Feral Mother is a writer living with chronic illness who unexpectedly found her mental health and sense of isolation improving during the coronavirus crisis, despite the fact that her physical health has not improved and life continued to be extremely challenging.
Her commissioned piece, A Journey Into Irony, is an enhanced narrative - part written, hyperlinked with video journal, poetry and song – that explores the reasons for this change in her mental health, after dealing with regular bouts of depression, feeling suicidal and suffering severe isolation due to the impact of dealing with a severely limiting chronic illness.
A Journey Into Irony: An Enhanced Narrative was created for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2020. It is dedicated to my mother.
Content note: This piece contains discussion of suicidal thoughts.
In late June, I found out that my husband could no longer shower at the place he had been staying for the last few months. We had already been told he could no longer stay there but I had hoped the showering after work outside our home could continue. This change meant that we were back to square one again and I had to live with the daily reality that I was once again a sitting duck in my home to the virus. I did not take that news well but it was not the fault of those who made that decision. They had been nothing but kind to us and had given so much to let my husband shelter with them for so long.
I found myself screaming and throwing a cup to the floor in the kitchen with frustration. The noise which came from me as the mug smashed came out course and twisted with despair and helplessness, hurt, longing and deep frustration all screaming as one.
The cup broke into splinters of pottery in the same way as I felt broken inside. Pieces thrust into every direction and I could do nothing but try to scramble to find them knowing they would not all go back as they had been. It wasn’t just this news, it was everything, my mother’s death, the pandemic, the years of struggle with my health generally and so, so much which had gone before that would take too long to list. I was so tired of not being able to have the choices I wanted when I woke each day and now those choices looked to be shrinking even more and now it seemed I could not even be safe inside my home. I had experienced so much trauma for so long, how could I cope with this continuing when it was literally too much?
Every time I have felt suicidal in my life it has not been because I did not want to live. It has been because I just could not cope with living as I was being forced to, of being utterly overwhelmed by situations and thoughts and emotions that I felt like I was mentally burning alive and the pain of it would grow so intense that I found myself so desperate to stop it that I would consider anything, even if this meant taking my own life in that moment, just to make the burning stop.
On that day as I stood surrounded by fragments, I felt the mental fire ignite again within me that led to clinical depression and feeling like I could not cope with life. I was not at the point of being suicidal but I knew that this is where it would lead if I could not stop it and I felt very afraid as the familiar sting of being overwhelmed moved, like flames, from my mind and into my body.
Now, with Lockdown ending but the risk of this virus not ending, especially to those who were particularly vulnerable to it, I realised that even the choice of how and when my life ended was further complicated by everyday decisions I was confronted with, further restricting my choices. I really did not like being faced with that reality.
Journal entry on Choices by Feral Mother.
I was also, in those days as Lockdown began to end, feeling increasingly alone which was strange because my husband was returning but I was used to exploring these ironic feelings now, so it was easy to grasp why.
The people who had paused with me in the lockdown were now spluttering back into their lives, caught up again in their preparations for that and I knew I was about to be left behind again because my health would mean that lockdown was not ending for me. I was pleased for them but also resentful and jealous and I felt forgotten already.
Even those still shielding made me feel isolated because I was not one of them either. The shielders still lay cosseted away whilst I was an outlier to them, my life lay exposed to risks again, with my husband’s return, even though I was really happy to have him back.
I knew I was not alone in my circumstances, there were literally millions of people who were vulnerable but unable to get out of the way of this but the unity of our precarious position did not translate to much support or a feeling of solidarity. The truth was it was hard to do much more than look on with empathy at each other dangling in our individual positions because our hands were too full with hanging on ourselves to be able to risk reaching out to one another.
I knew too that I was more privileged than so many of these others, many without access to basics like food and water, that really I should be ashamed to indulge in my feelings of being exposed whilst I faced this in so much privilege but on that day I could not muster gratitude.
I turned off social media and the news for a week. I could not watch society steam recklessly ahead into opening back up, in my opinion, too soon. I could not watch the excitement of things, ‘returning to normal’ and discussions on daytime shows on when we would be able to book our holidays. I could not share in the lives of hardly anyone I loved or knew because the difference in our realities just isolated me from them and their understanding.
For that week the boat my life was in was a fragile basket of grief and fear which I could not break free from. I lied in its lattice leaking, carried on towering waves without consent, peeking forward in glimpses to the many waves which I felt were coming, where my future looked bleak. I floated there trapped, with no oars. My grief doused the fragile vessel I sheltered in with oil and my fear lit it like a pyre that I was still alive in. I wanted to shout to everyone to notice, to rip me free, but I knew it was down to me now to navigate a way out.
I turned to pouring writing out of myself to hose down the flames aboard me. I pulled the sails back in, back to living only in the moment, not looking to the waves ahead. I tried only to make it through each minute, only allowing my immediate view to fill the porthole as I attempted to steer a course. I reached to pull the shutters closed to the cabin of my soul to shelter from the storm in my mind but the wind of my thoughts kept ripping the doors out of my hand, letting the torrent in. I could do nothing but try to stay afloat in the maelstrom, vigiling hope as a life jacket whilst I grasped to hold the love which I had formed my hull from, to try to anchor me.
A week on I found calmer seas. The fire which had ignited was not out but back to smouldering. It was night time and I was in the periodic terrible physical pain which I deal with as part of one of my chronic illnesses. I had already been bed bound 2 days with it and would be there a further day. My husband was in the lounge sleeping away from me as he always was during these bouts as I was often awake during the nights in agony.
Then I saw my daughter, hundreds of miles away was still up and had posted something online. I messaged her. We communicated for over an hour. I told her of my pain which she had gone through many times with me when she still lived at home. I asked her to tell me a story to take my mind off things. She told me a magical tale and poured as much love as she could into it and with it she reached in and held me across the miles. I was transported to her. I found myself glad to be alive even as I writhed aching around the bed. I was reminded of the words of an amazing writer who deals with disability and pain who I have come to know called Stevie Wills. I use these words with her permission.
I meditated on my body.
Discovering the life that was in me.
Breathed and knew I was breathing.
Felt aches and knew that the aches were springing from life.
They were not degrees of death.
Spent time sitting with my body, over days, over months,
reminding, remembering, reliving, refraining,
shifting my perception of my being.
That there was no death to be found within my being.
That pain sprung from life, calling for realignment to its original position,
rather than dragging me into death’s fog.
When I finished speaking to my daughter, I got up to stagger to the bathroom and on the way back caught a glimpse of the sunrise through the curtains. I opened them to see the sky ablaze. The sun casting out amber and deep crimson to confetti the edges of the clouds as it welcomed the day. I pulled the curtains back and just lay there, too in pain to move anymore but too mesmerised by the view to care.
I was alive and I was loved and I decided in that moment that I could not lose all I had gained through Lockdown and I would do all I could not to return to clinical depression and feeling like I did not want to live again. In that moment I made a choice; ENOUGH NOW.
The next piece is a linked song/poem in two parts, Enough and Miracles. These pieces are best performed together though they are also separate in their own right.
I stand striding earthquakes
on the fault line of me
Pulled in all directions
Dragged apart from myself
It has been a lifetime of this.
I stand in mirrors
Distorting in their reflections
Paralysed by their view
Though most are telling lies
It has been a lifetime of this.
I have been spinning
A Wurlitzer of revolving pain
Flung into events
Crushed into consequence
It has been a lifetime of this
I have drunk my poisons
Dissolving my souls lining
Breaking into my heart
Taking trauma further in
It has been a lifetime of this
Part performance of Poem Miracles by Feral Mother.
The way it has been
Is no longer accepted
It is not love
And it’s NOT my future
Miracles can be decided
And walked towards steadily
I don’t know the way
but I do know the destination
So, this shall be my compass
Here I’ll stand with roots
Dug deep in bedrock
That give and bend and stretch,
with vulnerability and love,
When tectonic plates grind
Making my core strong
Here reflections come only
through the lens of those that love me
lubricating my view
cleansed and accepting
Which I look into
and know I am
Here I sip peace poured
A tonic for my soul
Soothing my heart
Here kindness wraps me
Into family and community
Where I am willingly held
Here joy enters often
Bounding in before its memory fades
Here love becomes the journey
It flows through every pore and cell
Till it is all there is
And it is
A person I know has started a project where people write a letter to themselves to read in a year’s time. I feel drawn to take part but I am worried my entry might not be viewed very positively as it seems like it will be in stark contrast to everyone else’s. The letters are all very varied, full of hopes and fears for the future, reflections of this time, things they have learnt, things they want to explore in the year ahead. Some talk of where they hope this letter might find them and the world in a year but all seem to share one thing in common and that is that they seem to assume that they will be there themselves in a year to look back and read their words.
Perhaps I am being presumptuous to decide that all the authors feel that surety of life over the next year. It may well be that their insecurity on this matter has been hidden, lying in the silent gaps between words, left voiceless to help them steal courage for the year ahead. I don’t know but I know that my letter to myself cannot be silent on this matter as it is an important thing I need to discuss, if I am to write into the future like this. I do not know if I will add my letter to the others in the project but if I do, this is what I want to say to myself or to the others who will read it.
Letter to myself, in a year.
(Song called, Letter to myself in a year. This song is only half written.
It finishes mid verse. I intend to finish it in a year, if I am here to do so.)
I do not even know how to begin this letter to you.
Since mum died during lockdown, I do not know what I feel anymore. All my emotions and realities are all swirling around inside me like magma and my outside shell is just a thin crust which can only just hold its form and it keeps erupting in little volcanoes, just enough to let the pressure release to get me through that moment. I am leaving my vast molten core, for now, to churn inside where there are realms, as Susan Vega would say, never touched, never stirred, never even pushed through. How this fragile casing is holding all the volume of this scorching lava and not flowing like rivers until I melt, I do not know but so far, it is holding me in. I wonder if at some point it will cool enough to form land.
Words do not seem adequate to convey all I have inside to say to you in this letter so I will begin it instead with just looking toward you. Staring out into the future like a camera panning from me in this bed until it reaches space and then I will send it into orbit around the Earth using gravity to lasso it into the future as it goes round and round until dropping back down to where time becomes the present, in a year from now. I wonder if it is your eyes that will stare back or if, at some point this coming year, you will join me in this orbiting journey because we will be gone.
For I have no confidence, as I write this, that I will live through this coming year. Is this pessimistic or realistic? I honestly no longer know. I am one of the millions with underlying health conditions making us susceptible to this Covid-19 and I have seen how many of us who caught it are now dead. I am used to my body giving out and not being reliable so I do not have confidence that it will get me through. I have experienced my future being ripped from me at a moment’s notice. I do not expect it to be there anymore to rely upon. I long ago realised doctors could not cure me and know what it is like to just not get over something, especially a virus. I have lived the reality that I was expendable to the government and that my life was not worth economic growth being halted for years now so I know they are not interested in being my salvation so my mortality has always felt very close.
Now, with a government and a global trajectory, which seems hell bent on going back to ‘normal’ despite the risks this brings, I have never felt more unlikely to live through a year. So, I feel I must write this letter not just too myself but to others.
I want to explain where I stand right now, so whoever reads this in a year can taste my position. Today, I got a negative Covid-19 test back from the testing centre. My son and I have some sort of bug. He has only been back at school two weeks. It was scary to see how all the precautions we had implemented to try to keep me safe did not protect me from catching whatever this infection is.
My husband is a key worker and has returned home after living elsewhere through Lockdown so I could shield. It’s the last day of August and Summer feels over. Winter is looming behind. I am too scared to look it full in the face.
Schools have opened full time. It feels like madness to me. Today masks become mandatory in secondary schools. We have put practical changes in place in the house, costly, debt making ones which we cannot really afford. I had hoped these changes would make noticeable increments of difference to mitigating cross infection which could prove critical if the virus enters the house but today, I feel doubtful of that.
Family life is now fractured into isolated zones and rigid regimes of how we enter the house, deal with outer clothes, wash, eat, behave whilst inside. No hugs with my son except in holidays. Today with a negative covid test to reassure us, we can all hug.
But this is life now and I am trying to embrace it because, I lived for 10 weeks without loved ones during this pandemic so I could shield and know I cannot do it again. We stay together now, even with the risks. My choice. Mine. I do it freely. I would literally rather die than live without my loved ones again. What is life if lived without those you love, even if it is to prolong life? That is what this time taught me about isolation from them.
I would have been happier if schools had gone back with a schedule of blended learning as was first suggested, with physical distancing in place, at least at first until we saw how things went. I would honestly have been happy to continue the Lockdown whilst we all truly reassessed society but that is not going to happen and I will not keep my son home if all his friends go back. I know what it is to stand and watch life go on whilst you are left behind as a person with a chronic illness and most of your friends become too caught up to notice you have slipped away from them. I will not watch him suffer like that for me. That’s my choice. Mine. I make it freely and am sure. He goes back, with his friends. He must never feel the burden of that choice because it is mine. My husband too, as a key worker, out in the community, bares no blame. Whatever happens, no one, except the government, is to blame for what happens now.
So that is where we are. Nothing is secure, my life, our finances, health, the future. All is precarious but then it always was……. right? We just forgot that. Now we remember. Now it grinds into us daily with death tolls but those death tolls have always been there, it’s just we got used to ignoring them or felt they did not apply to us. Nothing but death is sure of in life and the journey to that begins at birth. All else is uncertain. We always lived in the truth of that but we grew blind to it, especially in developed countries, often only remembering when death or tragedy bought us back to face it. How do we live with it that now we see this again so starkly? I guess that’s the thing we all have had to consider now. I hope this change of perception will bring forward some good especially as the Climate Crisis will be even more catastrophic and we need to prepare and change to try to mitigate that.
But still in all this, I know I want to live and love and continue and I will plan for the worst but live for the best. That is a true discovery for me because for quite a while before the pandemic, I wanted to die. Now I will fight to live. It feels like the strange gift of this weird time. The final part of my journey into irony and out again, that feeling suicidal was cured by a global pandemic but the virus that caused it could take my new found desire for life at any point.
I find myself experiencing a new sense of feeling alive as I go about my days, which I feel is born of living my life sandwiched between so much risk now. It buzzes in me. I also feel the privilege of my life and the need to make it count to honour those we have lost in this time. I think of my mother as I say this. The grief from her death is still raw. Memories, emotions slip in often. I push them down. I am not ready to fully embrace them till I have professional help. I am on a waiting list but whilst I am waiting, I am choosing to live.
I sit in the garden still regularly. It remains the haven it was to me in Lockdown and holds the harvest which I hope will sustain me through Winter.
Journal video Musing by Feral Mother; The Harvest.
I have taken to just existing in this second and shutting all else down and making that enough. I know there are realms of stuff I am not dealing with by doing this that reside in the past or are held in the future but it helps with this moment. I intend to keep doing it until this second becomes the next second and then the next minute and hour and day until a year is past or I am no more.
I intend to focus on those I love, including myself and on this beautiful planet, for these things have become my focus now. I intend to try to squeeze as much life as I can from the health I have left without grieving what I cannot do. This once seemed impossible but now is preciously held as a daily aim to bring into reality. I try every day to let go of fear so I can grasp this and live it. It is hard but I am trying my best.
This little life of mine, in my own lockdown for the past 4 years due to illness, matters and I want to keep it, however challenging. Despite everything I am making plans to grow more life than I ever thought I could. I have no idea if what I intend to do can work or if I will make it through to see it happen but I send it with love to the year ahead. I wonder who will look back in a year to receive and live these hopes and dreams. I hope it is me and I hope all my loved ones stand with me. I already lost my mum to this time and that is enough grief.
I wish this pandemic wasn’t happening. I wish this time, these challenges, had not come to me or to any of us but what can I do? What can any of us do, in such times?
What can I do?
What can I do?
This is it now.
We go on from here
With the risk
With this reality
What else can I do?
What can I do?
But this is not giving up
My will is ready to hold the mountain
I face it, resolute.
Come on then, fucker!
What else can I do?
What can I do?
What can anyone?
History is littered with things
People saw coming
That they lived through
That they could not escape
That might wash them away
We cannot change what comes
*All we have to decide,
is how to use
the time that is given to us*
What else can we do?
What can I do?
I can grieve
I can prepare
I can fight
Then I can accept
And brave it
Living and loving all I can
For as long as I can
That is all I can do
And I will.
I send you love for the year again.
*Quote from Gandalf, Lord of the Rings. JRR Tolkien.
In closing this commission piece, I really wanted to end in the spirit of the film, The Life Of Brian. I was always really impressed with the way that film ended with humour and the poignant understanding of the ridiculousness of it all. This time in my life has been life changing, ironic, crazy. How can you possibly sum it up? So, in closing, I leave you with these conclusive thoughts, which I feel will be particularly apt if I don’t make it through the coming year.
Performance Poem, in a helium balloon style, F*ck this Sh*t. By Feral Mother.
(trigger and parental warning, contains considerable swearing)