It’s pretty safe to say that my love of writing has never included writing poetry; in the same way my love of reading has never included reading anything at all. If my memory serves me right, the last poem I read wasn’t even in English, it was The Aeneid by Virgil; normally that would be the cue for some feeble attempt at a Thunderbirds joke, but I’m going to be strong….
That said you can have two bonus points if you know Parker’s first name.
There are so many types of poetry, and when I saw that one form consisted of just three lines (Haiku… bless you), I thought that would be perfect; but given the fact that the underlying theme of the challenges is mental health awareness I have decided to take this seriously and try to express how a condition called dysthymia has affected my life.
The poem’s title represents both the random nature of mental illness, and also (in part) the free-form composition that follows; the “someone” is (of course) Elaine—and the conclusion is intended to reflect the amazing difference she has made… and continues to make every single day.
I have literally no idea whether these twenty-one lines are even remotely half decent or just total rubbish, but I did give them a great deal of thought and found them very hard—both emotionally and to any degree of technicality—to write; and I’m comfortable that my endeavours equate to “challenge completed”.
I will therefore leave the final word on the background to my attempt at poetry to Virgil (the Publius Vergilius Maro version, not the resident International Rescue poet-turned-pilot) with a couple of short but apt lines from one of the books in his aforementioned work: “Quis talia fando temperet a lacrimis?”
“And who can hear this tale without a tear….”
And the final, final word to Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward’s trusty butler and chauffeur: “My name is Aloysius, m’Lady.”
Over the past couple of years, I have agreed to become a “champion” for the Time to Change programme, both as an individual and, more recently, through work.
Champion seems to be a word that’s used regularly when someone volunteers to promote almost any cause. I don’t see myself as a “champion”, an ambassador (or any other similar word); I simply feel that I am at a stage in my life where I am both willing and able to share my own experiences in the hope that I might perhaps strike a chord—and that someone somewhere may gain some strength from the realisation that talking and/or asking for help can lead to the kind of understanding and self-awareness which can result in daily struggles becoming just that little bit more manageable.
Just over a week ago therefore, as part of an organisational action plan to raise mental health awareness (and in the lead-up to World Mental Health Day), I invited my colleagues to sit down and ask me whatever questions they felt were appropriate to gain some insight into the reality of the effects of a long-term (albeit thankfully mild) condition.
I hope that doesn’t sound self-indulgent, because that absolutely wasn’t the intention. Even now, I find it incredibly difficult to talk openly about my feelings; I may no longer be ashamed that I have a form of depression, but the embarrassment of honest revelation still remains. I arranged the event because I know how hard it can be to start a meaningful conversation about mental health in whatever form; and offering myself as some sort of catalyst was more important than any personal discomfort at revealing aspects of the man that so few ever get to see.
I was worried no one would turn up (I can only eat so much cake…), but ultimately delighted that so many people came along for some/part or all of the hour. I had prepared a few notes… ironic given that I was talking about my own situation; and I was conscious that even though I’d known most of those in the room for quite some time, the sense of embarrassment was such that it was hard to look people in the eye.
The questions came, and I answered them as truthfully as I could. There seemed to be a genuine interest, as well as a level of empathy that never crossed the line into sympathy; but what was truly special (and totally unexpected) was that a couple of my colleagues felt able to not only comment on my experiences, but found the strength and courage to mention circumstances altogether more personal.
Afterwards, I will admit to feeling drained, but really happy that such an atmosphere or spirit of openness had been generated; and I will therefore close this “blogette” with a sincere thank you to those who took time out of their day to attend, take part… and eat the cake!
Elaine and I have visited Dublin and York in a busy, but much-needed week away from work. We’ve done a bit of sight-seeing, plenty of walking, thankfully not too much spending; and I’ve ticked off two more Time to Change challenges in the process.
The first (no.63) was something of an anti-climax and was essentially only completed because the specific wording of the task… to “sample Guinness in Dublin”.
Back in my illegally early teens, I had one sip from a can of John Smith’s—it made me feel very queasy indeed. Since then, I had never so much as tasted anything beer- or lager-related, and I must admit I was far from thrilled at the prospect of sampling Ireland’s finest.
Elaine and I ventured into the Stag’s Head, a traditional bar where the “tradition” even extended to staff with Irish accents (in our ignorance, we were surprised how few we heard…). I placed my order, waited a few minutes for the pint glass to be slowly and properly filled and returned to my beloved.
The Guinness neither looked, nor smelt appealing and, despite many people (my own mother included) telling me that it had a lovely taste which couldn’t be replicated on the other side of the Irish Sea, I was far from convinced as I clasped the glass in my trusty left hand.
And I was right….
The first gulp was genuinely unpleasant, the second even worse; there wasn’t a third!
Photo taken, “challenge” (such as it was) completed… time to order a pint of cider and get on with my life!
A couple of days later, we were back in the city of my birth to catch up with my parents, and also to visit my old school to recreate a photograph from many moons ago… challenge no.90.
The picture in question was of my Mum Anna, and I, taken on the steps of a boarding house called The Rise, where my Dad was housemaster for a dozen or so years during the 1970s and 1980s—which basically meant that school and home were one and the same place.
St Peter’s School in 2016 is far removed from the establishment where I grew up. I now need a visitor’s pass to walk round the place where I spent so much of my young life; so much of the school is secured by key-code-operated gates and locks; and a number of the buildings I remember have been replaced by twenty-first century equivalents.
I kept thinking back to “my day”, when things almost by definition were so much better; but in reality, my memories are just a snapshot of a time that will soon be all but forgotten by inevitable progress—and perhaps that’s no bad thing given how hard it actually was to grow up in such an unusual environment.
However now isn’t—and yesterday wasn’t—the time to dwell on the less pleasant moments and feelings that remain so fresh in my mind despite the intervening decades; yesterday was a chance to remember how things used to look, not necessarily how they used to be: the long-since demolished air raid shelter, the huts that had been the junior school classrooms, the conker trees that were felled to make way for the sports centre—I’ll wager very few remember those, the area where we played marbles (“hit one win the lot… your hard luck if it doesn’t reach”), Mrs Wrigley’s tuck shop, the squash court and maintenance workshops that were situated where the new science block now stands….
As for the photograph...
Well it wasn’t a faithful recreation as the heavens chose the worst possible moment to open, and Mum and I had to assume the 32-year old pose whilst sitting on a jacket instead of a sun-soaked step, and try to smile through the downpour; but hopefully the pictures show that Mum still looks amazing at 78. Me? Well I got old!
I do want to say thank you to Rebecca and Josh for their help in making yesterday happen. I seem to end all these blogs with a similar message, but I don’t think I need to apologise for stating once again that the purpose of all these challenges is to raise mental health awareness… to encourage people that it’s fine to talk, and it’s equally fine (albeit incredibly difficult) to ask for help because you are not alone.
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest