Animal instincts.

Every week we take part in a therapeutic writing group – which is a bit like a year five writing exercise. And then we all share what we’ve written and comment on each other’s work. 

I stopped following the prompts weeks ago and just used the time to write my own stuff and, for a while was asked not to share what I wrote, but to take it to a one-to-one session instead, because it was all getting a bit dark and twisty. 

Anyway, this week a friend of mine challenged me to follow the prompts and to do a deadpan, to the letter, version. 

I failed miserably. In fact I started a general revolt that meant we skipped the ‘warm up’ part of the exercise altogether. 
So I thought I’d share the pain of therapeutic writing group with you. Here’s the task that we – a group of adults – were set:

And here’s what I came up with. I’m proud that there are at least a few animal-related mentions…


It starts as a kernel of a canker that burrows deep into your unconscious. And there it grows, drawing strength from circumstances. 

Small and dark, and yet vast as the cosmos, with the power of a thousand armies. It’s a leech that infiltrates your brain; changing your chemistry; changing the routing of your synapses. Changing you. 

It can sleep for years before rousing, flexing its muscles and then go dormant again. Or it can rampage around your head constantly to dominate your attention. It doesn’t like being alone.  

As it grows, it becomes harder and harder to manage and, through desperation, you might try turning to experts who will suggest training strategies. But, like a puppy left to run wild for too long, it never comes to heel. 

It delights in the unexpected. In spreading its talons across your senses when you are unprepared and are at your most vulnerable. It traps you under layers of apathy, repulsion and self hatred. It binds your mind so tightly with despair that you cannot think. 

But at the same time, it thrives on secrecy. It’s a sleeping enemy that wants to live in the shadows, so it often allows enough masking and functionality to hide its existence. 

When it’s ready, it wants to eat you from the inside and then leave a crumpled husk in a heap at the foot of a long drop.

This thing cannot be tamed. And perhaps it shouldn’t be named. 

You have to learn to die on the inside and live on the outside. You have to hold on as long as you can, until it’s time to let go. 

Fall gracefully when your time comes, and hope you’ll be remembered for your deeds of atonement. 


Lots of other people wrote about dead pets and I cried a lot. But when I read mine there were just dust balls of silence. 

I’m going back to keeping things to myself. 


Willo the Wisp.

The heat of the day had died away and I was taking my thirty minutes of accompanied leave with a human member of staff. It was a chance to escape the ward and the fences and sit on a bench like a normal person, taking the air, and only talking when I wanted to. 

My chosen bench faced a willow tree I’ve seen transform over the years. From full mature growth, then pruned back to ugly stumps, before watching then regrow into vigorous fronds of above-ground seaweed. 

Sitting on the bench, we were competing in making up ridiculous metaphors about how the tree could symbolise life, mental health and mental health in life. It was fun. Relaxing. 

But thirty minutes of freedom a day passes pretty quickly and soon it was time to plod back, reluctantly, to the ward. 

Just before we turned off the road to take the path to the unit I stopped, as though I’d stepped in glue. I couldn’t go back to the small rooms filled to bursting with negative emotions and pain the size of a galaxy. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. 

But even in my stubborn upset, I knew that my burly male companion would make sure I went back. And I knew that running wasn’t an option (partly due to an elbow version of a Vulcan death grip). And I knew that running wouldn’t solve anything anyway. 

Holy shit, Batman. Maybe I have learnt something. 

Instead of legging it, I did quiet sobbing and my escort did light, comforting chat while we slowly walked the last few steps to the door. 

It was all a bit tense, so he made a joke: something about it being easy to waft a willow the wisp in through the door, even if they didn’t want to go. It was a reference to the willow tree and it was a throwaway remark. It meant nothing. 

But my head exploded with memory and feelings from over 37 years ago. I felt as I’d felt. I saw what had been. I was back there in the thick of it. 

In case you don’t know your early eighties children’s TV, Willo the Wisp was a cartoon about life in a forest full of sprite-like creatures and a baddie TV set on legs called Evil Edna. Anyway, this blog’s not about the plot – it’s about the theme tune. 

It was my magic tune. I believed the hummed melody would keep me safe from the perils of the dark, going up to an ill-lit landing or when I woke terrified in the small hours. 

It was my protection against fear and things that go bump in the night. But on the building’s doorstep, I remembered how I’d learnt that my magic tune didn’t have the powers of protection I’d needed. That nothing I’d tried had protected me. I could hum my heart out, but it couldn’t stop the bad things that broke me at the age of six. Broke me in ways that can never be fixed. 

Through the emotion, I remember not being able to stand up. I remember vast, shuddering (extremely snotty) sobbing that seemed to come from my stomach. I remember lying on the floor, repeating that the magic hadn’t worked. I couldn’t see the present; only the past. 

Hello memories, it’s been a long time. 

I thought I’d buried you so deeply you’d suffocate under the weight of everything that came after. But here you are again. Getting stronger. Elbowing your way out. Shouting for attention. 

Well that little girl didn’t deserve you. And I don’t deserve your shit now. So, when I’ve lulled the urge to die back to sleep, I’m going to tackle you and kick your arse. Because enough is enough. 

You’ve been warned. 

Tasting reinvention.

I’m still grieving over saying goodbye to my clothes that have been old and trusted friends for many years. 

I’ve folded up and stroked the garments I’m too afraid will be tight, or worse, impossible to get in to. I’ve buried my face in their familiar smell and cradled them close like you would a much loved child. And then I’ve sent them away, like evacuees, to sit in a dark corner of my wardrobe at home until they can return or settle in new surroundings. 

But you’ve heard all this before. And, although it’s a conversation I have in my head on a permanent loop, I won’t inflict a recap on you. 

I’ve moved on, I think. A little, anyway. I’m feeling for a fresh form of disguise that can contain all the shame at allowing the body to grow larger – to take up more space in the world. 

It’s only a medium-term solution, because I have no concept of a long-term future. In fact, claiming it’s a medium-term solution may be an overreach. But it’s more than just wearing the largest jumper I can find. And I’ll take that for now. 

Item eleventy billion on the list of reasons why anorexia is a bitch is that weight goes back on unevenly so, right now, I look like I’m five months pregnant. 

I know there’s some sciencey bit about protecting the vital organs, the core of the body. But, frankly, I’m not interested in understanding: experiencing is more than enough to cope with. 

I feel conspicuous. I feel everyone’s eyes are drawn to my bloated stomach. I feel alien. I feel out of place in this palace of more visible bones and suffering. 

And then there’s the water retention. No one talks about that; how your confused body doesn’t know what the hell is going on, and you end up with legs the size of tree trunks and slippers as your only choice of footwear.

How do you dress a misshapen blob, a caricature of a person? How do you pass for normal when you’re not? 

My answer comes in experimentation. In piles of parcels containing different styles of clothing in a range of sizes. My answer relies on dredging up the courage to try on clothes without looking at the labels, and trying not to cry as a stranger looks back at me from the mirror. My answer is to clutch at the last little sparks of strength to start to create a new persona. 

The hospice charity shop will do well out of my pain. And, right now, I’m not running from the emotions, which has to be a start. 

Wearing grief. 

I am grieving for lost friends. 

We were extremely close – even intimate. We spent so much time together, through the good times and the bad. We held each other and, at times of stress, we reached out to each other. We communicated without words: our language was one of touch and feel and vision; knowing when to stay close, and when to give each other space. 

Together, we were strong and outwardly confident. We knew the inner truth was different, but we conspired to hide this secret from the world. 

And now they’re gone. 

I’m grieving for my beloved clothes that are too small for my life as it is now. It feels like another part of me has died. I carry on breathing in and out; I have the technical definition of life, but they don’t. Like conjoined twins, where one exists only because of the other, we’ve been separated. And now they’re mere piles of cloth, lying prone on the floor, a skin shed and left behind. 

I hold them in my arms and tell them how sorry I am, that I didn’t mean to end their existence. That I love them and I miss them and I’ll never forget the life we shared. 

I remember how they shielded me from all the unspeakable empty times when I was a ghost of a human, but they stepped in to provide a disguise and buffer between me and the questions with no answers. 

I stroke them and I apologise for the betrayal. For allowing the body to push them beyond their capabilities. I thank them for trying to carry on being my support when I started to turn my back on them and walk away. I hold them tight and wish we could go back to the way things were before. 

To you, the outsider, they are just pieces of cloth. A frankly strange combination of materials that you might put on without a second thought. 

But I know their value; they’ve been my disguise, my refuge, my identity. My personality to a certain extent. 

I have abandoned them. They’re dead to me and yet they are part of my past that I desperately want back. 

They won’t get a funeral or a wake of any sort. They won’t get a memorial. 

They will never be forgotten. Never. But their life is over and I’m deeply sad about that. 

Goodbye, my friends. 

Saying the unsayable.

After forty one years I wrote down the words I’d never ever meant to say – even to myself. 

I wrote a story about a little girl in a way that strangely reminds me of The Tiger Who Came To Tea. A story about how a seemingly ordinary life took an extraordinary turn. A tale where a little girl just accepted strange events because, to a child, so much doesn’t make sense, and they just do it because it’s what the grown up says.

I wasn’t supposed to be writing about this. It was therapeutic writing group and the plan was to create a personal crest to symbolise what was important in my life. I went with my first instinct to say ‘fuck that for a game of cards, I’m not in primary school anymore’. But I’d also been waiting for a structured time to sit down, face the paper – and the past. I’d been trying to put past events back in their box, but failing, badly. 

It doesn’t matter what I wrote. What I want to puzzle out is how it feels to tell the secret you were programmed never to tell. The guilt. The hot, hot shame. And the fear. 

I think you get used to living with fear. You accommodate it; even bargain with it. If I hum that particular song the dark won’t hurt me. If I don’t step on the cracks in the pavement then it might not catch up with me. If I divide all the words I see on the teleprompter in my head into equal groups of letter while holding a conversation, then the fear is held at bay. It goes on and on. You follow the rituals. And you must always do what you’re told.

But then you wake the fear, in my case, accidentally. Poke it with a stick. Bring it out into the open. Look it in the face – and it transforms into a choking beast that wants to smother you. All the promised repercussions take on a life of their own. It becomes a reality that follows you; you know it’s there, and if you could spin round fast enough, you’d be able to see it. But no one else can see the fear. They just see how you react to it. Which makes you mad. And definitely makes you look mad. 

I’m so afraid at night. I sleep with fairy lights on and the door open so no one can lock me in. I sleep lightly and go from doze to total alert in a nanosecond. I don’t feel safe at all at the moment. And when we only have bank staff on at night I am afraid to sleep. I do sleep, but I fight it all the way. 

But fear doesn’t hang around alone. It brings its friends: guilt, shame, self-disgust, and a desire to put an end to everything. 

I started out with something else to say, but that can wait. 

All I want to say right now is that whoever tells you to feel the fear and do it anyway hasn’t grown up with fear as a constant companion. They need a sharp poke in the eye and to shut the fuck up. 

Disconnected waiting.


I am waiting. No idea what for, but I’m waiting, because that’s what people say. Wait. Give it time. Things will change. Slowly, gradually, infinitesimally – but they will change.

Thing is, I don’t believe this. I think this is it. That once you’ve stood on the edge of a dimensional shift, there’s no way back.

So I am waiting for nothing. And, sure enough, as the song says, nothing’s arrived.

I’m allowing others to believe what they want to believe because I have no more explaining in me. And there’s something invalidating about trying so hard to make people understand, when all the time you know they don’t agree with you.

I am untethered by a sense of purpose. I’m disconnected from all the ties that used to contain me within life.

All I have to hold on to, weirdly, is the routine of food. However painfully, I can achieve another bite of a sandwich, or more of a fruesli bar than I did the day before. And I do remember that people who know me well say my ability to think flexibly improved when I weighed more than I do now.

And I’ve asked for higher and higher doses of medication – although even that gets the answer of “wait until ward round next week; we’ll discuss it then”.

But purpose comes from connections and I have no connections with people and animal-people in the way I had before. I do love – but in a dulled, foggy way. I don’t feel anyone needs me and I don’t feel able to be needed. And this numb dislocation doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Wait, they say. Just wait.

Well, I am, but we’re not waiting for the same things.

So I’m folding cranes and wearing eyeliner. And waiting for an opportunity for the only change I think is possible.


Broken trust.

I place great value on trust but, right now, don’t trust me, because I don’t trust myself. 

In this strange, unnavigable space of living when I should be dead – existing as a ghost – the value and ethics of trust have deserted me. They no longer seem to apply. I THINK I would act in a certain way in a certain situation, and I even believe I could give assurances of risk-avoiding behaviour and follow through on them. But I don’t know for sure. 

I don’t know who I am anymore, which makes me unpredictable. I am operating without any of the old rules, in a dimension that doesn’t have any boundaries, so I genuinely cannot guarantee any behaviour. 

I tentatively believe that enough of me remains to make sure anything I did wouldn’t leave an individual with a burden of guilt. But I’m not full-on sure.

I am absolutely certain that, if circumstances allowed, and I could slip through locked doors undetected, I would. And, I also know I’d run straight to the highest place I could find to gulp in the sky, trying to find solace and peace. This might be enough to make the endless minutes of ghost existence bearable for a little longer. I might turn back and return. I might not. 

So I understand why I am not worthy of trust. I understand why I’m not allowed out of the building. I get it. I really do. But how will anyone know whether my compass of trust has recentred unless it’s tested? Unless I’m allowed to experiment and try? 

Do I have to trust in the process? In the system? In individuals?

Who knows?

Answers on a postcard, please.