Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Returning to the World Beyond

It’s a bit bizarre after a few days, more or less shut away, trying to return to some sort of normality. Everything does feel different right now. Somewhat clearer, somewhat less agitating, but just as disappointing.

Leaving the abbey felt like leaving a safe place. It was no longer somewhere intimidating, but somewhere I could almost call “home”. The huge group of buildings looked smaller somehow in their familiarity, the strange corridors less dark and scary than on the first night.

That peculiar smell of old things and incense lingers in my clothing, my hair. There are fragments of songs, of the hymns, of conversations, still floating around in my head. Yet I’m at home now, with the floors dirtier than when I left and there still being a huge pile of washing as only one load has been done during my absence. The washing up done at the last minute before I return, the house in its clutteredness not as welcoming as it should be.

It’s odd, in a way, considering how unfriendly the house should feel, especially considering all the fights that have been had here of late, that I should still feel so peaceful and at ease with myself inside. I know as the days go on, that the tears will come again, as I move towards facing up to the decisions that need to be made. It’s not going to be easy, especially with all that needs to be packed, arranged and sorted, but I think I’m finally ready to move on and start to live again.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Listening to the Silence

I was quite wrong last night. I thought that I’d find it difficult to keep myself busy, but instead I haven’t really stopped. But, when I do, I hear the silence, and through it myself.

I’ve always been afraid of silence. That’s when my thoughts start up, often negative, the constant fight to make me afraid or bring me down. It can seem impossible to calm myself down in those moments. Yet somehow, in the past 24 hours, in the peace, quiet and overall friendliness of where I am, I seem to have somewhat succeeded.

Firstly, last night, I decided I’d go down to the reading room to read. Well, that didn’t happen. Some of the other guests were there, drinking beer. I then decided to give up my reading venture and join them. Drinking the local beer, whilst talking about nothing in particular, it hasn’t felt that good for a long time. I was relaxed, relaxed enough to sing along with the small, impromptu group from a random book of folk songs found on the shelf.

And this morning, I somehow managed to get up on time. Just. I slept fitfully and when I heard the bells ringing at quarter past six this morning, I was still dreaming and I wasn’t sure if they were real or not. I had a moment of not being sure if I was awake or asleep, then when I did wake up, I was even less sure! But I got up, got into the church, and was just fumbling around getting my book ready as the brothers walked in.

This afternoon I went for a long walk around the local area and had to go and buy myself a new hairbrush, as I’d left my old one at home. It’s past it, anyway, so it’s a good excuse, really. I ended up walking around for two hours, and I ache far more than I should simply because I don’t do it often enough anymore, but I also feel better for it.

So, with walking, taking part in the daily singing prayers, semi-socialising with the other guests, I haven’t had that much time to actually just sit on my own and think. Yet, in those moments when I do, some surprising things come out of the silence.


It is an uneasy sort of peace at the moment. I still feel pain, in my heart and in my stomach, and I know that there are some big decisions ahead. But sitting alone, just listening to myself instead of fighting myself, has certainly brought some light to what decisions I need to make.

It has been surprising, also, how much sitting in on the services has helped, even though I am an unbeliever. It’s not just the routine, the ceremony, but the reflection. Even this evening, at my second evening prayers, I felt nervous, small, humble. I was able to follow the order of the songs with more confidence, yet I still felt intimidated by this great presence, the working abbey and the combined power of its believers. To hear, feel and see that, you can understand in a way why people would give up a complicated life for the simple one of service.

And, in that, I have come to where I am. I can only progress further if I give in, if I give over to the thoughts, the pains, the promises, give over to instead of fighting myself all the time.

The path I am on right now started some time ago now, but started properly a year ago. It is not necessarily taking me where I want to go, but it is taking me where I need to be. Being here at the abbey was an important next step. I just hope I can remember the lessons I’ve learnt once I’ve returned home.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Getting Away From it All

My life hasn’t been ideal of late, as you may have realised from my previous post. It’s brought me back to a point that I thought I’d never return to, a place I never wanted to see again.

If it’s not the eternal struggle to find work, not just good work but good work that I can get to easily whilst only being able to use public transport, then it’s something else, like the constant fighting at home, to a point where I no longer know where I should call home.

I have been aware for a while that it’s time to move on, but when you have limited financial means, it doesn’t make it that easy. Yes, I could go back to how I was before, and just run away from it all, but I know that that won’t solve the other problems that are still there.

Who am I? Who am I now? What have I really achieved in my life? Where am I going to? Questions, so many questions, all of which I need to be able to answer before I can truly move on.

At the suggestion of my psychologist, it was decided that some time away from it all, in a place of peace and rest, could be useful.

So here I am now, in an abbey. It’s not something I ever thought I would do, especially as I’m not particularly religious. But many people do it, just to get away from the world for some time, just to find that quiet place amongst all the chaos that is daily life.

When I got here I was unsure. Where do I begin? What am I going to do here? You have to pay to stay, for the basics, as it needs to be affordable. Yet I have never had silence in my life, have never been comfortable with it, so I am also nervous as to how I am going to cope with it.

After sitting still for twenty minutes, whilst pondering all of this, the bell rang to signal five minutes before vespers. I sat and listened to it for a while before deciding that I would get up and go to the church. It felt quite awkward, in a way, what with not being religious, yet at the same time there was still something there that felt otherworldly. I have never seen the like in my life. Such power in the words, the way they sing them with meaning, the sounds mingling and echoing eerily throughout the church. For the first time in a long time, I felt small and humble. Yet also strangely out of place.

At the evening meal, afterwards, I still felt out of place. Luckily I’d picked out some relatively neutral t-shirts, deciding to leave all the heavy metal ones at home. Yet I still have tattoos that show on occasion. I needn’t have worried; no one noticed. Yet I still felt a stranger in a world that belonged to others, not me.

There are some regulars here, people who know the father who is looking after the guests today. It gives me even more of a feeling of being out of place. Yet they are welcoming, non-judging, peaceful people.

As I sit here this evening, it being not long after 7pm, I’m not sure where tomorrow is going to take me. I know I should avoid the internet and social media as much as possible, because that is partly what I need to get away from. Yet, finding something else to do is not that easy. Tomorrow I plan to take a long walk, the start of a long journey into finding myself again once more. It will be like a physical metaphor, “a journey starts with a single step”. Yet tonight, I am alone in the world and my insides are struggling to find a peace with itself. My brain and stomach and heart are all fighting to take first place in the decision making, but they just come clashing together. Maybe that first step actually truly starts this evening, in starting to learn to find and make peace with myself.

Tomorrow morning I have been invited to their morning prayers, as they saw me tonight, which are an hour long instead of just half hour in the evening. The main problem is getting up to be there at 6:45, as I’m not usually a morning person. Yet the rhythm will no doubt do me good.

Tonight is still long, though. I sit here alone, with just my thoughts, and the silence echoes around them.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Keeping Up Appearances

It’s amazing what we do in order to prove to the world that everything’s OK, that we’re not struggling. So many words that can give a positive impression, without really saying that much:
‘Not bad’
‘Never better’

All of these words, phrases, so often just used as a simple get-out clause so we don’t have to further explain our inner turmoils and struggles. Just a simple reply, with no explanation, that allows the one asking the question to feel at ease.

Yet, underneath it all, behind that reply there’s a darkness, a swirling tornado of black eating up our insides. There is no way out, we’re trapped, and our only possible salvation is someone who we’re afraid to confide in lest they are scared away by the truth.

The thing is, it’s not that we necessarily don’t want to tell people what’s going on, it’s just that sometimes we’re unable to. Sometimes you just get used to your own sadness, your own company, your own loneliness, and it’s easier to hide behind it and not share what’s going on. Other times you know that if you do tell you will lose a friend or two that could otherwise make you happy when you need it most.

Mental turmoil is a very delicate thing. It’s led me to going absolutely crazy before now and just telling too much, sometimes to the wrong people, flooding people in my desperate need to get it all out of my system. At other times, it’s led me to not leaving my bed, lying awake for several hours in the morning and long into the afternoon just wondering why I still even exist and what the world would do if I just disappeared.

Where is the balance? How is it even possible to find balance amongst all this chaos? Does it require medication, patience, perseverance, resilience, none of which I have? Does it require friends, most of which will get overloaded at some point? Does it require a permanent end?

I’m going to be straight here. I’m not actually suicidal right now, but I know people who are getting to that point and it makes me afraid. I have been at that point myself in the past and I know that at some point there comes a tipping in the balance where it will all get too much again. I do have a lot of strength, but it is not infinite. My life is far from perfect right now and I feel the darkness calling sweetly and seductively with the temptation of a dangerous yet exciting lover that you both love and hate at the same time.

All this makes me realise that there’s one thing I’ve been failing to do of late – living. The truth is, whatever anyone says or does, I’m the one who has the true power over my own life. It’s time to play my last ace, to use the last remnants of my strength to pick myself up and move forward, into the unknown. Make a jump, take a chance, and feel alive once more.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Why I Stopped Running

I actually wrote the text below a few months ago for guest blog than unfortunately never happened. Well, instead of wasting it, I decided that it was about time I got it up on my own blog and published. Enjoy! :)

Four years ago, after two years of living in Belgium, I nearly decided to move back to the UK. I had lost yet another job, things had gone bad for me once more as I hadn’t coped with the stress at work. With thoughts of, ‘why me?!’ I decided that it must be the country, that if I went back then everything would magically turn out fine.

At some point I stopped myself and realised something: moving back would be just running away again. I had fled England, my friends, a relationship when everything went bad. I suddenly realised that running back wouldn’t work, I had nowhere to go and everyone had already moved on. The only way to move forward was to work with what I did have, finding what was achievable, rather than being angry at what I didn’t.

Luckily I found the mental-health support in Belgium that I had been lacking whilst in the UK. With this, I decided it was time to push forward to achieve things for myself for once, rather than just sitting still feeling sorry for myself all the time. I enrolled myself in for Dutch lessons, knowing that if I was to ever get anywhere then speaking the language better would be a very useful tool. I also enrolled myself in for music lessons, accordion lessons, something that I had wanted to do for years. I slowly started to grow and become more confident, becoming a better and stronger person for fighting instead of fleeing.

Now, four years on, I’ve achieved so much that I never thought possible. And this is not just musically or linguistically. Because of the music lessons, I’m now a more confident person overall, having had to perform solo at various points. Also, because of my new-found linguistic skills, I socialise with more with people, speak to people on the train or at the bus stop, things I never used to do. Even before I moved to Belgium, I used to shut myself away a lot, turn away and avoid speaking to people. It’s like another person has surfaced simply because I dared to try. I am now also looking for work once more and, through making my own enquiries and taking the steps myself, am involved in a programme that can help me find a new direction along with training and job placements so I can “try out” any job before I decide to commit to it.

That doesn’t mean to say that everything has been plain sailing. I still have had and do have dark moments from time to time. The main difference has come with how I handle them. The darkness can be painful and enveloping when it returns, making me think that everyone hates me, that I’m just as useless at everything as I’ve always been. ‘Why do you even bother?’ that little voice says to me. At those times, one step at a time, I have to remind myself that I am capable, that the world isn’t out to get me. Even if I just achieve one thing during those darkest of days, no matter how small, it is still one thing more than those voices would have me believe was possible. Slowly, surely, bit by bit, those dark days are becoming less and I’m becoming more of an achiever than someone who just let life pass them by.

Be that person who takes the time to make a change in your life, do something for yourself. Whether it be indulging in a hobby or just doing something else that you enjoy, all these are things we can do to work towards our own happiness.