Hello blogosphere, it’s been a while.
When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a regular thing that I kept to. I genuinely thought I could keep it up *and* be a writer *and* do a PhD. And while for some time I was able to do all that, life eventually got in the way. Life, and mental health. It’s surprisingly difficult to keep things together when anxiety becomes a major factor in your life.
I’ve had issues with anxiety and depression for a long time, and have often used my mental health as inspiration for my writings, and if it isn’t inspiration it’s a way of dealing with whatever’s going on in my head that day. Most of them are drabbles that are best forgotten, but some of my favourite stories I’ve written have come out of bad times (if I ever find a home for The Wyrms of Kakhun I will be very happy indeed).
Mental health is a wound, however, and it never really fully heals. There’s always a scab which you have to look after. If you don’t, you just keep picking at it, as you press on with things you feel you have to do to be valid, but ultimately end up making yourself more ill. Eventually, I had to accept facts. I couldn’t do it all, so I had to try and take a step back from writing and reviewing. I had to accept that it was just one too many things, no matter now important to me it was. I could keep things ticking over, but patience was a virtue I needed to learn.
Now, with the end of the PhD in sight, it feels like time to start up again. I write words every day as a researcher, but it’s nice to be able to do this and not feel like I’m wasting important research/career development time.
I’m not sure how long this return will last. I’d like it to be permanent, and I’ll do my best not to put myself under too much pressure this time. But it does feel good to be getting words down again.
With that in mind, here are a couple of the drabbles that I’ve written over the years to wrangle what’s going on in my head. The first was written in the year after I finished my undergrad degree, the second during the second year of my PhD. Both are about other people who helped me, or tried to. Both are my own experience – or how I interpreted it at the time. I guess it’s about time they saw the light of day, no matter how much I cringe at them now.
I can’t promise that the blog will be regular. In all likelihood it will continue to be an intermittent thing until I have more time to devote to it. But it will continue, and that’s the important thing.
Sometimes I wake up with a heart made of stone. I can feel it my chest: a lumpen, leaden weight dragging my spirit down, down into a mire of despond, where I can feel nothing but fear and anxiety. Every time this happens, I know that it is my truth – and every time I quake at my apathy.
Yet, every time, an angel descends with a healing smile and calming hands. They gird me round with patience, and they apply poultices of love, and they carve at my breast with a blade of compassion, until their quiet industry removes my heart of stone.
While my flesh regrows, the angel holds my stone-heart to the light to examine its qualities. Sometimes it is stubborn granite, sometimes querulous sandstone, often it is unfeeling, austere marble or brittle, self-destructive slate. Then they place it in their bag, and smile, and press a hand to my chest, and I feel a flicker of a heartbeat within myself once more.
Until the next time. And the next time. And the next.
But, always, the angel is there.
One night, I asked the angel what they did with the stones. They must need them for something – why else bother with the Sisyphean task of delapifying my heart? The angel just smiled, knowingly, and led me onto a winding path. We walked along it, hand in hand, as it wove its way down a cliffside to a beach. When we got there, they pulled my latest heart-stone from their bag.
“Come and see,” they said.
We walked along the beach, round a curve of headland. Beyond it lay a complex of cairns, rising and falling, twisting and twining together in undulating rows. Moonlight danced across them, causing some to glitter, others to gleam, others to cast kaleidoscopic shadows. As I stood, amazed, the angel placed my stone-heart on the nearest cairn.
“Do you see,” they asked me, “what beauty lay within you, even when you were in the depths of despair? Do you see the strength that you always had? Each of these stones,” they continued, waving an arm across the horizon, “came from a time you conquered sorrow. Each stone makes the pattern stronger, and now the cold waves that threatened to drag you under can scarcely prevail. I think,” they concluded with a smile that kindled fire in my breast, “that the pattern is almost finished.”
They patted the newest cairn, and I awoke. A heart of flesh beat in my chest. As life flowed through my veins, I felt that the cairns were nearly completed.
One dark day, I fell to pieces. But that didn’t mean I stopped living. I lugged my brokenness from place to place, chains of shattered shards of glass trailing in my wake. I scraped across the ground wherever I went, I could hear the tortured sounds of my passing. I went close to no one – I did not want them to cut themselves on me, for I was nothing but jagged edges.
But sometimes, people came close, regardless.
They approached me, one day, dragging their own shatterglass chains behind them. We sat. We talked. I don’t know for how long, but soon it was dark and we parted ways. We met again, and talked, shared, and every time we parted, somehow the chains dragged less against the ground.
One day, I noticed that as they sat next to me, they were picking at my chains. I twisted to see what they were doing. As they talked, and I watched, they were picking shatterglass shards from my tangles and gently fitting them back into place on my body. I frowned.
“When did you start doing that?”
They looked at their work on the chains, and laughed. “I’ve always been doing it. Ever since we met.” Their fingers kept on weaving deftly. It was hypnotic, beautiful… impossible. The question lay on my tongue, heavy and clumsy, but I had to ask it.
“How can you fix me when no one else has?”
They stopped fitting my pieces back together and smiled.
“Don’t you know that broken people can see the cracks more easily?”
They leaned closer, and I could see a network of hairline fractures crisscrossing their face. I traced them with my finger before pulling self-consciously away.
“And who fixed you?”
They laughed lightly. “Many people. Friends, family… you.” They gestured at themselves. “Just look.” And I looked, and I saw that their chains were shorter, less tangled, less jagged than when I had first seen them. Then they took my hands, and I looked into their eyes, and saw myself reflected in them.
“What do you think you’ve been doing, all this time we’ve talked?” they asked.
And then I understood. We sat, talking, and still do, whenever the need takes us. Talking, sharing, caring – and weaving away the shatterglass.
If you see us, come near. Drag over your chains, join our circle. Weave with us.
(“Cairns” and “Shatterglass”, copyright Lawrence Harding, 2019)