was creative, I was dynamic, and my mind was overflowing with ideas. Even then there were times when I would slip into darkness or feel the isolation that is being alone inside a snow globe without the words to explain it, but somehow the curious, creative part survived. When I was eight, possibly nine, I became completely convinced that I would die before I turned sixteen. I wasn’t afraid, it was something I just knew and accepted as an unspoken fact. I didn’t have to put real thought into growing up because I knew I never really would. By the time I was thirteen and everyone I knew and cared about were busy growing up without me, I was waiting for the inevitable to happen. I would get on the school bus half expecting it to crash. Every random ache, every cough or cold, I would automatically assume was the deadly disease that was going to finish me off. I would fall asleep not expecting to wake up. Or at least not expecting to wake up in this world. The creativity, the spark, the energy was all put into waiting rather than growing, changing, evolving to keep up with my body, my intellect, my stage of life. That is why twelve is the age that springs to mind. For all of the crazy moments and meltdowns, that is the last time I remember being an entire person.

Here I am, six years past the birthday that should never have happened just beginning to contemplate the idea of having a future but still with no idea where to start. I care about things now, far more than I have in the past few years. I suppose that will form the foundations of my new snow globe library. I want to be a person not a degree label and a collection of mental symptoms. I want to be a person with interests, thoughts, opinions, hopes. I want to find somewhere buried deep beneath these ruins, the spark I used to have. I want to ignite it, to nurture it, until it can be creative and alive at this age, in this world. I want to learn to like the person I am now and that means first learning to be xem.