70 Stories

#21 All Of This Is Ordinary

‘All of this is ordinary. / Do not mistake that for normal.’

With support from Creative Scotland, we commissioned three writers and artists to produce original pieces for the 70 Stories project.

We are delighted to share the first of these, All Of This Is Ordinary by Jenny Lindsay, a poet and regular SMHAF contributer who explores mental health through much of her work, including the recent multi-media project This Script. This new poem forcefully expresses the impact of violence and trauma on women’s mental health over the last 70 years into the present day. 

All of this is ordinary –

Never the default but ordinary,

Backlash insidious in its banality,

Black biro penned

in collective memory

Applause: a single hand

high-fived in legacy.

All of this is ordinary.

Do not mistake that for normal.

For all of this and that was ordinary –

Chain-sinked      shackled                            ordinary

Fog of the day-grind                                    ordinary

Role-spun, apron-strung                            ordinary

Little helper       gin-downed

hide the evidence, it is

hard to measure self-censorship –

Hide the evidence

afore the gravel crunch of

him home,

both you

pretending that

this life is the desideratum.

All of that was ordinary.

And all of this is ordinary.

Anxious lives lived

strung-out constantly –

Roles pegged on the cultures

washing line and

many flapping uselessly

never quite drying comfortably,

Fousty damp clothes

worn thru necessity,

Told all of this is ordinary

Told all of this makes you secure

Leisure-less        mind-fucked      plate-spinning

Gaslight me this is ordinary or

desirable or security –

Your mind is tricksy, ladies,

 don’t trust it –

your liberation will

just make you nasty.

Here’s some science to back up


 legitimate rage and

moulding you

and scraping you and

all of this is ordinary –

A few drops of freedom

viewed as a downpour…

In my grandmother’s past,

life of fear was ordinary;

fight-flight-freeze to fists                             ordinary

Cannae dae a hing, likes                             ordinary

Captive living in monstrous silence          ordinary

Do not tell me

her response was anything

other than absolutely ordinary.

Do not mistake that for normality:

captivity is never humanity

But all of that was ordinary

and legal.

All of that was ordinary,

And all of this is ordinary,

Bones break, starvation                              ordinary

Police self, police thought                          ordinary

It is hard to measure self-censorship

when you’re gawking over toilet bowls

and internalising cultures hatred

of your absolutely ordinary

frame, sold sickbed aesthetic or bronzed

goddess from the 2D

lived online and encouraged as if

all of this is ordinary – to never converse

eye to eye           hashtag              Insta-fucked-up

ordinary –

Be young            be social            be anxious

Perfect your outer presentation always

Burn your own books now, sisters                          ordinary

Never trust anyone over twenty-six:

The past silenced twice

The past silenced twice

Don’t tell me all of this aint                       ordinary

Because all of this is                                    ordinary

And all of that was                                       ordinary

What is it about me that is so wrong that such things shall always happen to me?

Set up to fail by individualising when

my story, my story, my story, my story is

absolutely ordinary – because all of this is ordinary

a natural response to

clear injustice, please –

gaslighting and sexual violence

leads to rage eventually, policed

not through jail but diagnoses:

mental illness rather than a case for endocrinology,

or an imbalance, internal only

 even though we see the monkeys

in captivity tearing their hair out.

All of this is ordinary

Two half-lives lived

one public and one privately

as we skid about relentlessly,

our voices never heard as authority

without simultaneously hearing victim

Or batshit madam           harridan

or simply shhhh now please…

Tell me: is this bravery?

And I conclude: perhaps men feel

they have heard our stories too often

for them to be believable. So common

they are cliché. As ordinary as toothpaste.

As ubiquitous as oxygen.

How we long not to have to invent

new and arresting ways to tell them –

and we are/ I am trying not to be

too personal for you will reduce this to an ‘I’ only,

Oh, for our stories not to be as ordinary

as the need for nail cutting and face cleansing.

Our never applauded resilience, re-framed as

a story of monsters and victims.

Let us rewrite these stories constantly,

Though all of this is ordinary.

I have no faith in this diagnosis.

There is no normal or neat ending when

I speak. She speaks. We speak.

70 Stories is an online project curated by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to mark the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation. The project connects stories from our Writing Competition, stories from SMHAF participants, and more in a compelling portrait of mental health in 2019.

Keep an eye on mhfestival.com/70stories for new entries in the series. If you are connected in some way to SMHAF or the Mental Health Foundation and would like to contribute a piece of writing to this project, please contact aeaton-lewis@mentalhealth.org.uk.