The Storms that Follow us

Its World Mental Health Day 2018, a poignant title for an all encompassing lived experience for many.  I would usually perhaps share a quote or a photo or make a comment about the importance of awareness but as the years change so am I changing and it feels right this year to be a little more open and to own what mental health struggle has meant for me personally all of my life. The climate is changing, people are becoming accustomed to reading about, sharing and owning their stories and I have spent the past eight months writing my own. But something struck me recently, something that was difficult to swallow, a revelation moment. The realisation that despite my own commitment to promoting change I have personally carried a burden of shame for my own story . I could hold up the metaphorical banners, stand on the virtual soap box even teach the applied law that linked to good practice, but I still held my own personal story in a box with a very tight lid on it, wrapped in a chain and locked from the inside. Why? Because I feared rejection, stigma, misinterpretation and a loss of control. It is only through writing that I have become enabled to open that box, hold my own pain in my hand, open it, look at it, own it and gently blow on it and watch it take flight. Those of you who have read my blog since it’s beginning will know that it started as a result of my going missing after losing my mum to dementia having been her primary carer for ten years. During that time I had become broken and diminished and all of the things that I had used to survive with had been taken away; a career as teaching fellow in social work; the security of work; the privacy of home; the identity as daughter and carer, my free spirited self as a musician, painter and writer, all gone in the passing of my mum. The day that I awoke and left my home I had no idea of who I was anymore. It has taken a very long time to reach a point of recovery that enables me to now share that experience, simply as one human being reaching out to others who feel the darkness too.

When  I was growing up, people with autistic traits like me were the ‘odd’ ones, we felt more deeply, hurt more easily, reacted more abstractly, saw the world through a prism of light and shade and sound and emotion that rendered us vulnerable to change and often misunderstood for our compelling need for transparency. We were  hidden away during times of crisis, smoothed over by regimes of ignorance, quietened by medication and labelled inaccurately. Those labels may have been transient words written on a page to those who chose them but to people like myself they were the defining elements of our futures. Some of us wriggled ourselves free momentarily, some of us became enmeshed in them like the beautiful sea creatures we see today, choking on the plastic debris casually disguarded by others. We were therefore not only living with the suffocation of sensory overload but also now weighted down by the negative anchors of poorly chosen words that became enshrined in our history well after the people who wrote them had gone.

Today is the day that I am going to stand on the very tips of my toes and say the words out loud to the world that I am a survivor of those very systems. I was a child who was misunderstood, I sat alone on squeaky chairs too big for my little frame  hidden away in a large psychiatric hospital for being different, for feeling too much, for caring too deeply for not being able to engage with expected routines and prescribed stages of education and social interaction.  In the 1970’s, if you were different you were treated as different and different in those times meant being placed on a production line of theoretical principles that would endeavour to twist, manipulate and remould you into a shape that would, if packaged correctly, fit you neatly back into the community you had left without them even noticing that you had gone. Have you ever tried cutting a perfect circle out of a piece of paper and the more you cut the more the shape you are aiming for is dimished until you’re left with a spiral of cascading, bouncing, dancing spheres that own their own space and move where the wind blows. It’s a little like that, the more we try to force a leaf to stop rolling in the autumn breeze the less likely we are to ever catch the essence of why it moves. We have need to catch it, stop it, stamp on it to make it stop when it was made to blow in the wind and to celebrate its colour and form and beauty and uniqueness.

Today it is Mental Health Day. Today parents are still battling for their young ones to be able to roll in the breeze as their authentic selves without fear of stigma, redress of ridicule. Today people are still fighting for the rights to services and treatment and understanding and educational systems that celebrate difference and capture the anticipation of what that creative difference can do to change our world view. Today there is a vaneer of progress that offers up hope of change but it is an ongoing battle of wits between bureaucracy, resources and enlightened practice. Today is a day for acknowledging that we still have a long way to go before we make it right for people who are misunderstood.

Many of us spend our lives using energy that is beyond human understanding in order to mask our real world experience and to cut it into the perfect circle that gives us a chance of acceptance, livelihood, relationship and community. But for many that isn’t sustainable, there will come a time when the energy runs out and the mask drops off and we are left dangling our legs from an oversized chair feeling bewildered and overwhelmed by a society that tells us if we’re not running with the pack the wolves will eat us.

Today I am standing with those who don’t run with the pack. Those whose feet have other paths to tread, those who relate to people from a circular perspective and yet feel as if cornered in a square. I am with you, I am for you, I am one of you.

The Dark has a Friendly Face

By Ju Blencowe 

Published by Jessica Kingsley, Spirituality, Values and Mental Health, Jewels for the Journey 2007

The dark has a friendly face

where each shadow knows its own place

And it sways to the pace of the night

As it rocks it’s way back into light

It will cover and shelter and hide

All the things that we covet inside

And it stills all the storms of the deep

As the world and it’s people all sleep


The dark has a friendly face

When nobody knows where you are

And the sky is as black as my soul

And the whistling breeze reminds me I’m here

And alive and in control


The dark has a friendly face

As it dwindles it’s way into dawn

And it tucks itself neatly away

Til the dusk and the evening are born


The dark has a friendly face

And it sits up all night like a friend

And it ticks and it tocks into day

When the lull in the chaos will end


With love, Ju xBF3B257C-C2C6-49AF-B617-44457C7B9732









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