Monthly Archives: November 2012

For my angels

imageIt’s that time of year again when the nativity scenes start appearing in windows. As ever I get out the insane nativity decoration you gave to me-swearing as ever that I must be the only person I know who’s nativity scene takes place inside a hollowed out coconut. Who on earth thought of that? And where the hell you even found it is beyond me. But I remember you giving it to me clear as day.

It took a lot to make me laugh back then. I was so sick and so thin that I would have been too afraid to look in a mirror-even if I’d been able to hold my head up long enough to look in one. But you told me I looked great. A kind lie, (one of so many kindnesses) and you gave me that crazy-assed hollowed out coconut with Jesus in the manger and I laughed til I hurt.

It was my goodbye present from you before you left to go back to your lives in The States, your treatment now over. We swore we would see each other again very soon. That I would be walking by then and working and eating and all sorts of wonderful things. We’d spent the past few weeks in the same treatment centre in Central America and bonded like sisters. When the treatment hurt we would lie there and cry, (it was always nicer to have someone to cry with, we all agreed) and when it didn’t hurt we would listen to music, or the Geckos going mad with each other on the ceiling.

Or we’d talk. Endlessly we would talk about all the amazing things we were going to do with our lives when we were well. All the places we’d go and people we’d see. How happy we would always be and how we’d always feel like the luckiest people alive, having made it through this part to the other side.

I’ll never understand why I am the one who is still here. Why you both are gone. I who was by far the most average of the three of us. Who physically had the longest journey back to normality. I who will never be described as brilliant, who does not speak 8 languages, nor attended Harvard. Who has nothing remarkable to my name. Why it is I who sit here thinking of you, long after you are gone from this place. About the things we will never do together, The places unseen, the memories we never got a chance to make.

I can do all of the things you always said I’d be able to do now. And more. So much more you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s true. It did all turn out really well in the end. The road was quite long, but I got here. You were right about that. Of course you were always both much smarter than me so you would be right.

I don’t know about heaven. I’m not sure if it’s a place you are both sitting in watching me take out this ridiculous coconut nativity scene, and thinking of you both (as I so often do). I do believe that we are all from love, and that we all return to love when this part of our journey is done. I do know that I love you both now as much as I ever did when you were here with me. That will never change the older I get, and the further time takes me from you, and then.

I hope you are happy. I hope that my attempts to at least try to do your memory justice hit the mark sometimes. I hope that if I try hard enough a whisper of that brilliance that came so naturally to both of you might bless me from time to time. And as I light a candle for each of you tonight next to the world’s most flamboyant nativity scene. I will tell myself, as ever that you are both free now. Wandering but no longer lost. Resting but no longer tired.

Sleep well my angels. I hope I am making you proud



The missing piece to the puzzle

Jigsaws eh? Remember those buggers? How many hours of your little life did you spend stuck at the dining room table as a weeny one. Tiny 5 year old fists hammering ill-fitting pieces together…daring to look Postman Pat straight in the eye and tell him he is supposed to have 3 nostrils…and a lamppost growing out of his head…firmly maligning the relative who got you this rubbish excuse for a present…an educational piece of apparatus thinly disguised as a toy…judging them with tiny primary school sized eyes…

There would always be a method to it though wouldn’t there? So you start with the sky and fill that in, a tree or two etc work your way around the outside then start filling in the trickier bits…

Wellness is just like that. there will be so many parts of your life after you’ve already sorted, stuff you are busy sorting.. but then there’s this one bit. One nagging part. The bit that doesn’t fit the other pieces, no matter how you try to hammer it into place. The gaping hole it leaves in the middle of your picture. That part you just get stuck on and can’t move past. It’s difficult to spot for two reasons:

1) It’s something you do constantly, chronically. So much so you wont know you’re doing it all the time. Nightmare eh?

2) You will put it in many different guises, dress it up in various scenarios, give it different names. It will have the same feeling attached to it though, every time. It will be the feeling you instinctively want to avoid more than anything in the world. It will make you feel the very worst you are capable of feeling. It’s your biggest fear, it comes from what made you ill in the first place..and its the thing to get past to get you to where you want to be. Whole again. Normal. Firing on all cylinders. Recovered. Whatever you want to label it. I just like to call it getting you THERE.

I can tell you what mine was; that I’d break wherever I was, instantly. That I’d get ill again and I’d be powerless to stop it. Not even that it would kill me this time. Just that I’d ever have to live through feeling that useless, that hopeless all over again. That I’d be in public and I’d be left totally alone with no one to help me. It took many forms, this sense of never feeling reassured by anything. At first I thought it was just that the world seemed like a dangerous place-but that never quite sat right with me. I wasn’t afraid of other people, I was afraid of my own body. That it would just break. Again. With no warning. That’s what the root cause was. I never felt vulnerable to other people hurting me, but if I couldn’t trust my own body then I was not safe with anyone, anywhere. I couldn’t sustain friendships. Couldn’t for the life of me go near a relationship. How can you when you distrust yourself so much? You can’t give of yourself to anyone, anyhow. You cannot receive reassurance from a soul with a mindset like that. You’re just not wired to receive anything in that state. And so the distrust and uncertainty become the lenses you wear to view the world, it becomes the norm.

It took me years before I realised what I was actually missing. I’d existed in a world without any certainty, never feeling safe for a moment, not feeling reassured or supported by anything. Literally it was gone in the moment I lay on my bathroom floor waiting to die just minutes after feeling fine. All the certainty I’d ever known left in that moment and I’d never felt it from that point on. I go so used to life feeling this way that I didn’t event notice it was missing. I did know something was missing, because the anxiety never left me, this gaping black hole that led to sheer panic. That constant reminder that at any moment all this could be snatched away all over again.

When I did figure it out suddenly everything fell into place. Instantly I was better. I was okay. I was whole again. All I had to do was find that reassurance. BE that reassurance. Now every day of my life I make sure that I know I’m okay. That I know my body is certain. That all is well. That I am safe now. It’s a belief structure I have to achieve before I walk out the door or the day doesn’t get very far, trust me. And if I lost that piece of the puzzle again then I know the shadowy uncertain place I existed in for so long would be just around the corner, waiting for me…

If I hadn’t felt all these worrying, niggling negative emotions I never would have found my missing jigsaw piece. I would have stumbled around frightened in the dark forever. My bad feeling that made life so hard was what saved me. It became my beacon, lighting the path for me so I could finally stumble upon that which I did not even know I was looking for.

What’s your missing piece? Which aspect of your life is troubling you right now in ways you can’t even fully put words to? What’s holding you back from being whole again? Which bit doesn’t quite fit where you think it should? Because that’s your missing piece to the wellness puzzle. And if you leave yourself open to finding it, even if the thought of doing so is scary as hell-then that final bit of recovery is yours for the taking. Just remember…it’s always in the last place you look…

Chicken Licken’s Guide to Relapse

When I was a tiny tot I used to love the story of Chicken Licken. I mean I L.O.V.E.D. that fluffy little lad. Every night before bed Chicken Licken was requested and my poor long-suffering Mam and Dad would once again reel off the story, bravely resisting the urge to try to skip a page or 5…

For those who weren’t as obsessed with the fellow as I, let me re-cap. Chicken Licken was having a grand old time strolling around the woods, (as young chicks do) when a great stonking acorn fell on the poor fellow’s head. Chicken Licken being a pragmatic soul deduced from this that the sky was falling down- and off he shot to tell the King.

He had a social-conscience on him did our young Chicken Licken, so as he met his assorted feathered friends also off for a jaunt in the woods, (Hen-Len, Goose-Loose Duck-Luck, you know the usual gang of lads) he warned them all gravely against heading that way,urging them to come see the King with him instead and help break the bad news of imminent sky-fall.

As often happens when young chicks tell tales, mass hysteria ensued and the news spread like wildfire. All feathers were ruffled, the fear grew and grew and everyone got very upset and caught up in the drama. At the point of fever-pitch who should pop up but Mr Fox. Usually the birds were wary of foxes (especially this scoundrel) but damned if Mr Fox upon hearing the news didn’t offer to take all the feathered chums directly to the King and far away from the scary sky-less woods. Hurray! And lead them he did…straight to his fox hole where he promptly fed the poor little buggers to his family.


When you’ve been unwell for years. When life has been hard and scary but you’ve managed by some miracle to move on from it and into a place of wellness, there is always that fear that it will all come back. That you will relapse and have to go through this hell on earth all over again. It’s a fear so big it’s like the fear is having you. The nameless, formless terror that wakes you up in the night. It finds you when you are alone and at your most vulnerable and tears you apart inside. No one can give you any guarantees. Life happens. Relapse does happen. But relapses can be stopped in their tracks at many stages. They can be overcome. Often the fear of relapse is far more scary than the physical occurrence itself.

Fear destroys. It corrodes. It massively hinders judgement. It turns acorns into full-blown Armageddon. Would Chicken Licken have gone near a flipping fox had he not been blinded by fear? I think not. Who trusts a fox? And besides Chicken Licken knew the way to the King. He’d been there before. He knew how to ask for help and where to seek it. He was just so caught up in the fear of fear itself that he gave his power to someone else. And that fear ate him up. Literally and Metaphorically. Then there was no more sky for him at all.

It is entirely possible to get through to the other side of a relapse back to health. Feeling vulnerable to the idea of relapse is also easy to treat. No one should be fearful of their own bodies or trapped in a prison of their own anxiety. There are so many ways to get well. So many ways to overcome the fear. If you got well once you can get well again-and you don’t have to do it alone. Just make sure the people you seek help from don’t add to your hysteria. Make sure you seek guidance from the right source. Someone who helped you get well last time. Or at the very least believes that your recovery is possible.

Avoid the foxes. Go straight to the King. And the acorns? They can only scare you if you don’t see them for what they are. Just a tiny bump in this continual journey. A journey that you get to choose the destination of. And if you truly know deep inside that the sky is the limit for you, you’ll be looking up there anyway and see those acorns coming a mile off.

Peace Be With You?

I went to a christening recently. I hadn’t been inside a cathedral for years and I’d forgotten there’s a full service as well as the baby-wetting sideshow.

As the bishop was doing his thing it came to my favourite part of the service growing up. The bit I’d completely forgotten about. The one where we are asked to turn to one another and offer the people nearest to us a sign of peace. Then we actually say to one another “peace be with you”. I had no idea why I loved it so very much as a kid. Possibly the idea of being legitimately able to talk in church without incurring the wrath of the strict Irish priest-or much scarier still the particular brand of wrath exclusively handed out by a contingent commonly known as the hardcore Irish Catholic gran. Heaven deliver and preserve us all from publicly shaming an Irish grandmammy -and coming between her and her Sunday worship I’m telling you. Cos if you do then you’d better be a praying man-and a far braver man than I…

It’s not just the chatting though. It’s the actual fact of it I think. Turning to a person you may never have met and telling them you wish them peace. Because peace is such a lovely state of being, isn’t it? And though I know we can’t physically give it to each other, we can nevertheless offer the wish. I’m sure a lot was lost in translation between the church switching from services in Latin to conducting them in English but I think they were bang on with the terminology here “offering a sign” not forcing, not insisting, not demanding. Just offering. “I wish you peace, I’m pretty sure it’s here for you if you want it. No prob’s if you don’t. No fuss. No bother”

Imagine if we lived in a world where we could all stop each other in the street, in the supermarket, at a bus stop. Where we could just all lightly offer each other a sign of peace whilst we waited in queues. I can’t help but think the world would be a much less lonely place for some. Because some people need that feeling of peace very badly indeed.

I didn’t know anyone else at this Christening. It was in a town I’d never been to before either. Both of these factors I still struggle with these days. I start to feel like that frail, frightened person again. The one I fought so hard to leave behind. The one who desperately tried to navigate the world after being away from people for so long . And when I feel like this I still have to fight the urge to run home to my Mum. To a place I feel is manageable and safe. That place hundreds of miles away from where my life is now. But when I overcome these feeling of fear and uncertainty. When I find myself holding  conversations, laughing and sharing a moment with a group of strangers, I kind of step outside of myself and I feel so proud that I can do it. That I can physically stand. That I can look a person in the eye and talk to them. That I am confident enough in myself and in the world to laugh and joke and just enjoy having this moment with them. Then my automatic reflex is to feel silly for feeling proud of myself.  A woman my age probably shouldn’t be bursting with pride that she can handle a situation on her own without her mum having to literally hold her hand throughout it. But I override this feeling of silliness and I remain proud. I offer myself a sign of the peace I have once again managed to find in this situation, despite feeling like it still eludes and defeats me so much of the time.

I liked this offering of peace malarkey very much. So much so I decided I was going to start offering people peace silently in my day-to-day tasks. Offering them the same congratulations I now offer myself when I do something that was impossible a few weeks, months, years back. That I would silently give them a little of what I am finally, finally able to begin offering myself. Support, stability…dare I say love? Yes, probably a bit of that too. Everything that peace represents or feels like; solidity. Certainty. Ease. Comfort. A weird thing happened when I tried to do it though. I found that I love people so much these days that I was already unwittingly doing it anyway. It’s probably why I hug everyone I meet-or hold their hand whilst talking to them, (a trait generally unacceptable in anyone over the age of 9, yet I do it anyway flagrantly, shamelessly) because I can’t help it.

This week I was talking to a young man about his career options at an event I attended. At the end of our chat he smiled the most beautiful smile and said to me very quietly “thank you Carrie, Jesus loves you”. And it was such a lovely thing to hear. Just that offering of love. Just there if you want it.  No prob’s if you don’t. No fuss. No bother. It made me realise we do all offer each other love and peace so much of the time, that it really is our default setting. That all love given does in fact return. That we are all loved. We are never alone. Regardless of what shape or form our beliefs may take.

At a baptism or a bus stop. May we all feel loved beyond a capacity to comprehend. May your god go with you. May we all find peace. Because if we can find that place of real peace, we don’t really need much else in life-yet the stuff we used to want to compensate for the lack of peace, the people, the places, the possessions. they seem to find us anyway.