Bye Bye Mister Fat Feet

Almost 11 years ago I answered a knock on my front door to find a shabby young couple holding a kitten standing on my doorstep.  A neighbour had told this couple that I’d take the kitten off their hands. They told me it was 16 weeks old and had had flea and worm treatments. They then asked for £15 so that they could have an afternoon in the pub.

it was obvious that, if they were selling a kitten for beer, he wouldn’t have been treated for fleas or worms and it was obvious that he was nearer six weeks than 16.

I handed over the money and took him into the bathroom to check him out.  His skin was quite literally crawling with fleas and worms were dropping out of his bottom. He was in a sorry state but there was such a magic about him that made me fall in love with him in an instant.

I took him for a kitten check and to get the treatment he needed to rid him of the worms and fleas. The vet that did the check told me that he had a grade III heart murmur which is linked to circulatory disorders. The fleas would clear quickly but the worms, I was told, would take longer.

I got him castrated when he was around six months old and the worms were still very much present. It eventually got to a point when, at 10 months old, the vet and I were discussing whether or not it would be a good idea to remove a section of Mister’s gut to rid him of the infestation. It seems the worms heard us because shortly after that they disappeared completely.

Mister was left with IBS, he refused to use litter trays and regularly left deposits from either end of his body on the kitchen floor. On the other hand he was a loving, boisterous and confident cat. Workmen visiting the flat for any reason would, more often than not, turn around to find him sat in their toolboxes.

He was loving; generous with paddling his big feet that were little clouds of softness with claws like needles, purrs that were loud enough to record and use as a ringtone, big eyes that hypnotised anyone who happened to glance at them and an amazing talent for falling off windowsills when he drifted off to sleep on them.

I will miss my gorgeous boy with his fat feet and his, at times, overwhelming love. I won’t miss the deposits on the kitchen floor or the frequent hairballs that I invariably stood on when they were just warm and I had sockless feet.

In a few days time I’ll be writing a shopping list and on it will be cat food. I’ll need a third less than I’ve been used to getting and I’ll probably make sure his favourite treats are on the list before I remember that I don’t need to buy them anymore.

Bye bye Mister Fat Feet, I love you.

Moving on in more ways than one…

It’s ten days since I had the big chat with my GP and knew that my life had to change. Bipolar Disorder is a hard task master and at times it chains me to the wall and leaves me for dead.

I am still mourning the loss of overnight stays away but that is tempered a little by the knowledge that I can still have days away and see places that I haven’t yet. There’s lots of cemeteries that I have yet to see and many blue plaques to take photographs of.

I have come to realise over the past few weeks that my bouts of psychosis haven’t happened for a long time which means that, even though I feel as though I don’t cope with stress, I’m managing it to the point where the psychosis has subsided for a while.

I talked to a friend yesterday about all that has been going on. We had the conversation with each other that you usually wish you’d had when you’re at a close friend’s funeral. It was good to say the things that matter and I’ve felt calmer since. There are fewer tears today; there may be a flood of them again tomorrow but today I have dry eyes.

I got a standardised email that I felt was rather rude and challenged the person who sent it. She felt it wasn’t rude or patronising and didn’t think a sign off at the bottom was necessary. An angry tweet that I made on the public timeline led her to block me on her personal account and tweet in a way that I was totally responsible for her pettiness and thoughtlessness.

This is a prime example of why I don’t groups – they are basically cliques of people who cling together for whatever reason. They think that they’d be the cool kids if they were back at school but they’re the ones who used to gaze longingly at the cool kids while yearning to be part of the gang.

I can’t do it. I’m me and I’m not interested in become part of a “gang” that sticks together like a tin of cling peaches. Remind me of this next time I think about joining a group, tie me up if necessary but don’t let me do it!

Going home, memories of Scotland and finding a family grave

I love travelling in England and, when I was younger, Scotland. As an adult I have even ventured into Wales but not nearly often enough as I want to.

Last week I went up to the Motherland which is Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire. I took a train because I love trains, they’re much faster than buses (also I don’t get travel sick on them) and the scenery is usually pretty amazing.

On the way from Darlington to Middlesbrough the landmarks throw themselves at you; the first sign of the Cleveland Hills (I forgot to get a photo of Roseberry Topping while I was there, damn!), the Newport Bridge and, as you begin to get things ready to get off the train, the magnificent Transporter Bridge.

It’s not a town I’m particularly familiar with anymore. In 30 years of living in Bristol I’ve been back to visit just half a dozen times mainly because I’m very good at leaving places. If the move is even a few miles away to a new neighbourhood I don’t go back, I start again and enjoy the newness. I’m not very good at staying in touch with people mainly because my social skills are appalling. I can be very blunt when I choose to be but I prefer to sit and watch people because it is, more often than not, more entertaining than actually engaging with them.

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It was a good trip home. I saw my mum and my sister and we laughed a lot. I caught up with a couple of friends that I hadn’t seen since I moved to Bristol and we spent three hours talking non-stop about anything and everything.

I slept, or rather didn’t sleep, in the lumpiest bed I have ever experienced – it was hell. My own bed was made to order and has an orthopedic mattress so anything softer than extra firm is hell. It was a convenient guest room in the block of flats where my sister and mum live but convenience doesn’t win over sleep so it’s definitely a hotel for me next time I go.

I found meal timings really strange. I eat when I’m hungry and, if I’ve done a lot of walking, then it’s two meals a day instead of a meal and a snack. My family eat at set times and always a main meal and snack so I found that quite difficult. It’s odd how it’s not just distance that separates – it’s also years and habits that change and form themselves around the people we become.

While I was there I took copies of some of the photos from Scotland that my dad took when we were kids. They brought back a lot of memories though I think I would have rather not remembered being covered in fresh water leeches after a dip in Neuk Dam when I was nine! It also drove home that, despite distance, we’ve remained an essentially close family picking up where we left off in an instant – true bonds.

I particularly remember my cousin Stewart being at my brother’s funeral. I answered a knock on the door to find him there and him holding me really tight and I knew then, though I knew not how, that everything was going to be all right, we would get through whatever it took because we were a family.

One of the friends I met up with said how she loved coming to our house to see us because there was always laughter in the house. I think in spite of the friction (I am the sandpaper to their matches!) and everyday strains of family life we do love each other and we each have the talent of laughing both with one another and at ourselves.

A walk in a local cemetery led to us finding a family grave. It was modest given the size of the communal ego of the particular branch of the family it housed but it told a different tale from the accepted family legend and has given me a puzzle to solve.

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So, is the past a different country and should it ever be revisited? Yes and yes, but wisely and with eyes very firmly fixed on the present. It’s okay to look back but never to stare.

Perfect memory, imperfect time…

Before you read any further it’s important that I tell you a little of the Village that I mention in the post. The idea for this post came from was novel The Villages written by my dear friend, the wonderful Dave Hutchinson (@HutchinsonDave). This is the story of my Village.

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I have what can only be described as a tumultuous relationship with my family. I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict (25 years and counting) and at times, bloody difficult to live with. There have been frequent times that I’ve fallen out with my family, particularly my mother.

On this particular occasion there had been an argument and I’d stormed out and went to live in a grotty bedsit without telling the family where I was. It was both childish and thoughtless to do that but one night they rang me at the pub where I worked and I moved back home.

I usually worked on Saturday nights but on 13 August 1983 I was feeling under the weather and stayed at home to nap on the sofa while my mum, dad, brother and sister went out to our local for a drink.

As they were getting ready to go out we all found ourselves sat on the bed in my parent’s bedroom talking. Patrick had just started seeing a girl and we were worried that she was just using him to get back an ex and we told him that we were concerned because we loved him. He told us he understood and, in one of  those rare and perfect moments, we were completely united as a family.

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They came back at closing time and they’d obviously enjoyed themselves. My brother and his friends decided to go out for a drive in his car. Patrick assured us he wouldn’t be driving and that it was a friend of his who’d just passed his driving test that would be behind the wheel. The three of them went out and my mum, dad, sister and me went to bed.

In the early hours of Sunday August 14th there was a loud banging on the door and I went to answer it. The police were on the doorstep, ascertained that I had a brother called Patrick and as the hallway filled up with the family and a house guest we were advised to get dressed and go to the hospital with them.

I went in the police car with my mum and dad while my sister followed behind in a taxi.

The police drove far too slowly and I urged them to go faster. “There’s no need to go fast, the road is clear and the hospital isn’t that far away.” Then the driver and his colleague exchanged a glance and I knew that the fervent mantra that was running through my head willing my brother to be okay was pointless. Bloody pointless.

We got to the hospital and a police inspector informed my mum, dad and me that my brother was dead. I cried as I’m crying now with a mixture disbelief, pain, a life gone and a desperate need for him to be wrong.

My sister arrived shortly after and I told her our brother had died. The response from my mother was a hot denial, she couldn’t accept it even after my dad had been to identify his body. At 11.00 pm on the 13th of August my brother was a person, on the 14th of August he was a body.

It’s a long time ago now. The grief has dulled its edges like a worn out and unsharpened knife that’s been abandoned in a drawer. From time to time it cuts open my soul with its still sharp tip and rips it a little more but mostly there are memories of smiles and fun.

My Village of course, you need to know about my Village. That was when we were in the bedroom together when love was present, nothing was left unsaid and we had that perfect moment.

If I could I’d be tempted to return but what if it wasn’t quite that perfect moment and instead there was an undercurrent of unease. As L P Hartley wrote in The Go-Between, the past is a foreign country and would I really want to visit a country where I no longer spoke the language or understood the rules? Who could really say yes or no with any certainty?

Would you revisit your Village? Would you?

Emerging from the rubble

Today is Wednesday but in my head it feels as though it should be three days further on. The days seem to have dragged on yet have also been over in a flash. There have been no mood swings in either direction yet it has been a dramatic week in my head.

Five days ago I felt incredibly disenchanted with and irritated by the world and (almost) all the people in it. I pulled up the drawbridge on the hermitage and spent a few days editing photos, writing, reading & daydreaming a little.

I often feel at odds with the world so separating myself from it is something I do a lot. The advantage of being the mad woman with all the animals is that when I can’t stand to be around people then the animals will soothe away the irritations of what people call real life.

Yesterday was a day of dissociation and today is further confused. The clocks changed last weekend and the coming weekend goes on for four days which means the structure I normally have in my week is blown apart. People will tell me they know how I feel when they really have no idea. The clock changing thing isn’t a few days of catching up it screws with my sense of time and I lose track of what day of the week it is. It’s a major disruption for me and it can go on for weeks. Whether this has anything to do with the damage that manic depression has done to my mind over the years is debatable but it happens and it’s very real.

Last night I had a lady come round to do a home check as I’ve applied to adopt a dog through an animal charity based in Spain. I sat and answered all her questions, volunteered solutions from experience and all the while tried not to burst out of the thin sheet of normality I’d plastered across myself. It was hard work but she was happy with me and so it was a positive outcome. When she left I burst into tears. I was happy that I’d passed the home check but also relieved that she’d gone and I could melt back into me.

Today my sense of time is still very disjointed. I’m writing this at 20.45 and it feels like mid afternoon. It’s hard work and it’s paired up with a feeling of being detached from those I would voluntarily spend time with even though things are more than ok in my relationships with them. I feel a little paranoid and I know that it’s irrational but that doesn’t help. I’ve got to sit and wait for all this to pass.

I wasn’t ill when I started my retreat from life, I’m certainly not well now but it’s moving onwards of its own accord. It does this whatever I do about it. I’ll be glad when it passes over, not just for the peace I’ll have in my head but also freedom from the destructive eating pattern that always accompanies dissociation. I eat for England, I eat rubbish and I have no control over it so I’m really looking forward to being able to choose to eat fruit again.

Meanwhile it’s on with sorting through the rubble…

The grieving goes on…

I woke up this morning feeling the loss of work acutely. It’s over a decade since I was last employed and I thought I would be over the sense of loss long before now but it hangs around like the glimpse of an almost forgotten face in a crowd – familiar but an unclear memory.

I loved work and in most jobs I did I worked long hours. I think I secretly loved the jobs with the long  hours much more than I did the ones with a rigid clocking on and off time. I loved the jobs that were just bordering on too difficult for me and then tired of them when I conquered them.

The jobs I hated or the jobs that didn’t stretch me had me hating work whilst I was in them but the moment that I moved on to pastures new (and there were very many of those moments) I began to smile and fall back in love with it again.

A friend is setting up something exciting right now and using me as a sounding board. A large part of me knows that there’ll never be a return to work but when I see the sort of project that they’re beginning with the knowledge that I could run it with glee and passion makes me mourn the loss of my long past working days.

I have good days and I have great days but I also have bad days and horrendous days which means that there will never be a realistic return to work. A slightly low or giddy feeling can, within a matter of seconds, spin out of control into a long and deeply devastating round of rapid cycling and the end of them cannot be predicted. It’s an unstable life with a little less instability at the core and I have to accept that, much as I love work, it just isn’t and never will be, a part of my life again.

I forget…

Today is Sunday and I’m sat in bed this writing this. My thighs are aching desperately from the squats I accidentally did whilst photographing war graves in a local cemetery on Thursday. Apart from the clear recollection of a couple of phone calls with friends on Friday and the grim memory of gerbil dentistry yesterday my mind is a fuzz of just out of reach experiences. Since Thursday I have little I can recall with certainty and it hurts in more ways than one.

I feel hungover though it’s almost 22 years since I last had an alcoholic drink and I have that vague uneasiness that I’ve done something daft, offensive, apology worthy or all three that often followed a heavy and prolonged drinking session. I feel a little lost, a little restless and, mostly, floating around the edges of my life but not quite part of it.

This is my experience of bipolar memory loss. Whatever preconceptions people have of mental illness and the mentally ill they never think about how, for some of us, losing chunks of our memory and forgetting our lives as we’re living them is our normality.

I spent yesterday morning at the local city farm taking photos. I know this because I have a hazy warm spot; the feeling of being in the sun and talking against a background of animal noise. I also have 250 or so photos detailing what I did there. Though the photos can’t give me a memory they can give me a link back to my own past.

I’ll struggle a little today. I’ll feel as though I’ve lost my loved and loving people. I’ll have to work a little to regain a better sense of myself. I’ll have to not give myself a hard time over what offences I may have caused. Sharp as my tongue can be I’ve had no clues from people since then that I was other than polite but there is still a lingering “what if?” wandering around my head.

This is, personally speaking, the most isolating factor of bipolar disorder. Poor mental health separates the affected and unaffected by marking us all by the experiences we can’t or don’t have. For some of us they’re experiences we don’t know we have.