Writing my Book

Ive not done the blogg for a while, I’ve been writing a memoir and now I’ve hit 30,000 words I wanted to stop and breathe and to say hello. It’s such a roller coaster, writing stuff, especially life stuff, but it’s a rich experience too, it’s like weeding an overgrown patch of land and finding the flowers you’d forgotten about. I’ve been pitching to literary agents as the writing continues, each day having an encounter with the past, remembering good and bad things, happy and painful things, just life really. This time last year I was at home recovering from a severe breakdown and preparing for a giant walk of 183 miles back to London for Missing People. It was a limbo time. When you have been missing, coming home is terrifying. Not because you don’t want to be there, but because you have to face the reasons why you left in the first place. Some people have been less than kind about my leaving without considering why, they based their decision on who I left behind. To them I say, that’s ok. Your judgement doesn’t change my experience and it is yours to choose, I have no malice. The irony here is that the one I left behind understood the most because she had been there through the chaos that preceded the crash, she got it. Others, professionals who stepped in to hold me up, called it ‘burn out’, a form of PTSD, after ten years of caring and after losing eleven of my closest people in quick succession. Good friends gently welcomed me back then gave us space to settle again, others pushed for more information, taking my leaving as a rejection of them. Others never mentioned it again. Others demanded more detail, more information, for their own satisfaction, creating pressure that we couldn’t carry. It’s a little bit like coming out, you don’t just do it once, it’s a lifetime event. Being missing becomes like a scar, either a public event or a dirty secret, the cowards way out. Trust me, leaving doesn’t afford you such strategies, it is an explosion in your head, like a map that’s spinning so fast that your giddiness stops you standing still for fear of falling. Every road is blocked, you can’t breathe. I hope that my story will shed light on the missing experience, although I appreciate that everyone who leaves has a different narrative. If I can leave you with some thoughts. Imagine your life, what makes you feel your authentic self. Society tells us that we are valuable if we have an identity as partner, parent, professional, member of a social network. What titles would you give to yourself? I mean the things that get you up in the morning, the reasons you are motivated. The routines, your dependents, your rhythms. Imagine a day, then a week, then a month, then a year of those rhythms. How does it look? Comforting? Validating? Reassuring? Affirming? Then, close your eyes and imagine that one day all of those patterns, those rhythms, those objectives, those traditions, those motivators, those identities, they’ve all gone, blown away on the breeze. The birds have stopped singing. There is no more colour.  The cycle of the day isn’t turning. The routines you held are over. The battles you fought are won? The passions that held you have left. My friends, that’s the ‘Missing moment’. When the hearts that you beat for have stopped and you can’t find your way back.

Back to the book………….. xxxxxxxxxxxx

Hope

A day of quiet reflection, what a difference a year makes. It’s twelve months since my spirit broke and the clown mask fell off, the most singularly terrifying experience of my entire life where, after a three year battle with depression and being the strong one, holding everyone else together, I eventually found myself in the care of the metropolitan police under section for a night, in a London hospital -no longer a missing person. Trust me, it takes some processing, but I am nearing completion of my book and have many exciting opportunities ahead, with the love of a beautiful wife and incredible professional support I got well again. Mental ill health is still a taboo subject, it frightens people, but you can get well, I promise. You never truly come back from a big crash but you learn to adapt and breathe and live a different pace of life and you find out what friendship really means.I’m thankful today, because I’m here and able to help others if possible simply because it’s how we roll isn’t it, helping each other. Please don’t be a stranger to a friend who is struggling, they may not be in a position to tell you their pain but if you can see it, sense it, feel it, hold onto them, stand by them,it’s a lonely place. So, today I am grateful for life and holding my head up high as a survivor.

“May we always be a friend to a stranger and never a stranger to a friend”

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My beautiful wife spent time in Uganda several years before we married, as a physiotherapist, she was able to support women with their back care and became involved with health care, prison visiting and other work in Namatala slum, Mbale. Coming home, after building friendships and hearing the stories of people’s lives and daily struggles for the things we in the west take so much for granted, she experienced some real challenges on returning. Overwhelmed by a supermarket choice, overwhelmed by the absolute privilege of electricity and water and food, acutely in touch with our fragility as a universe. Only recently I watched her as she stood face to face with hundreds of chocolate Easter eggs on the shelves of our local shop, I shall never forget the look of horror on her face when asked to choose one, it overwhelmed something deep within that was borne out of one thing, experiencing the pain of others.

Last night we spent a wonderful evening with friends preparing to leave for long term work in Bangladesh, stepping out to fulfil a lifelong ambition to serve others now that their own family have grown and flown the nest. They are preparing to embrace a completely different culture with different perspectives on wealth and health and education and equality. They too recognise that when they revisit the uk, there will be inevitable impact upon how they perceive and make comparisons to life back in the western world.

Last year, we attended the Missing People memorial concert in St Martin in the Field, Trafalgar Square. It was attended by families and friends of missing loved ones and a time for reflection, hope and shared empathy. The Missing People Choir were performing and it was a time when supporters and families stood shoulder to shoulder with one another in the shared knowledge of each other’s pain. I was humbled that Davina McCall read out my story of gratitude to the choir to thank them for the impact that their voices had had on my own life. What I hadn’t expected to happen during that evening was to experience a deep sense of returners guilt. As I sat there, in that beautiful church, surrounded by people who were missing loved ones, I felt the onus of responsibility for their loss, I felt like the representative of their pain as if I had no right to be there. That wasn’t due in any part to the welcome we had received, it was an internal reaction to external stimuli. And, as we mingled afterwards, there was a very difficult dynamic to manage whereby, we as survivors of trauma were surrounded by people who were still very much living that nightmare and wanting answers from me about their own loved ones situations. We left with an overwhelming sense of having walked a mile in the shoes of others and it took several days to process that fraudulent feeling of cowardice.

Over recent months we have experienced varying reactions to my missing time, people have actually said things such as ; “How could your wife ever forgive you?”, or “You should’ve been celebrating life” and “How could you leave your wife?” People putting their own spin on a unique story that reflects their own interpretation or understanding of mental health crisis and bereavement. Each time an opinion is expressed we are either compelled to try to justify it or choose to walk away from it, either way, we are left with a sense of bewilderment at the fiery darts that come often as throw away comments.

Every story is unique and each with its own set of circumstances, I guess that the root of my own perspective is twenty years as a social worker, where you can be thrown into situations of having to make professional judgements that can be at odds with our own values or emotions and yet still faced with the reality that what we do today will have consequences far more reaching tomorrow.

Whatever our story, it is ours to tell and ours to wrestle with and find resolution to, wether it be being overwhelmed by the choice of bread in a city supermarket, gratitude at the freedom of our children to play without desease or hunger, or the sense of relief and humility at having recovered from a mental health breakdown that has given a second chance at life and helping others. We are all part of the same puzzle, the tapestry that looks a mess on the back but on the reverse is a beautiful landscape of diversity and brilliance, a world to be cherished and nurtured in whatever small corner we find ourselves.

“May we always be a friend to a stranger and never a stranger to a friend”

Ju Blencowe April 2018

 

 

 

My Missing Anniversary

My Missing Anniversary432A37A4-8BE1-49C7-8ABA-CEB1C4A0C5F4Its approaching the twelve month anniversary of the time I was missing. It would be the easiest thing to quietly let it pass by and there will be private moments of reflection and thankfulness but I can’t roll up such a significant life event and pack it away in an old trunk somewhere like some dark, dirty secret. That wouldn’t have the potential to reassure, empower, comfort people who may be walking that thin line themselves today and it wouldn’t be helping to dispel the myths around missing experiences either.

‘Keeping Faith’ aired recently on BBC Wales with the amazing actor Eve Myles was such a compelling roller coaster of emotion and deviation and it was also in the minutiae where the heart rending despair cut through; the holding and smelling of a loved ones garment, the rocking in the shower, the guttural cries, the repetition of listening to one last voicemail…….genius. It is art forms like this, alongside the narrative that we as survivors can offer that can change perspectives.

There is shame and stigma and stereotypical responses to many aspects of mental health crisis and vulnerability, ironically I spent a large part of my life teaching anti oppressive, anti discriminatory practice to people in professions at the sharp end of supporting people through those times and many of those passions and commitments and drivers were borne out of my own struggles and lived experiences, nothing is ever wasted.

After the death of my Dad as a young woman I moved away from my original life as a musician and painter to train as a social worker and now I find myself back with my first love, not just to create for its own sake but to weave those life experiences into genres and shapes that can be shared and heard and seen and read. Looking back I can hardly believe that I survived for so long on adrenaline alone trying to prove to those who told me as a child that I would never succeed at anything. How many others live life in the shadows of their own dreams and aspirations because someone, somewhere dared to rob them of those possibilities. I pushed and strived and despite leaving school way too early and being buffeted from service to service I remember the day when the tables turned and I thought “I’ll prove that I can”. Five degrees and a senior lecturers post later I found myself rattling around a cage of my own making where the creative elements were stifled and long gone and the bureaucratic tethering just a beast of a burden where I didn’t even recognise my own face anymore. You see, I went missing years ago, being missing was the beginning of finding myself again. I simply had a broken heart and it got fixed through the love of others.

I am fortunate, I came home, I got well, I processed my grief, recovered from the ‘burn out’ and I am here to tell the story thanks to the love of my beautiful wife, close friends and the charity Missing People. Life is rich and hopeful and real and what once seemed like an endless experience of loss has been restored to a daily embracing of second chances. It’s not something I take for granted but it’s a life that leaves me feeling for those who are struggling and joining with those who are standing up to be counted. I have always been a staunch advocate for people without a voice and I admire those who are willing to show their vulnerability in order to stand in solidarity with those who cannot. When it becomes the norm to talk openly and honestly about mental ill health without fear of being judged, deselected, discredited or rejected, that’s true empathy and there are so very many of us striving for that status of equity and civility, acceptance and acknowledgment that we have so much to contribute to this rich life.

We’re not square pegs in round holes, we’re  people sat next to us on the bus, behind us at the til, at the desk opposite, at the school gates, on the stage, in the wings, in the football crowd, in the patrol car and in the daily lives of ordinary people, we laugh, we tell jokes, we care for others, we love, we lose, we aspire, we fall, we get up, vulnerability does not discriminate. Listen to our songs, hear our poetry, read our stories, watch our performances, look at our paintings, we’re your neighbours, we’re your partners, we’re your children, we’re your family, we’re strangers, we’re human. I have a friend who once said to me “show me the invulnerable” and as my wife’s favourite saying goes; “Broken Crayons Still Colour” xxxxxxxx

“The Head Not The Tail”

I’ve been away for a few weeks in the beautiful welsh countryside near to the Pembrokeshire coastal path and the blustery Irish Sea. Just me and the 🐶. We have experienced the most extremes of weather, snow, hale, ice, wind, rain and sunshine, each day bringing with it fresh air and new life and each night, in the pitch black darkness the most awesome stars.

I have recently been privy to a wonderful book; Fast Track your Memoir by Racheal Herron, ‘twas   the only companion needed for going off grid with the sole purpose of writing my own story. In her text, Racheal refers to Brene Brown, an inspirational speaker and fellow social worker who I have found thought provoking  for many years, often using her work in my own lectures and teaching sessions on professional integrity and self care. Brene talks about the importance of sharing our stories with the right people, emphasising that if we share with the wrong person,they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.

I know that in the coming months I shall be choosing to share mine and that opportunities are arising to enable me to do so honestly and sensitively but I’m not nieve, I recognise that in some respects that will be costly and open to misinterpretation, such is the nature of that world and the human experience. And yet, at the same time I know that it will be cathartic and therapeutic, not in the clinical sense but in the increasing knowledge that I shall be standing shoulder to shoulder with an ever growing population of people also telling theirs, my community.

As a child, growing up ‘different’ meant that finding a sense of community was difficult, times away from home for long periods were hard and later, in my teens, I lived in a welsh community and subsequent ‘faith’ communities that ultimately saw me ostracised and excommunicated because of my difference. I was fortunate, I was taken in by a family who despite their own ethical challenges simply loved me and those who sought to quieten my creative voice because I was the ‘wrong shape’ succeeded for some twenty years or more but didn’t ultimately have the final say.

Finding my own way back was a complex, rich, often humorous, sometimes tragic process which only truly found its voice again after grief, loss, mental health crisis, going missing and then finding freedom through personal pilgrimage and the beautiful voices of others who were living with and singing through their own pain.

I could have just stayed home, written songs in private, grown vegetables, stroked the cat, kept a diary, painted on a Sunday, doing what our culture has often historically seen as the right thing to do, not airing your dirty washing in public. But I can’t do that. It would feel as if all of the struggle and the years of defeat and overcoming barriers had been a waste of time. People in the media sharing their own stories recently have given me courage to stand up, to articulate, to filter the pain and the passion and to bring people into a world where it’s possible to find solace and healing if we dare to look our demons in the eye and declare what my friend Carrie would say “I’m the head not the tail”.

I want to stand alongside and join that army of warriors who know what it’s like having been battle worn but equally have sight of the joy and hope in reaching out to others in the thick of their own challenges.

So, I’ve been off grid and shall be for a while longer, writing, writing and more writing, the dog has been worn out from walking and the air that I have breathed has been life affirming and invigorating. Even this minute the dog’s tail is wagging so vigorously that he’s smacking himself in the thighs at the anticipation of one of mummy’s ‘thinking walks’.

It has meant digging deep, no half measures, no dilution and it s well under way, the only story I am truly qualified to tell, it has a shape, a context and a purpose and hopefully, once finished, a publisher!

Its the story of a chance knock on a hotel room door, the misinterpretation of a random sentence and a bottle of Champagne that changed my life course and led me back to a place where the voices of others gave me back my own.

See you on the other side

Ju xxxx

 

 

Time to come out of the shadows, blowing the cobwebs away

Sharing some of my artwork from when I had my own studio after being one of the first young people to benefit from sponsorship by The Princes Trust after overcoming challenges in my childhood. Was lucky to be chosen to then paint and exhibit for Prince Charles 40th birthday and went on to enjoy some success in exhibition after gaining a first class degree in fine art in Lancashire. Not bad for a kid that left school way too early with no qualifications but painting was such a valuable means of expression and I’m becoming more and more inclined to start painting again. Sadly, a lot of the main degree show and subsequent pictures are now gone as they were on average over nine feet long. It was a sad day when I had to take them to the refuge tip because I had nowhere to store them. My main focus for my degree exhibition was industrial landscape in the West Midlands with poetry to go alongside it. It feels strange to be sharing this work now but absolutely the right thing to do, it’s like my songs, they’ve been collecting dust for too long, time to come out of the shadows, sending love, Ju x