New Year, New Hopes – A Tiny Update

20131001-080851.jpg

Don’t worry, I’ve not gone crazy.. At least not in the traditional sense..
Tonight at sun down is the Jewish new year, Rosh HaShanah, and I have to admit that I am kind of excited about it. I know that a date is just a date, really, and it’s what we do with each day that matters, but, there is still something about starting anew that always makes me feel positive and hopeful. It’s that delicious feeling of opening up a brand new journal, 300 buttery white pages, there for me to fill. I kind of know that as much as I’ll try to use only my very neatest handwriting, sooner or later I will fall back into old habits, switching to my sloppiest, most illegible, journal writing style, almost without noticing. But, until I do – man, does it feel good!

So, what am I hoping for in the new year?

Motherhood. Always at the very top of my wish list. Comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. But other than that? Well, a little bit of relief from the drama of the last few months would be nice. I remember my youngest sister concluding a number of years ago that I always have a serious dip in September, but knowing what the last few months have been like, I’d like to think that this time the dip came early, and hopefully I am on my way back up now.

I hope that creativity will flow. Both in terms of writing, and in terms of artistic endeavours, whether it be painting, drawing, carving or whatever other quirky ideas I may come up with. My latest project, as you can see above, is hand painting canvas shoes. Hopefully this will continue to offer me an alternative way to express myself and provide a safe haven to go to, a place where I can disconnect, if only for a moment, from mundane day-to-day stresses.

I hope that my therapy and my relationship with A. will continue to both challenge me and bring deeper understanding, and that I will find the courage to carry on expressing my feelings. I hope that the work I am doing with Z. will help prove to myself that I can do it [talk about the abuse without breaking either myself or the person who is listening to me], and that it will ultimately lead to a decrease in the amount of flashbacks I experience on a daily basis.

Stepping away from purely therapeutic/professional relationships, I also feel a lot more ready to be in a romantic relationship with someone. I have been single ever since Dev and I separated after five years together. That is now almost five years ago, and I have to admit that in those years, I have always felt ridiculously comfortable with my single status. A. has more than once hinted at the possibility of me being somewhat fearful of entering into a new intimate relationship, but I genuinely don’t feel that’s the case. I mean, yes, there are absolutely things that frighten me about letting another person in, but not on a level where it would stop me from forming a relationship with someone; I’ve just felt very strongly that I needed this time to deal with my own issues, to have emotional time and space to explore who I am, to get to know myself better. I still don’t feel particularly desperate to find someone, nor do I feel burdened by loneliness; it simply just feels like it would be nice to have someone to share my life with, to settle down. To Set This Circus Down, to use a McGraw-ism. I don’t think I’m about to [re-]join a dating site or start going on the prowl or anything like that, it’s not really my style. I would love it if Prince or Princess Charming found their way into my life, but I feel no need to go on a hunt to find my perfect match today [or even tomorrow]. Rather than an intense hunger for breaking free of singlehood, I suppose you could say that I have more of a relaxed ‘if it happens, it happens’ attitude towards it. But, as I said earlier, it would be nice if it did happen.

Anyway, I think I’ll end my ‘update lite’ here, and – whether you are Jewish or not – I would like to wish you all a very good and sweet year to come.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

Have a marvellous 5774!

Much love,

xx

(For Lillsessan..)

Set This Circus Down © 2000 Bill Luther and Josh Kear
Advertisements

Candle Lighting, Ice-Skating & Honouring Thy Mother And Father

A painted chanukkiah on my window

A painted chanukkiah on my window

Tonight is the first night of Chanukkah (Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah..whatever.. you know.. the Jewish holiday.. חנוכה), and thus time to light the first candle. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukkah candles states that one should not only light them, but that one should publicise the miracle of Chanukkah, thus it is customary to place your chanukkiah on the windowsill so that it can be seen by people walking past. Now, I would love to do that, but unfortunately where I live there are no windowsills, so I can’t do that.

Wanting to still fulfil the commandment, I did the next best thing; I painted a chanukkiah on my window. This is something I get from my mother, who used to paint advent candles on our kitchen window every year, “lighting” another candle each Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas. So, choosing to publicise my chanukkiah in this way feels doubly good, because it can also be seen as a way of honouring my mother. And that matters to me, not only because it’s a commandment, but because it is so easy to, when thinking back to my childhood, focus on all the things that were less than ideal. As much as there were a lot of things that were not right, there were also many things that were really good. Happy memories, which need also be allowed space in my heart.

Another happy memory came to life for me a few weeks ago, when I – for the first time in ten years – went ice-skating. Prior to going, and in spite of having not skated for such a long time, I was thinking How hard can it be? Growing up in the very north of Sweden, I got my first skates when I was something like two and a half, and I’ve been skating reasonably regularly every winter all the way up until I moved to London ten years ago and took on the shape and size of a baby whale.

Baby whale attributes aside, I really didn’t think skating would be a problem. Bit like riding a bike, right? Wrong! I stepped onto the ice and for the first time ever I felt aware that there was a chance I could fall. I mean, I was properly scared. I was like Bambi on ice, only less graceful. It was like learning to walk again. And yet, as surprising as this was, there was something else that also hit me straight in the chest, and that was an utter sense of freedom, of happiness. I felt like a child again, like the kid I used to be, when things were good.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my last few sessions with A., exploring this, because I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt so free and happy. The closest thing to it is when I write or paint, but this was way more than that. It brought back the memory of going skating with my family as a kid. Either my mother or my father would take my brothers and I down to the rink, and it was the best thing ever. Often we’d go to one of the many outdoor rinks which most schools in my home town had at the time. These were rinks that hadn’t been Zambonied to perfection, rather, it wasn’t unusual for us to get to the rink and find it completely snow covered. So – as a family – we would have to clear the rink before we could even begin skating. It would be pitch dark all around us, even if it might not be late at all, only the floodlights at the rink cutting through the darkness, making me feel as if the only thing that existed was my family and I, and the sheer joy of speeding across the ice.

Happy memory trigger

My Beloved Skates
Happy Memory Trigger

Being back on the ice again brought all of this back to me. I remember how my father would have us do ten laps clockwise and then another ten counter-clockwise as a warm up, before we were allowed to free-skate, and how we kids would do it without questioning him, despite the fact that my father happens to be possibly the worst skater in the history of ever. It was, as I explained to A. in session, special – because – growing up I didn’t have very many rules given to me by my parents, and this, well, it allowed me to be the kid, rather than the responsible little person I had to be at most other times. Another ice-skating memory that came flooding back is from when I was really little, back when I was only just able to stand on the ice in my skates, and my mother would hold my hands to support me. It may seem like a very small thing, in the grander scheme of things, but – as I said to A. – it must be important, because I remember it. I have a million memories of worrying about my mother, feeling like I was the adult, and plenty others where the child/adult boundaries were blurred, to say the least, and this – in contrast – was a situation where my mother was unquestionably the adult, and all I had to do was to be a child, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t let me fall.

So, as I light my Chanukkah candles this year, at the very darkest time of the year, I am challenging myself to remember the brightest, happiest memories.

Happy Chanukkah!

xx

PS. Just in case you didn’t know, the Holiday armadillo – as introduced in Friends – is a myth. The Chanukkah GECKO, on the other hand, is clearly real. See photographic evidence below.

Chanukkah 5773 - Day 1 The ACTUAL chanukkiah

Chanukkah 5773 – Day 1
The ACTUAL chanukkiah
..and the very real Chanukkah gecko..

Staying Awake For Shavuot

;

What Happened At Mount Sinai?

It’s a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning. I’m just back from shul. I’ve been there since six in the afternoon yesterday. You see, we are celebrating Shavuot, when we, in addition to eating hideous amounts of dairy food [particularly cheesecake, which I really don’t like], we do a full night of studying followed by a special morning service at sunrise, known as tikkun leyl Shavuot.

You see, Shavuot marks the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai, and there is an often told Midrash which tells of how the Israelites, in preparation for the receiving of the Torah, went to bed early the night before in order to be well rested the following morning, as the Torah was to be given to them at the first light of day. Sounds sound enough, doesn’t it? Proper good night’s sleep before a major event. Only the Israelites forgot to set the alarm on their iPhones and ended up oversleeping, and God had to wake them up. Not great, and as you can imagine God was decidedly unimpressed with this. So rather than just gently waking the sleeping Israelites, He – or She – did so by lifting up Mount Sinai and holding it over their heads, telling them that they had better get up pretty darn sharp or He [or She] would drop the mountain on them. A pretty rude awakening – but hey – it’s God, and I suppose God can do as S/He wishes.

So, to make up for this embarrassment, and to ensure there is no risk of oversleeping yet again, Jews all over the world stay up all night studying the night before the anniversary of this momentous occasion, and as soon as the sun rises a special service is held where the commandments are read out for all to hear.

[Also, being Jews, we get through an enormous amount of food on this night of study, but that’s a whole nother story..]

Now, I’m not someone who has a literal understanding of the Bible and of what happened at Mount Sinai, but I do like this idea of staying up for a whole night with my friends, learning lots of things, and having really fun and interesting discussions.

At my shul – which belongs to the Movement for Reform Judaism – we hold a joint tikkun leyl with one of the liberal synagogues every year, which makes this night even more interesting, as you don’t just get to argue and discuss with people from your own synagogue, but you actually get to do it with people from a different strand of Judaism. Although reform Judaism and liberal Judaism are both progressive strands of Judaism, there are also some very distinct differences, and that really adds a bit of extra spice to the mix.

This year the sessions I chose to take part in were a dialogue about conversion to Judaism – which, for obvious reasons, caught my interest, a discussion about whether God is dead and a more hands on creative session, where we made clay figures to try to express our own personal relationship with God. Trust me, at three-thirty in the morning, having not slept, there is nothing more fun than being allowed to regress to childhood and play with clay!

As the sun rose this morning, we all [well, us brave souls who had made it all through the night] climbed the stairs all the way up to the roof of our synagogue and held the morning service up there in the open, overlooking a beautiful but still sleeping London. It’s a very special service indeed.

There is a lot more I could write about this night of study, but to be honest, I’m so tired I could quite easily fall asleep if I stare at the computer for too long, and I wouldn’t want that to happen, as I’m going for another service at 11. I have contemplated going to sleep rather than attending this service, since, technically, I’ve already been to a Shavuot morning service, but this later one will have all of our little kids there, dancing and singing on the rose petal strewn floor of the Sanctuary, and it’s just the cutest thing ever. Noisy – but cute!

So for now I am going to stop writing and just focus on staying awake until it’s time to get back to shul.

All the very best, and if you are so inclined:

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

xx

PS. My memory of the above Midrash may very well be faulty, as my brain isn’t entirely alert and with it at the time of writing, so please don’t ask me to cite my source more specifically.

AN HOUR LATER:
On second thought, I think I’ll watch the service online, I don’t think I could possibly get my body in an upright position for long enough to get to shul. Just sooooooo tired.

EVEN LATER:
Did by some miracle make it to 11 o’clock service and back. Now: Bed, bed, BED!

Yom Kippur, Leather Boots & True Repentance

 

 

My beloved and much appreciated Doc Martens

During the High Holy Days, and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – in particular, there is a commonly observed Jewish custom of not wearing leather shoes. One reason given for this custom is that traditionally leather shoes have been seen as being more comfortable than other shoes, and on a day of such solemnity one should minimise one’s comforts.

Another basis for this custom is that it would be inappropriate to wear leather shoes on this day of repentance, as an animal had to die in order for those shoes to be made. To some degree I agree with this and thus, last year, I made the decision to not wear leather shoes throughout the entire High Holy Day period.

This year I’ve not been quite as observant in this regard,  mainly because my energies have been focused on things other than what clothes to wear and what shoes go with which outfit. But also, last year, while I did make a conscious decision to not wear leather, I couldn’t get this niggling thought out of my head: Why is it seen as inappropriate to wear shoes [or coats, belts, handbags and so on] made from leather only* at this time of the year? Surely, if you truly believe that one should not wear something for which an animals life had to be sacrificed, then this must be true all year round? No?

Now, while I’m not prepared to give up my Vans, Docs or other items made of leather, I have been pondering this idea, on and off, and wondering if there is not perhaps another way for me to honour the fact that an animal had to die for me to have those comforts? Or maybe an additional way?

So, this morning I got all of my leather shoes and boots out, and spent a good few hours cleaning, polishing and buffing them. I didn’t do it in order to make them look good – although that is a nice side effect, indeed – but to make sure I kept them in the best possible condition for them to last as long as possible.

I know this probably sounds like the seventh degree of madness, but while sitting there, doing this work, I really did feel an odd sense of connection with something other than just a pair of old Docs. I was sitting there, remembering all the times I’ve worn those boots, how much I love them, how they’ve been with me for such a long time – almost as if we’ve been on this big spiritual journey together, and that through caring for those shoes I was in a sense paying my respect to the animal from which they came.  And it felt meaningful.

Will I be wearing my Docs for Yom Kippur? Probably not.
But I do feel that the true repentance, or, rather, the genuine acknowledgement that these boots didn’t just spring out of nowhere, took place during those moments of connection – and came from a very real place.

xx

PS. If you enjoyed this alternative take on atonement, you may be interested in reading this piece, written by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers  about how people suffering from an eating disorder could make teshuvah by not fasting on Yom Kippur.

Remember September & Stepping Into The New Year

It’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I know. Things have been very difficult and it’s all felt too raw to put it down in black and white. To pick up where I left off: I went to the assessment at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre and was offered a place the same day. It was very hard going back there, having not needed that kind of help in quite a few years. So much of my time at the therapeutic community I was staying in was designed to keep you away from the NHS mental health system, to find other ways of getting the support you need, preferably away from medication and hospital. So it was a big decision going back to Drayton Park. But needs must sometimes, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just accept any kind of help you can get.

The whole first week and a half at Drayton I spent virtually all of my time in my room, feeling unable to be around people other than my named support workers. I simply felt to embarrassed to be around people while I was fighting the near constant stream of flashbacks, as the things I do to ground myself can look quite odd if you don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I did have quite a few people come visit me, which felt more OK, because they were all people who know what I’m usually like, and who I knew could handle seeing me in that very very difficult emotional place. I know it’s hard to see someone you love struggle in the way I was – constantly having to fight this torrent of intrusive flashbacks.

Flashbacks aren’t a new phenomenon to me; regular readers will know that I suffer from single flashbacks frequently, and experience periods of sequential flashbacks every so often, but this was on a scale I’ve never known before. I’ve always understood the single flashbacks as an indicator of sorts that I am ready to perhaps deal with that specific incident in my therapy, and the periods of flashbacks tend to begin either when A. is away or when I am very stressed out about other things. But this, it was just something entirely different. A whole different ball game. As I said earlier, initially I was experiencing an incessant flow of flashbacks, most of them reasonably short and all of things I already knew had happened. Though never a pleasant experience, I was able to come out of them fairly quickly. What was really wearing me down – apart from the re-experience of the abuse situations – was the fact that they were so frequent. It felt very much as if as soon as I had worked my way out of one flashback another started, like one flashback triggered the next, and it took essentially all of my energy to remain fully in the present.

Then, one day – and I still don’t quite know why – the flashbacks changed. They became less frequent and were about things I had no conscious memory of. Although the reclining frequency was a welcome break, making it possible to at least go out of my room and spend time in the art room, it was absolutely terrifying. I always knew that there were gaps in my memory, pertaining to one specific person, but some of the things that came out were things I had absolutely no recollection of at all. I know that what emerged in those flashbacks did happen, that they weren’t figments of my imagination [although at times I tried very hard to convince myself that maybe they were].. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was remembering things I had forgotten I knew. These flashbacks tended to be more like long sequences, and were a lot harder to come out of, I think, in part because they caught me so unawares, memorywise, but also because the content of them were cruelty on a whole new level, and I felt paralysed by fear, unable to do the things I usually do to come out of the flashbacks. And I have to say, I’m still dealing with those memories now, feeling utterly traumatised by what those flashbacks unveiled.

I ended up spending a full three weeks at Drayton Park, and throughout those weeks, being stripped of the release and relief my various means of self-harm offered, they were probably the worst three weeks in my entire life. Every day I would ask the staff – pleading with them – to please, please let me have my scalpels, just for a little while, just to get a small break from the flashbacks. And each day my support workers told me no, because although their policy is that they recognise self-harm as a genuine coping-strategy for some people, they felt that my cutting would not be safe and could end in me, accidentally or intentionally, cutting to kill myself rather than to just relieve pain. Also, owing to my previous track record at Drayton Park, downing a pint of anti-freeze in a bid to end my life, my trust/credit rating with the staff isn’t the greatest, so their decision to not allow me to use any form of self-harm to cope, is entirely understandable.

I am now back home. Things are still difficult. The flashbacks aren’t as frequent, but I still have them fairly regularly, and it seems that an underlying depression is rearing its ugly head, and I am often struggling to get out of bed at all, unless I have to. I push myself to get to therapy and to not completely disappear in my own misery, but it’s hard work.

One thing that is good is that we’re now in the middle of a period called Yamim Noraim, [lit. Days Of Awe, commonly referred to as the High Holy Days, is the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur] – so there are a lot of things going on at shul, and so I have more things than usual that I need to get to. Also, on the days I simply haven’t been able to go to service I’ve been able to follow it online, and I’ve made a point of always making sure I am up and appropriately dressed, even if I’m only attending service via the internet.

All in all, it’s still a bit of a roller coaster; one good day, one bad and so on, but I suppose that it’s better to have some better days than none at all.

So, for a better and sweeter new year,

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

xx

OK – so this isn’t for this new year, but this Rosh HaShanah video from Michelle Citrin still makes me smile. I mean, c’mon – I named my blog after one of her songs, after all.

Elections, Shame & Paper Cranes

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am usually very proud to be Swedish.
Not so tonight.

Today general elections were held in Sweden, and I feel utterly ashamed to say that it looks reasonably certain thatSverigedemokraterna [Sweden Democrats (SD)] will make the 4% threshold to enter Riksdagen [the Swedish parliament]. I’m guessing that to anyone not from Sweden this might not sound like much to be ashamed of. Sweden and Democracy – how bad can it be, right?

The answer is “VERY”. (SD) is the Swedish equivalent of the UK’s British National Party, and much like the BNP they win voters through sheer scare mongering, using, what they call “severely restricted immigration” as their main manifesto, and, again, much like the BNP, they prey on people’s fear of the unknown, to gain voters. They market themselves as not being a racist party, despite the fact that many of its members and frontline politicians have backgrounds in both neo-nazi and white power movements. An early SD campaign poster [not used in this year’s campaign] read “Bevara Sverige Svenskt!” – “Keep Sweden Swedish!”

So, in short: I feel absolutely disgusted with the outcome of this election.

It looks like Alliansen [the allied, ie the conservative parties] will be the ones to form the new government, but, sadly, it’s not at all impossible that they’ll need to work with (SD) to push new policies through.

As it currently stands Moderaterna [the Conservatives (M)] is set to be the biggest party, with Socialdemokraterna [Labour (S)] second. Miljöpartiet [the Green Party (MP)] is having their most successful election ever, coming in as the third largest party, surpassing Vänsterpartiet [the Left Party (V)], who have traditionally been the second largest party in the Red/Green block. At a guess, I’d say that a fair few voters have given their vote to (MP), in the hope that they, would agree to work with Alliansen, in order to shut (SD) out.

Now, I’ve never been one to root for any of the conservative parties, but, honestly – if the choice is for them to work either with (SD) or (MP) – I’d be happy for (MP) to take a step to the right, to make that happen.

To counteract my rather dejected mood, I’ll end this entry with something a bit more positive: Had a really good day today. Had soooo much fun at the Special Event we ran at work today. Such an experience. So rewarding. I feel honoured to be part of it.

Also had a blast at my J-Prep class this evening, learning lots and making decorations for the sukkah at my synagogue. Had a go at making apple, orange and lemon decorations, but failed miserably. Luckily there was also origami paper to make paper cranes, and, having taken part in a project to fold a thousand of them for the Sadako Sasaki peace monument in Hiroshima at age 11, this is something I feel a lot more at home with. In fact, I ended up running an impromptu crane folding tutorial with my fellow J-Preppers, and I really enjoyed it. Funnily enough, I’d actually done something quite similar earlier today at work, with a very different group of people.

All the best,

xx