Poem – my business is not who I am in the world

I read this fabulous article tonight about objectification at work, How to build a life: A profession is not a personality.

It was posted on the ever brilliant and relevant Freelance Jungle, the best mental health resource for Australian freelancers I’ve come across. It reminded me of a poem I wrote in my journal a few years ago when I was wrestling with my obsession with work. When I was sick and unemployed I struggled deeply without a public identity because that is usually our work. Struggling to figure out work left me tangled and defining my self and life in ways that disempowered and wounded me. I recall listening once to a fabulous presentation at a world hearing voices conference when one of the speakers told us he felt as defined and limited by his public identity as a psychiatrist as he used to by his public identity as a schizophrenic. He introduced himself as a person who worked as a psychiatrist. It was strange and thought provoking. We are all more than the roles we play, and it seems to be just as important for us to remember that as it is for other people to perceive it about us.

My business is not
Who I am in the world.
It is not
My identity, my value, my self respect
Not the sum of me
My place
My impact
My legacy. 

My business is a project
One project among many
A way to earn money
Make a difference
A way to be in the world.
It is not the only way
The one, true, right, way
The sum of every effort until now
Validation for all that came before
The reward for every tribulation.
It is just my business, one dream
Among many.

My business is not 
Proof that I've 'made it', or
Evidence I've settled, given up, sold out, lost faith.
It doesn't mean I've gone over to the other side
Become a success or failed a character test
It's something to be proud of but not the only thing
It's a part of me but I am not
A peice of it.
If it died
I would still be here.
My business is not
Who I am in the world.

Poem – Connection

After late nights talking, I wake early and creep away from sleeping child into a bath. Reread a journal from 2018 and find this poem about Poppy.


Late spring evening
She's in the bath, giggling
The wind outside is restless
The air velvet and warm
As the time passes
Something eases like sand flowing
Through an hourglass
The noise goes quieter
And quieter still
The noise goes
Into the silence
We are still
We look at each other
Really alone and
Really looking
And we laugh. 


Sitting in the dark of the cinema with Rose, alone but for one other person who sits quietly in shadow at the back, I enter into a grey world of stone and water and clouded sky. She walks a world that’s full of discomfort, chilled hands, awkward silence. I slip into her hands and feel the cold, the smooth wet stones by the water, the cold breath of the sea crashing.

It’s a world of closed mouths and watching eyes, the camera looks for us, touching horse hoof and curtain lace, tea cups, boiled egg, the texture of a life too poor to be buffered from sensation.

I walk out of my mind, my grey numb ash blown mind where the nightmares of death have taken hold and strangle laughter. Crab like, sideways, shuffle into someone else’s story, her eyes, her hands, her stubborn lonely loss. Her certainty.

I feel something

Other than dread, despair, terror, frozen.

Walking out again I try to hold onto it, the texture of life. Rose buys me flowers, they full the car with a scent of green freshness. I do budgets and paperwork and fall back into the well. I come out again to the flowers and inhale. Stand in the back yard naked and smell the tree and the sky.

We eat late, by a lamp, spiced meats and bread.

It’s not real, what’s killing me. It tells me it’s real, but it’s not. I’m still in ICU, holding Rose’s grey hand. I’m still waiting for the next blow to fall, too terrified to breathe. Flinching away from the unbearable. Sobbing rivers that can’t clean the wound in my heart or put my sense of security back together again.

I hate myself. I hate my life. Both loop endlessly. Between the nightmares where everyone I love dies. Between the mornings I can’t stop crying or get out of bed for hours. Choking down frustration and sadness and grief. Everything is meaningless. Everything means too much to bear.

I escape into company, into story, into sleep, and when I can I creep out of the ash into the very close texture of life and wake a little from the dream that’s killing me. Feel something else. Turn and find the ones I love still here, waiting for me.

I feel your hearts

Driving home through the pang of loneliness, child asleep behind me and my old ideas like broken eggshells in the gutter, sharp as discarded moons

It has always been easier to find in the night, the cold beach at the edge of the world.

I feel your hearts as living clockwork, shooting stars, hopping mice dashing through freezing sand in a cold, dark bright night. In your face I find my own, we reflect each other. Your hands are full of my tears.

Somehow we hold the keys to each other’s locks. I find a little freedom for you, gasp a breath of clear air for myself. I live only in your humanity. I run my fingers through her hair, call to hear his voice from miles away, hold their daughter’s hand.

Here, alone under alien skies, look for something to bring back for us both. Grass climbs high through the garden, the wind blows through the laundry on the line. I thought once I needed to find greatness to change the world. It’s been a painful cancer to exorcise. In dreams she kisses my mouth and her lips are a black ocean, all the shipwrecks dreaming in her breast. Shedding my skin like a snake, somehow the music is still the same as it ever was.

The tides draw me far from the waking world. I see your forms in every shadowed tree, stars strung in your hair. I can’t name the song but it moves me. Blood in my mouth, spitting teeth into my palm. Fair exchange. It’s a long road but worth the walk.

Poem: Walking with the Wind

I went walking with the wind last night
Under the white and golden street lamps
Ears pricked with excitement,
My spirit dog went before me.

Behind me, just out of sight
Followed the ghosts of old friends and lovers
The wind spoke to me of the night
My spirit dog inhaled the grass.

Music poured from a shuttered house
We circled the ruined incinerator
Time wheeled overhead with the stars
My spirit dog dug under the trees.

I smiled to myself and turned towards home
Back to the house that would open to me
The light and the warmth of the living world
My spirit dog pissed on the neighbour’s daisies.

Poem: Leaving open the doors

Recently, I sat in an office and unraveled a complex dilemma.
The woman sitting with me responded, saying “What I’m hearing
is that you are trying to find a way to engage health
without colluding with those who have oppressed you,
and without contributing to the oppression of others.”

I blinked and then

Yes. Yes that’s what I’ve been trying
To put into words the last 10 years.
My refusal to cut the tie
That binds me to the common humanity
Of the most irrelevant and destitute because
They are me.

When I manage to find a door
Through the insurmountable obstacle
I try to leave it open
Behind me.

This blog has been my public road map
Not as a set of instructions or moral imperatives
Or proof of my superiority in some way
No more no less than an honest account of how and where
I found the doors
And the courage to walk through them.

The times I succeeded and the ones I failed.
In honest truth telling, I believe we are set free.

You are skilled, she said
At behaving ethically despite being outcast
You are afraid and uncomfortable of the challenge
Of doing so when you are embraced and approved of.


All the long years, trying to get in to the town
The truth is I’m also terrified of it
And run back to the wilds, alone but free.

This is about oppression, she said, and power.
My teeth lengthened in my smile
And I promised
To write and paint
The unspeakable things again.
To hold fast to the light burning
To speak my name with blood, pride, and dark joy.
To break the invisible all powerful rules
Seek life
For me and all my kind.

Poem: The hope of spring

This morning I sat
By the window, in the golden
Light, breathless and heard
Very quietly, a small voice
Inside me, yearning
To go outside
To stand, even for a moment
In the sun.

Oh oh, I thought to myself
This is the voice I have lost
The still, quiet voice of my soul
The one I used to follow so easily
That nourishes my spirit and makes me strong
I can hear it again!

Outside my window the sunlight
Fell golden on the lilies and the world
Was sweet with the hope of Spring

I sat inside
By my window and watched it all
Through the curtains with my heart
In my throat and my breath
Caught in my belly and
I did not go outside.

Sometimes the most human thing is not our capacity to soar, it’s the way we find cages and sit inside them willingly, singing sad songs about freedom.

I wrote this a few years ago and now that I am finding some freedom to both hear and follow this little voice, it seemed apt to share.

Hand made books

The most fun I’ve had in long while has been visiting a local book maker and repairer. I adore seeing people’s studios, learning so much about the skills and inspiration behind their work is a treat.

I was particularly taken with the design of several beautiful old books such as this gorgeous concertina-fold book of prints:

The ‘pages’ are actually a long strip of paper folded, with a print on the same colour paper pasted to each fold. I fell in love with this stunning book of watercolours:

Which also opens and reads as a regular book:

Because each of the beautiful double spread paints are actually a single page, folded down the centre and glued along both edges to each fellow page. There’s no spine or centre gutter or binding at all, so it opens flat perfectly. I adore it.

An ancient Chinese ledger made from rice paper also stole my heart, but I was too busy admiring it to take pictures for you!

My current book making project has been progressing. I was asked to explore hand made vs digital layout of the content – same format just different tools to get the job done.

I’ve been really impressed with how user friendly and accessible Canva and Desygner are. InDesign isn’t bad either, but for intuitive design and speed the apps are amazing. I’ve used the desktop version of Canva quite a bit too, it syncs with the app on my phone and is really easy to use.

In the end it was decided to go with the hand made approach, which makes me extremely happy because it means more time spent with my brushes in my studio instead of with my computer in my office, and a more handmade feel rather than polished magazine feel to the whole project. I’m really looking forward to the content being signed off on so I can get into making the final. 🙂

Work, Failure, and Identity

My business mentor sent this amazing article to me and it made me cry. https://www.inc.com/magazine/201309/jessica-bruder/psychological-price-of-entrepreneurship.html

So many quotes spoke to me:

Though driven and innovative, hypomanics are at much higher risk for depression than the general population, notes Gartner. Failure can spark these depressive episodes, of course, but so can anything that slows a hypomanic’s momentum. “They’re like border collies–they have to run,” says Gartner. “If you keep them inside, they chew up the furniture. They go crazy; they just pace around. That’s what hypomanics do. They need to be busy, active, overworking.”

I know that place! This is explored in much more detail in Exuberance: The Passion for Life, by Kay Redfield Jamison, which I found very helpful for understanding the intensity I bring to my work and creativity process. My favourite quote from her book is “If exuberance is the Champagne of moods, mania is its cocaine.”

Back to Bruder’s article: from a guy who put everything including his house on the line and only came through with hours to spare at the worst point in his business.

Afterward, he made a list of all the ways in which he had financially overreached. “I’m going to remember this,” he recalls thinking. “It’s the farthest I’m willing to go.”
…emotional residue from the years of tumult still lingers. “There’s always that feeling of being overextended, of never being able to relax,”

I know this place too. I over reached, just before falling completely apart several years ago. I went way beyond my personal resources to attend a conference, and at the end they invited me to create a network and be paid to do so and I came home to choirs of angels singing. Then they all went back to their lives and not one single person moved the plan forward. I waited and sent polite emails and my stomach dropped and my heart broke. As my confidence fell apart, so did every business opportunity I’d been working on. 10 unrelated arrangements with different people fell apart and so did I.

The alternative mental health community has not been a safe haven for me in this way. It has contained essential and valuable ideas, but also Tall Poppy Syndrome, a lot of lone wolves with no community capacity, and significant issues with poverty and hostility to those who make money.

Some make successful businesses and ventures from their skills and experiences. Some, like me, struggle and struggle, looking desperately for a validated way to a fair income. Poverty and all that came with it for me – inexperience with money, self depreciation, discomfort with marketing, had a cost that got bigger every year. At one stage an interstate org was arranging me to visit for a week long series of training and workshops. I was ecstatic. When they asked me for a bio I froze up. They knew I was bad at marketing myself, and good at what I do, but the freeze spooked them and they canned the project. I hated myself so much I wanted to die.

In my little world I hear often of others success. Those chosen to give keynotes at conferences, invited to overseas opportunities, paid consultants with the ear of people who can fund their projects. There’s so much failure and comparison and fuel for self loathing. The standards are impossible. The hurdles to be included and treated as a professional are impossible. Peer work is a nightmare risk, and hidden behind our inspirational heros are so many untold stories like my own of exposure, unemployability, and brutal failure. It’s a cruel trick and the stakes are exceptionally high.

I’m painfully, constantly aware that for many others, my own modest successes represent the same pain and lost opportunities. That people look to me and feel the mix of inspiration, envy, and sadness with which I regard my own role models.

So does cultivating an identity apart from your company… “Other dimensions of your life should be part of your identity.”… it’s important to feel successful in areas unrelated to work.

For me, who has donated thousands of unpaid hours to my networks, considered a tattoo of my own logo, and invested my career with profound meaning about the value of life, my identity, and my place in the world, this advice is profound and difficult to follow.

I am so tangled with my business and career aspirations it’s hard to tell where one end and the other begins. It’s been an incredible challenge to set up any kind of business model because I am the business. Having missed out on formal education and all the doors opened by validated skill sets and access to professional memberships, I have found a side road to my goals where that validation is irrelevant and the professional bodies are largely nonexistent. It’s the Wild West of consulting and freelancing. The clients are gun shy because of slick assholes who overcharge and under-deliver. And the contractors are unprotected from most forms of exploitation, have no minimum hourly rates, unions, or HR. Just this last week a client decided not to honour my invoice and paid me only the amount they arbitrarily decided I should have charged. I’m so glad to have found pathways that bypass the formal with all those issues, and yet I’m so poorly equipped to navigate them. The very qualities that have driven me to freelancing are those that leave me vulnerable. Upskilling is largely a brutal process of learning from my mistakes. The mental health costs can be significant.

I’m tired. Several psychologists over the years have suggested I simply sit back and enjoy my pension. I’ve stopped going to therapy with them after that. There’s meaning in work, inclusion. As Helen Glover put it, you attain citizenship when you pay taxes. I want to be a ‘real person’. At times it’s killing me. Sometimes I have to step back from this capitalist cultural fusion of work, money, and identity. I have to find a way to embed compassion and the context of a culture that is often not kind to those with illnesses and disability into my own understanding of the value of work. I’m starting to shift how I see it all, and transitioning to a clearer business model where I sell certain skills or outcomes rather than clients asking for anything they want I can do- it helps. It puts a small buffer between my business and my soul.

Let me finish with a recent poem I wrote:

My business is not
Who I am in the world.
It is not
My identity, my value, my self respect
Not the sum of me
My place
My impact
My legacy.

My business is a project
One project among many
A way to earn money
Make a difference
A way to be in the world.
It is not the only way
The one, true, right, way
The sum of every effort until now
Validation for all that came before
The reward for every tribulation.
It is just my business, one dream
Among many.

My business is not
Proof that I’ve ‘made it’, or
Evidence I’ve settled, given up, sold out, lost faith.
It doesn’t mean I’ve gone over to the other side
Become a success or failed a character test
It’s something to be proud of but not the only thing
It’s a part of me but I am not
A piece of it.
If it died I would still be here.
My business is not
Who I am in the world.

Poem: Marriage Equality

Here, we are having a postal vote about marriage equality- equal rights for same sex couples. It’s been a nightmare, triggering abuse from strangers and bringing up terrible memories. Both Rose and myself come from backgrounds where who we are and how we love was not at all okay. There’s deep wounds there. It’s hard to understand what that feels like if you haven’t lived it. So here’s a small extract from my journal, recently. 

I’ve no words for this, no words
No persuasion, no speeches, no points strung together in sequence
What I have is a strangled cry
Tears I can’t weep
I’m frozen and desiccated
An old tree curled over itself
Here is where my heart broke.

This is me, as a child, curled on the floor
Weeping and silently screaming as I beg god
To make me other than how I feel.

This is me, wanting to die
In my body is still the memory of that shape
Laying on the floor, wrapped around myself
My hands like claws, the taste of vomit in my mouth.

My body at night remembers the shape of that pain and returns to it
I lay on my side, curled around a self hated so deep, a terror so profound
I have no words or even tears, just the deep grieving in my bones
The void in the pit of my gut
The sickness in my heart, a kind of keening
Oh, oh, ooh
Let it not be
Let it not be like this
Let me keep my face turned from those days
The voice in my head that tells me I’m worth less and should die
Don’t make me look at the fear and loathing in your heart
The darkness in your embrace, the disgust in your eye
The purity of your sacrament that is not for me
Let me keep my arms around the peices of my heart
Don’t tear me open like this
Don’t tear us open where
All your hate falls out
All your brokenness.
How am I to bear it?

I’m asked to speak
To write, to share, to show
We are normal/sane/loving/safe
To lead from fear to hope but
I’m not here anymore, I’m long gone
I’m the little girl on the floor and I don’t have those words
I’m stuffed with darkness and the night and the violence of your rejection that leaves no bruises
I’m broken on the floor while the most sacred parts of my life
The deepest and most beautiful things in my world
My love, my beloved, my children, my friends
Are tossed around me by
People who are not choking on a memory of pain so vast
It still reverberates in my mind and binds my tongue
I’m still on the floor, screaming in fear.

My little girl nurses at my breast
Through the small hours where my sadness
Demands company and keeps me awake
She will not know this anguish
It will be alien to her, outside of her
One of your voices, perhaps, but not
My voice
Not her own voice
Taken and used against her
Not set into her blood or bone
A wound from outside perhaps, but not
Swallowed and poisoning from within.

That is the world I want for her.
No hand turned against itself
No bloodletting agony or self flagellation.
Where I know your rejection so intimately
I want her to know only bewilderment, only confusion.
To be outside of it,
To have grace for it,
To know for certain that she is loved.

Poem – Insomnia

Insomnia, my love, my love, no more dancing,
my feet ache and my eyes are burning.
No more kisses for my mouth, my puckered lips
have withered, my tongue
is dust dry,
my voice only a whisper. 

No more meeting like this
in the small hours where you enchant
me with your amber street lights,
hours of fears and planning and thoughts
running like waterfalls in my mind. 

We must be apart darling,
sweetness, my night mistress. 

No more inks and art calling me
and the touseled hair and pink cheeks of my baby
waiting for my kisses. 

I must not stand in the moonlight, love,
must not sip hot milk with honey
and cinnamon on the front porch
while the nightwind plays with my hair
and the trains sob in the distance. 

Let me be, sweet love, night lover,
let me rest in peace
and dream my strange dreams​. 

Stop waking me with your night rains
and sad weight on my chest.  

No more, love, no more, I cannot bear it.
Let me be, let me go, you must dance
with someone else awhile.

Let me rest, love, let me sleep.
Stop up my ears and sail past your beauty,
no more midnight shipwrecks, no more being cast
into the dark waters of your embrace,
into the sweet sting of your siren song.

Poem – New Parent

Returning to bed in the afternoon 
Watching the wind dance in the lace curtains 
Listening to the wind chimes crazy melody
The sky is white and waiting for rain 
We are nearing the end of winter.

Flannel sheets soft as down on my skin 
The quiet bliss of being clean and no one needing me
The morning’s tears have dried 
The evening’s yet to come 
My heart is out, wandering the world with the wind 
Wrapped to my lovers chest 

I lay here, waiting for sleep 
As the curtain breathes in and out 
As the light turns slowly silver.

30 weeks pregnant – Poem

I’ve been taking ‘mindfulness and meditation’ classes for pregnant people lately, and it’s been interesting. A few weeks ago we were doing a breathing exercise when we were given the instruction to “notice our baby”.

Immediately, I wept. Tears streaming silently down my face. I felt a deep sense of longing, and a door inside me briefly opened, then closed again.

I wrote this:

It’s not safe to be aware of you.
That’s what killed Tamlorn.
I sang about them, like a bird with an egg
And a predator found my nest and ate the egg
My little love gone.

This time, I’m silent.
You, my love, are nested
In the rushes down by the river
While all the babies are killed
As I try to sneak you past Death.

I do not sing
I do not even speak to you
I do not look to you, though my heart
Longs for you like a compass pointing north
You are not here, little one
Please, let them not notice you are here.

Poem – Terror

I am terrified.
I try very hard not to be.

Everything I build is a bright island
In a black sea
One day
There will be a storm
The water will rise
Or the land will sink
the sun will go out of my world again
not dead, or lost, or drowned
still shining somewhere else
but whatever blessing I was living on
will be withdrawn.

There will be no sense to it.
There will be nothing I did, or did not do.
It will follow no pattern.
All that is bright in the world
will be a memory
everyone I love will die
everything I care about will drown
beneath that black water
life will be unbearable pain.

Over and over again.

1 in 135 births is still born.

Even if the light shines on me
someone else goes home drowning
the simple arithmetic of loss
someone will get their heart broken.
I’m 23 weeks pregnant
and drowning in survivors guilt.
Terrified of the future
And I still can’t talk to the baby.
Oh Job, did it work for you?
Can you really give back children after taking them?
Or did you howl in the bitter hours of the better days too?
Like all of us who love from brokenness.

The sun is shining
and the sun is shining
and I’m not afraid
and there’s no darkness coming

The sun is shining
and it shines for me
because I’ve done the right things
and I’ve figured life out

Nothing bad is going to happen
Night will never fall again
Everything is under control now
Life gives us what we deserve.

How do we live without our lies and illusions?
How do we face the sun when we know it’s dying?
I crawl from my broken place, over to you love
touch your face, and it’s wet with tears too,
kiss your wet face with tears in my mouth
the sun on our faces shining
The sun shining on your glorious face
The glorious sun shining on your tears.

Poetry in the Night

Today I had a root canal re-drilled and packed by my dentist. I did admin, made phone calls, cooked dinner. Adult mode, functioning mode, clear mind, to do list, one thing and then the next, daylight.

This evening I’m picking up the teen staying with us from their work because they finish too late for safe travel on public transport. It’s dark and raining a little and I didn’t want to get out of my comfy chair and do more things.

But now I’m here… I remember how much I love the night. The rain calls to me and I feel the day slip away from me like a dream. It’s beautiful here, the world shines and smells of wet earth. I think about a talk I’m going to give to some doctors about psychosis soon and how, if I can, I will try and hold the space and evoke a little of the night in it, bring them here. I think of how we talk about feelings and altered states in white rooms under white lights, dressed in suits. And I think about the strange people like me on the edges of the known world, feeling things in the night. I think of my friend who died alone with her face cupped in her hand. I think of Amanda Palmer touching my face as I told her about my friend who killed herself. Belonging is about feeling. It’s about the night. I’m whole here in a way I can never be in the day. I think about waking two nights ago to the terrifyingly familiar thought “Nothing makes any sense”, a lingering echo of my recent plunge into the void. I think of waking this morning from dreams of ecological disaster and wondering what world my child will walk and how long it will last. I think of myself birthing in the dark, face painted like I’m in a psychosis, sailed far into my own deeps, beyond shared understanding or common language. Naked and bearing down on the world, bringing whole galaxies of neurons into existence within a tiny new body for my lover to press to her face and gift with a name.

Poem: The Dying Star

Written one night camped by the ocean at the recent conference in Pt Lincoln. It was an incredible time.

in the bay
The ocean slaps at my feet
Far beyond the dark water
A single star falls
So bright,
So brief
Fading out before it reached the water
And I wept
On the far shore
I wept

Wrist poem – This is not my hand


The texts read:

This is not my hand.
Hamlet knows it not. Hamlet denies it.

You’re a hopeless romantic, Faber said.
It would be funny were it not serious.

You’re intuitively right, and that’s what counts.
Denham’s dentrifice… Consider the lilies, they toil not, neither do they spin.

Poem – The Dog in the Night

On the last hour
Of the last day
Of the conference
I find a way to hear and to speak
Trembling and ticcing, blurting and startling,
We have our first exchange.

She looks at me shrewdly – “It was hard for you to be here?”
“Yes.” I say with feeling
And suddenly they don’t listen because I’m armoured and brilliant
But because I’m naked and passionate.
Showing up was so hard.

Here, on the bay, afterwards,
I wake from a nap
To find the light fading
And the water calls to me, needs me to be
Out by it, watching the light fade from the sky
So I slip my velvet dress on and my woollen warm things
And go stand in it, in my little shoes,
The ones I wear because it is so very easy to slip them off
And go running over the lawn, like a child
Some things are easier to hear in clothes like this, easier to be present for with
Bare feet on grass.

The sky is a windswept fire
The ocean murmers a gentle heart beat
Grass sharp with cold dew
The stars, coming out, faintly, one by one
And I can’t help but wonder
If it is also hard
For my world to show up
Day after day, to a people too busy,
Too sick, too broken hearted to see or hear its language
If there’s some vast, subtle grief beneath the splendour
If the daisies, opening their faces to the sun and going to sleep again with the night
Close their petals with sorrow
If the crickets singing chose that deliberately wistful tune
Or the anxious dog out there in the dark, barking his incoherent warning into the shadows whenever I move
If he isn’t also crying out in a language I can barely understand,
Telling me the hour is late –
The night is vast.

The dolphins in the bay sing of love
But the dog in the night warns of loss
We have so little time left
To learn how to live.

In front of all this splendour
My hands feel so empty
I want to give something
Make something, touch something
Find some token of love and affection
To return to the world
And yet
When I open them,
The moonlight fills them
When I touch them to my face
They smell of the sea.
It is the question, and the answer both.

Poem – Understanding the power of professional detachment

In Day One of the Hearing Distressing Voices Workshop training, I had the awful but insightful experience of roll playing a professional mental health worker. It disturbed me deeply but also fascinated me, and I wrote this poem in my lunch break to try and capture as much as the experience as I could, so that I could reflect on it later.

The context of that role play is that the other workshop participants, those service providers and mental health staff who don’t have a personal experience of voice hearing, are trying to do tasks and engage with these pretend services, while wearing ear buds that are pouring ‘voices’ into their ears from an Mp3 player.

Myself and the voice hearers have been asked to pretend to be doctors and treat them as mentally ill patients – to be polite and respectful but filter everything they did through that framework and to maintain professional detachment in our manner. In some tasks we were actually delivering real psychological assessments (to determine their capacity and state of mind) that are used in residential and inpatient services today.

Role playing the doctor
I was nice
I made eye contact, smiled, shook their hand
Used their first name, didn’t touch without permission, didn’t sit behind a desk, didn’t ask questions about sex or trauma

But I also pushed then through,
Subtly dehumanised them
Didn’t give normal feedback signals
Respond to things they said
Treat them as intelligent adults.

And at the end I wanted to cry
I wanted to throw up
I wanted to run around the room and beg everyone for forgiveness and to know that wasn’t me
I wanted to be touched, to be hugged, to hear the voice of my loved ones
I wanted to be made human again.

My voice was screaming “I hate myself”
My hand was ticking violently in front of everyone
I was rocking
Swaying with nausea and exhaustion and intensity

The most terrifying aspect of it
The darkest part
The most triggering thing
Is that it was…


So fucking easy to do.
I had a quota to get through
I had to reduce wait times
I had to get people through assessments as quickly as possible
I was totally secure in my knowledge that I was one of the good practitioners
I was one of the nice ones, I smiled and was polite and respectful
I was exasperated by how many of them there were
How unwilling they were to cooperate
How unwell they were
How slow at tasks
Easily confused
Constantly needing me to slow down, repeat myself
Everyone was filtered through a single paradigm –
Did they make my job easier or harder?

They disobeyed even simple instructions
They treated me as the enemy and the bad guy
They allied against me
They were unhelpful in directing their own recovery
Lacking insight
In need of guidance
Nothing like me or the other doctors.

They tested extremely poorly
The ones who tested better were often more aggressive and hostile
Clearly less unwell
Probably too high functioning for the program.

And I was totally outside of the drama
Above it
They got angry, frustrated, hurt, petty
But I was completely secure
Armoured in professionalism
Nothing they did could actually hurt me
They simply didn’t have that power
They could irritate me or trigger a little warmth
Share a moment of connection if they talked to me with the right mix of respectful gratitude and equality
But they were like children
I saw the whole picture and they knew nothing
Nothing about the service, nothing about themselves, nothing about mental health or treatment
I was the expert and I was here to try to make them do the things I knew would help them get better
They were mostly an impediment to this process
And they couldn’t make me feel anything, anymore than a 3 year old screaming “mummy I hate you!” had the power to devastate
They just couldn’t.

So they were in the muck
In crisis
Hopeless at caring for themselves
Full of needlessly intense feelings
No capacity to see the whole picture
To appreciate my role or how hard I work for them
It was a thankless job
And they were often degrading to me
But fortunately I’m very secure in the knowledge that I’m doing a good thing in the world
I don’t really need their validation
It’s gratifying when it happens but it’s not necessary
And I’m so glad I’m not like them
So glad I can look after myself, shower, dress well, cook, clean, hold down my job, my relationships
I’m very blessed and I know it
There but for the grace of god…
I’m glad that I make a difference in their lives
It’s good to be able to give back to those less fortunate.

*More discussion in the comments

The Power of Art

Today I read a beautiful book called Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech. It made me weep, it was so beautiful.

We, the 30 or so of us who make up Sarah, do not share our personal names. Now, we’re pretty relaxed about the whole multiplicity thing. Open and out! But, we never give a fixed number for how many parts there are in my system, because I never assume that our system map is completely accurate and finished, and I’m comfortable with that.

We have never been happy about openly identifying as individuals – on many blogs by multiples there will be a page where you can read about their system members – and I’ve always admired that, but it makes me feel incredibly exposed. Because we are highly co-conscious and switch many times a day, there’s a degree of fluidity, of somewhat ‘integrated’ functioning. In arguments a whole bunch of us may switch through, speak our piece, finish each other’s sentences, drop back inside. There’s a sort of unconscious dance between us, a façade of unity, and a lot of largely unconscious and instinctive effort to prevent anyone from noticing switching or the differences between parts.

Some of us would love to identify ourselves openly and use our real names, but for others this is an unthinkable violation. The degree of exposure stress is intense – far worse than stripping in public, for some of us this is more akin to taking off clothes, then skin and bone, pulling out organs and uncurling brain matter for people to play with. It violates a deeply held need to pretend not to be multiple. Because multiplicity has worked brilliantly for us as a way of navigating horrible situations, but revealed it can actually make you more vulnerable rather than less. Every time someone not incredibly close to me has noticed or had their attention drawn to an obvious switch, very bad things have resulted. People are positively phobic about switching, and scared people do not react well.

For us, our names are also triggers that often cue a switch. Talking about a part and using their truename will frequently bring them out – or at least to the surface to hear what is being said about them!

Names and identifying ourselves individually are highly personal, private, intimate things. Only my lover, my very closest people, at this point are granted that information. I do not even permit my shrinks to know this or know me like this. This may change later, it may not.

Our feelings on this matter are almost certainly informed by our background in sci/fi and fantasy. Anyone who has loved works such as the Chronicles of Morgan, Prince of Hed, or the Earthsea cycle will recognise the idea that names have power, and that truenames are intimate. Does this mean I’ve imagined my multiplicity to fit with wild fantasy ideas? Snort. It means that my experience of my self and the world has been informed in many ways, by many people, and for me writers have often been better guides than shrinks. I’m grateful to have books like these in my life. I’m grateful to be a writer. And it’s not just writers – theatre, songwriters, painters – all the arts. They tell us so much about what it is so be human. They are so real and so raw and so essential to my life. Without Cave, or Bradbury, I would not be here. I would have broken, broken far beyond repair. I needed others who saw the world the way I saw it, who hurt, or hoped, or learned, and shared in such ways that I felt what they felt, lived their lives with them. I have written often about my love of the arts, how much they have given, how they are the foundation of my ‘mental health’.

Before language about multiplicity, there was just the noise inside. Just the kaleidoscope shifting as switching changed everything about the world. We wrote to each other. We wrote hate. We wrote terror. We wrote love poems. We wrote to see ourselves, and re-read what we had written, and slowly learned about ourselves.

Hate that Cat is a book in poems. It reminded me of that process – instinctive, inarticulate, confused, driven, full of pain and bewilderment. Not done as a ‘therapy’ as ‘obedience’ to some grant recovery plan. Done, in fact, in opposition to those who accused me of wallowing. But somehow my lifeline to my self, my mirror of the world. I understand understanding yourself and your world through poems. They are our first language, our first connection, our home. Other people have other first languages.

How blessed I have been in this. We who write ourselves into being at the edge of the night, how fortunate we are. There is so much richness in the works of those I love. They have been my friends, mentors, parents, companions, ghosts. They have held my heart when it was too broken to live in my body any more. They have kept alive a dream that one day I would have a place in the world, a tribe, a sense of connection. That one day there would be love, there would be intimacy, closeness, people who could hear my soul, those who knew how to listen. Or at least – that there had been others like me, even if they were now long dead. I might be the last of my species, ruined and broken and hopeless, but I had a species. Other people also had breakable hearts, had bled in poems. I might be alone but I was not alone through all time and space. Not the only one ever.

That was, and is, deeply precious to me. Isn’t this what we all need? Isn’t being human finding a way to sing the song I’ve sung to Tamlorn, and finding people who will sing it back to us? To be loved that deeply. What does that have to do with art? Everything. What does art have to do with pain, madness, grief, suffering, mental illness? Absolutely everything.

Poem – At the end

Day one of the ISPS conference on psychosis is over. I’ve wept, I’ve met many new people, I’ve made friends, shared ideas, had paradigms challenged, found support, listened, learned, talked, shone, and soaked up all within reach of me. I’m back in bed now, dazed, sleep deprived, and changing gear. Poetry is a good place to come back to when you’re feeling skinless, so:

We have blazed brightly and now
At the end, alone in the dim
Comes the haunting fragility – the nakedness
Away from the theatre, from the pagentry
The balloons deflate
Not because it is not real
But because life cannot always be the lights and noise,
The parade of new fascinating people,
The urgent connections, sudden introductions, immediate revelations…


I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve told today that I’m sometimes psychotic or always multiple.
Or shared unfinished thoughts with, not polished and perfected but still forming
How many times I’ve stood tall in my boots, grasped firmly my right to be here, to have a voice, an opinion, an experience, a right also to hear, to be part of these precious conversations, to drink from the cup of privileged knowledge.
To be grateful and enlightened.

And now?
I’ve gorged on food too rich for my spirit.
At some point even the largest, most gluttonous python must go into a cave,
Sleep in the dark and digest.

Now my boots lie empty beside the bed. I’m alone and naked in the darkness
Shedding all the roles like skin
I’m no one again, and glad for it.
I leave the world to Atlas and go to bed.
Tomorrow the sun will rise without me
The world will be beautiful and horrific and I’ll play no part in either, for just a few hours.

Shivering in the cold,
My soul slowly wanders back into my body,
Tremulous and tender, silent and gentle
Like a small creature, I feel it curling round,
Patting down the ground of me with tiny paws,
Making a bed of me to sleep.
How blessed I am to have such a soul
To lie here trembling with it
Listening to its silent, bewildered language
Watching the dreams come in, like fog feeling its way blindly over the bay.

Mother’s Day




Love to all mothers, to those of us with hearts brimming over and those with hearts tattered and battered and torn. To those with hearts broken by yearning and sick with unrealised dreams. Love to those grieving, to those mothers who can’t or won’t use the word mother, who fall through the holes of our language into a silence, those who love dead unborn children, who mourn children lost, who love children they have no claim of flesh and bone and law to but love them anyway. Love to all women who love and give life to and grow something more than themselves.

Love to all children, to those of us with hearts brimming over and those with hearts tattered and battered and torn. To those with hearts broken by yearning and sick with unrealised dreams. Love to those grieving, to those children who can’t or won’t use the term mother for a woman who once bore them but did not love them well, who fall through the holes of our understanding into a silence, those who love dead mothers, who mourn mothers lost, who love women they have no claim of flesh and bone and law to but love them anyway. Love to all children and once children who love and are brought alive by and grow because of or in spite of a mother.

(thanks to Ellie Hodges thoughtful facebook post for the image)


Poem – The Roar

We cremated Tamlorn yesterday. It was very hard to go to the funeral home, to face this painful thing. And yet, it was transformative. Unexpectedly, something shifted in me.

The scream behind my silence becomes a roar
I can breathe again, the weight lifts.
Perhaps it was not grief, but silence.

The silencing, the weight of a culture that says ‘do not grieve’
for fear of being accused of wallowing, or worse, 
public wallowing. 

Like cresting a steep hill, I inhale the view, deeply.
You were part of our family, dearly loved.
and we mourned you as we mourn our own.
Even the cats have graves – even little injured 
wild birds that die on the way to the vet.  

Something came and took you from us
into the night and I thought I’d never get you back.
There was just the void and a great silence.
A deep numbness. In that place, you did not exist, neither did I. 

But somehow, in this defiance – naming you
mourning you, cremating you, in some way we drew you back
from formlessness, you took on shape
became a part of our family, honored by our rituals, inducted as a member.
Part of a legacy.  

We are your home, love.
You are not a body washed up nameless on foreign soil
you are not a stray dog dying alone out in the bush
you are ours. We took you back. 
You lived and died in our body
we have sung you to life and back to death again
we have burned you with lavender and rosemary
the drum of my heart calls your name
you are here, you are here, you are here. 

Poem – Saying Goodbye

We are going to arrange Tamlorn‘s cremation tomorrow. I have been gathering the poems and sharings from other people, but finding myself wordless. It was very hard to find some way to say what I needed to. In the end, I wrote this poem. All will be burned to ashes with Tamlorn’s tiny body.

Whenever I try to find
A way to say goodbye
There’s no words in me
No poems or flowers that can speak for me
Just a scream rising up inside
If I let it loose, the sound would break the world. 

I don’t know how to say goodbye.
I can’t bear this.
I can’t bear to face you
And I can’t bear that life goes on without you
Everything is wreathed in pain. 

Are you there?
I don’t know if you are there.
I don’t know where you came from
I don’t know if there is any spirit left
After your heart wound down.
I can’t, with all my agony, pierce the veil
I can’t find absolution
I can’t find certainty
I can’t find hope. 

My abdomen has deflated like a soft balloon
My breasts sag gently onto my chest
My body remembers you, little one.
I loved you so very much and
I’m not sure that you knew that. 

There’s a pain in me that nothing stops.
There’s a terror in me that nothing eases.
I feel like running, screaming through the streets
Naked, tearing out my hair, like a madwoman
Screeching “We’re all dying! We’ve so little time!”
The end is coming for us all. 

I felt you once, so near, flesh of my flesh
Now I do not feel you at all.
I cannot hear anything over the harsh sound of my breath
Over the frantic beating of my heart
Life is brief and it is taken from us
I can’t find meaning in this. 

Who were we, I think, to love you so dearly?
Unknown, unmet, undeserving
When the world is full of loneliness and death
When so many children grow without love
My hypocrisy chokes me
I am ashamed. 

I wish I knew you and I’m glad I didn’t know you.
I think about babies dead at birth, or 3 months, or 2 years
Dead at 8, or 16, or 27 – it’s unbearable.
I keep dreaming my mother dies.
I keep dreaming of losing everyone.
And in the meantime, try not to tear my life apart
Cutting strings with my sharp pain
The brutal arithmetic of loss, the restlessness
The need to run, to make a mark, to change something
Here in this little life.
To make it mean something
That I lived, when you did not.
To atone. 

I loved you, and it was not enough.
I do not deserve life, as you did not deserve to die.
I can’t make it right.
I’m just here, wordless, choked
Terror, and loss, and love
Empty hands and heart screaming
This is what is left of love, little one
This silence that has a scream beneath it
These empty hands, this empty womb, my breast folded soft against my skin.
This is love seen at night, love on the cliff at the edge of the void and it’s unrecognisable
It’s sharp as knives and burns like poison and there’s no comforting me
It tears my dress and pulls out my hair and runs blood down the inside of my legs
This is love in the shadow of your loss, Tamlorn
It’s a mad and terrible thing
It’s a death, of a kind, a kind of despair
The keening howl of a wolf returning, who finds the den destroyed
There are no words here, no peace
This is love, my love
This is how mothers say goodbye.