Everywhere in chains…

Mad Meandering Me

‘Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains’ – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I hear mine rattling all the time – big, heavy, rusty, noisy old things, each burdensome link forged from the layers of collective ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ preached with well-meaning solidarity by the holy trinity of family, culture and society I grew up with.

It’s not that I consciously pay deliberate attention to them all now, more that having internalised all those messages from birth, having stored them away in my subconscious over the years, I now have no way of telling where the essential me ends and where the social adaptation and cultural conformity begins – we’re all kind of merged together, entwined. And that’s the problem with all these internalised messages – they’re in you, they become part of you, habitual and ritualised, even though they’ve not actually originated from you at all, and many may…

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Groundhog day…

I’m trying to imagine the possibilities of opening up a new chapter looking towards a potential positive future for my life, making a concentrated effort to turn over the page and finally close the book on my difficult depressive past. Of somehow resisting the pull of those same old self-stories, those tired over-used habitual self-limiters that keep me slogging along on the same old track, head down, wondering why life always seems to be nothing but an endless series of restrictive pattern repeats, never seeming to change…

Imagine how it might feel not to have those invisible chains holding me down, holding me back, keeping me forever anchored to the past through the sheer weight of my own over-analysed history. Imagine being able to see an alternative unfettered future, one decided by an unlimited me. Unlimited in the sense of simply accepting my actual, practical limitations without adding even more restrictive, convoluted, psychological ones to the mix.

Of course I can’t make myself taller, or younger, but I can maybe make myself healthier, fitter, happier – if only I believe I can. And there’s the rub. My favourite limiters ‘always…’ and ‘never…’ somehow keep me perpetually stuck in a closed feedback loop of familiarity and frustration. Stuck replaying my own personal Groundhog Day, over and over, variations on a theme but with the same inevitable outcome – I still wake up every day as the same broken person. External things may change and evolve over time, but internally I remain very much the habitual, essential me.

It feels that my internal life-story doesn’t change much because deep down I don’t really believe I can change myself. Or is it perhaps also that subconsciously I’m feeling resistant to change? Do I maybe find it psychologically easier (in a better-the-devil-you-know way) to close my mind to the possibility of such fundamental change and just stick with the same old well-worn narrative, with its associated patterns of belief and behaviour, I’ve built up over my fifty-year lifespan. Because in many ways, it does fit the bill – it’s got me this far, I’m still here, alive and kicking, older and wiser.

My years of therapy, together with my very people-oriented degree studies (a mix of psychology and sociology) have not only taught me a lot about myself but also have given me a far greater perspective on which life factors – nature, nurture, societal, cultural – help make all of us as we are. But I’ve exhausted so many years trying to make sense of myself that I wonder if, having found some of the ‘who am I?’ answers I spent so long looking for, deep down I’m rather loath to let them go. Yet I’m beginning to realise that by holding on to those particular words so tight, maybe I’m the one holding me back…

But what if I could start to fashion myself a mended person’s narrative in place of the self-perpetuating broken record version with the needle stuck in the same groove? Life imitates art, so they say – what if I could find a way to change my life outlook as easily as I’ve changed my blog? Throw caution to the wind, decide on a new unlimited remit, a new theme, a new colour-scheme for my future life. Say to myself ‘this is who I want to be now’ and with just one click everything immediately looks different – what then? Would I be able to wake up at last and find a brand new day, a brand new future in front of me, become more like Mad Meandering Me instead of Quiet Calliope in real life? Who knows, but it might be worth trying to find out…

A bitter pill to swallow…

Purplepersuasion’s article ‘Jagged little pill: has the recovery narrative gone too far?’ puts into words most eloquently some of the troubling half-hearted thoughts and semi-solid ideas that have so recently lead me to question my own blogging journey, my own narrative of resilience and recovery.

I started writing quietcalliope four months ago, at the age of fifty, with the idea of finally giving myself a voice and sharing my experience of living with life-long, low-lying depression punctuated intermittently with deeper, more debilitating depressive episodes. In one sense this has proved truly successful for me – I have indeed found my voice. But nevertheless after a while I found writing under that singular remit too restrictive, too psychologically uncomfortable, as I felt defined – was effectively defining myself – by what is after all only one facet of my being.

So with a slightly troubled heart I decided to move on from quietcalliope, and start afresh with madmeanderingme. This new blog would have no specific remit, fall into no specific genre, so although in one way it would simply be some kind of continuation of all that went before, it would also be so much more – more psychologically rounded in outlook, more inclusive of all aspects of my life, would hopefully feel more like ‘me’ overall…

But this particular confluence of my move away from focusing only on a narrative of recovering depression and reading Charlotte’s timely article has reminded me of a concept I learned about during my degree studies – discourse. During the 1970s French philosopher Michel Foucault theorised that in order to be able to put our experience out there, for us to be able voice it into words, there first has to be a recognisable discourse of knowledge available – an accepted cultural framework of specific language, ideas, beliefs and practices – through which to discuss it.

For example, the traditional late 19th and early 20th Century discourse of mental health included notions of locking ‘problematic’ people away in mental asylums, looney-bins, nut-houses, carrying out frontal lobotomies and electric shock therapy – seriously scary stuff. Added to that, the very narrow societal parameters outside of which you would be deemed to be either morally or mentally infirm were in themselves deeply flawed. Unmarried mothers, for example, were regularly included in this wholesale removal to supposed ‘safety’ of ‘unfit’ members of society.

This was not a description – a discourse – that anyone would be comfortable in associating themselves with voluntarily, and not the kind of place anyone would willingly incarcerate themselves in if they had the choice, especially as once you were ‘put away’ you pretty much stayed there for the rest of your life, effectively out of sight and out of mind. So not surprisingly many people kept all too quiet about familial or personal mental afflictions, differences and difficulties were swept ignominiously under carpets, and skeletons remained firmly closeted – after all stigma is a great silencer.

The current new improved discourse of mental health is, happily, far less extreme. It is in many ways a user-friendly, inclusive discourse that many of us can more comfortably identify with, and embrace with relief. It gives us an everyday descriptive language and belief system with which to discuss our experiences, and it gives the general public an everyday descriptive language and belief system with which to acknowledge and accept that experience. But yet…

The problem with every discourse is, not only is it descriptive, but it can also be prescriptive – it not only lets you tell how you are, but also tells you how you should be. Foucault argues that there is an inherent power struggle present in every discourse. However liberating it may be for us to finally have an acceptable lexicon with which to openly discuss our lived experience, it is also inherently limiting in its approach. In one way we are all individually in control of what we choose to say about our mental health, but in another sense we are still effectively controlled by what we feel is societally say-able.

It is all, of course, infinitely healthier for everyone now than in the past – things are clearly getting better. But they are still not the best they can be. A simplified, non-threatening narrative of correcting chemical imbalances through medication in order to facilitate recovery is definitely part of the ongoing story for many of us, myself included, but is not the answer for all, and is not ever going to be the only answer.

Popping a pill or two in the comfort of our own homes however many times a day is of course a vast improvement on having ‘experts’ either frying or cutting out parts of our brains in some God-forsaken Victorian institution somewhere in the back of beyond. But underneath the upbeat, inclusive message, our 21st Century discourse on mental health still creates the underlying expectation and requirement of eventual conformity to a societally acceptable norm, and for me at least, that is still a very bitter pill to swallow…

On the move…

I’ve decided it’s time to stop writing on quietcalliope – it’s been four months since I began, and as a self-help, therapeutic kind of blog it’s very much achieved for me in that time exactly what I originally wanted from it – to give myself a voice to share all the difficult stuff in life surrounding my depression and all that goes with it.

But four months in I’m feeling so much better as the worst of that last bad episode has passed, and much as I’m enjoying blogging I’m finding my original ‘depressive’ remit a bit psychologically restrictive when I feel that I have so much more to say. So rather than change it into something it was never meant to be, I’ve simply decided to start another blog carrying on from here, keeping quietcalliope… well… quiet for now.

If anyone would like to have a look at my new blog then please feel free to visit Mad Meandering Me – and if not, thank you all very much for your support, follows, comments and likes on quietcalliope, it’s been truly inspirational and much appreciated! ❤

Rapt in attentiveness, and wrapped in love…

I love hearing people sing to babies, old songs, new songs, nursery rhymes – songs not just about love, but sung with love, straight from the heart. Not necessarily actual lullabies, but any melodic song has the same effect; soothing, bonding, caressing sound waves resonating outward like ripples across a pool. The words themselves almost become superfluous, rather it is the tone and the tempo of vocal vibration that matters most, creating a magical spell of mesmerising intimacy between adult and child…

I originally thought only of mothers singing to babies, being a mother myself who sang to my own lovely little baby-bundles all those years ago, and more recently thinking of my youngest daughter singing to her two beautiful little ones. But then I remembered hearing my son-in-law singing so softly and tenderly to his new-born daughter, and I realised it would be wrong to specify gender.

Over the years singing to my babies has remained one of those deep-welled memories that endures for me, through their toddlerhood and childhood and the difficult teenage years and on into adulthood. Through all the bad decisions I may have got wrong along the way, I feel in my heart that at least I got that bit right – I sang to my babies and felt them relax in response, rapt in attentiveness and wrapped in love.

So now to be rewarded the absolute privilege of singing in the same way to my precious grandbabies, being able to share in that same close-held, clear-gazed familiar bond I treasured so much with my own children, creates yet another generation of magical memories for me to nurture, keep safe, and cherish always… ❤

If…

If… such a small word, yet in retrospect it can carry such huge consequences… If only I’d done this, or hadn’t done that, how different might my life have been? I’ll never know, of course. All I can do is ruminate and agonise over all my poor decisions that lead to the worst of outcomes, and taunt myself to hell and back by imagining all those long-ago would-be alternative ‘ifs’ to always have had only the best of outcomes.

Thinking ‘if only…’ is a thoroughly futile habit. Indulging myself by wallowing in the mire of regret and guilt and shame only sucks me in further, keeps me stuck helplessly with the demons of my past, sinking deeper and deeper into gloom and despair…

But what if I stop using ‘if’ only to look back; what if I try to shift my perspective by 180 degrees and focus instead on imagining a prospective future? What if I draw a line in the sand today, turn around, learn from the lessons of the past and instead use ‘if’ as a motivation for aiming towards a better tomorrow, as a beacon of hope to light my way? What if I just step out of my dark and brooding (dis)comfort zone and see where life leads me?

Oh… if only it could really be that simple…!

Virtual friends, yet virtual strangers…

I know we all blog differently, for many different reasons, all individually taking many different approaches to maintaining and updating our own little piece of web space. For me, blogging about myself and my own life from a very personal perspective, often sharing difficult emotional experiences, means actively maintaining quite strict boundaries within and around my blog posts.

Yes, I’m sharing some very personal thoughts and experiences with the wider world, but I’m still very much in control of what, and how much, I share on my blog – and it is very much my choice to share what I do share and to keep private what I choose to keep private. My fingers type what I wish them to type, but also rest quiet at times, or at least remain wary and succinct in their keystrokes, because I also remain fiercely protective of my privacy outside of what I choose to write here.

Like everyone else I have a whole real-time, three-dimensional life that goes on outside of my computer screen. We – all of us bloggers – know of each other only what we let be known, and that is exactly how it should be. I really love to ‘meet’ new virtual friends from all corners of the globe, whether via individual posts or comments, through me following other blogs, or by others following mine.

Some people always have a lot to say, and some very little, and much as I enjoy the online interaction with everyone I always remember that the blog world – in fact any online community – is not the real world. It is in a sense an illusion, and for some may even be a complete fantasy. We may be virtual friends, yet in many ways we remain virtual strangers. In the blog world we have the freedom of a completely blank screen to colour with our own words or images as we choose, no more, no less.

We each create our own blogging identity only from what we choose to share in our posts and pages, and for me that is a wonderfully liberating experience. With no pre-conceptions and no prior expectations to shape us, we can perhaps explore and experiment with those inner voices that may not be freely heard in any other medium.

For my part I may as yet prefer neither to share my full name, nor any personal pictures of me and my family, but I’m nevertheless more than happy to share honestly some of my most innermost thoughts and fears as I grapple with my mental demons. And to share lots of archived and current images from my everyday life going on around me.

So I hope you all enjoy my blog for what it is, and I will return the favour, taking you all as I find you, accepting you all for whoever you choose to be and however much or little you choose to reveal of yourself online… 🙂