Friday, 12 October 2018

50 Shades of Nay, Chapter Two: my two biggest fears about growing out my grey.



Hello hello.

I know, I know. I'm never here. I treat this blog like a hotel. I never call.
Forgive me? I won't waste time making excuses, and hey, I'm here now, and while I am ... you can check out how much more of my grey is showing since the last time I was here. OK?

Before we begin, you should know …

I drafted out this post a few months ago, before I’d lived with the grey for any length of time. And, at this moment in time, I don't feel quite the same. Unlike my roots, my original feelings have been coloured by experience since then!

As of today (12.10.18) it's 25 weeks since I began my no-dye experiment, but my original thoughts, which you can read below - are from around the 6-12 week point. But I thought they were still worth sharing in case someone reading is only just now setting off on a greying adventure, and might be glad of the company. Welcome aboard!

I’ll try to get around to writing an update soon, and share my experiences from further down the grow-out line.
14 weeks without dyeing. 
Fear No.1. Perhaps the the most obvious fear. That I’ll look older.

When I considered halting the Sisyphean cycle of covering-up my grey, the idea of looking older wasn’t actually my biggest concern. Still isn’t, but, hey, it’s big enough! And it’s probably the most obvious so … let’s deal with that one first, shall we?

All my life people have mistaken me for someone younger than my actual age.

When I first started working at the University, supporting students in and around campus, I was told that some other students on the course had asked: “Why is that girl always hanging around with X in his classes?”

I was 31.

Just this month a colleague asked if I’d ever had trouble turning down students’ requests for me to go for a coffee with them seeing as how “I was so much closer to them in age” than she was.

I’m 42. (And had no idea how to break it to her.)

And at least once in my 40s I’ve been IDed while buying wine.

Maybe it’s because I’m small (5ft 2in / size 10), or softly spoken, or child-free, or psychologically unwilling / unable to dress like a ‘proper lady'. But whatever it is, there’s something working to embellish me with a (thin!) veneer of youthfulness.

Or maybe it’s genetics. When my Dad retired from work people asked him why he was taking early retirement. He wasn’t. He was 65.

So - apart from using this as an opportunity to boast (joke!) - I wanted to explain how I’ve spent a lifetime correcting people’s assumptions about me, my age, my status, my experience. All of which has led me here, to wondering … how will having grey hair change all of that?

13 weeks without dyeing.

Surely once my grey’s on public display, those kind of mistakes (which, were once frustrating, but are becoming more flattering with time!) will cease. Who will I be then? A grown up?  

Yeah. First world problems. Crack out the violins, right?

But while this all may sound privileged and indulgent I’m really just trying to be honest, so that anyone reading this who feels similarly, knows that at least one other person out there is feeling the same trepidation.

I won’t gloss over these concerns for fear of sounding superficial. That’s how women are systematically kept in place, through fear of sounding frivolous, childish, not serious (think how many things associated with traditional femininity - clothes, make-up, Rom-Coms - are also considered less worthy than masculine pastimes).
And it’s good to recognise the purely socially constructed embarrassment that persuades us to not dare to admit we’d still like to look young, all while being sold products that promote that exact idea! Then we’re tapped between either:
  • being scared of looking old, and reaching for the hair dye ... 
  • or quietly going grey, while scared of looking old when we do!

Hence me talking about it here to contribute to the growing conversation between women experimenting with what grey means and looks like to them (check out the #grombre hashtag on Instagram for all kinds of gorgeous greying inspiration).  

So, yes, looking older is absolutely a concern of mine. Going grey is possibly the most ageing change in my appearance since my front teeth grew back in when I was 7, or that time in the 90s when I thought boxy jackets were a worthy style choice.

13 weeks without dyeing.

However, as I’ve mentioned, looking old is not the biggest fear I have, not the most immediate, not the one that makes looking in the mirror the hardest. Because first place in that race is taken by Fear No.2 …

Fear No.2: The biggest fear. The fear of looking like I don’t care.

I dare you to admit it. 

That there’s been a time when you noticed a woman with visible root regrowth (of any colour, not just grey) and you thought to yourself “Hmmm, has she seen herself in the mirror lately?” 

I've thought it. 

I’m not proud of it, but I have thought that kind of thing in the past. (I honestly try to not be judgemental about appearances at all any more).

But, because I’ve thought it, I know that - when a percentage of those (most likely) women who’ll witness to my current amazing technicolor dream hair - it will absolutely cross their mind that I’m ‘letting myself go’, that I must not care what I look like.

When I do. 

Oh how I really do.


Again, as with the fear of looking older, the fear of sounding vain about your appearance is similarly not something we’re encouraged to openly confess!

I know that hair, makeup, clothes and shoes are not everyone’s priority. But to a lot of us, how we physically present ourselves to the world, is equally a huge part of how we construct who we are, for ourselves.

And if there wasn’t some truth to the idea that many of us enjoy putting our best selves forwards, then we’d all only ever take just one quick selfie, rather than pausing to pose for several, many, dozens! And yet - once again - women (young women and girls in particular) are frequently vilified for caring too much about their appearance. But for some  it’s a critical part of who we are.

I know there are those whose only interest in clothes begins and ends with the practicalities:
  • to fit with social convention, 
  • to keep warm 
  • to keep from being arrested for indecent exposure in the cereal aisle of Asda.
That’s not me. My personal style is my creativity worn on my shoulders, on my feet, in my ears. 

My look is how I tell you who I am. Who I want to be. And not just you … it tells me the same things about me. It creates and reinforces the person I am, who I've always been, since I started picking out my outfits and attempting to dress myself at 18 months old. 

So the idea that someone might clock my grey grow-out and interpret it as evidence that I no longer care about my appearance that’s … aw, hell, that’s a sharp dig in all of my soft places!

And I know that - for however long my hair’s in this untidy, muddled, inbetweeny, neither one thing nor the other stage - the risk of looking a little dishevelled will be the thing that bugs me far more than the idea of looking older. 


Older is not something I can help. But looking put together, like I care, is something I should have control over. 

And control could look like marching into a shop and buying a dye and mastering this unruly and ragged head of mine. And yet ... 

... that's not the experiment is it? The experiment is seeing what this mop looks like once there's no longer a trace of dye amongst it. 

And all my control right now is channelled into not dyeing it!

And, fortunately, while looking like I've stopped caring is indeed my biggest fear, I think  maybe there’s something, a few things even, that I can do about it. A quick wardrobe restyle, a haircut, something, anything to give the impression that I still care, will hopefully do the trick. (If you've seen my Instagram account - @withjuliekirk -  at any point in the few months since I wrote this, you'll know I definitely gave the hair chopping thing a go.)
 
So, there's that ray of hope. And while I’m growing out these silvering locks I’ll take all the silver linings I can get!

***
Do join in the conversation ...

When I shared my first 50 Shades of Nay post (all about how I tried a hair dye-stripper to speed up the greying process, which you can find here) there were some great responses in the comments section, and on my other social media too.  And I really enjoyed hearing your stories and thoughts on the greying process ... so please don't stop there ... 

  • are you happy to share any of your own greying fears? 
  • is your biggest fear the fear of looking older ... or looking like you don't care? Or something else entirely?
  • or maybe you've got tips on how to survive the months / years it takes to finally grow it all out?
  • any advice on how to talk yourself out of ogling the packs of dye in Boots like how you eye-up the rotisserie chicken when you go to the supermarket before you've eaten lunch?
Whatever you've got to share, and wherever's easiest for you to share (here, Insta, Facebook, sky-writing)  I'm all ears ... let's keep the grey chat going. 

Julie 


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Can I have a quiet word? 7 Things Quiet People Wished You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.


Hey there, can I have a word? 

Today (Sept 12th) is National Quiet Day, a day during which we’re encouraged to take a break from the over-stimulation of modern life. To tune out, turn down and switch off.

And if this is about having one day a year where you can focus on listening, reflecting and just being, rather than speaking, then, hey, I’m all for it.

But what about those of us who are quiet for the remaining 364 days of the year?

I’ve been considered, and called, ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ all my life and, along the way I’ve come to understand that many louder, more gregarious folks, either simply don’t know how to deal with us, or else they’d rather we change everything about our nature, to suit some bubbly, outgoing ideal. 

(How do I know this? Because they’re not shy in telling us precisely that!)

And so I’m taking today’s pause amid the incessant chatter as an opportunity to speak (in hushed tones, naturally) about some of the ways in which my comrades in quiet and I are often misunderstood.

See how many you recognise ...
 

7 Things Quiet People Wished
You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.


1. We're not spending all of our quiet time silently judging you.

I mean, yeah, sometimes we are. Obviously. And never more so when you publicly point out how quiet we are (see No.2 below).

But, most of our time, whether we’re sitting quietly during a group conversation, a meeting, or at a party, we’re generally not silently observing you and picking apart everything you say, do, or are.

I have a friend who used to say quiet people made her nervous, mainly because she didn’t know what we were thinking. So I guess it’s not much of a leap for chatty types to fill in the blanks and decide that we’re probably observing them, judging them, quietly plotting their downfall. 

Yet, in my experience, quietness more often goes hand in hand with a loud inner critic.

We’re keenly aware that, while we’re perfectly happy being quiet, we’re somehow failing to meet the expectations of a society that insists we need to contribute, join in, come 'out of our shells', make conversation.

Our inner critics know we’re expected to be able to do this thing they call small talk (the worst kind of talk, and a lot of talk is bad) and trust me, if there’s anyone in that room we’re judging harshly, it’s most likely to be ourselves

So, while we’re quiet externally, internally our inner monologues are loudly cajoling, debating, and assessing whether we should be trying harder at the decibel range of a hostage negotiator hollering to be heard over a thunderstorm.


2. Mentioning how quiet we are won’t make us any louder.


In fact, it will likely achieve the opposite.

It’s the moment in a social gathering that quiet people dread, when someone, either just thinking aloud, or perhaps considering themselves to be uniquely insightful, comes right out and baldly states: “Aren’t you quiet?”

If you’ve done this, shall I let you in on a secret? It’s not exactly news to us that we’re not the chattiest of Cathies in the room. We know this. 

And now congratulations! You’ve worked it out too. Woo hoo!

Now what? How do expect us to respond?

  • If we say a plain ‘No’, we’ll seem deluded because, patently, we are quiet. 
  • If we say an embellished ‘No’, such as - “No, actually, I’m not all that quiet really, you should hear me natter when I’m with someone I actually like.” – we’ll appear rude.
  • Ruder still to retaliate with “And aren’t you a complete gobshite?”
But, equally, if we admit a plain ‘yep’, but then continue on in our silence, we’ll appear facetious.

The last time this happened to me was in a tea break at a workshop, where someone pointed out my lack of contributions so far and wanted to know if I was OK. As well intentioned as it was, it made me feel under scrutiny, and for the remainder of the day the notion that I was now marked out as ‘Quiet’, sealed my mouth shut tighter than an introvert’s smile when someone unexpectedly joins them for lunch.

We really can’t win when you point this out about us. We’re backed into a conversational corner with duct tape slapped over our mouths.
Worse still, this often happens in company, where there are other people’s ears pricking up, watching how we respond, which only serves to increase our discomfort and embarrassment making relaxed, natural interaction almost impossible.


3. Quiet people don’t live in a shell that you’d like us to come out of.


I wish I had ten minutes peace for every time someone decided I needed to ‘come out of my shell.’

Rarely, if ever in our western society, do we hear it suggested of loud, gregarious, people that:
  • “Oh, bless them, they just need to realise how inappropriately loud they are being, and go back into their shell”. 
Preferably a soundproofed one.

This is especially hard when we’re children, being constantly told that we’re not contributing enough (particularly in school). And as young adults where we’re trying to find a way to be in a world that constantly asks us to go against our nature, rather than consider accepting us as we are, for the skills and qualities we can quietly offer.

At 42 I know that this quiet person‘s body and mind is who I am, where I live. It’s not temporary shell-like accomodation. I’m not moving out of it any time soon. 

And yet, imagine this, I’ve still managed to get through life, maintain a long-term relationship, get jobs, make friends, express myself, and follow my creativity. Who’d have thought? Certainly not the teachers who were obsessed with me changing.

If your concern for us is real then you can help by not being so blunt and confrontational about our natural personality traits. Stop embarrassing us in front of others, stop pointing out what you consider to be our weakness. And if you really do care about what we have to say, then offer us a safe environment in which we can do that.

In general though, you're going to have to trust us that we’re not hiding from you. We’ve shown you who we are many times, but you keep denying it, telling us we just need to be a little bit different.

Stop trying to change us, improve us, coax us out. 

There is no shell.

We’re just quiet slugs, plain and simple. Not snails who you’d like to see evicted.


4. We’ve been led to believe we’re ‘less than’.  


Quiet people are often made to feel that they’re just not getting this whole life thing right.
Early on in my first ‘proper’ job a member of staff attempted to explain why she didn’t think I’d fit in in with their school as they had lots of ‘big personalities’ there.

The implication being that, in contrast, my personality was small.

Yeah.

In ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking’ (one of the key works on this subject) Susan Cain explores how the West's education and employment systems are set up in such a way that louder, more outgoing people, are offered the chance to shine (even from the basics like a focus on group discussions in classrooms or using open plan offices), while quieter people are overlooked or considered lacking in what it takes to succeed.

We may already have our own reasons for being quieter than others (be that introversion, shyness, confidence issues, being on the Autistic spectrum, being a HSP [highly sensitive person]) and so on. But team those with an awareness that we’re also being judged and found wanting by a structure that prizes outgoing personalities over ours and ask yourself … how likely is it that we’ll feel comfortable enough to communicate more

For the record, me and my not-big personality for stuck at that job, where I managed to not only find some ... but to to then work to my strengths as a quiet practitioner. In between other duties I deliberately set out to champion overlooked kids hosting various groups and activities for those who liked to read, for the shy quiet ones, for the Gifted & Talented.

By the time I left teachers were talking about:
  • my ability to “sit quietly and talk with the children”, 
  • my ability to keep a child on track while keeping my voice low,
  • my calming influence, and so on. 
Despite not being the loudest candidates, us quiet types do have gifts to offer. Who knows, maybe sometimes it takes a quiet adult to help a quiet child. And even a noisy child.

And nothing about that is ‘small’.


 5. We love it when we find friends who 'get' us, without wanting to change us!


Just as we’re underestimated in the world of work, negotiating friendships when you’re on the quieter side can be tricky too.

A few years back now a group of my friends had been away for a weekend, and this particular time for some reason or other, I hadn’t gone with them. On their return they voluntarily offered up the information that they’d missed me.

And I was shocked. Genuinely. Because who could miss little old me? 
  • Me, and my ‘small’ personality.
  • Me, inside my shell.
  • Me, who is ‘less than’.
  • Me, a vacuum where a personality should be.
What even was there to miss?

Clearly I’d internalised all the things I’d heard about quiet people and applied them to my role in this friendship. 

Fortunately for me, my friends hadn’t internalised anything. And knowing that they call a spade a spade, I knew they weren’t lying, had no reason to, and were simply letting me know I’d been missed. And, let me tell you, you can’t buy that kind of confidence boost!

Us quiet types can honestly come to believe that we have little impact on the world, and feel no one would notice if we just didn't turn up one day.  But let me, and the friends who missed me, serve as objective evidence that we're wrong! 


6. We may not always talk, but we don't want you to stop calling!


Even when we’re confident that our friends actually do like having us around, it can still be tough for a quiet person (particularly an introvert like me) to maintain friendships.

Sometimes we simply don’t fancy meeting up. It’s nothing personal. We might like the time to ourselves instead. We might not be up for company. During our time off we might find it easier to just dive into a book, or Netflix, or bed.

My friends now know that, when I do go away for long weekends with them, there will still be times when I just absent myself, take a long shower, mooch around outside with my camera, curl up with a book. Be together, but apart. And it seems to work OK for us.

So, if you can find it in your chattery, nattery, bubbly and outgoing hearts to just cut us some slack, to keep inviting us to join you, even if we don’t always take you up on it … we’ll love you forever.

Please don’t stop asking. It really isn’t you, it’s us.

(If it was you, you’d know. We may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at hiding it when we don’t like someone!)

And finally ... for us quiet types ... 


7. Sometimes it’s a numbers game.


It’s not always true that quiet people just don't like to talk; we can often be found gabbing away in specific circumstances. 

When I was little - the same tiny Julie who was told she needed to talk more in class - was referred to a ‘Little Miss Chatterbox’ at home. And I personally like to think that I can talk to anyone, with the emphasis on the 'one'. 

Because there’s the rub: the numbers.

Quiet people, especially introverts, may only really struggle to talk in a group situation where all of those additional personalities can heighten our long held anxieties about our own.

Personally I don’t love trying to get a word in while sitting in a large group and I have to brace myself for any attention that me opening my mouth can bring down on me.  So, the fewer people watching me speak the better, and in a one-to-one situation, with no audience, I'm in my element.

  • Take for example, the time, in that same school I mentioned already, where - one-to-one - I could handle the domineering headteacher without batting an eyelid (in fact, one time his secretary later asked me what I’d been saying to him to make him laugh so hard!) 
  • Or more recently, during the novel writing course I attended I got to have four separate meetings (two on the phone, two in person) with a Literary Agent. 

Me, Quiet Julie Kirk, and the London Literary Agent. 


Me, Off-work-sick-with-anxiety Julie Kirk and the London Literary Agent. Chatting. About my work. Like that's a thing that happens to people like me.

In all honesty, I couldn’t actually manage to share my work with my peers back in the workshops, but with the agent (which maybe should have been scarier?) I was perfectly fine because it was just me and her.

Working to my strengths and taking on only the aspects I could manage at the time - without berating myself for not taking on everything - was an act of defiance, and self care.

And I hope a quiet person reading this thinks ‘Oh, I now there’s something I could do!’. Because even if we can’t do the group thing … it shouldn't mean we automatically miss out on the entire experience.

Talking to the agent was a key part of the course wherein, after that, the cohort got whittled down from 20 to 8, to move on to the second round. And quiet Julie Kirk got through.

Moral of the story: make sure to grab any opportunities you get to shine in your natural setting! They don’t come along every day!


However, maybe somewhat perversely, on the the flip side of our reluctance to speak in front of a couple of other people … quiet types don’t always share the wider population’s terror of public speaking.

Groups are unruly, raucous things, where you never know who should or will speak next, and you have to gauge when's the best time for you to pipe up and make yourself heard.

But, in the past I’ve given a eulogy in a packed church, where more gregarious family members, confessed they’d never have been able to do it. Yet the key for me there had been having complete control of the situation. Delivering a speech you've written, in church, while standing on an altar, alone, well in that situation … you’ve kind of got the upper hand.  Aint nobody gobby enough to dare talk over the top of you there!

So maybe the majority of the time we'll battle to get a word in but, give us a clearly defined face-to-face meeting, a microphone, and even access to Instagram Stories … and you might soon be trying to find ways to get us to shut up!

****

Right then, your turn, speak:
  • Which of my 7 points had you nodding in recognition?
  • What annoying things have people said to you about your quiet nature? 
  • Dare you admit that you've said them to someone else?
  • Or is there anything else that you - as a quiet person - wished the louder population understood about you?
Speak now or ... you know what they're like ... the gasbags over there will only get in first! 


Thanks for pausing to chat today. 

Julie 


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Short story: 'Buried' (the first piece of fiction I've ever shared online!)



Hello you. 

Well, this is something new; I'm sharing a short story of mine today. Which is a first. 

I wrote it last summer, as my final piece of work for Laura Jane Williams's 'Don’t Be a Writer, Be a
Storyteller
' writing course, where the prompt had been to write a short story inspired, somehow, by the prompt 'Woman in crisis'. And it features several generations of women, with the crisis affecting the woman 'off stage' so to speak, the Great Grandmother of the narrator. 

A narrator who - for the record - is not me! It's written in a similar tone to how I write here so I thought I'd just clarify before we begin that it's definitely fiction and not based on my life or family at all. (The photos aren't of my family members either, they're just part of my vintage paper collection!).

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I hinted, in this recent post, that this story features the topic of conscientious objection. A subject I'm particularly interested in and one which I spent some time researching last year; which is how this story came to revolve around the revelation that ... well ... no ... I won't spoil it for you ... I'll just let you get on and read it for yourself.  So, please enjoy ... 

***

Buried: a story by Julie Kirk 


“I’ll never forget what she said to us on the day of me grandmother’s funeral.”

My own grandmother had paused leafing through an old photo album and with a nobbled finger was tapping at the image of her mother.

“There was me -” she concentrated, squinting behind bifocals, peeling away the years “- our Sally-Anne, Lillian, George-Henry – Georgie – you never met him, he was long gone before you were even a twinkle.” She nudged me playfully, her well-rounded but ageing flesh yielding to mine. “And, erm … who have I said? Me, Sal …” she silently counted, head nodding, trying to recall the names which had grown increasingly, maddeningly, elusive. “Did I say Arthur?” 

I shook my head, no, and the omission seemed to pain her. 

“Well, he was still with us then so ... yes, Arthur.”

And she set the scene: it was the morning of the funeral and she and her siblings were waiting for their mother in the front parlour, lined up as if on parade. As she began casting back, though I could feel the comforting weight of her against my arm, I felt part of her slip elsewhere. 

“There we all were, a bit sniffly and teary, missing Granny - even though she was right behind us, in her coffin - it was what people did in them days.” Then, like a film set collapsing around Buster Keaton’s ears, the intervening years dropped away, leaving her standing awkwardly in a cold street house in 1913.

“And mother looks us up and down” she went on “and says ‘Well, at least you’re all looking smart; no one can say owt about that’. That was it, all she had to say. Bugger that her mother was dead and her kiddies were sad. So long as we weren’t giving the neighbours nowt to talk about, she was happy.” 

Her finger struck the photograph, a typist hitting a full-stop. 

“Right stuck up bitch she was.”




“Grandma!” I mock-chastised. Not that the sentiment itself had surprised me, I’d always sensed the spectre of a rift, but it was more the rawness, the youthfulness, of it.

“What?” she asked defiantly. “No, no. You don’t know. Two of my brothers would be alive today if she hadn’t worried so bloody much what other people thought.”

“Well, maybe not quite, eh?” I said, meaning they’d be well over 100 by now, but, misunderstanding, she dug in.

“Listen, when that war broke out, the first one I mean, our Georgie couldn’t wait to get his head in an army cap. It was all he’d talk about, thought it’d be one big adventure.” she said, officiously polishing her glasses with a hankie. “Said he’d be off with his pals the minute the recruiters set up in the town centre.” she gestured behind her with the arm of the frames. “But, she wouldn’t have it, would she? Leaving home? Going off to war? Not her blue-eyed. Oh no!”

Apparently, a battle had then commenced within the walls of their two-up two-down and Gran described how my Great Grandmother had initially thought that ordering her son not to enlist would be enough to stop him. Then, when it became clear it wouldn’t, she’d tried ‘weeping and wailing for a week solid’ instead.

“But, he must have persuaded her, because ...” I flipped ahead in the album to a photo of lanky limbs trussed up in scratchy wool; Georgie as a Tommy.

“Oh, he went alright. But that was down to Mother seeing Alfie Monroe from a few doors down walking past in uniform. And well, that was that.” With a finger, she made slow circular movements against her temple. “Little cogs started turning. Got her thinking how impressive her boy would look in uniform, how everyone would look up to him ‘doing his bit’”. She shook her head in something close to disgust. “That dried her tears sharpish and he was signed-up by the end of the week.”

“Then once that novelty wore off she turned to Arthur. But he’d always been a gentle one - ‘Soft as shite’ me Dad used to say. And he wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t take a life. Said all the weeping and wailing she liked wouldn’t change his mind.”

Satisfaction rippled over her face as she recounted how, despite the pressure, from his parents, from men too old to sign-up, and even from ‘some daft girls up on Market Street who’d pushed a white feather into his pocket’, Arthur steadfastly refused to enlist.

“And then conscription came in, didn’t it? Kitchener wanted you” she turned to me and pointed “and he was going to bloody well have you, whether you liked it or not.” 

“So, what happened?” I asked, turning the pages to check if I’d missed a photo of Arthur in uniform. I hadn’t.

“He became a conchie.” she announced matter-of-factly. “An erm, what was it now, oh, err, an ‘Absolutist’, that’s it, that’s what called him. Couldn’t budge him an inch. Went to jail for it in the end.”

I was confused. Until then, Great Uncle Arthur was just someone who’d pressed a shiny coin into my palm, or conspiratorially sneaked me a packet of crisps during one of his post-pub Saturday afternoon visits to Gran and Grandad’s. As a toddler, I’d ridden on his shoulders; as a travel-hungry teenager I’d pummelled him for stories about his trips to Europe. And now I had to make space in my understanding for Arthur the conscientious objector, Arthur the prisoner.

When I told Gran that this was the first I’d heard of it, she hooted.

“Oh, she’d’ve liked that would Mother! Me keeping the family secret.”

She gave the photo album a nudge, sending a plate of digestives skittering across the table like a game of shove ha’penny. “She never mentioned him again after they put him in that prison y’know?”

I frowned sceptically.

“No. Not once.” she stood firm. “When he refused to do anything for the war effort she was ashamed. Wouldn’t visit or write, forbid any of us to an’all. Said he was good as dead to her.”

“What? Really?” I asked. “She didn’t.”

“She did.” she flashed me an ‘I told you so’ face and continued. “That’s what I’m telling you, that’s what my mother was like. And, wait ‘til you hear this, even when Georgie was killed in action, God rest his soul, she still wouldn’t have anything to do with Arthur. Could’ve welcomed him home, water under the bridge. Could’ve held one of her sons again. But no. Nothing.” she paused before delivering the final blow.

“The three of us left at home always said that the Jerrys killed one of our brothers and our mother killed off the other.”

“Oh Gran.” I sighed, reaching out to take her hand, but she gently waved me – and her own approaching tears – away. 

With a crack of cartilage, she levered herself out of the chair, walked around the table to rescue the biscuits from their precarious position on the edge, and wound herself forward in time a little.

“Y’know I never saw hide nor hair of him again until after the second war; 1947 it was. At her funeral.”

She came to a stop behind my chair and with arthritic hands, fingers bent at a right angle to the palms, held on to my shoulders.

“All them years of nothing and then there he was. Big and broad. Suited and booted. A proper man. Different, but when I looked in his eyes he was still there. Me big brother. And, do you know what I said to him, after all that time?”
I tipped my head backwards to look up into her face “Tell me”.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘You can take that off for a start’ and I pulled at his tie – posh one it was – in a big knot.” she smoothed her fingertips against my shirt collars as she spoke. “And I said to him ‘If you’re going to look all smart like that, what will anyone have to talk about?’”

“And, at first, I thought it’d been too long, been too many years in between, that he wouldn’t know what I getting at. But then he lifts his big hands to the top of my head and he says, ‘In which case …’ and he ruffles my hair into a right mess! I’d only had it set that morning. And, well, we must have looked a proper pair; him with his tie all skewwhiff and my perm like a bird’s nest. Mother’ll have been rolling in her box!” And she flipped my fringe loose from behind my ears with a laugh that sparked from deep within her.

“And then” she said, after the laughter had burnt out into a splutter. “Then, we held each other’s hand … and watched them drop her into the soil.” 

***



So - I hope that was a vaguely diverting ... erm ... diversion in your day. 

If you know someone who might enjoy reading it too, will you direct them towards it? Thank you, you're ace.

Feel free to leave me a comment either here, (or on Instagram where I'm @withjuliekirk), either: 
  • about my story;
  • about short-stories you think I'll enjoy;
  • about conscientious objection as a subject;
  • about your own family experiences of war ... or secrets ... or both;
  • or about anything else this post has stirred up in you. 
Thanks for reading me today. 

Julie 


Friday, 6 July 2018

50 Shades of Nay. How I'm ending my relationship with hair dye and embracing the grey.


Hey you. 

If you follow me on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - you'll already have a heads-up on this because I spent much of the day posting IG Stories while I tried out a hair dye removal cream in the hopes it would reveal the grey beneath. (Spoiler alert: it didn't).

(BTW: I've saved all of those stories in my 'Grey Hair' section of my IG ‘Highlights’ if you fancy watching me attempt to wrap my head in clingfilm. And why wouldn't you want to do that?)

So, yes, I've decided to share my flirtation with grey here and Instagram. And, because I'm not above using a terrible pun in telling you all about it, please welcome the new no-dye blog series I'm shamelessly calling... 50 Shades of Nay.



I don’t like being ‘found out’.

If I’m entirely honest, I find it weird enough when people know things about me that are general knowledge, so having people know something about me that I’m actively trying to hide is, at best, rattling.

And, having my grey roots breaking free and glinting shamelessly in the sunshine, revealing their natural naked selves to all and sundry, has come to feel too exposing. Too out of my control. Too furtive.

But rather than spur me on to do a better job at hiding them, maybe by buying one of those root sprays, I’m doing the opposite: I’m exposing myself.

No, wait. Hang on there. I didn’t mean it quite like that. Let me rephrase …
  • I’m no longer waiting for my roots to give me away.
  • I’m going to hide them in plain sight instead; by growing them out.
  • They’ll no longer be able to scream ‘grey roots’ when the rest of my hair is grey too. 
  • (Yes, I accept that going grey is going to bring with it its own delightful set of neuroses ... but I'm saving those for a future blog post!)

So, for the foreseeable future at least I’m laying down my disposable gloves, because I’m done dyeing.

I’m not ruling out ever turning to dye again. After all it can be fun. I mean, that’s why I originally started dyeing it. It was a relatively quick and easy way to play with my image, to temporarily become someone else and often, in doing so, step further into myself.

Thinking back, there's been:
  • The perfect peach streaks that delightfully appeared when I experimented with an all-over copper on top of blonde highlights.
  • The sharp red bob with a fringe the summer I took a film-making course.
  • The brazen burgundy streaks on a white hotel pillowcase, from where my hair was drenched in the rain the night I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.
  • Plus all the shades of rich woods, precious metals and gemstones a shop shelf can hold.

But then, as more grey began to emerge, I started to leave the fun colours behind. 

The regrowth from those would leave me wearing three distinct colours
  • the dyed shade, 
  • my own dark-brown roots,
  •  … and the greys in between.
Which is when I took up cafĂ© colours instead, turning to ‘iced coffee’ and ‘frosted chocolate’. Which, as well as making me peckish, reduced the obvious distinction between the dyed lengths and my natural roots. Which offered less of an obvious regrowth and yet ... there were still the greys making their way through to the surface like an invasive plant forcing its way from the darkness of a tumbledown shed and out into daylight.

And then, more recently I've been using the underwhelmingly titled ‘Dark Brown’ as a cover-up and now - along with the enthusiasm of whichever copywriter named that shade - my desire to dye has just fizzled out.

(I suddenly feel like getting on my hands and knees. looking up to the sky, shaking my fists and yelling 'I don't wanna dye!!!!' But then ... maybe I breathed in too many fumes from the dye-stripper.)

My first step towards going grey: making the decision to stop dyeing. 

(AKA: Saying 'nay' to dye. Because '50 Shades of No' doesn't roll of the tongue as easily.)

The last time I dyed my hair was 11 weeks ago, on the 16th April (2018). 

Then I used a lighter brown than usual (probably called something inspiring like ‘A Lighter Brown Than Usual’) and it didn’t really cover the grey. So at that point, fed up with wasting the time, money and mental energy hiding grey had begun to take, I already had one foot out of the dyeing door.

Finally, when I got a fringe cut in, two months ago, a lot of the grey which had  - until then - been skilfully lurking beneath my parting was suddenly pulled front and centre. And became really obvious:


At this point I'd begun to think life would be much more streamlined if I just stopped worrying about going grey, and allowed it to happen. 

Kind of like a 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood approach to hair dyeing': Relax don't do it, When you want to go to it. Relax don't do it, When you want to ... erm .. grow out your grey. 

Or something like that. 

It was about this time that, in order to speed up the process, I genuinely considered either cutting it very short ... or just shaving it off altogether and seeing what grew back! 

I think I'm over that urge now.

However, the next time I see my stylist I will definitely be asking for something a bit shorter than usual. (I won't be mentioning shaving it off though, because judging by how excited she was when I got her to give me an undercut 2 years ago, I think she might leap at the challenge!)

So, yes, cutting it off is one way to get rid of the over-dyed lengths, but I'm impatient. And I hate the way you can see the grow-out line and so ... I turned to chemicals. 

My second step towards going grey: hair dye removal cream.

Faced with a calendar's worth of waiting for a full head of grey, I wanted quicker results and so I bought myself a hair colour remover product.

Ahem ... I may have taken the opportunity to take some super-flattering photos that - should I ever become a singer songwriter - I will consider for use as album covers. 

I turned to this method - the colour remover - not the stunning 'Old Towel Portraits',  mainly to remove the annoying band left behind from those lighter dyes I mentioned. 

If my hair is going to end up two-tone dark brown / grey for the next however many years it takes for me to go as white as all of the flesh that's suddenly gone on display during this heat wave, then so be it.

I'll call it zebra-hair and it'll be on-brand. 

But I don’t need black, white and a big four inch strip of  lighter brown too. Plus, if the remover managed to "Remove all types of dark colour build-up" - as was promised on the box - then all the better.  

However ... as anyone who's watch the Instagram Stories I filmed during this lengthy (and sulphurous) process will already be aware ... 

Reader, it didn't work. 


Rinse until the water runs clear it said.  The water ran clear from the very start. Nothing moved. 

So far, so disappointing.

But that's not all.

Not only did it not remove that band of lighter colour I was so keen to wave goodbye ... 

Reader, it brightened it and made it MORE OBVIOUS!!


I mean ...


I suppose there's a chance I could have better results if I go to the salon and have my stylist work her magic on it but, for now, I'm just going to live with it, and look for the positives (I'm digging deep for these, people. Deep.): 
  • the conditioning treatment it came with made my hair really shiny and soft, like after dyeing. Which I haven't had for the 3 months without dye so ... that's something
  • It's kind of, almost, blended out some of that annoying harsh regrowth line. That, or the colour's just so bright now it's dazzled my yes and I can't see straight!
  • And ... I got an unexpected new colour for summer! 


But all of this has now left me faced with the one method I was trying to avoid: patience. 

Because that's something I've got in abundance. *Rolls eyes so hard they vanish beneath my newly ginger fringe*.

But I'll give it a try. What choice to I have? 

In the meantime I'm laying down at the feet of the Pinterest gods and pinning images of all the stylish grey haired women I can find. 

To motivate me.

To stop me from slowing down in the 'Permanent Colour' aisle the next time I'm walking through Boots. 

To keep me going. 

To keep me going grey

------------------------

Now I want to hear from you
  • Have you let your grey grow out? 
  • How long did it take? 
  • How did you stay motivated?
  • What have you learned?
  • Did you go back to dye?
  • Has anyone had grey highlights put in to blend it through .... that's my next big plan! 
  • Anything else I should know?
Oh and ... 

If you dye your hair, please know this:
  • We can still be friends. 
  • This is a personal experiment based on aesthetics and a desire to be free of hassle ... it is not a moral/ethical/social judgement!
  • I am not going to become a militant pro-grey activist but I will be occasionally blogging and Instagramming my journey to the grey side!
So do get in touch - whether that's here in the comments, or on Facebook, Instagram, email, in the street (ew, on second thought maybe not, I don't do casual talking in the street.)

Under this newly orange, brown and white hair ... I'm all ears. 

Julie x 

p.s: Feel free to pin / share this image if you think your friends / followers would be interested in reading this. Thanks in advance! 

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Do you have an address book? No, not a 'Contacts' app. A real papery tabbed edge book?


Hello hello. 

Considering I haven't posted here in months the topic of this post is pretty appropriate. It's about communication. 

(By the way, I may not be here very often, but you can find me most days over on Instagram @withjuliekirk).

I'm sharing today something I wrote a few years ago - all about the role of the humble address book in our digital age - which first appeared in print in the ‘Pretty Nostalgic’ 2016 Yearbook.  And I reckoned that summertime - the time of souvenir postcards and 'Wish You Were Here', was a good time of year to bring up this subject with you ... so, tell me ... do you have an address book?



Addressing Life by Julie Kirk 


Do you have an address book?

I’m not talking here about the contacts in your email or an app on your phone. I mean a real address book. Old fashioned even. One made from paper with A-Z tabs along the edge. One which is there, on hand, to easily refer to whenever you feel the need to reach out to someone?

Perhaps you’ve never given them much thought, they’re just something you keep in a drawer most of the year, yet the average address book is not only a practical document containing information on other people it's also a chapter in the book about you.

Because if, as Shakespeare proposed [and goodness knows I’m not about to quibble with the Bard!] ‘all the world’s a stage’ and all the men and women merely players who have their exits and their entrances, then the humble address book is surely the 'Dramatis Personae' of our lives:
  • It's the cast of characters who have made an appearance on our personal stage; 
  • a platform featuring everyone from those with long standing starring roles in our biopic, down to the bit part actors who, like a character from Game of Thrones, we assume will be there forever but, in reality, don’t make it past Season One! 
  • And if you’ve been keeping an address book since you were a child then you’ll even have the cast list to the prequel in there! 
Until very recently I didn’t have an address book, or at least not one that I’d updated in the last decade. I’d grown used to storing addresses here, there, and everywhere from the back of a journal to the back of my head and at the bottom of my inbox. And yet I had a growing sense that I really ought to start keeping one again. After all I use pen and paper to house other things I want to store away for future reflection: ideas, lists, moments and memories; but I wasn’t doing the same for important things like addresses, phone numbers and dates.

Then idea of getting organised with a humble address book started to feel more appealing when I was planning my holiday last summer and I decided that, this time round, I’d connect with friends and family via the retro route: with a postcard. The scene I pictured, of writing out my ‘Wish You Were Here’s on a sunny balcony, was far more romantic without a contacts list open on a laptop screen in the background so in preparation I searched through emails for addresses to print off and scribbled down others in my travel journal. And I realised just how much simpler the whole endeavour would’ve been if I’d just had a straightforward, low-fi, address book to take with me.



So what happened to keeping the cast list of my life up-to-date?

All of this made me wonder why I didn’t already have an address book filled with those who’ve played supporting roles on my life’s stage; but it only took a brief flip through the one I’d abandoned to find the answer: the internet!

The most recent entries were from years ago including old university friends and even my boyfriend at the time; and the former I’m no longer in contact with while the latter’s home address has become much easier to remember since it became the same as mine when we bought a house together over a decade ago!

And it’s surely no coincidence that I stopped updating my book around the turn of the century; the same time that, like many of us, I began communicating via email and mobile phones. New technologies which not only offered alternative places to store people’s contact details but which gradually eroded the need to know someone’s street address in the first place. After all how many of us have reduced the number of physical greetings cards we send since Facebook made it so easy to leave a message on someone’s virtual doormat instead? Where we don’t even need to note down the date on which to leave the message as we’re reminded it’s someone’s birthday as soon as we log on!

Now, I’m no Luddite, I adore the wider world of friendship and opportunities the internet has opened up for us and many of my close friends are those I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in ‘real life’ as yet. But if, like me, you enjoy playing a part in maintaining written communication in an increasingly digital age then together, between us, back-and-forth, we’re going to have to make sure that while so much is being sent to ‘the cloud’ we’re also sending tokens through the street, the post bag and the letterbox. And to achieve this then an up-to-date address book is going to be as vital as ever!

But wait … reports of the death of the address book have been greatly exaggerated!

Once I’d realised how much I’d neglected my own address book I started asking around for other peoples’ postal experiences. Many my age and older have grown up seeing a parent refer to an address book, a repository of family information, if only at Christmastime when writing out cards. And many of us with early stationery-addiction tendencies will have also kept our own even if it only contained addresses of the school friends we saw every day anyway or of pen pals and fan clubs. [Remember writing to fan clubs and sending postal order to pay for memorabilia? Now there’s a blast from the postal past!] 

We’re of a generation who became accustomed to there being one place in which we’d find the details we needed to write to someone, even it if was only when we felt a pressing need to swap some stickers!


So I did a little bit of research [ironically using the same instant response social media that’s had its impact on slow mail] and I learned that not only is the humble address book alive and kicking in the digital age, it’s actually being cherished by many as a vital document of their personal and their family’s history.

Two key themes recurred throughout people’s responses:
  1.  The first was that many of those address book still in use had been in their owner’s lives for so long that they were now falling apart
  2. Meanwhile the second was that, despite this fact, the sentimental attachment they’d developed for these notes about familiar characters meant they wouldn’t dream of ever getting rid of it! 
Descriptions such as “old and tattered” “battered”, “worn” and “falling apart” were frequently used by people who often admitted to having had their book for over 20 years. No doubt people will have been using those books since a new era in their lives was marked out by the buying of a first home, or getting married; that time in our adult lives when the responsibility for fostering the bonds between us and our life’s cast members shifts from our parents over to us. A time when we take on the role of keeper of the contacts!

“I’ve kept every one I’ve ever had”. 
But when those much referred to books were filled, what then? People told me that when dilapidation or lack of space dictated a new one must be bought, they still “couldn’t bear to part” with the original, stating they would be “lost without it”. It was almost as if throwing away an address book would be in many ways akin to throwing away family photographs i.e unthinkable, out of the question.

Because when we’re talking about something containing details from our long distant past, those addresses with rhythms so familiar on the tongue and the names so evocative of good times then we’re not just talking about a book that keeps us organised, we’re talking about a book that keep people and places and memories.

Unlike many of the other office supplies you might have laying around at home an address book is a living breathing family document that can elicit tender emotions. [I don’t know if anyone ever shed a sentimental, nostalgic, tear over a ring binder or box file, but address books certainly have that power!] 

It’s like Shakespeare said, on our stage people make “entrances and exits” and many people use their address books to note down names of new characters, spouses and children, who enter stage left as a family expands. 

Conversely there’s the ache of leafing through the pages and finding those who've exited the stage for good.
  • “The sad thing is” said one respondent “the people who are crossed out as they have passed away” while another told of how she’d never part with hers as it contained “the addresses of grandparents and others who are not with us any more”. 
And in my own book I found the address of a grandparent crossed out with a poignant final address, of a care home, written beneath. 



It was then I fully understood that address books are seemingly mundane work-a-day items ...
  • Until you begin to reflect on all those lives you’ve pinned down between its covers. 
  • Until it comes to crossing out an old address that had sentimental value to you, or the name of a friend from who you've moved on, or of a family member who's sadly no longer home. 
  • Until you find that you can't throw it, along with all those memories of people and places and moments, away. 
It’s only then that this underrated book makes known its deeper meaning.

A new tradition?

Now that I have a fresh new address book in which to restart recording the cast list of my life I won’t swear to never again rely on the quick search facility in my email to find an address, and I’ll certainly continue to keep mobile phone numbers safely tucked away on my SIM card; it’s just that I now have a back up.

In an increasingly digital world we can still make good use of paper and pen [or pencil for those among us who prefer erasing to the horrors of crossing out!] to store those more recent communication methods such as email and blog addresses, mobile phone numbers and websites. Because a tangible ‘real’ address book won’t crash on you, or become corrupted or, like our much relied upon, but ultimately vulnerable smart phones, it won’t be rendered useless after being accidentally dropped into a toilet bowl! And while I’m not saying it would be a pure joy to flip through those soggy pages after rescuing it from the watery deep, you would at least still be able to flip through it if you needed to look up Aunty Mary’s land line number in a hurry!

But not only is maintaining an address book a practical defence against third party damage, theft and general clumsiness, it’s a back up of our more personal memories too. As we live out our stories on life’s stage the address book is a means for us to reflect on all those who we’ve co-starred alongside already and to keep track of the cast of characters who will populate all the new chapters and scenes still waiting to be written. 


So perhaps it’s time we started a new tradition. 

Why don’t we start gifting young people their first paper address book when they turn 18, with an accompanying note to share why we believe, they’ll enjoy leafing back through it one day. [Although we might have to do some serious explaining to true ‘digital natives’ who’ve only ever known communication through Face Timing and Snap Chatting!] We’d be setting them up with a simple means of preserving memories of those characters who’ll inevitably drift in and out of their life story and the locations in which they were set.

Of course, if you don’t have one already, then give yourself the gift of an address book and start making documenting your own supporting cast. But if you do, especially if it’s one you’ve been neglecting while you’ve been busy tweeting and writing on people’s virtual ‘walls’, then why not open it up today and indulge in a few re-runs; a few episodes from your life, complete with that familiar cast of characters who’ve played a role on your own life’s stage. 


******

Before I go I want to thank all of those who contributed to my research on the topic! Thank you for sharing your own address book tales, you inspired me to write a full  feature from what began as the flimsiest of thoughts. As ever ... I learned that there is always more than meets the eye, and that sometimes the most simple questions reveal the deepest, truest, eccentricities that make us human. 

And please ... do drop me a line (here or via Instagram) about your own address book habits. Or any thoughts you have about the subject. 

And, if you do use both a papery address book AND Instagram, then do share a photo of yours!!! 
  •  Use the hashtag #myrealaddressbook
  • And tag me @withjuliekirk so I can see it and the inevitable comments your followers leave! (because, as I've learned from experience, you only need to mention address books and people start telling you about theirs!)
Julie x


(p.s: bundles of vintage postcards are now available in my Etsy store). 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

*Anxiety Episodes*: my anxiety as a TV show. Time To Talk day 2018.

'Anxiety Episodes' 
OR 'my anxiety as a TV show'

This was taken 7 days before the events in this story. In retrospect, those aren't happy eyes.

The scene unfolded like a page from a screenplay that had slipped loose from the pile and floated down into an average Wednesday morning before shouting ‘Action!’.

“You need to go home” she said, her arm outstretched behind her back, stopping her cigarette smoke from drifting into our conversation, on the chill November air.

“You need to go home, and you need to see your doctor” she repeated. Emphatically.

And there was something so sincere, unequivocal, about how she said it that, not only did I know that she believed me, it led me to believe it for myself. A case of “Shit, if someone outside my head can see the trouble I’m in … then I guess it must be real after all”.

Because, until that moment, sitting on a bench, talking to a work colleague, I hadn’t especially believed it.

I’d only starting feeling unwell on campus a week before that cold morning when I simply could not face going into work. Only three times I’d struggled to sit still in lectures, watched the clock, felt nauseous, crampy, sweaty. How can something that had only happened three times feel this insurmountable this quickly? How could it be real? It must all be in my head.

And it was:
  • it was in the constant, incessantly racing thoughts that impeded my ability to function, like a computer virus slowing down a laptop. 
  • it was in the negative self-talk that made me feel pathetic, childish, neurotic, for suddenly struggling with something I’d done regularly for over a decade. 
  • it was even in the positive self-talk I ceaselessly narrated while I was flailing. ‘You’ll be OK, this is nothing, you’re just exaggerating, you won’t pass out, you’ve been anxious before and never thrown up or fainted, just get through this next hour without jumping up, rushing out and making a show of yourself. OK, f*ck the hour, just get through the next minute, second …” and repeat until home. 
All of which had no effect, except to exhaust me.

So yes, it was all in my mind. But, funnily enough, your mind’s kind of a useful thing to have on board to get you through the day.

It kind of keeps the whole ship running. And if there’s a mutiny, well, nobody wins, you all just get scuppered, wrecked, pulled under with the tide.

But right then, when she said: “You need to see your doctor”, like Cinderella’s golden coach and snowy white horses, the reality of my mental illness suddenly materialised before me.

This thing was real. This wasn’t normal behaviour. Even for me. Something was wrong.

So, I did exactly as I was told. As instructed I went home and, the next day, I went to see my GP, who also believed my new – no longer a pumpkin – reality and signed me off work for a month. Just like that.

The explanation on the sick note read: ‘Anxiety episodes’. Which at least gives me the title for the TV drama, when I write it.

‘She’, by the way, is my closest colleague on the university campus where I’ve worked, part time, for over 11 years. Let’s call her Anna.

Anna is self-effacing, generous, funny (she can spin a good yarn, often complete with actions); the kind of person who knows everyone who passes by and who, somehow, also knows all their names, and they hers.

The kind of person who, without missing a beat, can turn someone’s month around, all while finishing off her morning ciggie and take-out coffee.

I’d been mooching around, unable to settle, when I spotted her outside and went down to join her. After waiting patiently, fake-smiling and laughing all the way while she chatted to one of the groundskeepers (who she knew by name, naturally) – I eventually did something very un-British:

When we were finally alone, and she turned and asked how I was, I didn’t say ‘Fine thanks’. I told the truth.



“I’m feeling anxious” I confessed, "And I just don't know why." then she pretty much intuited the rest.

“For no reason?” she suggested.

I nodded.

“And you thought if you came to talk to me it would help distract you?”

Another nod.

“But it’s not working is it?”

I shook my head half in laughter, half sadness.

That’s when she instructed me to go home and talk to my GP. Hell, she even offered to talk to the administrator in our office to explain why I had to go home. 

And – just like that – Fairy Godmother style again, there was the administrator, walking across the square in front of us. And Anna went over to her and the morning continued to play out like a TV show; now I was in one of those scenes where the protagonist can’t hear what the others are saying, but there’s enough gesturing and glancing in their direction to know they’re the topic of conversation. 

Then she was back by my side; obstacles magically removed; deal sealed: I was going home.

And I did go home. But, before I went, and before this story ends, let me tell you one more thing Anna did for me that day …

When I write ‘Anxiety Episodes’, (the hit TV series), it’ll include a scene that everyone watching will think is a little far-fetched, a bit on-the-nose, purely there for broad comic effect. Everyone, that is, apart from you, me and Anna because, we’ll know that it was 100% based on true events.

These events in fact.

While we were talking Anna’s student, a wheelchair user, arrived in the car park so we headed off to meet her. And there, while waiting for the student to get her belongings together Anna made me promise to text her when I was safely home, before uttering that simple, matter-of-fact phrase, often used by allies of the mentally unwell:

“There’s nothing for you to feel silly about” she chastised “You wouldn’t think anything about being off work if you had a broken leg, would you?”.

And, of course, she was right. Our society really shouldn’t still be finding mental illness so much harder to comprehend than broken bones, vomiting bugs and runny noses. But, it does. And, on that day, and for at least a few weeks afterwards, I did.

But, as I nodded in half-hearted agreement with her sentiment, Anna’s face changed, her eyes bulged, she tried to hold my gaze while wordlessly indicating something with a tilt of her head.

“I can’t believe it” she gasped. “Here’s me going on about broken legs and then …” the head gesturing grew more pronounced forcing me to turn around just in time to watch a student slowly, but determinedly, hobble past us …

… on crutches …

… with her a leg in plaster.

I swear!

So there we were. Two disability support assistants, trained to the hilt in inclusivity, loitering in a carpark while appearing to be – hang on, no, not ‘appearing’ to be – but actually, hooting with laughter at a hobbling student! Wheelchair to the left of me, crutches to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Anna, with the aid of the impeccable comedic timing of the benevolent universe, gave me laughter too that day. Right when I needed it.

And I hope the ripple reached you here. Have a smirk on us. And maybe pass my 'Anxiety Episodes' story along to someone who might need to hear it.


*** 

Thanks for pausing with me and Anna today. I should tell you that I’m feeling much better now, so there’s no need to be concerned about me. But I’m gratified to think it might have crossed your mind to worry.

Anxiety Episodes’ is my contribution to ‘Time To Talk’ day (1 February 2018), a campaign to tackle the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.

For more stories and information: 
And if you’re struggling with a mental health issue: 
  • please know that you are not alone. You might have your own Anna to confide in – even if you don’t recognise it at first. I’d never imagined how OK it would be to say it out loud until that morning. 
  • When our inner voices are telling us we’re useless and feeble, we judge everyone else through that filter. But most people are more understanding than we give them credit for. Plus others can be better than we are ourselves at appreciating that something’s wrong, as they have the benefit of distance and clarity. 
  • Alternatively, follow this link to the Time To Change resources page which contains many sources of information and support: 
  • And there’s always your GP. 
And if you're a potential Anna ...

  • if you're someone who might be able to listen without judgement and guide without criticism then, don't be afraid to engage.
  • You don't need to solve all the problems for whoever confides in you.
  • But listening, and even laughing, can be the perfect opening scene where someone can begin to share their story  ... 


Thanks for stopping by today.

Julie