“I’m free in my thinking but slave to my thoughts” – Martyn Joseph
As I sat in a doorway at university with my head in my hands, on a busy road in Central London I pressed shuffle on my iPod. Out of 779 songs it chose me a song that would give me the strength to carry on and change my life for the better. I was ready to give up. I was ready to leave university and resign myself to the life I deserved. A life worth nothing, with nothing to live for.
The song, ‘Precious’ by welsh singer song writer Martyn Joseph told me this:
They’ll try to take you and steal your heart
They’ll try to make you something you aren’t
You can be swept like sand on a beach, not out of reach
Don’t let them drag you down, hold on
Know that you’re precious
Those words have always spoken to me, in fact the whole song offers some perspective and hope in times of hopelessness. Music is good like that, isn’t it?
I knew some things in my life had to change in order for me to get better. I had suffered the effects of abuse from a partner, grief and betrayal from people I trusted. The result was something I have actually had to live with my whole life. I have been deeply ashamed of the – what I can only describe as – breakdown I experienced when I was 19 years old. The circumstances that contributed to it were dark and are painful to think about and the long lasting results are actually something I will probably live with forever. Fondly referred to as my Black Cloud and more recently My Zoo, in reality it is a depression that lurks in the corners waiting to pounce at the most inopportune moments.
I would not have survived that time in my life if it wasn’t for a very few good people who stuck by me, housed me and loved me absolutely unconditionally. Those memories are bittersweet, the best and the worst of times learning who I was and what I was worth. I feel privileged to have been nurtured and cared for by friends and family in a way that helped me work out what was important to me and to always pursue that to be happy.
I have never written about it before and I rarely speak about it at all. It doesn’t define me, I don’t want it to define me, but I have come to accept that it has shaped the person I am. Sometimes for the better and sometimes otherwise. On bad days or at bad times I feel all those things that will be so familiar to anyone who has suffered in this way – guilt, hopelessness and shame. On good days and at good times I know that the things I have been through have made me a kind person who doesn’t judge others and who is loving and accepting. I am happy now – not perhaps always in a superficial sense all the time but always, deep in my soul It Is Well.
I can best describe it now, as I did to my aunt after a *couple* of cocktails recently as My Zoo.
Some days I wake up with a lion roaring in my face and holding me down into my bed. All I can hear and see is the lion. He consumes my thoughts and crushes my creativity. He stops me brushing my hair. He allows me to look after my children, he is gracious like that, but not much more. Sometimes he stays for moments and sometimes, like at the end of last year, he wasn’t far away for a few months. I am grateful that I, along with my closest family, know all the best lion taming techniques and he hasn’t been really out of control for a very long time.
Yesterday the animal I lived with was a mouse. A lovely little cute mouse in a cage in my house far away from where I was. Content and happy and minding his own business. I like days when the mouse is around, we’re buddies me and that mouse. We get along contentedly and easily splitting parenting, work and fun with ease and competence. He’s a bit boring though – he lacks that thrill seeking excitement that I so often crave.
My worst friend from the animal kingdom is a cheerleading parrot – he sits on my shoulder and shouts to the world. I don’t like him. I don’t like him being around. He embarrasses me. He’s loud. Days with him are tiring and, whilst exciting, I’d be happier if he piped down a little bit.
The vast majority of the time though there is a little dog who I get on rather well with. I can pass her a treat, take her for walks and manage her well. Actually I’ve learned ways, over the years, to manage my all wildlife. Techniques and tricks and support where necessary has meant that I can use my little metaphorical zoo to my advantage.
I have realised that its topics like this that need to be dragged out of the darkness and into the light. They need to be talked about without shame or embarrassment, not least because it takes away their power. What I went through back then and what I live with now are part of me. Part, yes, but just a part. Part of the story not the whole story, oh no. Not by far.