There’s enough food for forty people

In 2019 I had a mohawk. Shaved sides and a line of hair running along the middle of my scalp. I wore tartan leggings and dogtooth pinafore skirts with baggy tops. Or fishnets with scuffed Doc Martens and ripped jeans with vintage denim jackets. I dyed my hair black and was covered in piercings and new tattoos. I felt punk, I felt amazing.

Christmas of that year was one of the best. All of my friends were broke, so for our secret Santa, we chose to only allow “made” items. We are a creative group, so there were to be ten of us exchanging gifts we made ourselves, one unreplicable gift solely created for the recipient.

We gave each other the gifts at our first and to this date last Christmas party. Everyone brought a dish for the buffet; there was a vegan cheeseboard, guacaroni, Fran brought roast potatoes and somebody else did stuffing balls. There was a feast, and, like the gifts, it was something personal that had come from us. 

Food and music and friends and present giving. We were in a space full of love. And in Vikki’s house in Stony Stratford, the lot of us created a singular moment in time that could never be recreated.

For my gift I received a painted canvas from Finn – he told me the story of how he painted it, listening to Pink Floyd and practically meditating, only coming round once the album and painting were finished. The colours are all autumn leaves, burning sky, and soupy black. It hangs in my room next to two other canvases he has gifted me since.

Corin gave Annie a song, a piece of music he produced to represent her soul, her being. While the tune was leaving her phone speakers, most of us were stunned into silence, tearful at the sentiment. There is a video somewhere that pans the circle we sat in while listening to the tune, our faces all full of concentration but also love. 

Darry gave Corin a watercolour of a rose, a painting now I am sure is more loved than anything. It is a treasure that reminds us of the loss of a great friend – the man who wore mustard yellow and danced to Steps songs until 3am.

Vikki gifted Chloe a game she created called “Chloe’s Rates” – the concept was a set of cards with individual tasks on them (such as “find a way to hide everyone at once” or “make a face out of clothes”) that Chloe would hand out to people at random. Once the task was complete, Chloe would rate it from 1-5. Whoever had the most points at the end won. We played the game for the rest of the night and had too much fun to tally the points.

Most people left that party between midnight and 1 am. A few of us stayed and listened to music until the sun was coming up, unwilling to hand over the night we’d had to the morning to come. But, eventually, sleep found us all, and there were a few unsnatched hours where we were curled up on the huge denim sofa-bed, sleeping our way towards well-earned dehydration and headaches.

I can’t remember much from the day after except reluctant tidying and looking through photos of the night before, of which there were many. The hangover was bad but we were all in a similar way, and so the night that linked us was still present.

Recently I have been listening to the same sort of music I listened to back then. And I cut my hair again. The pictures have been coming up, too. A lot of time has passed, and many things have happened, but I know that we are all connected by that same thread, I know it tethers us back to that party. 

Regardless of what changes, that night will always be remembered the same. And it is ours to come back to whenever the natural passing of time suggests that we should.

Does this serve me positively?

I was walking Donkey (my mad dog) across the Ouzel Valley floodplains the other day. I can’t remember our destination, but I remember how the short path between my partner’s house and the canal had been burgeoned by Winter.

It was not snowy. Being a few days before Christmas, snow would have been welcome. No, the Wintery status was quite English. I was straddled by waterlogged grass, bleached lemon-yellow from over-exposure to walking boots and dog piss. The mud beneath had not recovered from a drizzly grazing season and lingered in suspicious piles over the greenery and stone path.

The reality of this one morning, and the reason it is an important memory to detail, is because I went on this unremarkable walk the morning after a hard-hitting colour-therapy session with a new therapist. 

As I’m writing this I’ve realised that this is the part where I’d usually lay all my cards on the table. I would tell everyone reading everything about the session. No detail would be spared and I would leave nothing for myself. I would do this without reservation and tell you all it’s because I am advocating for mental health; I am bringing awareness to the realities of living with conditions like mine. 

In the three-hour session, I was given a thinking tool. A simple question to ask before making any choices. “Does this action serve me positively?” When I ask myself if sharing my whole experience serves me positively, the answer is no.

The thinking tool is important because it is what led me to take my walk that morning. I struggle with guilt and making decisions for myself, even for minor things like choosing to go for a walk.

Being outside on my own without a clear purpose or destination was frightening and felt wasteful. Had I stayed inside no doubt I would be scrolling social media for hours (a comfort tactic), but in my mind, this would have been a better way to spend time.

Unusually these feelings of mine did not permeate my brain space as much as they usually would. While I watched Donkey bounding off into copses of rotten birch and broom moss, a most naturally occurring smile found its way to my lips. 

I felt like I was plundering this natural space as my eyes opened to my surroundings. This grey, damp day was full of greens and blues and whites; all the lightness I had shut away from myself. The more I embraced this natural lightness, I understood that with it came lightness of the soul and the mind – something I had been keeping away for a while.

My therapist had gifted me a small notebook to write down any revelations or feelings that arose from using my new thinking tool. I was so taken back by the effect the walk was having on me that I had to write down some thoughts as I was moving…

“Suddenly…
everything about Winter is amazing.
moss-covered, dead
sideways trees.
One with a mitten
stuck to it.
MUDDY! I love the
mud.”

I’ve copied them here exactly how they appear on the page. Seeing them typed out and reading them again makes them feel as if they’re a poem, and poetry is a foundational part of myself I haven’t accessed for months.

To ask  “does this serve me positively?” means to take responsibility for my actions and emotions. It had become second nature to live my life according to what I believed other people wanted of me.  This question has led me to use my voice and admit that I am the person responsible for creating the life I need and want – it is an uncomfortable realisation because it comes hand in hand with admitting I have been hiding behind other people.

I have taken too few steps on this path to try and predict the route I am going, and if I have learned anything so far it is to live in the present, anyway. For now, I am content to act in the way that serves me positively, facing the unique challenges doing so brings as they arise.

No longer content with not listening to myself, I am certain my world is going to change in inconceivable ways. I am expecting discomfort as well as a positive change, but my heart finally knows it can trust itself to be there for the duration.

Signed Off

It’s a sentence on its own which doesn’t need any explanation. It’s a weird thing, a shameful thing, something not to tell anyone at all. Having a doctor ask you about your problems and then sending you a digital note stating that you’re deemed unfit for work for ‘x’ number of weeks, is quite frankly, awful.

It shouldn’t be awful. In my ideal reality there wouldn’t be any anxiety attached to needing time off work – in this ideal, society has evolved to understand the importance of individuality, and it knows that for a workplace to thrive, the needs of each person must be met without question.

Unfortunately, my imagination is far-fetched, and though most companies don’t explicitly state their unhappiness with you producing a sick-line, the subtext is still there, and an impending sense of consequence clouds the rest period you’re supposed to be having.

Right now, I am signed off work. It is just two weeks but has the potential to be longer. The sick note, while written by my doctor, was requested by me. This is because I am signed off with clinical depression and suicidal tendencies, and instead of an action plan, my doctor asked, “what do you need, what do you want me to do?”.  

During the phone call I was confused. I felt guilty for having to ask for the time off, and I felt as if I were skiving. If I’d had a broken leg or a kidney problem, there wouldn’t have been any questions.

My experience with the GP was upsetting – after telling her I was struggling with my mental health after the death of a close friend, the questionnaire that followed felt dehumanising. I don’t blame her, I blame the systems which have taken away essential funding for care which is needed by the many.

Depression can look like this

I was given a number for counselling and told to call Samaritans if I felt suicidal.

NHS therapy has a two-year waitlist.

Without the care from my doctor, without having the time to sit down and discuss my issues and potential treatments, I came off the phone feeling like an imposter. A large part of me was convinced that the doctor told me what I wanted to hear. I felt this way, because in my head, I needed to work for the sicknote I requested. Without a proper conversation to prove that I was worthy of time off, I was just an attention-seeker, or lazy.

Logically I know this isn’t the truth. I am an advocate for mental health equality and ending the stigma, and I have fought for people who have not been able to stand up for themselves. So why can’t I apply these thoughts myself?

Anxiety looks like this

I’ve been away from work for two weeks, and having had the time to think about it, I’ve realised the fault does not lie with me.

The world we live in is contradictory and focuses its energy on a person’s worth. When it comes to the individual ‘What are they worth to a capitalist society? What work ethic do they have and what can they bring to the table.’ – this question is never extended to encompass what the individual needs to flourish.

We are expected to provide. We are not provided for. This is where the root of our guilt lies. In the inherent notion that we are here to be valuable. When ultimately we cannot be valuable to anyone unless we are looking after ourselves first.

So. Look after yourself. Take the time off you need. Dismiss questions or challenges from people who do not have your individual interests at heart. Rest. Heal.

Was it an experience?

 The recent months have been tough. Mental health has taken a hit, but there is respite in knowing that it is not a solitary phenomenon. Edging toward the tail end of the third lockdown, fatigue is ever-present among friends, family, and strangers I pass on my long woodland walks.

 Without the regular distractions of full-time work and heavy socialising, me and many others have had to find alternative ways to manage the increasing struggle. Pandemic aside, the world is in a period of social transition which shows itself in many forms. One which has spoken to me is the activism and stand against the violence committed by men against non-women.

 International women’s day was followed by a week of disappointing news: Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah once again coaxed Piers Morgan from his misogynists resting place, Sarah Everard was found dead and a member of the Met Police arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder, and there was an outpouring of misogynoir and aggression against black women.

It was in the wake of this news week I decided to speak out about some of the injustices which have been committed against me.

Without telling anyone, I turned my Instagram into a temporary platform for me to speak about when I was raped.

 I won’t recount the story here, but it’s available to watch on my Instagram @incredibillies as an IGTV video, though I give you fair warning it is graphic in nature and probably upsetting to watch. Regardless of these factors, I chose to share it because I had made my mind up that rape victims shouldn’t feel they have to keep what happened to them secret. They shouldn’t feel ashamed or dirty, and they should know these are things which happen TO them and not because of them.

 One of the main spurs for me talking about my rape was the influx of non-men on my Instagram feed imploring people to listen to them. It is difficult to witness hundreds of voices rising in the wake of a tragic event, attempting to share their experiences, only to be told they are lying for attention.

 The other reason was these people spoke gently of what happened to them. Without realising they made excuses for their abusers and refused to go into detail. I wondered why and realised all this must be to ‘spare’ the public from knowing what has happened to us in all the gory detail. This realisation stirred anger within me, leading me to record a video explicitly talking about the four men that raped me and how the police reacted to my situation.

 Since posting the video I have had positive feedback. People have called me brave and thanked me for sharing. I know why they do it, but what I want is to create a norm where people aren’t too frightened or disgusted to tell the world of the abuse committed against them. A world where we talk about it enough to make people uncomfortable enough to make a change.

 I may tell you I was ‘raped’, and you may sympathise with me and forget it a day later, but if I tell you how I was raped and what the people did to me, it becomes harder to make it go away. The more people who voice their story, the more graphic we are with the world, the more we fight for the right to never have these things happen to us.

 Until things change, I will continue to ask my non-male friends to text me when they get home and to be careful if they’re going to be out after dark. I will continue to be cautious of any man in my near vicinity, and I will continue to upload stories of all the times I have experienced sexual harassment. It is hundreds.

Until things change, I will always encourage others to do the same.

Freeform – Home

The concept of home as a freeform is ridiculous – but during a university lecture this morning we were given five minutes on the concept of home. Which, for me, is something that has always been fluid and moving. It is not a place, and it is not always certain people. It is a mood, a feeling, a cup.

What is home, really? I have several homes. Right now, my home is this table, with the cat on the side tucking into the Maoam’s. It is not just this table, but this house. This house with three dogs, one cat, one rabbit, two gerbils, three children, Vikki, and me. Me. I am here, and my place is in this house with the coloured doors and guitar hooks on the walls holding up the blue bass given to me once by Annie. A bass I never learned to play but get told by Susannah that I must. I must so that she can play piano with me. Piano that Vikki taught her.  

My mother’s house is the place I go to for peace – when the screaming chaos of 101 Victoria St cancels out the SSRI’s and overwhelms my imagination into extinction. I put the key in the lock,( the key that always has been, and always will be mine no matter how many other addresses I live at) and walk in. I am greeted by a the akita-bear hybrid animal that is Keisha, and Jo Malone candles, these things familiar enough to make me pause, breathe, and assume the old habit of sitting in the wing chair next to my bookcase. Dad, as usual, is asleep on the armchair.

Sometimes, something weird happens, and I don’t know how to detach the head from the Henry hoover to unblock it of the rabbit hay, so I call my dad and he comes over- he always comes over to help. That home meets my other home and I start to wonder which is which. But they’re both home. Not the physical space, never the physical space, but them.

Tor

The Tor, I am told, is one of the highest natural peaks in Somerset: we climbed it.

Annie is meditating next to me, and there is a kid singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ in St. Michaels tower. Tonight we are sharing the space with many other people. We made the climb so we could watch the sunset up here; it was difficult, and I am reminded of this by a cold sweat bubble joining the rivers down my neck. It seems as if my head might be an infinite source of salt water.

And older Greek woman whispers to a young girl named Maya; they look for somewhere to sit while commenting on how many people are on the Tor.

Personally, I don’t mind how many people are up here, but I feel for Annie as she focuses on the energy work for her crystals. The sky bubbles red and orange ahead of us. The sun is in the West, half of its presence has been pinched behind expansive, smoky clouds. He is not shy, he is just waiting to make his entrance.

The stink of three days of sweat from my time at the rainbow commune makes its way to my nose, but is drowned out by a nearby joint; a scent that has become closer to me than my own blood in recent days.

Two dogs find their way into an argument behind us. I attempt to rehydrate with kiwi and strawberry water. The tang it leaves in my mouth beats the stale tobacco off my tongue.

Up here we toe the line between organic and inorganic. A car alarm rails below us, but simultaneously a skylark ups into view, calling for a mate. Shutters and flashes from a hundred digital cameras light up our sky, and in that same sky is the sun, sinking down with gradients of purple and luscious pink, the kind you want to kiss.

As father sun is swallowed up by our open ceiling, a child sucks down snot into the back of their throat and a Nokia ringtone rolls through the circle of hippie folk.

For me, the most natural thing I can do is to share this evening with everything existing in our world: a Chinook, a cool breeze smacking off the back of a plastic bottle, or a mushroom the size of my palm. Whatever it is, to me it feels as if it is all the same.

Newborn Lepidopterist

We are sitting approximately 12 feet apart. I am on top of the dragon, and he is down in the shade of a plum tree. We are listening to my Spotify ‘discover weekly’ playlist through a Bluetooth speaker placed awkwardly between us, and we are both working on our respective creative vices.

I used to keep the Wolverton apple orchard to myself, but in the era of social distancing, I’ve realized that more people need access to the fragrant plumes of apple mint and lemon balm, and the gentle healing that comes from walking the aisle between the young apple and pear trees.

I am sweating factor thirty, relieved only occasionally by a breeze that is accompanied by the distressed chattering of a house sparrow; it seems her allotted tree branch doesn’t hold up well against the eastern element. Distracted by taking amusing photos of each other, Finn and I find our attention drawn back by a painted lady butterfly. It doesn’t stop to acknowledge us in return, but continues on its flight path to the adjoining allotments.

 The uncomfortable and unrelenting trill of our dying Bluetooth speaker is promptly put out of its misery by Finn.

 It seems as if today has become an accidental day for butterfly spotting. An Orange Tip followed by a Red Admiral brings our total up to three, not something that I remember happening since my early childhood. Both of the butterflies sizzle with confidence, but the striking silhouette of a Red Kite against the sun takes our breath away easily.

The grass is soft on my palms but scratchy on my bare thighs, and I think Finn is getting uncomfortably warm. I pause and indulge myself in the sweet smell of the cherry tree behind me before standing up and shaking myself off in preparation of my reluctant walk home.

Sun death

I persist regardless of what they do. I mean, I wish they wouldn’t, but in truth it doesn’t matter.

 A war, another war. Another war and then a disease. A disease and then another disease. A disease that they brought back with them. Plant another, next to me. What was it my mother said as she put me in the ground? “Shade” a single word lulled into loose earth scratched up for my bundle of roots. It was then, in 1667, that I learnt I was here for human convenience.

 Convenient I was. Conveniently tall and “wow, so beautiful”, and I stood there and listened to them awe at me holding paper cups of my brothers torn down, hands wrapped round them sipping at the foul brown, and I thought “well if only you fed some of that to me, you have no idea how well I’d grow.”

 Ancient they call me, only because I am the proud survivor of Dutch Elm, Ash Dieback, Anthracnose and… there were more but I can’t remember. If only you could feel the anger I feel, being a surviving witness of the endless human violence. The ability to self-destruct again, and again, but somehow to pull themselves back by a thread. A thread, usually, that’s tethered to us, strung around our roots and cast deep into soft soil and plump earth that they wish to make hollow.

Oxygen, take it. We make enough to feed them all and will continue to do so long after they’ve been swallowed by icy floods. Hot Amazon, hot Bush, hot heat hardening hearts of my slain family over the world. We prepare ourselves to face the massive sun death – just because they won’t be here to enjoy it, why shouldn’t we? We have accepted our place in this, to fund consumerism, capitalism, communism, however they want to wipe themselves out.

Plant your guilt, seed by seed. Build new forests of shame and slavery. It’s too late to stop what you’ve done, just try to treat the next ones better.

Millenium

“Don’t drop me, granddad!” I’m sat on his knees, nervously anticipating the fall as he dunks me low to the floor, my matted almost-black hair scraping the carpet. He dangles me there for a second or two, my sweaty hands gripping his in fear of my life. He hoists me up as quickly as he let me down. The trust is restored.

 My mum is on the sofa soothing my brother and sister and explaining to my younger cousins what the Millennium is. I can’t hear what she says over my own shrieks. Adrenaline bounces through my ears and I know I’m going down again. “Don’t drop me, please.” The fear seizes me. It’s too much and I cry for Nana. Arthritic fingers pass me over into wobbling arms that hold me close, and her talcum powder skin blooms in my nose to bring me peace.

 My dad wanders over and warbles something in my ear, a rhyme about fishes and fairies, but I wrap my legs around my nan and pretend he’s not there. “You’re too old to be held.” He’s persisting, the green bottle in his tattooed digits winks at me, beckoning me to join the adults that are smouldering in their own drunkenness. I ask my nan to put me down.

I go outside and clutch at the cold earth with grubby fingernails. My chest is heaving with tears that won’t come, but cousin Ollie finds me, he has a plate full of scotch eggs. “Countdown is in an hour.” It’s been a long day, so I take an egg and melt into the dark grass instead, picking blades until they weave me into my sleep.

The company we keep

Why do some Midges mosey about as if they’re drunk, while others are indefatigable? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer for you. But it is the most pressing question on my mind, sitting underneath this lime tree.

 I watch them for a while and think about their ambition. Why have they gathered here? They’re using the space well, spread thin across several metres, like a ration of butter on your morning toast. Perhaps they are here for the company – I only speculate this because apart from colliding with each other they don’t appear to be doing much. I am distracted by a bug that lands on my chest. It is considerably ugly. It has mulchy wings that taper off, and an alien tail protruding from underneath its abdomen. A second one hovers nearby. They leave together.

 The sun is setting on my left, though it’s still high enough to throw a fine-looking variegation over the grass; green and yellow are friends, and they’ve always been a favourite colour combination of mine. There are three minuscule red spiders on the seat next to me. I suspect they must be up to something as two of them keep retreating to their secret world on the underside of the bench. They’re the sort of red that you see at the end of a fire, once everything is done burning, but they move too much for that comparison. For me, this colour means ‘leave me alone’.

 The midges are leaving in groups of ten or more, they must have a buddy system. Everybody here appears to have a friend. I begin to think of my own solitude in this moment, why I brought myself here alone. But I don’t have time to finish that thought because the clouds have journeyed over, and it starts to rain.