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Creative Process 101 #20

Extremism is not Originality.

I love coming to my Mother in law’s home on the Isle of Wight. By far my favourite room is the library which also serves as a dining room. This juxtaposition of purpose is a fine metaphor for the priorities of the house. This is a place of socialising, learning, literature, art, quiet reflection and a celebration of the act of living.

Continue reading “Creative Process 101 #20”

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Creative Process 101 #19

This should really be rule number one.

Play is a fundamental part of our development as both children and adults. In childhood, and infancy, play is the medium through which developmental stages are both achieved and measured.

Later in life, play becomes the basis for complex social interactions and provides important reward systems. We teach our children to play, we facilitate play and we gain immense satisfaction and pride from watching our progeny demonstrate what they have learned from us, through play.

Play is essentially a process of experimentation, observation and adaptation. It is not to be confused with game playing, which incorporates play, but also adds structure in the form of rules, environments other barriers and boundaries. Play is the precursor to games, just as creative process is the precursor to innovation.

If you want a more creative workforce, if you are stuck on a development problem, if there is a lack of creative thinking in your team, the answer is very simple:

PLAY.

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Creative Process 101 #18

The Ancient Greeks did not consider genius to be something that a person was, but rather a quality that flowed through their life. “Genii” were spirits that attended to a person or place. Different areas and phenomena had their own specific “genius.”

However, during the renaissance, an age of rationalism and individual prowess which informs much of western cultures current values,  things changed. The idea of people being geniuses, rather than possessing the quality of genius began to emerge. Artists were held in such high regard that they we expected to spend their time balanced atop the pedestals upon which society has decided they should live.

Many fell.

When we place such a millstone around the neck of an artist we force them to stifle the imagination and experimentation that brought them to the fore in the first place. More recently we see this happening the in the culture of celebrity. But there is nothing new about this.

Harper Lee, Author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was acclaimed as a literary genius and as a result felt under so much pressure that she never wrote another novel. Imagine what work was never created, what stories were never told because of the pressure this author was placed under by the misuse of one word. Such is the power of language.

For this reason, I advocate that genius should never be applied to the person, but to the processes of their work. What makes pressure even greater is when creative inspiration strikes from the blue and we cannot be entirely sure where an idea has come from. How is one expected to repeat such a unique experience in order to maintain the lofty title of “Genius.”

Genius may be evident.

Genius may emerge from.

A piece of work may demonstrate “genius.”

But a person is never  “a genius.”

 

 

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Why Chaos engineer?

Apologies to those of you that followed this post before – I was having real problems getting it to format properly, so I have had to start again. Here we go…

A Creative or b. creative?

The ancients would describe a person as having genius, but never would a person be described as ‘a genius.’

Etymologists believe that the structure of this word made the transition from the abstract to the concrete as a result of human knowledge becoming based to a greater extent on the empirical, and less so on the magical. We now understand that human qualities are learned & genetically coded; not blown in on a celestial wind.

However, I do sense there is something correct about the ancient conceptualisation of qualities such as genius.

Can one truly be the embodiment of a concept?

Isn’t this just as fanciful as suggesting that one might possess the essence of that same concept?

I have a similar issue of the word “creative.”

Creativity is process.

It is the means of solving problems within a system through the application of phenomena which exist within that system.

Demian Farnworth provides 21 definitions of the word creative, and in Jen Gash book, Coaching Creativity, Jen describes an East-West division in the human understanding of creativity:

Of particular note for me was the comparison between Western and Eastern views of creativity, reframing the Western definition of creativity as bringing forth something from nothing to Eastern philosophical understandings of creativity as a more natural process of rediscovering what already is.

It is a skill that we practice, just like any other skill. A doctor practices medicine, a businessman practices finance; we refer to them by their given titles. However, we have come to refer to those who practice creativity as creatives, in the same way that we now describe those who night possess genius as geniuses.

I have always been fascinated by the creative process, I am a creative person, my life is filled with creativity, yet I resist the term creative as a job title. I prefer the term Chaos Engineer, expresses more, I think, than the simple conversion of a verb to a noun.

If I were to call myself A Creative, then I would be endowing myself with the kind of exclusivity that causes many to resist a connection with creativity and, more broadly, the arts.

I cannot allow this to happen Everyone has the capacity to engage with creative activities, usually we do it without even thinking. But consciously engaging is not about developing a superpower, it is about overcoming barriers to a specific mind and heart-set.
Preparing for the  Handmade Parade
People who are creative both personally and professionally are not born with special skills.

Artists and makers (and chaos engineers) learn their craft through hard work, experience and the application of knowledge. They then appraise this knowledge and reflect upon the outcome of their endeavours. I fear that we are creating a culture in which there is a misconception that  creatives  are super beings who whip up their magic out of the ether with a flick of their wrist.

This is simply not the case.

Creative work is grounded in research, practice and re-writing,

Re-writing,

Re-designing –

Re-composing.

 

Being creative is not one thing in and of itself.

Being creative is connecting a variety of ideas, systems and phenomena using specific tools and processes which one learns.

Creativity is (R)evolution

 

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The Turning of the Tide

(This article is in response to a Linkedin post by Matthew Burgess.)

”Cultural transformations of this magnitude and depth cannot be prevented. They should not be opposed but, on the contrary, should be welcomed as the only escape from agony, collapse, or mummification.” 

Fritjof Capra 1982 ‘The Turning Point.’ 

It is to our detriment that we have created a sanitised world where sadness, anger and suffering are perceived as negative qualities. These aspects of the human condition are powerful agents of change. Only when we embrace and understand these emotional energies do we regain control of our own personal and collective narratives.

The river metaphor that I use in daily reflections describes an environment of flux, where change is a constant. In Kawa terms*, the relationship between mind-set and heart-set is the potential that exists between the water (Mizu) and the River Channel (Torimaki). 

These two values could also be conceptualised as “meaningful” and “functional.” 

The relationship between water and channel is a dynamic Poetic whereby new phenomena emerge. Therefore, mindset and heartset are perhaps two aspects of productivity, which interact with one another contributing and adapting to one another’s influence.

The connected phenomena are both influenced by the nature of the connection itself. 

This is what I refer to as a Dynamic Poetic. Dynamic poetics will be explored in greater detail later in this series. 


*I speak in terms of my own observations and relfections – other people’s “rivers” will be differently composed.


 

Would you like to earn a living from your writing?

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The River is Everywhere

 

The Kawa Model is a metaphor, it is a communication tool, a planning tool; it can be used for the analysis of processes, identification of barriers, opportunities and resources. It is a database, and an ecosystem of memes which flow with meaning. 

This is just the beginning of this series of blogs articles which have been termed “The Kawa Poetics.” 

Enjoy the video and I will see you on the other side. 

Welcome back

I hope that you know have a basic understanding of what the Kawa Model is all about. You can find out more on the official website, or you can join the Kawa Community

During my involvement with the global development team, I created a set of theories relating to the river metaphor, exploring its relationship to human narratives and trying to understand why this particular model seems to work so well. I called this set of theories the “Kawa Poetics,” in reference to Aristotle’s Poetics. 


I spent many a happy afternoon splashing around in rivers in the West Yorkshire Hills where I live. I considered the relationships between objects in the river, the nature of these objects and the nature of their relationships. 

I blame obsessed with rivers, with their geography, their cultural meaning and their ritual and spiritual symbolism. This lens that I had been looking at the world through for so long, gradually began to shape my thinking to such extent that I was no longer looking at the river through the lens of my own understanding, rather I was now looking at the world through the lens of the river. 

This series of blogs will finally (after ten years) set the Kawa Poetics down in some kind of understandable form. We will go on a journey from the very beginnings of life on Earth, through ancient history, around the world, into the meaning of the composition of water to the relevance of it to mountain dwellers too desert peoples. 

If you would like to come on this adventure with me (and I really do not know where this is going,) then simply subscribe to the blog and we shall see what is flowing on. 

Bye for now. 

DNW.

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Cassady’s Last Ride

Neal Cassady was the hero of the Beat Generation, Kerouac’s alter ego, the driver on Kesey’s Magic bus, a speed freak, a father, a thinker, a dancer, bipolar and on a mission of self destruction. He was a man of many flaws and a man of many talents, but there can be no doubt that he was a force of nature and a creative power house.

This poem was written after I read about his death in Mexico in 1968.

 

I got on the bus.

Walked past the rows of pudding heads;

The black and white lost

In nightmare sleep.

I stowed my luggage. 

I sat down at the back;

Tread lightly and do not wake the dead,

On the Flying Tide Express.

Continue reading “Cassady’s Last Ride”

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Piss D**cing

The dirge of underground beef chanting
Rumbled up through the diesel drains
Inside drops of crystal fantasy;
Like some vast tropical rainstorm
The alien hoots and honks of motorcars
Rain down drops of unformulated madness,
Like some kind of mad rain, that rained down madly
Into my steak and onion peach flavoured cherry brandy vodka coke drink.
I squeezed into my drink, and the waitress took my change,
With a tribal squint she stuffed the coins into her money snatch.
She flashed me a smile like a thousand trojan spears.
Her name tag said Helen,
And the image came to me like
Snowdrift water oozing through muddy puddles of doubt
“Take me to the future,” I said to the hang dog cabby
As we skad away leaving streaks of shame
In our half boiled wake.
The zany rush of overlit shop fronts floated by
Jostling for position and dreaming of aspiring to
The towering stench of city blocks
Which sucked me and spat me out like sushi.
In the belly of the black chromium whale
I sat in mercenary silence
Drenched in lobster and sandstone flavoured vodka lager.
Sipping life through a rose coloured straw.
The cabby growled over the road ahead,
Twinkling tarmac moisture shone back
In his reflective dog jowl eyes.
“K**s me,” I said. “K**s me with p**s.”
Great godlike shafts of gleaming solid p**s,
Slanting through the money temples and rush hour void
To shatter like glass beads of anguish on the chewing gum pavement slime.
“You don’t see one of them everyday,” Said the hang dog cabby,
Breathlessly.
Like a silent echo of my p**s stained p**sy truth.
Coming on like quentin crisp.
Quentin P**s.
P**s crisp.
Crispy P**s.
Crispy fried p**s soaking into my Gucci smile and Armani hair,
Dripping onto my Rolex rusty fingertips,
And permeating my liver, sponsored by Microsoft.
And we danced in mortal fear of monsters.
Our hearts racing like filing cabinets
Tossed through tenth story windows
Coming down like bastard pigs
Which had been inside the filing cabinets
Before we threw them out.
And we danced,
Yeah we danced,
We danced like dancers,
Two crazy love laden dancers
Dancing their dance on a crazy dance floor made of p**s…
…P**S DANCING
Through waves of
Beef mince curry tripe flavoured vodka filth
P**s dancing ‘till four am.
When the refuse dragons came out of their lairs.
Grumbling and groaning granite grey, godly garbage ghosts,
Picking up the alliteration,
And gearing down to brown town,
Where the shit flies stick to the back pack pick pockets
And try it on with the convent boys.
I sit back stinking of ovaltine ejaculation,
Doused in sugar candy, pink nipple bubble gum Vodka shakers.
I sit back like this in the dead cow,
Black leather interior
Of my four wheeled hell.
And spew forth my late night drivel through a highly polished surgical sieve.
Squeezing out the soul.
So that all that is left
Is my grey pap ego floundering on the cover of this
Rough guide paperback lie.

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Detritus Rex

All art is theft and then bereft of all else but talent sidelined to the skip side road warrior forgotten and rotting on the highways and byways sifting through the ether drinking in the soulful bull music of a generation lost to the sounds of its own non consequence believe or un believe but never to retrieve a moment too many to mention kept behind a kind of spiritual detention never to return again or again or now and then the rain wanders through the cracks in the ceiling and our corrugated exfoliation of kindness whimpers sympathy and empathy and tin pan euphamy infamy and frivolity lost in space the fate of the human steeplechase crowded out on platforms designed for the half life loafers toasting to a skinful on a Friday night and the future is blinding and diamond white caressed in shades of damson jam left rotting on windowsills with the dandelions and the kilner pickle jars…never go back, just keep on hacking away against the stream of unconscious smiles the wannabes giving you piles all those hours sat with the fray bentos tin for two and she never said she loved you and you never said it back and on Monday morning the terminal drones sing clackety clack and dream of holidays in the sun where the streets are paved with flesh and fresh fruit and the views are so damn good and the nights on the beach collecting firewood till you come back home to uncle sam or was it blighty and what’s the difference just so long as you get it nightly fill up on fix and jam the telly into place eat some nachos tear the psychosis from your face and face down the music, corrupted and erupted in a plague of strange banality and cry “why” over and over stand stretching your hands to the white cliffs of dover…been there have you? Wouldn’t go again…it only ever seemed to rain, and then there was all that rheumatic pain brought about by too much walking and the in laws incessant talking about potted shrubs and brand new patios, and aren’t you glad you don’t live there any more. All art is theft, what’s left is barely there at all.

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Will it be alright?

Wreckless acts of mindfulness

Distraction from vicissitudes

Eradicants of listlessness

Contaminants of soul.

Doubt is a deception

Rising antecedent

The Daemon will not take me

His eyes so black and old.

 

Terrified of monsters in the dark…

…Collaborations with silent partners

Asleep in the corner of the room…

…After hours the kids come out

I start to feel alive…

 

Calibrated daily

She said that she would text me

Wreckless acts of mindfullness

Attached to every word

 

Now its AABC

Now we’re AC/DC

Wanton acts of lovliness

In Maurits Escher world.

 

Gloryfying prophets in the park…

…Confrontations with noisy partners…

It’s all about to go Pete Wrong…

…I leave with the kids

And watch diamonds flicker in the tarmac…

\

Calling last orders

Winning a stack on the lottery

Buying pottery seconds and running the bath for me

Wreckless acts of kindness

 

Mindful acts of wrecklessness

Metered out by loving hands

I listen to the motorway roar

And the sound of bacon frying.

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Narcolepsy

She dreams in boxes

Compartment sleep

No alpha or omega

Just the security of order

When she dreams in boxes

There is less to remember

Less debate

Less to remember

I dream in messy amalgams of neuro mayhem

I dream lunches and stories that collapse into one anothers arms

I dream about her and see that the smoke has stained the mirrors

So now even she can’t tell what the game is anymore

Black and white boxes

Colour causes confusion

Black for good and white for bad

To ensure that there is no favouritism to be had

She dreams in boxes

Alone and sad

Peaceful when observed

But now and then

She dreams in boxes

One day they open

And one by one

Her dreams emerge

 

 

She dreams in boxes.

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Statge of the Nation

There’s emotionally damaged people in the cake shop

Trying to solve their problems with a pie

There’s a row of social misfits at the bustop

And one of them is staring at the sky.

All the thirty something mothers drinking mochas

Seated in a caffiene conference

There’s an old man playing Dylan in the subway

As a woman walks her dog in front of us

She’s wondering why it is that no-one’s talking anymore

Everybody’s living in a shell

She remembers all her friends that she fought with in a war

Invisible and hot and dry as hell

And she wonders is this really what wars are fought for

Is this really why we say we’ll do or die

Is this really what our lives are sold and bought for

And soon she too is looking at the sky.

The old man begins to pack his gear up

And gathers in his takings for the day

Enough to buy a five spot and a tinny

To be consumed inside the bedsit where he stays

Where he lies and dreams of days of joy and glory

Which he knows will probably never come

So he picks up his guitar and tells a story

Of a man who is living on the run

It’s the man who is standing at the bustop

The one who is staring at the sky

He’s the victim of an inner city bust up

And his cash flow is beginning to run dry.

The people in the cake shop are conversing with the buns

They’ve all been so neglected this is what they do for fun

The mocha drinking mothers are queuing up for more

As a waitress picks a baby’s glove up off the floor

And the tea lights in the jam jars

Flicker in a draft

Its giro day in paradise

But still…you got to larf

All the damaged folk are sitting down to consumate a tryst

With a piece of flaky pastry which is so delicately kissed

and the café queens are rolling out with toddlers in tow

for an afternoon of child care with folk they hardly know

Jilted bustop loser is still standing in the rain

Its giro day in paradise and everything’s mundane

The old busker is lying semi conscious on the floor

He hankers for the glory days

Of smoke and sawdust floors

And in her well kept living room

The  woman puts the fire on

And settles down to read another book

It’s a story ’bout a man who is standing in the rain

Its giro day in paradise

And everyone’s in pain

As evening comes everyone is making their way home

Apart from bustop bustup man, who’d rather be alone,

He’s entranced by the trauma which has torn his world apart

He feels he should bounce back again, but he can’t find where to start

He’s lost his life and lost his wife, he’s lost his happy home

Its giro day in paradise

And he’s frozen to the bone

The pie fanatics are sitting down to Fray Bentos beans and chips

As the coffee drinking mothers paint their thirtysomething lips

For a girls night out in paradise, to escape the daily grind

Of feeling like it never ends and you never quite know why

But there’s something wrong in paradise that’s preying on their mind

And just like bustop bustup man they’re all staring at the sky.

And the old man makes his mind up to forget about the past

To get out and see the world make it big and do it fast

And the woman turns the fire off and wanders up to bed

As images of evil rattle round inside her head

She settles down and goes to sleep

Tries to find her peace

But strange meetings with familiar friends

Slip in between her dreams.

And what goes around will come around

And nothing goes on round here

They queue up in the cake shop

They need cake like some need gear

And the coffee pots are spluttering and steaming on the boil

As the waitress covers salad bowls with aluminium foil

And I’m standing at this bustop

And its pissing down with rain

It’s giro day in paradise

And they’ve cancelled all the trains

Ancient things are wakling up

Deep inside my head

As the woman rises sharply from the solitude of bed

A young mother finds a strength that she never new she had

The old man never got away,

He chose to stay in town

He’s begging now not busking

‘Cause he likes the taste of brown

And the people in the pie shop

Are in love with all the wares

The waitress in the café,

Well she never really cared,

And the rain just keeps on falling from

A bruised and broken sky

They’re starting wars in paradise

And we all wonder why

And I’m standing telling stories in the never ending rain

Its Giro day in paradise

And they’re boarding up the lanes.

Filling up the happy homes with clones and GMO’s

Releasing viral plasticides

To infiltrate our bones

Instigating subtle laws which take away our choice

Now the revolution can’t go on because they synthesised the voice

Turned civil rights to ghetto wars and famine into greed

And who needs to eat organically

When you can get prescription speed

Polarizing people

Turning brother onto brother

Getting kicks from cheap discussion shows

Wheeling out the teenage mothers

Who say they can and say they will and say they want to cope,

But they’re babies having babies

Tell me where’s the baby’s hope

And I’m standing at this bustop

And we’re staring at the sky

I need to break the programme

But there’s something in my eye

A piece of grit that irritates

A blindspot to us all

Perhaps that’s why I want to keep on staring up above

Perhaps the word I’m looking for is love.

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Lost

His lifestyle was a tap that never dripped:

It functioned well but failed to fill the sink:-

Prowl from kitchen through to lounge,

To wipe dust motes from flat-screen with flat surround.

Then sit in leather comfort,  finger tap-a-brandy glass.

Still the tap would fail drip.

Then massage temples, then brandy sip,

And ponder on the silence of the tap.

Sit…

The absence of flaw – this was the great turmoil of his life.

Construct the perfect  prison and, therefore,

Make worry the warder,

Opportunity the bars,

Then paint it all in neutral to avoid over stimulation of the inmate population –

The perfect prison where free choice was a sand filled sock;

Sitting in self designed concussion –

But absence of flaw remained the ticking clock – tok tick

And still the tap refused to drip…

Ponder on the nature of perfection,

The architect in him seeks a structural connection between

The context and the form –

BUT…

He is deaf to the unheard rhythm of the shapeless singularity

The tap that never drips,

The cloth that never rips,

The place where monsters are made and angels earn their pips.

Claws and teeth

Subordinate – beneath

With surgical precision,

Without feeling or derision

Monsters make incisions

And from the wound bleeds a memory:

A childhood of digestives biscuits

Baked beans and grazed knees;

A time of conker string and stings from bees,

Attic junk and playground scraps,

Home for tea and mother dear and baked potatoes

and a story story on her lap,

And woodsmoke on formica

White gloss doors and fathers cap

And silence in the kitchen after ten o’clock

And now and then,

The dripping of the tap.

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The Embassy of Hope

2014-08-25 10.10.01.jpgI had intended to start a series on the subject of the Kawa Model, life flow and the poetic language of rivers. The Kawa Model is something that I spent ten years collaborating on with a fantastic group of Occupational Therapists from all around the world.

However, at the moment, as I build the new business, I do not feel that I have the time available to give it the attention it deserves.

Therefore, I have decided to run a series of poetry posts from my creative site: The Ministry of Hope. The name was inspired by some graffiti I saw in Hamburg, whilst performing at the International “Stamp” Street Festival. The Street Art there was beautiful. Therefore, in tribute to those artists and to the beautiful city itself, I will leave you with some more images.

Tomorrow I will start my poetry series. I hope you enjoy, and as always please share and let me know what you think – I thrive on feedback.

Best to all.

DNW2018

Hamburg Street Art//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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Part 11 – Last Post

First Published on February 13, 2018

So this, dear reader, will be the last part in my blog series about my mild brain injury. Writing these blogs has given me a means of expressing something which is profoundly abstract. The experience of neurological disruption provides one with a clear and simple truth that our perceived realities and experiences are just that: perceived. When I enter a noisy space and feel threatened, the fear is as real as if the threat were. When I experience intrusive and malignant thoughts, my reality is altered, and the constant ringing in my ears is a real sound, even though no-one else can hear it. Of course I always understood that we are the sum of our experiences and the faculties through which we perceive and interpret them, but to have one’s world altered so completely, albeit subtly, is to have this theory put into practice.

There is still some way to go before I will be able to say that I am fully recovered, I am still not fit for work, which is a cause of further anxiety, but these things, and more, will be resolved in time. My time off has given me a fresh perspective on my own life, my skills and knowledge, and it has brought me closer to the profession that I trained in but choose to apply in more unconventional ways. I have been asked to write some content for the Kawa Model development team, with whom I have spent many a happy hour discussing the river metaphor and all it’s applications. Kawa is the device that keeps me connected to the world of Occupational Therapy, and I hope that this blog has been in part a small contribution to that field.

Furthermore, I am at a point in my recovery where I want to start looking forwards more clearly. It would be possible for this blog to become an obsessive and unhealthy immersion into the symptoms of post concussion syndrome, and I need my situation to change. All things end, including suffering. So although I had intended to keep writing this until I was back on my feet fully again, it now seems more appropriate to leave it here and get on with the job in hand.

Finally, what this blog has done for me more than anything else is to get me writing again. The fact that a strange little creative element emerged from this diary is no coincidence, the story of the black fish is a device that I have created to try and understand my own journey. It is written in the spirit of the transformation tale, and it is possibly also no co-incidence that just before my injury I had been reading “The Old Man and The Sea” with a year 11 group. I cannot help myself, everything flows into a story in the end and it is a joy to capture these narrative nuggets and play with them, spinning them into yarns and weaving them together. Anyway, enough of the tortured metaphor, on with the story.

Who Am I?

In my mind there is a storm raging, I am no longer the fish, but nor do I feel human. I am a presence in my own waking mind, but beneath the surface the cave still sings to me. Beneath the waves, beneath consciousness, behind an empty space there is only absence and foreboding. I no longer understand my presence here. I am in the blackness of perpetual night, surrounded by the hollow creaking of nervous bows adrift on a dead sea. There is nothing here, no life, no feeling, no meaning. Here, trapped in a razor’s cut between sky and sea, I lie exhausted and surrendered to the cloying embrace of oblivion.

The fish told me that I was a curious creature for diving so deep, for confronting monsters to justify my fear, but now the fear has gone. I became the fish – I became the monster, I am the monster. My thoughts descend into insane spirals of guilt and self loathing. Like lead weights in water they plummet to the bottom of everything and sit there like cankers on my heart. I know that I am losing myself to the will of the monsters, I know that I cannot stay in this place, but there is no wind, and I am too weak to swim. The hate and fear form swirling clouds in my forehead and blur my thoughts, and with hypnotic rhythms they beckon sleep come take me.

I sink into the depths once more but the cave has gone, the landscape is flat and featureless as far as the eye can see. There is nothing.

I hear the tarpaulin being pulled aside then the bright sun is burning my face, my eyes tight shut against its brilliance. My mouth is dry and acrid with salt and sweat and my throat feels cut to ribbons with dryness. I reach out a hand to shield my eyes from the blazing sun and pull back with fear when I feel the stranger’s hand grip mine. His face is silhouetted against the bright blue of the sky and with the sun behind him he is little more than a kaleidoscope of patterns and vague shapes. I sense strength in his arms as he holds me steady with one hand and moves the tarpaulin out of the way with the other. Under the tarp is my fishing gear and cooking equipment, there are scraps of food and utensils scattered around creating a scene of tragic neglect. As the stranger pulls the tarp back further so that I can get out from underneath, he reveals the body of a large black fish, half filleted, the knife stuck into the back of its head.

I am hauled to my feet, the stranger catches me as I fall forwards and balances me with skilled dexterity. I crane my neck round to look behind me, to look at the body of the large black fish. Memories of the deep flicker in my mind and I hear a familiar and unsettling WUBWUBWUBWUB in the pit of my chest. “You are okay? Yes. You have been lost – do you remember?” The man is talking to me, his voice is distant but clear. He is holding my shoulders to keep me facing him, his grip is safe and solid and reassures me that he has found me just in time. How did he find me? Even I don’t know where I am, so how did he know where to look. “Okay?” He asks again, concern and compassion shine brightly from his blue eyes. “I’ve come to take you home.” I try to speak, I want to ask him where he came from, who he is and how he knew where I was, but the effort of forming words causes me to wretch and I twist free of his grip as I turn and lean over the gunwales and vomit into the ocean.

The stranger lets me go, he does not try and stop me freeing myself from his grip, as I lean over the side of the boat he places a hand on my back. He waits patiently until I have stopped heaving and gasping. The sickness has burned my already dried throat and all is pain. All is sickening pain. There is sweat in my eyes and my chest is burning with acid and the stink comes off the still sea under the heat of relentless sunshine. I am wretched and broken, delirious and psychotic, lost in the Doldrums with my giant fish and my delusions and daydreams and we are drifting further from land. “Let’s get you comfortable friend,” says the stranger kindly. He half walks, half carries me to the other side of the dinghy and helps me step from my craft to his. “Careful,” he says, “my boat sits lower than yours.” Somehow I understand what he is trying to say to me and I adjust my footing to take into account the different drafts.

The stranger sits me down aft and then returns to the Dinghy. He lashes the sheets and cleans the detritus from the hull, throwing the bits of rotting food overboard. He picks up the body of the large black fish and sniffs it. He holds it up and calls over to me, “its a shame,” he says, “there’s some good eating left on this, but its been bad for a day or two. Good for bait though.” He picks up a pail and half fills it from the sea and shoves the fish in the bucket. Over the next half an hour I am aware of the stranger moving back and forth between the two boats, salvaging what he can, taking care of my redundant sails and stowing the tarpaulin. He brings my fishing gear over to his rowing boat and stows it in the stern before settling himself down. From under the bench he produces a canteen of water and some oranges which he profers to me before taking one for himself.

We sit in silence and eat and drink and I feel a small part of my strength return.

In this place my experiences under the water become distant and vague. The giant black fish is little more than a feeling, or the sensation of memory now absent. Here, gently bobbing on the great blue ocean with this stranger, all that has come before is becoming less; as if this new person was somehow pulling me out of my own past and into a present about which only he knew. “How long have I been gone?” The question comes suddenly; the signal from my brain to my mouth is automatic, I am no longer in control of these things, I am simply being.

“Not long,” says the stranger smiling, “A few days.” He ties my dinghy to the stern of his smaller craft and begins to row with a quiet but solid strength. For the first time in many days I feel safe in the presence of another. We are towing my boat behind us and heading towards the western horizon.

We continue on our way in silence, him rowing steadily and I sitting in the stern of the little boat watching the water crease around the hull and slip away behind us. Down there is another world. I remember becoming the fish, I remember swimming through caves where sharp stone jutted at dangerous angles. I remember being in the belly of the beast and the smell. I remember sounds and lights, the deep dark places where there is no meaning or sense to existence. Down in those lonely places I left myself sleeping on the ocean floor as my conscious self was transported away to the upper world, to the surface world of sunlight and dreams and shore lines and this strange new companion that had so casually assimilated himself into my life.

His hair is short and dark, he is shaven but wears a thinly shaped beard like a chin strap. His eyes are crystal blue with dark, heavy lids which hang like forest edge canopies. In his full lipped mouth there resides a hand rolled cigarette which at glance seems to be inscribed with complex patters, like veins. There is a dreamlike quality to this individual, an otherworldlyness, but he seems to know something of me. “How did you know where I was?” He pulls on the cigarette and inhales to the full capacity of his lungs, he exhales slowly and as he does so tilts his head to one side and looks at me. He smiles and stops rowing, takes the cigarette from his mouth and flicks it with deft precision in a slow arc which sends the smoke trailing like a vapour trail, on the steady breeze the smoke forms a ragged tangle which almost looks like words in a foreign hand.

“You told me.” His answer surprises me more than anything that has happened since I set off.  I sit open mouthed and dumbstruck by his response, but he appears distracted and indicates that I should look behind me. On the horizon a thin black line is forming, rolling forth from the world’s edge and striking a course towards us. Just as I see the storm front I sense a change in the wind and feel the breeze flicker into life. I look back to him and he is smiling. I feel it too, the thrill of action, after all this time we finally have a wind, the doldrums have been broken. We are going home.

We both busy ourselves untying the boats and transferring the equipment to my larger dinghy. The stranger unwinds the sheets and begins raising the single sail as I re-tie the rowing boat to the stern of my craft. I feel awake again now that we are back in my boat, as if I have some purpose. As if reading my thoughts the stranger turns from the mast and says to me, “Now I am glad that you are here, I would be lost in a storm with just my little boat. We need your sail, perhaps we could outrun the worst of it and make land.” It is the most he has said to me since he found me under the tarpaulin, and I am comforted by his words. I am troubled though, by something so obvious that it has only just occurred to me now.

“What do they call you?” I ask, in abstract response to his encouraging sentiment.

“Call me?” He seems confused by my question, which is odd, because as questions go, it is one of the basics. His answer is even stranger. “They call me when I am needed, as do you.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“The wind is picking up well now, this is our chance.”

“But who are you?” I can take little more of this mystery, I have been stranded in these doldrums for months, I have dived to the depths of ocean and been tortured by monsters before becoming one myself; only to find myself buried under tarpaulin, dehydrated and barely conscious to be found by this stranger, with no reason  to be out here, and claiming that I have only been here a few days and that I told him where to find me. “Who are you, tell me – now.”

“The storm is upon us and we have no time, we must…” But his words are lost in the wind and rain that suddenly flood the skies. The waves swell and buck the boat, pitching it at sickening angles. We struggle with the sail as it flaps free in the wind, the sheets lashing the backs of our hands. We manage to get the craft in shape and the sail fills with the sudden wind and we are carried forward in rakish jerks which cause us to cling to the gunwales,  hanging on for dear life, sweating and out of breath with the exertion of it all.

“It’s going to take us, we can’t outrun this.”

“You have to believe in me, I can’t do this without you.” We are both bellowing above the roar of sea and wind and bruising skies and waves that toss the boats about like cork. He slips backwards over the edge of the boat and I see the splash of water. Then there is a finger tip and a hand, then two and I see his head appear.

“Help me up!” I rush to him and haul him on board, soaking and freshly brined, but he is smiling and gets up easily. We are both stood there face to face in the midst of a storm on this little boat. We look into each others faces, into each others eyes and exchange a thought; a single thought, without words or content or meaning or anything, just a single moment that hangs in the melee then melts away.

“We are the same you and I,” the salt water runs down his cheeks, salty droplets, like tears from the sea, and he nods, and we set to work.

Riding the storm is not a clear memory for me now, it is a series of frozen images of he and I wrestling with sails and rudders and cutting the other boat loose when it was obvious that we would lose it anyway. The storm was brief but violent, it took us nearly five hours to ride it out, but eventually we did make for calmer waters, and the next day we made land. The cove was lined by a semi circle of short scrubby trees which provided the shore line with a plentiful supply of fallen wood. There was a small tattered jetty jutting out into the shallow bay and it was towards this that I now made. I made a fire that night and sat there alone in the orange glow. The next day I start the long walk home, but at least now I was on solid ground. I don’t know how long I had been gone, days or months, or even years.

I talk of him very little these days, that other man that I found out there drifting in the doldrums, scared and alone and always diving to the depths to find the monsters. After the storm we settled into silence and he eyed me cautiously. Who could blame him; he had no idea who I was or where I had come from, but it was my burden to not reveal the truth of the situation lest he be traumatised further by the strange world that he had sunk himself into. After we made land he wandered off into the forest and disappeared, he said nothing, he did not look back. I think his experiences with the creatures of the deep had finally driven him out of his mind. Sometimes I hear stories from the fishermen who tell of a giant black fish that always eludes them, a fish that swims alone and lurks in the estuary of the river that flows from the hills and down through the forest.

I do not take to the sea anymore, it’s allure has been tarnished by my loss. I knew what I was sacrificing when I went in search of him, and I knew that only one of us would return safely. I do still like to listen to the waves though, and hear their tales from other worlds. I sit on the jetty and watch the children splash and play. I watch the fishing boats on the horizon and my mind is taken back to that curious encounter, and sometimes a thought occurs to me, a single thought, without form or meaning, a thought that has no content and could never be expressed in words, or sound or shape. I shake it free and return to the world as it is now. It is time to put this one to rest, after all, I have so many other stories to tell.

In the utter depths of the deepest sea, in fissures which plunge to the very guts of the earth, there is a giant black fish. In this dark world of crushing pressure there are primordial forces which still shape our world and which we humans can never fully understand. The fish turns its eyes towards unseen imaginings in the current and with a powerful flick of it’s tail it disappears into the black.

Thank you to those of you who have read and commented on this blog series.

Bye for now.

DN 12.2.18

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 Part 10 – Blunt Force Trauma

First Published on January 26, 2018

“Through me you go to the grief wracked city,

Through me to everlasting pain you go.”

Dante – Circles of Hell

The rain calms me, just as fear claims me. For some reason the sound of falling water is relief from the ever present throb and whir of anxiety and hyper-vigilance. I am not sure what I am being vigilant of, there is nothing there, just the ever present absence, and the sound of rain is a curtain which veils that emptiness. At night I sleep well as I drift away to the constant patter of relaxation soundtracks harvested from Youtube. I am listening to the rain now, as I write. You can listen to it too as you read if you wish, just hit this link and it will open in a new window, click play and you will enter the watery world of peace and rainquility. The rain is emptiness filled with neutral sound, there is also the childhood association that I have with rain.

When I was a small child I would listen intently to the the thunderstorms in the summer as they boomed and barged around the sky. I was fascinated by their power and seduced into a primeval world of godly light and noise. I was thrilled with childish terror as the clouds flashed mauve and white and the thunder crashed in celestial echoes of creation. In the morning the only sound remaining was the steady patter of rain falling on the garden and making dendritic patterns on the window panes. The rain in the morning was a sign that the electric terror of the previous night had passed and all was well. There was a freshness in the air as the positively charged ions of dawn chased away the cloying discomfort of summer storms, thus leaving the world with a fresh and hopeful temperament.

On these mornings my dad would be in the kitchen making the morning cup of tea and burning the first round of toast. The smell of carbonised bread is another childhood odour that I find strangely reassuring. So you see I have a strong association with the sound of rain, it is my friend, and now, as I navigate the mapless swamps of post concussion syndrome, rain is my guide and my healer The sound of rain keeps me safe and fills the void that exists deep with in my brain where a single moment has conspired to render me frightened and alone.

Today I spoke to an Occupational Health doctor and for the first time, I felt that I was finally realising what it is that I am dealing with. It was a useful meeting and the clinician that I spoke to actually had both personal and professional experience with neuropathies. But let us rewind a week, because I have not written one of these blogs for a while and I need to catch you up. I had gone into the school, where I am the Librarian, last week. I wanted, needed, to know how I would respond to that environment. The Occupational Therapist part of my brain was curious to know just how much of a trigger the work environment would be. My appointment was at 11.30 and I had woken feeling pretty good: “a good day, this is a good day,” I remember thinking to myself. It is quite phenomenal how much of a difference there can be between the days; a day can be bad for absolutely no reason at all (or none that one might identify,) and somedays I feel almost myself again. On those days, the good ones, there is something that I can only describe as euphoria, I imaging it is how someone might feel returning to their family after a long and arduous journey. At the moment the bad days outweigh the good, especially since I relapsed at the beginning of January.

That day I felt pretty good. I was looking forward to going into work, I was looking forward to seeing colleagues and maybe planning a staged return. This was it, I was getting better. On the way into the school I was listening to music and singing along and making good time, I even had time to buy myself “a little smackerel of something,” as Pooh would say.* It was not until I was walking towards the front gate that I realised that my boyant mood had been nothing more than a subconscious ruse; a self delusional strategy, to prevent me from considering what I was doing.

I went in to the foyer and signed in with my badge, a familiar and mundane task that we all do at least twice a day, but there was a slight twinge in my back; the sense that I was about to experience something profound – and boy did I.

It had not occurred to me that 11.30 was lesson change over time, as soon as I walked through the second set of doors into the main reception area the lesson change bell went; which is less of a bell and more of a klaxon, the likes of which you would expect to here at a nuclear power station seconds after the reactor has gone into meltdown, at least that is how it sounded to me. The ugly sound of the bell slammed into my recovering temporal lobe and sent a mild shockwave through my being. At this point every single door opened and the classrooms disgorged their pupils into the area in which I now stood. I dashed for the staff only toilets which are opposite the reception area, pausing briefly to nod acknowledgement to the senior vice principle who was trying to greet meet. It is quite incredible how much can be communicated when under duress: with a vague nod and a flick of my palm I think I managed to say “sorry mate but I have just been freaked out by all the damn kids and I need to get out of this space because my head is about to explode and I may well try and throw someone through a window which really would not look could and could interfere with my DBS…”

Joking aside, it was horrific. I had wanted to come into work to gauge my response to the environmental triggers and this was worse than I could have imagined. By the time I got to the office where I was to meet the Operations Manager I was starting to sweat, I was visibly shaking, my jaw was clenched tight and all I could do was to look out of the window and try and be somewhere other than where I was. You need to know that I do enjoy my job. The people I work with are a fantastic team with great leadership and huge support from all staff. Ever since my injury I have felt nothing but  compassion from the people I work with, especially those who are my superiors, so for me to not feel able to communicate was not normal. I could see the worry on everyone’s face, I could sense their concern and all I wanted to do was blurt out that I was okay and I would try and get back to work, but I knew that I could not because every ounce of self control I had was going into not running as fast as I could, or doing something so insane that I would never see my job again – these were my fears as I waited for the meeting.

In the meeting we discussed what the risk of me returning would be. We talked about stress levels, frequency of breaks, working hours, and anger issues around pupils. We discussed matters for about an hour and all the time I was shaking and stuttering and sounding like a madman trying to convince the world of his sanity. It was awful, but it is a testament to how much I enjoy my job that I was willing to put myself through this. When I left the meeting I walked as fast as I could back to my car, (you might think that it is odd that I am driving, but driving is the one place where I can relax and focus on a task which takes me away from the discomfort of post concussion syndrome.) As I drove home I could feel the tension leave me like a bad spirit, the journey exorcised the anxious horror so that when I got home I was able to sleep.

That evening, I told my wife how things had gone and she told me that she was proud that I had faced this fear and taken control of a situation that had been controlling me for so long. I felt a great release and a huge sense of achievement that I had put myself through this. When we work as therapists we ask our clients to challenge themselves in all sorts of ways, and even though I no longer work in the profession, it was a great lesson for me to understand what it means to put yourself in that position. In the meeting we had decided that nothing would happen until I had spoken to Occupational Health, and also that when I return I should have some time in my work area without any pupils. This would give me a chance to re-orientate myself with my systems and physical environment before facing the challenge of sharing the space with 840 teenagers. I had suggested these things, and I had also recommended that we do not plan too far ahead, but rather we should take things one step at a time and carefully assess each outcome. We had a plan, I was going to go back to work.

Was I fuck.

The Occupational Health centre was in Leeds. I had never been there before and all I knew was that it was near the station. I had looked at a map before I had set off, but my phone was out of data so I had to rely on some old school, pre-digital skills to find the place. I was already late due to an accident on the M62 and I hate being late for anything. I remember seeing Ricky Gervais talking about lateness as one of his pet hates on the TV show, Room 101. I was in total agreement; there is never an excuse for lateness, my attitude to lateness borders on the psychotic, but I am adamant there should be no reason for lateness other than death or war. I was 20 minutes late.

The woman behind the counter gave me a form to fill in and I was quickly seen into the consulting room by the doctor. I was still shaking with agitation and visibly heightened in my emotional state. The doctor gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder and said “don’t be agitated, it’s all okay.” I bit my tongue and refrained from the response that was rapidly composing itself in my head which would have questioned the clinician’s empathy skills and drenched her in splenetic fervour. So I kept my mouth shut as my struggling frontal lobe function made an executive decision under duress and an ugly confrontation was avoided.

One of the symptoms of this condition is anger. For the most part the sertraline is doing its job and diluting the concentrations of cortisol that are threatening to send me over the edge into a monstrous rage. Part of this anger response is psychological and relates to my frustration with my current situation, but there is a darker beast that lurks beneath the liminal. This anger is more ancient, more visceral and I dare not allow it purchase on my waking mind. Some nights I am troubled by this daemon, sometimes I lay awake with evil thoughts rotating in my mind, but I cannot allow this thing to surface, because I do not think I would be able to control its power. This is a dark energy that flows from the crack in my mind, the absence which I am trying to understand, the reason for all these blog entries. Somewhere down there is the devil, and I must not give in.

The outcome of the Occupational Health assessment was fairly straight forwards: you are not ready for work. The doctor talked about PTSD symptoms and this was also flagged up by the Psychologist. My referral for Psychology has come through and there, at least, is a pathway to treatment that has been identified. I do not want to go into the clinical aspects just yet, that will come later once I have a handle on the process and something to reflect on. At this stage there is no sense in speculation. For now I must come back to the keyboard and write, because writing is the one thing that I am can control – that and making bread, and chopping wood and being here – these are the things that I am using to make sense of things at the moment. And when the devil stirs in the pits of my mind and threatens to burn me, I will put on my headphones and listen to the rain as it patters and pours, keeping me sane and slowing down the WUBWUBWUBWUBWUB of amygdalian terrors.

*If you are not familiar with Winnie the Pooh he is a bear and a beloved children’s character created by A A Milne. He is obsessed with honey and likes nothing more than stopping for a “little smackerel of something,” ie food.

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Part 9 – The mTBI Forecast

Blunt Force Trauma 9

First Published on February 9, 2018

 

I have decided to make this one a video blog – just for fun. I had the idea whilst thinking about the pressure I experience around the site of the injury. Sometimes this develops into a headache, but usually it just feels like someone is trying to gently inflate my brain inside my skull. There has been no evidence of swelling which would normally cause concern, so there is no threat to my health, but it is uncomfortable and disconcerting (a bit like watching a Trump speech.)

This sensation of my head being squeezed and the feeling of pressure caused me to think about isobars and pressure in the meteorological sense. At school I enjoyed geography immensely, and this also formed a large part of my enthusiasm for the development of the Kawa Model. My two favourite topics were vulcanacity and plate tectonics and climatology (rivers came later.) So I do have a rudimentary knowledge of isobars, frontal systems and air masses. I pictured my head covered in weather map symbols, and systems of pressure swirling their way through my cerebral cortex and across my face. I saw my neural activity as weather systems, swirling cyclones and patches of low and high pressure.

I could not help myself, but all this thought of weather made me think about the Shipping Forecast. If you are not from the UK or have never heard the shipping forecast before, it is a bit of a British institution. The shipping forecast delivers weather information for all the shipping regions around the British Isles in a unique fashion. So this is my shipping forecast, or rather the Traumatic Brain Injury Forecast for the next 24 hours.

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Part 8 – Know Yourself

First Published on January 9, 2018

I haven’t really done too much research on this condition. I have been in touch with Headway, who are a fantastic organisation providing support for people who have suffered brain injuries. Headway also run support groups, but I have not attended any of these. I have had some fantastic support from a colleague in New Zealand, who suffered a similar injury, and of course I have been supported by family, friends and my wonderful wife, who has known when to give me the space I need and when to encourage me to push on. I have also had some very flattering feedback from people who have read the blog, and I hope that all who read it will share it widely. This piece of writing has become the most important outlet for me, and it is the best way for me to structure my thoughts and feelings about my own recovery. 

Next week I will be returning to work for a planned, staged return. This means that I will not start back full time straight away, but I will increase the number of days over the course of 3 to 4 weeks. Am I ready? I don’t know. When I think about going back to work I am filled with anxiety, but I do not know whether or not this is because I have had so much time off, or whether it is because I am just not ready to go back. Over the last few days I have suffered a relapse, and I have felt a resurgence in severity of my symptoms. This has unsettled me greatly, and one of the worse feelings is that I am somehow bringing this on myself. There is a guilt attached to this condition that is almost impossible to describe. It is hard to articulate because it is not just guilt; it is a collision of several emotional and psychological states, all of which seem to conspire to catapult me into an abyss.

First of all there is guilt: I could do better, I could try harder, I should be getting better, I am letting people down – all that kind of stuff: the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve state.

Then there is frustration: Why can’t I do better? why can’t I just not feel like this? Why can’t people understand how I am feeling? why cannot I not make a choice to feel a different way like I would normally? Does this mean I am no longer normal?

Then there is depression: This isn’t getting better, I am useless, I can’t do any better than this, I don’t know who I am (this last one is less prevalent at the time of writing, but when symptoms exacerbate, it comes to the fore and all I want to do is lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.)

Alongside these are the physical symptoms, such as headaches, occasional dizziness and vertigo, occasional photosensitivity and the physical aspects of anxiety (chest tightness, shortness of breath.) Strangest of all is the sense that everything is vibrating at a low frequency, it is a disorientating and unsettling sensation.

WUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUB…

But underlying all of this is something darker. It is something that I have been alluding to in the story that has become a part of this account in the form of the giant black fish. It is something that I have no words for, no understanding of and no real perception of. I do not even know that this is an aspect of post concussion syndrome, or an aspect of myself which has been revealed since my faculties have been disrupted. It is not a feeling either, if I had to define its characteristic I would say that it is an awareness of absence. There is something missing and I cannot place it, something has been taken away and I do not miss it, but I am aware of the space that it’s absence has created. An emptiness has been revealed; a dark space which resides in the deepest recesses of my psyche, a dark space which I suspect we are all a part of.

This “awareness” is of a thing that I cannot name nor describe nor perceive. When I wake in the morning it is there for a fleeting moment, revealed to me as a fragment of truth, but the noise and chaos of conscious thought soon banishes this spectre to the sub-neural recesses of my mind. As this phenomena sinks into my subconscious like silt in water, it becomes me, and I am defined by the Presence of Absence. Just like the giant fish that consumes me, which I then become, I am cycling through this existential crisis on a daily basis.

This week I will be going back to the doctor’s to ask for a Neuro-Psychology referral, this will (in theory) provide me with some kind of rehab therapy. It is three months since the accident, which means that I am now in the realms of chronic conditions. Chronos himself was cursed by Zeus to wander the earth counting every moment in an eternal torture of the soul. I don’t think I am quite that bad, but I can certainly empathise with Chronos – although I didn’t castrate my father and wage war with my children, so I guess you reap what you sew. Perhaps is Chronos had banged his head whilst playing Badminton with his father, Zeus would have been more forgiving.

I digress. The Neuro Psych referral is something that I have been advised to push for, and I could certainly do with a little more specialist input. There is definitely a need to take it easy, pace myself and be realistic. However, there is also great benefit in physical activity (I have been doing a good deal of baking!), structure and purpose. My wife and my doctor have both been integral in pushing me at the right time to ensure that I do not fall into the role of victim. So, as with all therapeutic processes, this is a balancing act between what is realistic and what is necessary. However, as I move on with my recovery, I am aware that there is a danger that people will see an increase in function and think, “well you’re all better now, crack on,” at which point I risk further relapse.

My current relapse though, has taught me something. It has shown me what I can and cannot do. It has shown me that I should expect a sometimes erratic trajectory to the recovery process. It is only through over-reaching and pushing myself that I can correctly gauge what I can and cannot do at this point. When the symptoms are triggered they take several days to calm down again, and I need to take it very slow. I am learning this, I am making myself learn through building this strange narrative relationship with he condition itself.

I remember a conversation with a friend of mine who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) during which we discussed the importance of owning the disease. She spent a good deal of time battling with depression and anxiety in reponse to the diagnosis, but her strength came back to her when she started to relate to the MS, to see it as a part of her own experience, and therefore something that she could manage. Sometimes it got the better of her and she had to surrender to the effects, but other times she used her knowledge and skills to maintain and improve her wellbeing and quality of life.

But you have to KNOW YOURSELF – you have to. You must make the call yourself and be confident that you are making the best decision for you and those around you when you say, “I am really sorry, but I am not that well yet.”

However,

this does not imply that you should not explore the limits of your abilities. Relapse is not failure, it is a point of learning. The opinions of others are not prejudice, they are conclusions drawn from perceptions that you do not have the luxury of – just as one’s own “disability” is born of a different set of experiences which those around cannot imagine. You may note, dear reader, that I have, for the first time, used the word “disabilty’ in reference to myself. This I have done with a certain amount of consideration, as I do not suffer a permanent disability, but I could not find a more appropriate term. “Ill”, “unwell”, “sick” and other adjectives convey a familiarity that we can all associate with. I do not feel this in myself, the experience of Post Concussion Syndrome has been so alien and unsettling that to describe myself as ill, is, I think misleading.

Anyway, my conclusions from all of this are that there is a need to understand the impact of what I am experiencing on others and to recognise when those that I love and trust have insights to share, even when those insights are uncomfortable or at odds with my own interpretations of the situation; and secondly that the recovery process is a tightrope between what is possible and what is necessary, and that relapse is not only to be expected, but is needed within the process as a gauge against which further steps can be measured. Apologies for that last sentence, it was far too long. Finally, you must know yourself, you must have the confidence and belief to trust your own emotions, thoughts and actions; and one must communicate these things with compassion and sensitivity. This confidence can only come from knowing that we have the support of loved one’s, employers and health care professionals. Through this dynamic relational environment one can hope to keep a close watch on the darkness that lurks in the background and construct a positive approach for the benefit of all.

There will be more in this series of blogs: more of the story of the man and the big damn fish, and I expect some reflections on my return to work. Thankyou for taking time to read this and please do share it with others, expecially if they are currently navigating their own recovery process from head injury.

If you want to contact me personally, then you can do so here

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Part 7 – Spectre

First Published on January 9, 2018

I have been away from this Blog for the festive season, which has been peaceful, warm and full of wonderful moments; but the bewildering symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome persist.

In the last post I began a story about a man adrift in a dinghy, lost in the Doldrums. I told you how he dived down to the dark depths of the sea and was confronted by a giant fish. I have continued with this metaphor in this post as it has provided me with a language to try and understand what it is that I am experiencing. Finding a language to convey and abstract experience is something that I have completed my ten thousand hours on studying as a member of the Kawa development team. My work with the Kawa Model has equipped me with the knowledge that metaphor can be a powerful tool in the process of recovery, and creating a language which has both meaning and relevance is a key aspect of its function. 

I swim deeper and deeper towards the blue green light that rises from the bottom of the ocean. Far above, the dinghy pitches gently on insignificant tides which are the high ceiling to this underwater world of murk and uncertainty. The giant black fish that initially barred my way now accompanies me down, down, down, to The Locker. In this submarine habitat there are flecks of light twitching hither and thither through the gloom; an aura of incandescence surrounds and my companion sees my thoughts. “You have come deeper than you ever did before little man,” my companion is my thoughts, “There is nothing here for you to recognise. There is nothing here that will yield to intellect or knowledge or reason; this is the end of conscious thought – the limit of your humanity. All that lies beyond here is animal instinct and the raw machinery of life.” The words do not come as a threat, they are a simple statement of what we both know to be true. How can I exist beyond the extent of my own perceptions. Down here there is no reason to life, it simply is.

The bioluminescence of the underworld spreads out like a neural map. Coral shapes and flickering embers of light trace the outlines and movement of a world outside imagination. “But I understand you…I can, can, I can,” the word illudes me, and my companion ends my stammering line of thought.

“Conversations with illusions and apparitions do not provide rational solutions to your plight little swimmer, no matter how elegant they may be.”

“I can choose to believe in my own rationale,” I argue back, “I CAN make my own way.”

The fish looks far into the distance, through the darkness and glowing shapes, it ponders for a moment and flicks it’s massive tail in a lazy, fluid movement. “You are lost little man, your craft sits high above us, empty and insignificant. No-one knows where you are, not even you, and yet you still persist in your belief that there is some kind of meaning which eludes you. There is no meaning here, there is only oblivion. Those who love you will see you running from the light, seeking solitude and darkness whilst they toil in the labours to keep life alive, and they will call you coward and turn coat and all manner of insults which raise your anger like a storm.” The spectre of the fish meanders the corners of my mind and searches for anything that I might cling to as a vestige of that place from which I sailed, so long ago.

“I am alive – I am a living man – I have dreams and feelings and desires and knowledge,” but in this place my protests are weak and pitiful. The fish simply casts a single silvery eye over the length of my floundering form.

“And yet you plunge to the deepest parts of the world and talk to monsters, you seek out fear so that you may justify a lifelong commitment to paralysis and petrification. You remain here with aliens that you have no hope of understanding and who have no care for you except as a tasty morsel once your life finally leaves you and you sink to the utter depths of the world where none will ever remember you, and in time you will be less than dust.”

Then the fish rounds on me. It seems to expand in size and its already massive fins extend upwards and outwards so that they become colossal sails hung on spiny masts of silver bone. The flesh between is tattered with ragged holes, the edges of which glow with same blue green hue that surrounds us. Its jaws extend to reveal hideous fangs and a gaping throat which sucks in the briny water. The rush sucks me in and I am trawled along towards the jaws of the fish. A great flood erupting into the mouth of the monster carries me inside and I am Jonah in the belly of the whale, but now I have seen the oblivion that lies in the deepest depths of the ocean, I know that there is no god for me to pray to. I am no preacher, I have no faith, I am alone in the belly of the beast.

On the surface the Dinghy rocks to and fro in the gentle sea. From the starboard bow there approaches a small rowing boat. The oarsman skilfully glides the boat across the becalmed sea towards the Dinghy. On his head is a leather cap, and he wears a light green shirt. Around his neck is a string of gambling dice. His hands are calloused and rough with the work of rowing, but his arms are strong and his back supple. The boatman brings his vessel alongside the Dinghy and lashes the two craft together with a rope. He glances inside the Dinghy, and pays special attention to the tarpaulin, but he remains in his little rowing boat. He takes out a pouch of tobacco and rolls a cigarette whilst bobbing on the tide.

“All at sea,” the stranger ponders to himself, “all alone. When will we learn?” The smoke rises and is carried away on a light breeze, the boatman studies the cigarette, looking at its form, the slight conical shape, the pattern on the paper. He looks at the smoke whisping from the tip and studies its furls and coils as it dissipates into the salty air. He tilts his head to one side as if he reads something of importance in the smoke, am message. Yes, there it is; he sees it. There is meaning there, slight, and as delicate as mist, but it is there. His eyes fill with wonder and hope as he puts the cigarette to his lips and pulls hard. He inhales the message in the smoke into his lungs, where it is passed into his blood. The message flows through his veins and reaches every part of him. The message from the smoke courses through his body, finding his nervous system and entering his mind.

The message is a question.

“I see,” says the boatman, “so this is the place where it all began. This is the seed of a tree which has yet to grow and these are the roots of that which has no home. Of course, of course, of course,” he smiles and chuckles to himself, looks one more time at the cigarette and flicks it deftly into the air where it hangs for a moment before falling in a graceful arc into the surrounding sea, “Time to get going friend.”

He steps with practised nimbleness from his craft into the Dinghy and pulls back the tarpaulin.

In this dark place there is no sound, no light, no sensation nor feeling. There is just the smell: a metallic tang with undertones of raw flesh, and, far in the back ground, there is a sickly chemical flavour which nauseates in waves.  I twist and grapple for some kind of purchase in this null environment. As I shift my position this way and that, I notice sounds in the dark; when I angle my head at forty five degrees I hear a ringing sound, a whistling. I shift my head again and my head is filled with a mechanical throb, and when I look up there is a strange “un-sound,” a silence which has form and presence, a silence which sounds as if it is something that can be felt. I begin to swim around inside the belly of the fish and find small pockets of noises here and there, but none of them, not one, seem to originate from anywhere.

All this auditory processing has, thankfully, taken my mind off the strange and nauseating odour, which, like the sound, seems to permeate my senses without originating from anywhere in particular. From out of the darkness I hear a swooshing sound and there is a sudden tactile sense at the back of my neck; a tiny pinprick at the base of my skull causes me to shudder and jerk away, but I am held fast. I reach round to the back of my head to remove whatever has struck me, but there is nothing there. A panic rises in the pit of my stomach and my chest is beginning to vibrate with a bass throb that fills my entire being: WUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUB.

The pinpricks unravel into tendrils which tangle with my nervous system and a green light begins to emanate from my finger tips. The walls of the fish’s stomach begin to contract and I am soon pushing against the slimy, leathery membrane that is my prison, and soon, it would seem, to be my grave.

WUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUB

The thumping bass hum increases in intensity and I hear voices in the depths of its dire resonance. Lights flicker before me, back and forth. Sharp rocklike formations begin to erupt from the floor of the belly of the fish, but it is a fish no more. The walls and floor are black and green rocks. I can see the the sea bed at the mouth of the cave and there is light there, not the eerie green luminescence of the deep, but sunlight flickering down from above. We are no longer in the depths but higher now. The bass hum ebbs to the background and I can hear more voices in the dark, and waves lapping against woodwork.

But there is something wrong. I am changed somehow. Glancing down I see the protuberance of my black lipped mouth jutting forwards. As I try to raise my hand to my face I feel myself shift slightly in the water, my pectoral fins flick where fingers once were. I swim to the mouth of the cave driven forwards by my great black tail, my dorsal spines glimmer in the luminescence of the ocean floor and I glide across the sandy silt base of the world, silent and enraged.

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Part 6 – Into the Deep

First Published on December 14, 2017

“We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell.”

Withnail & I

This blog entry was originally about the depression that had been tormenting me. I have experienced depression before, but never one triggered by a neurological event. I am strangely aware of the affliction in this instance, I can observe it from outside of myself, before being drawn back into the experience itself. When I am outside of myself I am not me, I am a facsimile of me. When I am inside the experience of anxiety and depression I am myself once more, but a damaged version. I am living in a murky world of post concussion symptoms, medication side effects and boredom. The neuroses and fears that are all a part of me are rearing up from the depths, un-impinged by my normal executive function.

Another enemy of mine is guilt. I have now been off work for several weeks, I do not have the right temperament to give my family the attention that they so richly deserve from me, and I find that I crave solitude as an escape from the daily anxiety. Even writing this blog is, I sometimes feel, an act of sanctimony and self indulgence. However, it is my life raft.

I am alone in the doldrums. The mast of the Dinghy stands naked in the simmering blue green of all that surrounds me. I sleep on the narrow deck underneath a rough tarpaulin and dream of diving deep into the whispering waves. I do not recollect how I came to be here. I have some memory of faces and voices calling, shouts from the shore falling into my wake as I sailed away. I see images of sails on the horizon, and I watch them intently. I control their movement with my gaze and as they move farther away I allow my eyes to blink them from existence and feel the pang of sadness that one would feel when saying good bye for a final time. I have long dismissed them as apparitions; illusions of sun and sea and doldrum life, they are of no use to me here.

Every night I dream of empty spaces waiting to be filled, I dive deep amongst the shadows and lose myself in an enveloping murk which brings strange comfort to my isolation. Down here there is no sound, no light nor dark, all is moving shadow and formless creatures swimming in from distant tides. In this underworld of deep green I sense the encroachment of serpents, sea daemons and dragons; they move in the shadows with certainty and perfect alignment with the viscose brine. Silently they guard the entrances to caves where I fear greater perils lie dormant, waiting for the inexpert waggling of a human form – waiting for me.

I am vulnerable in this place. I am nought but what I am: fragile and terrified of the harsh truths that surround me like a sullen sea; where there is no breeze to carry me back home. Diving deeper still I swallow my fear and venture forth towards the nearest cave, it’s mouth a haunting aperture ready to swallow me whole and digest me; into the the bowels of an ancient world where human dreams have no rightful place.

I wish I was back on the deck of my Dinghy, pulling in a hook line of small sardines. Then the wind would spring up from the south east and I would rig the sail and set off for the horizon to rejoin those distant apparitions which I now believe to be real. I wish I was skipping the surf in my little boat, my hand firm on the tiller as we fly home. The breeze blowing on my face and smiling against the sun and sky and excited at the prospect of family and friends and stories and good food that I can taste. I dream inside my dreams adrift in the doldrums, anchored to nothing.

In the cave I swim deeper and deeper, the rock walls are razor sharp and I panic as they close in around me with the narrowing of the passage. Plumes of deep seaweed slide across my face and slither along my back, I feel the tail flick of smaller fish as they dart around in the blackness. From secret cracks in the cave walls boney legs protrude, pockmarked with calcified parasites; who knows what monstrosities reside inside those narrow recesses. But all thoughts of those spindly crabbly beasts subside as I sense a larger presence.

Down here in the freezing isolation of ancient water there is a beast which sits silent in the current. It’s face is black and leathery with bulbous eyes that pierce the gloom. Its massive jaws are lined with boney ridges in place of teeth that look as though they would tear through bare rock. behind its quivering gills, a sleek and muscular body stretches away to an arrow sharp tail. I halt my descent and stare into the face of the beast.

“You are lost in world of which you know nothing about.” The voice is in my mind, the voice is my mind. The giant fish shifts to one side and in the deepest parts of the cave I see a bluish light. “You have only just begun.” I do not answer, I do not know how, but I look down past the black body of the fish and I am hypnotised by the shimmering blue illumination. A beckoning siren call to venture farther in.

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Author’s Note

To all those who have liked and followed the Blunt Force Trauma series, please make sure you share with anyone you think might benefit. I have had emails from complete strangers in the past who have thanked me for writing this series, and it was always my intention for this to be of use to anyone who has suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.

Thanks very much for the support, feel free to comment (I don’t bite much anymore), and look out for the up coming “Kawa” series, which I will start running on the 12th September.

All the best,

DNW.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com
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Part 5 – The Doldrums

First Published December 10, 2017

After a storm there is quiet. It emerges from the bluster and disruption quietly and sometimes eerily, but always with purpose. Sometimes it is welcome, and sometimes it is perceived as the harbinger of worse things yet to come. Every morning, when I awake, I experience this calm. For about twenty minutes I am a sane man, I am myself and I am in full health. Then the fuzzy tendrils of post concussion finger their way into my synapses and I surrender to another day of anxious thoughts, depression and tiredness.

On good advice I made another appointment with the doctor to request a prescription to manage the uncontrollable anxiety and outbursts of anger that I have been experiencing.  We discussed the mechanism of injury, my current mental state and after a fairly perfunctory, but entirely pleasant consultation I was the proud owner of a shiny new prescription for Sertraline. “Huzzah!” Said I, “I am officially medicated.”

Now, I am aware that there are varying attitudes towards the medication of mental ill health, and although I come down on the side that opposes over prescription, I do believe that (currently) pharmacology has a role to play.  Sure, it would be great to have someone massaging my aura, playing me tantric flute music and feeding me superfoods and camomile foam every day, but, even in Hebden Bridge, it just ain’t practical. That said, Psychotropic medication does need to be used as part of a broader process of management and recovery – in my opinion.
However, in this instance, as far as I understood/stand things, there was (is) a pathology involved which meant that I was not, indeed, am not, as able to regulate emotional responses as I was before the accident. Nor, apparently am I able to decide whether I am operating in the past or present tense – although I think this is less related to concussion and more related to having read too many Douglas Adams books.

Of course it may just be the drugs talking.

Any – as they say – old how, I have now been taking the happy pills for 4 days and I am not sure whether or not things have become easier, harder or just a different type of weird. I certainly still experience the same symptoms of anxiety as I did before I started the course, but now I experience a kind of mania along with it, a sense of nervous elation, which is fairly common with the beginning phase of anti-depressant treatment with an SSRI. At this point I suppose it would be useful to explain that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of drug which keep serotonin in the system for longer. Serotonin being the feel good neuro transmitter that has been made most publicly known by the use of the recreational drug: Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or Ecstasy. Cocaine works in a similar way to SSRIs but acts on Dopamine receptors instead. There you go, a little bit of neuropharmacology, and drug misuse management training. If you want to know more about SSRIs follow this link.

Anyway, on with the story. So the anxiety is still there, the feeling that there is a constant and gentle pressure on the right hand side of my face is still there. The agoraphobia and the confusion I experience when too many people are talking: still there. Sense of smell, still not there, although I do think that a little bit is returning – yesterday I farted and thought I could detect something, it was quite exciting. Sense of guilt that I am a massive pain in the arse and should just get on with things: there. Sense of terror whenever I think about going back to work: yup. However, all of this is now tempered with the reassuring envelope of a chemically induced euphoria. Like the smile of a psychopath, psychotropic medication serves to mask the dark world that lies beneath. It is not a cure, it just slows things down a little so that you can start to think more clearly. The use of anti-depressants has to be accompanied by (and I cannot stress this enough) activities which have both meaning and purpose. Taking anti-depressants without accompanying therapies is just drug addiction.

One of the positives that has come from starting the medication (and it is very early days, I am still not yet at a therapeutic level) is that I have a greater sense of myself again. I talked about feeling like a facsimile of myself in the previous blog, but this sensation has been greatly reduced by the addition of sertraline. The unmanageable levels of anxiety were serving to prevent me from accessing that sense of self, the executive me. I have been in a kind of anxiety related psychosis where everything has seemed unreal to me, slightly dreamlike. I do feel that I have regained a sense of self over the last few days, which is fantastic. However, I am also aware that this is not yet the time to think that all is well and I can just crack on. Tiredness and depression are still squatting in the attic bedroom, and they are digging through every bit of me that I have stored away in dusty boxes, stacked in the eaves.

We all have negative or darker aspects to our personality. These feelings are always with us, but we learn how to mange them, turn them to useful purpose or simply ignore them. I have had my means of management taken away, so the feelings have been allowed to run rough shod over my psyche. I recognise them all. Fears and paranoia from all through my life, resurfacing like raw effluence. But these are aspects of me, so surely how I perceive them is a reflection on how I perceive myself. From their metaphorical lair Tiredness and Depression hurl pieces of my past, present and future at me to torment and trick me into thinking that I am either worse than I feel or better than I am. Black Dog and the Fear Monkey fucked me up, now they sit in the shadows and snigger at their handy work while they’re accomplices attempt to finish me off.

However, and you must not tell anyone about this, they cannot find out about my secret weapon, but they are also teaching me. This blog is my secret weapon, hidden in plain sight whilst the critters clatter around in the shadows. By writing this blog, by making these reflections, the little daemons are revealing their secrets. I am now no longer just recovering from a head injury, I am also recovering from the process of understanding my own position. I am learning about myself from a new perspective, and slowly, very, very, very slowly, I am beginning to apply this new knowledge. Today is Sunday and we have had a very lazy day. However, I was beginning to feel jittery, un-nerved and experiencing a kind of mortal fear for what might be round the corner. I am weakened at the moment, and the day to day of life is almost too much, but some small part of me said “write,” and I listened. I am learning to listen to a voice that is speaking to me through memory, through a bruised brain and through medication, but it is there: “go and write…”

When I write the daemons disappear, then fizzle away into the structure of me, because they are a part of me too. When I write, I am back in control and making good use of this whole experience. When I edit and re-read and re-write, I am building new pathways, I am repairing what was damaged and creating new code that will expand my understanding of self and not self. When I write, I understand myself, when I understand myself I begin to heal. There are points of recognition now on this map that I am creating, I am just beginning to understand that what I am writing here is myself, I am writing myself back to a state of self knowledge and recognition.

These are the doldrums, and the enemy here is time and how to fill it. There are only so many Netflix boxsets one can watch before intellectual decay sets in. I cannot do anything too vigorous, but I do crave a routine, a path back to full strength. There needs to be rest, but there needs to be action as well. One of my favourite activities in my day at the moment is lighting the burner. We have a wood burning stove in the living room, and at the moment, with cold weather settling in, there is nothing finer than coming home to the orange flicker and glow of fire. Lighting the fire everyday at 2pm has become an almost prayer like ritual. I am rekindling some thing old and creating something new every day. This simple act has taken on great meaning. It is something that I can do for everyone else in the house as well – it has meaning and gives me a sense of belonging and of being needed and appreciated in the house; rather than just being an unwell person.

I am adrift in the doldrums, I have a supply of anti depressants, I have my writing and can cook and light the fire. I have enough for now. I am adrift in the doldrums with no wind in my sails so I will wait. I will be patient, and I will write.

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Part 4 – Black Dog and the Fear Monkey

First Published on December 8, 2017

― Stephen King, Different Seasons

 

I worked in psychiatry as a health care assistant fifteen years ago, from there I trained as an occupational therapist, I worked on the Kawa Model with Michael Iwama and his team; I set up Kawa Creative (an arts in health organisation) and I now work in education as a librarian. I never really knew where I stood in mental health, I felt that I was always somewhere between patient and staff. One of the most touching moments was when I was approached by a group of patients (they were called patients in hospital, you could say clients, service users or, controversially, “people.”) They requested that I ask the Doctor to arrange some section 17 leave for one of them. This is a section under the mental health act which permits a person being detained to have a period of leave. This is granted by the doctor and is usually used as a therapeutic tool for a staged discharge or assessing a person’s capacity for managing in everyday life. Unfortunately I have also seen doctors use it as a stick to beat patients with when the doctor feels that they have been problematic. For example: “If you carry on shouting like this you will not get your section 17 leave.”

I digress, I explained ti the patients that I was not able to make clinical decisions because I was just a lowly health care assistant. One of the group then said, “please Dave, could you try, we know you will do your best because you actually care about us.” This very nearly reduced me to tears. It is one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me, and it was spoken with sincerity and compassion (with a little bit of buttering me up – but hey, we’re all human.) I did try and get the leave for them, but it was refused. I did manage to get one of them a review with the doctor, this may or may not have resulted in the outcome they wanted; history does not say.

One thing that you very quickly learn in psychiatric settings is that becoming unwell, having a breakdown, going nuts, losing it, freaking out and going bonkers (whatever you want to call it) can happen to anyone, at any time for any reason. I have worked with homeless people, teenage skunk fiends, doctors, artists, therapists, accountants and teachers – and they all shared one thing in common when they came on to the ward as patients: they were all absolutely terrified. We all have a mental health, we are all vulnerable in some way, some more than others, I grant you, but it only takes the perfect storm of circumstance vs resources and you can go down, and fast.

I have gone down.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I should write this particular blog, because I knew that if was going to write it, I would want to write the unexpurgated reality that I am currently experiencing – and that my nearest and dearest are suffering. However, after some deliberation I felt that it would be in opposition to my own philosophies regarding mental health to not write this. We should not be frightened of discussing these things and we should not shy away from addressing the hugely damaging issue of stigma. So I suppose this particular blog entry is for all of us, because it is my belief that mental health is one of those linch pins to human evolution, along with Race and Gender Equality, Poverty and The Environment. The struggle to educate the public, governments and professionals about mental health is a revolutionary act, I feel this very strongly.

The ubiquitous “they” say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I can concur with this premise. Some years ago, after a particularly difficult period in my life I experienced a ‘suicidal thought.’ Wow, dramatic eh? No, not really. Sorry to disappoint, but I need to dispel some myths about suicidal thoughts. First of all, there was no drama. There was no “oh my God I want to die”, “I am worthless”, “I am a nothing” (back of hand on forehead,) “It’s all over.” No. That is not the way, I am not a Hollywood diva, nor should I wish to be. The thought that I experienced was quite simply: “I could die, that wouldn’t be terrible.” It was rational, ordinary and made complete sense to me at the time. the thought came from nowhere, it was injected into my psyche from somewhere near the back of my head by an unseen entity. this thought was not mine, it was more like a suggestion, or the instruction on a wrapper that I had read last week and was just now remembering. Does that make me mad? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human.

The thought itself did not upset me. However, the next thought did. “I am becoming unwell,” chimed in my own consciousness with a far more familiar tone, “this is the beginning of suicidal ideation and I am no longer in control,” said my frontal cortex quite matter of factly.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” said my limbic system, stepping up the cortisol and ramping up the anxiety.

“You’d better sit down,” Said my executive function.

“Be careful,” said my vestibular system. My heart began racing, my mind seized up with panic and I was shaking. Anxiety is something that I had experienced on and off throughout my life, and I had always considered it to be an aspect of my personality that I just had to live with. However, this was different, this was debilitating. This was a trigger point for me and over the next few years I had to work through the process of coming to terms with the fact that I needed to recalibrate myself if I was going to be happy and functional.

Of course, one does not go around telling everyone in such words, over a skin latte for example; “Oh yes I was just telling Phil the other day, I think I am going to have to spend a few years recalibrating myself to improve my sense of wellbeing, especially if I want to be happy and functional. Damn suicidal thoughts.” No, one goes around in the raw feeling paranoid, making bad choices, worsening the situation, drinking too much and feeling quite scared and isolated – but not all the time. There were of course times when life was good and I got it right and I felt quite happy. Those times mainly revolved around good friends and doing things that I enjoyed – you can boil this down to relationship and occupation (I have a three hour lecture on this if anyone is interested!) I like to think of myself as a functional loony during this period: somewhere between staff and patient.

I worked through these issues with a variety of therapies, love from friends and family and getting on with living, and I am pleased to say I have learned a great deal in the process. However, the anxiety that I am now experiencing as a result of a blunt force trauma to the head is off the scale. Not only are these anxiety levels beyond my comprehension, they appear to have no triggers. In the past, when addressing anxiety issues I have been able to identify triggers and set strategies in place, whereas in this instance the anxiety just begins with no reason or warning, and the system that I usually use to regulate these responses is offline. I am driving along quite happily and start to go down hill, I gently apply the brakes as usual, but there is nothing there. The tiniest of bleeds to my frontal lobe has shot the brake line and I cannot stop.

Then I am hurtling off the road and onto a dark path, I experience shortness of breath and miles and miles of Stephen King outtakes un-spooling into darkness, slipping out of sight and sending back snapshots, screams and uncertainty. Pooling in the midst of fearful imaginings, the tarred face of self hate and depressive psychosis spits vitriol and guilt. This hammering of the senses is a poetry of derangement, arranged in stanzas that envelop the psyche in fight and flight with no one to fight and no where to run.  So it goes on – an unending diatribe of metaphor, hyperbole and simile, a literary diarrhoea stinking of self absorption. thoughts racing and the brakes are gone. Such is the nature of anxiety.

With this comes guilt at my current “presentation,’ and hyper reality. Oh yeah baby – reality in great stinking clods, like dung shovelled into a gaping wound. Anxiety renders one susceptible to suggestion, and everything takes on an exaggerated meaning. I remember seeing a post by a friend of mine whom I used to work with. She was, and indeed is, one of the most wonderful mental health nurses I have ever met. The post said, “with anxiety there is too much meaning, with depression nothing means anything at all, living with both is hell on earth.” I am probably paraphrasing to a degree, but you get the gist. This is what was beginning to happen to me, my anxiety levels were spiking, I was experiencing darker and darker thoughts which were upsetting, but the sense of guilt that I had about being in this state meant that I was loathe to express these thoughts and feelings. Result:

Depression,

Loss of meaning,

Fear,

Isolation:

Blag Dog and the Fear Monkey will fuck you up.

They will tear the skin from your face and laugh in needle sharp injections of hate as you hold it all together, keep it in, keep it locked down because if anyone takes the lid of this then there is going to be an explosion.

Which is exactly what happened.

Yesterday I had cause to go to the hospital (not for me, but to accompany someone else). I had not been to the hospital since the accident. That morning I had lost my temper, I had flown into an uncontrollable rage so I was already shaken. The car that had been hurtling down hill with no brakes had finally crashed. Anger is a hateful thing, it renders one senseless, psychotic, psychopathic, powerful and pathetic at the same time. Blind rage is a projected act of self abuse. I was racked with guilt, and paranoia that i was losing control – and this is the scariest thing of all. Just like the suicidal thought I experienced nearly ten years ago, it is the recognition that this is a symptom of something far deeper that causes such intense fear. The feeling is a prelude to an unknown daemon. I envisaged a black and red mechanical beast unfolding in my mind, molten eyes and foul breath, a monster from the dark come to hold me in a morose embrace.

In the hospital the ghost of me was sitting in a cubicle, rubber skulled from the accident and trying to keep a hold of…what…what was my focus back then? I was hit with the recollection of the accident, a physical force that jolted me with nausea, I have to keep tellng myself that this is real, that I am here, because everything now is a facsimile, i am a copy of myself, a node of who I was, repairing itself, recoding the system back to its former state, or the closest approximation.  I am immersed in a world of uncertainty, I may be the same person that I once was, or maybe not, how will I know, and how will this effect my relationships with all the people that I love? My children, my wife, my friends; will I still feel the same about them when this plastic coating of fear is finally removed?

Returning to the hospital was a jolt to the senses. Is this psychosis?

The man in the cafe is frying slices of cerebellum on the hot plate.  Everything is brain related now, my whole being is preoccupied with absence, anxiety, mental health and not knowing. My mind is a fine filter, a gossamer system of self regulation and adaptation and the frontal lobe bleed has blasted a hole through it. I can no longer regulate my emotions in the way that I have learnt to. From the outside I am being a dick, to me I am fighting an invisible storm. I know it sounds dramatic, and I probably do appear to be fine, but the anxiety is there, all the time, unregulated, compressing my experience of existence into a two dimensional world of binary options: fight or flight. But there is no where to run because the danger is an unknown future, and I cannot fight a shadow, so I remain, as does the anxiety. I am held in the burning arms of my deepest daemon. Result:

Depression

Loss of meaning,

Fear,

Isolation:

Blag Dog and the Fear Monkey have fucked me up.

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Part 3 – A Port in the Storm

First published on December 8, 2017

One thing I remember very clearly about the moment that my head hit the wall, was that my first thought was “I have to be here for Imogen, I can’t leave her on her own.”

The wedding plans had been building steadily over the course of the year. We had hired YHA Langdale for the weekend, and were going to have a mini festival in the Lake District in the middle of November. We had about hundred and twenty guests coming from all over the country and family from Italy, not to mention the celebrant and her husband (who are also good friends of ours) travelling from Portugal. We wanted the wedding to be a weekend to remember, and here I was rubber skulled, lying on the floor of a sports centre with bruises blossoming on my frontal and temporal lobes. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Of course preluding the wedding day itself was the stag night. We had plans to go and see Alabama 3 in York, go for a meal, all the usual stuff. However, I was in no fit state for a night out. I insisted that my party still went out on the stag as it had all been arranged. This was the first incident of my head injury impinging on the wedding arrangements, and although the day itself was glorious, I do feel a little hard done by that I could not celebrate in the way that we had planned.

However, instead of the night out in York, a friend and I went to a hotel for the night and then onto Manchester where we were going to see a show in the evening. It was a wonderful alternative to the York gig, but even a gentle evening at rather splendid restaurant was too much for me. My sleep was interrupted with headaches and anxiety levels that were simply off the scale. At the time of writing I am still experiencing awful anxiety, but the anxiety that may be caused by Post Concussion Syndrome is different to anxiety as a reaction to external stimuli. To explain, usually when one experiences an anxiety attack, it is often a psychological response to trigger incident that takes place in the environment, a phobia is a good example: scared of spiders, see a spider, feel frightened. Cortisol is released into the brain and the limbic system goes into overdrive, highjacking the brains higher reasoning and triggering the flight or fight response, resulting in anxiety. However, there were no external stimuli here, the heightened state was being caused by trauma to the brain, this was coming from within and as such I felt (and feel) powerless to take control, this anxiety simply would not subside; it was there all the time, stalking me through the long grass.

So the stag was a bit of weird event all round, but we gave it a bash and everyone that went to York had a good time, which pleased me. However, now that I look back on how little I was able to cope with then, I realise how crazy it was to even contemplate returning to work. However, it had been two weeks since the incident and at the time I felt that this was ample time to get back to work. I would let my manager know and make sure that staff were aware that I was not one hundred percent. We would be travelling up to the lakes on Thursday evening, having taken Friday off for the wedding, so it was going to be a short week, even more reason for me to  be just fine.

It was a nightmare.

First of all, you need to understand that I love my job. I am a school librarian in an Academy with high aspirations, clear and supportive leadership and I have been given a huge amount of freedom to create a learning space using my own skills and ideas. I have a background in performing arts and training in Occupational Therapy, so there is both breadth and depth to the Library. As well as being a normal lending library it is classroom, a one to one space, a meeting place, a place for quiet time and interventions to take place and, I hope, more besides. However, on returning to work, I found that I could not stand being there, everything felt alien to me; as unfamiliar as if I had started that very day. I decided the way to get through this bizarre experience was to shoulder through it and not make too much of a fuss. However, with partial hearing and tintitus, the hubbub and constant movement of a school environment was driving my anxiety levels into the new, uncharted territories of “just what the absolute fuck am I doing here?”

Those four days were an ordeal. However, there was a glimmer of a reprieve, I had a doctor’s appointment on the Tuesday of that first week back, and at this appointment the GP confirmed Post Concussion Syndrome. I had been aware of this condition but had avoided thinking about it too much as I had enough to worry about as it was. Also, up until this point I had been of the understanding that there was some minor bruising to my frontal lobe, but nothing else. At this appointment the doctor confirmed that I had in fact two bleeds to both the temporal and frontal area of the brain. When I took this information to my operations manager and explained the trouble I was experiencing he suggested an earlier finish each day to manage energy and reduce anxiety. This, I thought was a good plan, especially with a wedding to celebrate.

My wedding was that port in the storm. It was a truly beautiful and magical event where so many friends and family came to gather and bear witness to a union of love and happiness. For four days I forgot about the brain malfunctions that I had been experiencing. It was an oasis for me – and also for everyone else around me who had been suffering my affliction as well. Remember that I had been experiencing all manner of mood swings, tiredness and the constant need to talk about my problems; this can get very boring for people but fortunately I am blessed with great friends and an extremely understanding wife. Although I did need to keep topping up on sleep at the wedding, I had a an absolute ball, and so did everyone else – including my wonderful wife.

Perhaps the most poignant moment at the wedding was when everyone was gathered for the ceremony. I was struck by the faces that I saw, and I said to my friend and best man, “I can’t believe they are all here for us.” I was overwhelmed by the fact that all these people had come to help us celebrate, to bear witness and support us on this very special day. It was an epiphany to see the reality of all the relationships that mean so much to me, and since the accident, it has been people and interactions with them that has kept me going. From the support that I was given straight after the accident by a friend, to the continuing support from my wife and the kind words of friends and colleagues from around the world: it is people that help us heal. This is the most positive thing to have come from this whole experience, and to anyone suffering this kind of affliction I would say this: find the people whom you trust and ask for their help, they will be there for you, don’t be alone, don’t isolate yourself anymore than you already are. Whether it is through conversation, through writing or through whatever medium you choose, reach out and connect with those who mean the most to you.

The Tuesday after the wedding I returned to work. I thought that it would be okay this time because the Wedding had been so fantastic, I thought I was probably getting better and I should just stop worrying about things. Okay so I was a bit deaf and I couldn’t smell properly, but so what, people have to deal with worse and still go to work, so why should I be any different – right?

I could not have been more wrong. Work was sucking the life out of me, I knew that I was withdrawing further and further to the point of zero interaction. I couldn’t bear to look at people, the pupils annoyed me, I was getting angrier and angrier all the time I was there. I could feel my thoughts begin to race as soon as I walked through the door. By Thursday I was asked to come and have a chat with my manager and the senior vice principal, both of whom I hold in high regard and I know have the utmost respect to the work that I do. I had already asked for a referral to Occupational Health so that I could talk to someone about what I was experiencing. In my irrational state I had convinced myself that if I told my manager what was really going on I would risk losing my job – again, I could not have been more wrong.

My colleagues asked me what was wrong and told me that they were worried about me. I had not been myself for two weeks and I was clearly getting worse. My energy levels were dropping, I was looking pale and in a constant state of upset. I was so grateful for this intervention. It gave me the opportunity to say what I so desperately needed to say. I felt supported and cared about in an environment that I had been finding increasingly hostile (it is not a hostile environment, but this was what my addled mind was telling me). I was sent home and the next day the doctor signed me off work for a month. “I’m sorry it’s so shit,” he said, “but these are the symptoms of post concussion syndrome. You need time to regroup, you need rest, it will take time.”

It was official – it was time to go home.

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Part 2 – Frontal Lobe Confusion

So I had banged my head. 
I had banged my head once before. It was a snowy day in January and I was out on the park with the kids. This was four years ago, so they were not the serious teens that they are now, and I was probably trying too hard to be fun time snow Dad.
We had been flinging snowballs and making giant snow-rolls, and doing all the usual stuff you do on a beautifully crisp winter’s day. We played daft games and worked up a rosy glow before wandering over to the skate park to hang out before going home for roaring fires and hot chocolate. I decided it would be a fine idea to try and slide down one of the skate ramps on my feet.
I had spent time skiing in my younger years and was fairly confident that if I could navigate 5km of French Alp, then three feet of skate park was hardly the greatest challenge. The fact that there was ice everywhere did not occur to me, my feet shot out infant of me and the laws of physics insisted that my upper half shoot back and down. I pivoted around my mid point and the back of my head cracked into the freezing concrete.
I was out cold and when I came round I could not remember a damn thing – I knew I needed to get back home, and somehow got back there with some help from the kids. I was a little confused for a while but soon came round and all was well. I had no after effects and I never really thought much more of it. 
This was different.
In the few days after banging my head at the Badminton court, I spent most of the time in bed. My energy levels were low, I found it hard to concentrate and I was extremely labile with regard to my emotional state. I was half deaf in one ear and had completely lost my sense of smell. I felt broken – and I was. I still am to a degree, but, as the doctor said, the “trajectory” looks good. 
In the two weeks that followed I experienced what I can only describe as an uncertainty of self. Every morning I woke up to the real possibility that I was no longer who I had been, I was in a state of flux where my sense of identity was shattered into a million fragments of neurological unknowns. I am not a neurologist, but I have worked in neuro settings enough to know very well that what doesn’t kill you does not necessarily make your stronger.
I have seen the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and stroke, and I have observed, with clinical detachment, how desperately the individual will cling to the idea of who they once were even when that person no longer exists; and in some ways (and this is the bit that scared the living shit out of me) never existed. I was clinging to invisible smoke, hanging onto nothing in blind panic, hoping and praying that I would come back to myself; whoever that was. 
During this initial period, once everyone had gone to work and school and college and wherever they were due to be that day, I would go through a kind of meditation, In that invisible space I would try to reassemble myself as a cogent entity, I would reach out in to the swamp like memory of self to try and bring me back. Every so often, during these meditations, I would encounter the memory of that sickening moment of impact when the bruising had been caused to the soft tissue of my brain.
It was liking staring into the headlights of a car speeding towards me, my feet rooted to the ground and unable to move, then the moment would be gone leaving me with sense of confusion, fear and panic – that and a ringing in my ears. That moment was a nightmarish non-memory.
I know that in post traumatic stress disorder, memories that have not been filed correctly are replayed over and over again. I could not comment on whether or not this was what I was experiencing, but there was a definite disconnect between my “self” and my memory of that moment. I kept seeing myself slam into the wall and collapse in heap, as if I was watching CCTV footage. 
The ringing became a torment. Tinitus is unrelenting. Craig Gill,the Inspiral Carpets drummer, committed suicide after twenty years suffering with the affliction. I would manage to ignore the fizzy ringing noise only to have it intrude once more when my defences were down.
At the time of writing (6 weeks post injury) the ringing has subsided significantly, and I am told that it will disappear in time. In my case the ringing has been caused by the temporal lobe damage, and I also have the sensation of blockage in my ear even thought there is nothing there.
This is one of the tortuous aspects of neurological injury: it messes with your senses to such an extent that your subjective reality is altered. Our realities are created by sensory input which is processed by our brains, when these sensory processing faculties are disrupted it is not just our experience of reality that is changed, it is the very nature of that reality that is warped and distorted.  We are plunged into a world which is not being experienced by anyone around us, we are isolated and detached from the “normal” world that others are living in.  
These initial post trauma experiences were extreme and intense. The accident had happened at the beginning of a two week half term holiday from the school where I work as a school librarian, so I was able to rest without the added anxiety of work. After the first week I was beginning to regain strength, although I was still experiencing anxiety and many bleak thoughts relating to my own mortality and the futility of existence – yes, I promise you! I was experiencing depressive intrusive thoughts, but I was able to put it down to the concussion and move on: “not my problem”, I would tell myself, “it’s just the concussion, don’t worry about.” We will come back to the issue of morbid ideation in a later part of this story. 
As I make these reflections I realise how damaged I was, and how weak the concussion had made me. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog was to give me a tracking tool for my own recovery, and it is certainly reassuring to see the progress I have made. I continued to post messages on Facebook and received many beautiful and touching messages from family and friends. These messages were invaluable to my mental and emotional wellbeing during the post trauma stage, to know that there were people with genuine concerns for my wellbeing gave me strength and a resilience to the isolation that I felt. 
So thing were looking good; I had support, my strength was returning, I was still deaf and with no sense of smell, but I could manage and my sense of confusion was ebbing away. I was getting better. This was excellent news because in a weeks time I would be marrying my darling fiancé at a wedding that we had spent the whole year planning. Everything was going to be fine, of course it was.
It was only a concussion. 
Featured

Part 1 – Frontal Lobe Contusion

(First Published 2-12-2017)

“I’m sorry it’s so shit.” Is what the doctor said to me after my third visit. I was, and indeed still am, experiencing the symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome. I have decided to write this blog for a number of reasons, but my principle motivation is to make some kind of move towards understanding my current state of being, and to navigate a path back towards full health.

I do not intend to censor or abridge this experience in any way, I want this to be an account in the raw, because that is how the experience has been for me. However, I should also add that I am not writing this for any kind of sympathy or to wallow in self pity. The head trauma that I have suffered is mild. I have had two bleeds on my temporal and frontal lobes, however these bleeds have taken the form of minor contusions, and should not be confused with or compared to the kind of bleeds which cause major damage leading to significant and enduring disability.
In the first couple of weeks following the accident I made some Facebook posts. I mostly stayed in bed, felt sick, and could not really concentrate on any thing very much, but this post in particular stuck in my mind.

One week anniversary of my minor brain trauma. I have decided that I am not as robust as I thought I was. The emotional challenge of a head trauma (even a minor one) is overwhelming. Every morning begins with a sense of disappointment, fear and anger. We are so fragile and these things can happen in a moment.  

Anyone who lives long term with symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) deserves a damn sight more recognition than they probably get. I am not brave or strong, and my recovery will be swift and brief. But for some these things are permanent and i can only express the utmost respect for them.

It happened on a Sunday morning playing Badminton with a friend and our two daughters. We had been going for a few weeks, and having found a healthy activity that I enjoyed, i was keen to up my game, so to speak. I wouldn’t say that we were, or are, fiercely competitive, but none of us like to lose. We were in the second half of the hour I was well warmed up and feeling pretty good about my game. I saw the shuttlecock gliding in towards the line, my opponent had already demonstrated a talent for dropping shots just inside the baseline, and I had fallen foul of this in previous games, so this was not the time for taking chances. I knew I could reach the the shot if I went for it, no time for thinking, just do. I stretched my arm to its full extent, intending to flick the target off the line and land it just the other side of the net.
Everything that followed happened in one explosive moment. I felt my ankle buckle, a proprioceptive weakness there made me vulnerable to feats of balance whilst in motion. At the time I was leaning, travelling and on one leg, all at the same time, this was too much for my ankle and it collapsed sideways, causing me to slide gracelessly through thin air towards a contrastingly all too solid wall. Because I was playing a baseline shot, I was perilously close to the wall of the gym, and the right hand side of my head took the full force. In the first two weeks afterwards, just thinking about this impact caused me a sense of panic and terror, writing this blog is an attempt to find a place in my mind for this violent assault on my skull.
My head slammed into the gym wall and the world seemed to explode inwards and I went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes. the sense that I experienced was one of compression, burning, pain, swimming confusion and a heady sickness which seems to emanate from the sides of my through and envelope me. It was this initial impact that caused the temporal lobe bruising which rendered me partially deaf in one ear. The bruising to my frontal lobe was caused by my subsequent fall to the floor, whereupon the front right part of my head hit the deck and for a moment all was blackness.
I was probably unconscious for a couple of seconds. Afterwards, my friend told me that I had tried to get up and for all the world looked like a punch drunk boxer trying to go for one more round. I remember seeing the three of them walking towards me, out of focus, on a slope and in slow motion, as if in a bad action film. However, this was all too real, and as I recovered some of my faculty I was gripped by the most profound sense of fear that I have ever felt. I knew what I had done, I knew what the risks were. A member of staff came to see if they could assist me and I straight away told them to call an ambulance and to tell the crew that I had sustained a head injury.
I don’t want to go into the whole tedious drama of hospital, ambulance and scans etcetera, etcetera. However, I would say that Paul was an absolute hero. He reassured me and kept me calm throughout. He followed on behind the ambulance and looked after the girls, especially my daughter, who was worried about her dad. I will never forget that kind of compassion and care. While I was waiting for some test results in a cubicle at hospital though, he did say, with a smile on his face, “you know the shot was out Dave.”
Bugger.

 

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Blunt Force Trauma

David Nixon Writing, Three Rivers and Kawa Coaching all came into being as the result of a blog. The blog was about my experiences recovering from a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. 

The Blog set me writing, the writing kept me motivated, my motivation enabled me to focus, my focus gave rise to a business.

In this series I have reposted the original posts as they were written – in the raw so to speak. If you have suffered a head injury, or a life trauma, I hope this helps in some way. If you are a health care professional then please feel free to share and use these posts for the benefit of others.

I am currently working on a performance based on the blog series, entitled Black Dog & The Fear Monkey. I am extremely grateful to Fiona Patterson and Artsmill for making this possible and look forward to developing the work.

Please do comment, leave feedback and get in touch.

DNW2018

Are you ready for your close up?

First Meeting.

I first met Danny Thompson at the Vapour Networking event in Elland, West Yorkshire. We hit it off straight away, and spent most of the event laughing and talking quite a bit of nonsense, most of which has been lost in a fug of morning coffee and bacon butties.

However, it doesn’t really matter does it? Because first impressions are not comprised of details or specifics; they are made up of feelings, intuitions and impressions. My instinct with Danny was that he is man who cares deeply about what he does and gets a huge kick out of doing it well. 

What would you like for Christmas?

Spin forwards a few months to December when I asked my daughter what she might like for Christmas. Her reply was characteristically mature and considered:

“Well I don’t think I want something that’s just going to go after a few weeks, or wear out. I think I would like something that I can use…can I get some head shots done?”

My daughter is a young actor and has already landed some professional roles in both stage and radio. Head shots are an actor’s calling card. They are the images that casting directors will fly through and use to whittle down the numbers prior to a live audition. They are a big deal, and getting them right is critical.

No business Like it.

An actor’s headshots need to reflect a personality in one hit. They need to be natural but professional, they need to tell the story of that person, they need to be of a standard and they need to meet industry criteria.

“I do know this guy in Halifax,” I told my daughter, “I think you’ll get on well with him.”

I had seen some of Danny’s work on Linkedin after we had connected at the Vapour event. His work with clients always seemed to tell a story, and he has a knack for authenticity and respecting the subject.  There is no ego with Danny’s work, it is all about getting the shot that tells your tale.

Let’s get to work.

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The Piece Hall, Halifax.

Long story short, I got in touch and we arranged an initial meeting at the beautifully re-imagined Piece Hall in Halifax. Danny spent a good hour with us going over what R wanted to get out of it, understanding her needs and getting to know her. The whole meeting was filled with laughter and reassurance from Danny that he would get the shots that were required – no problem.

We set up a private Instagram account to keep in touch and share ideas. Danny did his research, so that on the day of the shoot, R felt at ease and could enjoy her Christmas present.

Studio Bee

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I can’t really tell you much about the shoot because I spent most of the time chatting with Barbara, who is the owner of Studio Bee, at Croft Myl in Halifax. Barbara told me all about wet plate collodian processes and proudly showed me a collection of box brownies. All of this juxtaposed beautifully with the fresh & contemporary aesthetics of Studio Bee.

The Shoot.

All the time Barbara and I were chatting, Danny and R were having a ball. Danny was coaching R and bringing out the performer in her. She was relaxing and getting into the flow of the shoot. As a team, they produced some fantastic shots.

We left feeling like rock stars.

 

From start to finish, the whole process was fun, professionally managed and delivered on the nose. In terms of value, I couldn’t ask for more. From the first meeting at the Piece Hall, to receiving the first results today, it has been a wonderful little adventure.

Thanks Danny.

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