Some personal posts

This post gathers together links to some personal posts about the trauma related depression I have been suffering from. as I edit this in May 2018 there is something of a narrative arc now that wasn’t there when I started.

It’s partly a series of posts about friendship, partly about the background to and development of some debilitating mental health problems, charting the disintegration, the steps to counselling and therapy, and some early steps to what I hope will be a recovery.






Memories remembered

Train trip


Before talking 

I don’t have the word


The questionnaire

Thought for the day


Talking again

The Spielvogel moment


The appointment – I

The Appointment – II

be kind to yourself  

The Appointment – III 

Today it begins 

The third session 

The memory dump 

Schrodinger smiles

A sensory four dimensional jigsaw 


Days of the hedgehog


Conversation before the light work 


Reaching out 


Some stuff 

“It happened and I can learn to move on”


In the loop 

Words matter

Hurting yourself


I don’t know who I am 

The map 

Memories and remembering

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Who is Keir Starmer?

Judging by the many profiles on the Twitter the question that journalists think that many people are asking about Keir Starmer, new leader of the labour party is who is Keir Starmer, new leader of the labour party?

Well, he is a man who is the new leader of the labour party.


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Lines written by the second Mrs de Winter on first reading Proust

Last night I dreamt

I ate

a madeleine


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The books that made me

Every week i read the “books that made me” feature in the Guardian. It often provokes a social media response as people give honest responses, dismissing genres, or much loved writers. But there is always something interesting about seeing likes and dislikes.
Having not written a blogpost for a while i thought i should ease my way back in. So here are my responses. The books that made me.

The book I am currently reading
I tend to have two or three things on the go at once, what I choose to read depending on mood. I recently sorted out books and recovered my Anthony Burgess collection at the back of a bookcase, and listened to a couple of documentaries about him on BBC Sounds. At the moment I am reading a couple of books by Anthony Burgess, Any old iron (one of the documentaries was about his promotional tour for this, including an appearance on Wogan) and his spy novel Tremor of intent; Annie Ernaux’s Shame (I have found so called auto fiction and writing about memory increasingly interesting as I have had a lengthy period of psychotherapy after a trauma related breakdown, and I am late to her work); and Simon Armitage’s Sandette light vessel automatic.
The book that changed my life
There are two which come to mind. I was given a book to read by an english teacher when I was in my teens. Alasdair Gray’s Lanark was not traditional school pupil fare but my english teacher encouraged me to read widely. After we had studied Lord of the Flies in class he insisted I read The inheritors, which I adored, doing things and conveying experience and communication on the page in a manner i could not imagine in any other medium. One day he fetched a copy of Lanark from the shelves in the back of his classroom. It was unlike anything I had read before. Fantasy and science fiction mixed with social realism. Capturing the gawky adolescent awkwardness, the discomfort of contact. I self diagnosed with dragonhide, knew sponges. The realist and fantasy parts both resonated and then there was the audacious moment where the character met the author, with the list of plagiarisms. I had never read a book like that, realised that books could do anything. From there, within weeks i visited the library in the Lanes in Carlisle where I read Dennis Potter’s hide and seek, in which a character begins by saying he is a character in a book. I have loved books like this since. The second book also comes from that time. I got a paperback of Norman MacCaig’s Collected Poems, a Chatto and windus edition, the paperback yellow covered, a picture of a heron on the cover. I had read MacCaig in class but fell in love with his poetry about love and death, his poetry about the imprecision of language, albeit couched in perfect metaphors which set off fireworks of recognition in the head. The frogs with ballet dancer legs. The pigeons that were wobbling gyroscopes of lust. But it was the love poetry that haunted me. The fear of pretence, trying to be honest, the pain of unrequited love. These were not the poems we got in the class, but it seemed on reading him that all life was there, all experience. I loved him then. I love him now.
The book I wish I’d written
So many. So many. I wish i had come up with an idea and executed it as brilliantly as Ryan O’Neill does in Their brilliant careers. I read Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy and try to see how it is done. The way in which we know the central character, understand her so well through her absence, and her silence. To create someone so full, so complete, someone you understand so well from how people speak to her and react to her but in what is largely her silence and apparent passivity. I wish i could do that. I wish i could write something as nuanced, as subtle, as precise, as seemingly effortless. (and i wish i could write any sentence as well as John Banville writes a sentence).
The book that influenced my writing
For work the first edition a law book on Private International Law by AE Anton, which is written with clarity of thought and expression, and develops arguments through an engagement with policy and doctrine and which is, i think, the finest scottish legal textbook of the past hundred years). Personally, i was influenced by James Kelman as a callow youth, not in terms of dialect, but by the way he seemed to understand absolutely the internal life of a character, without it being a stream of consciousness. I found as i started writing about memory and beginning to write short fiction again i was once again that mode, but in a more controlled and deliberate way than i had been in the past (through reading Lydia Davis, who uses language with deliberation and precision).
The book I think is most overrated/underrated
I have a blindspot regarding Kazuo Ishiguro. I struggle with Remains of the day. It feels like an exercise in ventriloquism to me. The central character feels like an exercise, rather than feeling real. This reaction is personal though and so many people i respect love his work that i am conscious the failing is mine. But with four attempts at Remains I still struggle. I am aware though that sometimes it is a question of timing. I tried to read Iris Murdoch at various points. I gave up on A severed head on various occasions, but this year her writ8ng finally clicked with me and I have read three of her novels in the past month. I think Andrew Crumey is underrated. I think he is the most interesting Scottish novelist working today. His work feels European, he is funny, clever, light, but dealing with great themes. I have waited for years for his work to be as loved by others as it is by me.
The book I give as a gift
The urge to give certain books tends to go in phases. When Dan Rhodes’s Anthropology (his wonderful 101 short stories of 101 words) was published i must have bought a dozen copies, handing them over as birthday and Christmas presents. More recently it has been either Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz, which I have given as a gift to many friends over the years, or Dan Rhodes’s When the professor got stuck in the snow, a tale of an atheist professor, as the title suggests, stuck on account of bad weather. For those for whom i have already given either of those I give Caroline Blackwood’s Great granny Webster, a short novel of women of different generations of a wealthy family calling out for a lavishly cast adaptation with four leading female roles.
The book that changed my mind
Rupert Cross on Statutory interpretation which I read in the mid 90s and which told me that what I had been taught on statutory interpretation as a discipline, and a form of legal methodology, was almost wholly wrong.
The last book that made me cry
Lavinia Greenlaw’s The built moment. A poem called Flowers for GT.
The last book that made me laugh
I recently reread JG Ballard’s short story collection War fever and the index of the life of Henry Rhodes Hamilton makes me laugh. Before that it was the index for Their brilliant careers. It turns out I like a good index.
The book I couldn’t finish
Too many to mention. I begin lots of books, but if it does not grip me I can put it to one side for a while. I did that with The Pickwick papers, and finished eighteen months after starting it. Sometimes it may be reshelved and years later i find a used train ticket sticking out of a book shaming me as to where and when I gave up.
The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
Anna Karenina. The big Dostoevsky novels. I am a miniaturist, happier in the worlds of novellas and short stories. When off ill for a lengthy period i read Middlemarch and realised that there was a very good reason these big books that intimidated me for so many years were admired and loved. I have catching up to do.
My earliest reading memory
Two things. A ladybird book called Ned the lonely donkey which i read as a very young child, although the memory is more visual, an illustration of the donkey alone in a field, its head peering over a gate. The other is reading related. As a child i had the moomin books of Tove Jansson and the one I remember reading most vividly is Comet in moominland. I remember being scared as the world grew warmer, as everyone fled, worrying that Moomintroll might never see his parents again, that the world might end.
My comfort reading
As a child it was the Target Doctor Who books. I would hide away in the world of old young faces, or pleasant open faces, mops of hair, capacious pockets, and read Terrance Dicks, and Ian Marter, and Gerry Davis, and Malcolm Hulke, and Brian Hayles. As I grew a little older three books appeared by a man called Donald Cotton, who wrote Doctor Who books unlike anyone else. Puns. And jokes. An epistolatory novel with one character writing letters to his employer two thousand years in the future. Now, if looking for something comforting to lose myself in it is Rumpole or Father Brown or Holmes.

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Memories and remembering

Silence is not always passive. Silence can be active, a choice, sometimes the only choice – but still a choice.

It can be easier not to answer the “Are you okay?”s, the “What’s wrong?”s, the “What are you thinking?”s. Not answering, or non-committal answers. A nod. A shrug. A reassurance.

– Nothing. It’s nothing.

Polite inquiries turned away. Ensuring there was distance. Face on. The clown. The student. The lover. The husband. The colleague. The teacher. Whichever mask fitted. It was never nothing though.

Odd things trigger. Normal things. Banal. It’s the normality that makes it hard.

A Christmas tree decorated with baubles. You’re transported. Back there. In the old sandstone house. Grey outside. The air heavy. The street had been taped off. To get in to the street you’d had to talk to someone in uniform, make sure you were family. You walked into the square, where the park was, where you played. But you don’t remember seeing the roundabout, or the swings. No. Instead, rows and rows of luggage. In the park where we used to play. Saturdays. Summer holidays. In the park, luggage. Belongings. Personal effects. It was in neat lines. All ordered. From the gardens, from the house in the corner that had been demolished. You’d walked past. Noticing. Not noticing. Trying not to stare. Trying not to notice.

We got in the house. Not the normal way. We had to avoid the back. We usually went in the back door. It was always open. The front door was for special. The front door was for the insurance man, for formalities. We only went in the front door once.

And when we got in the living room there was the tree. Still up. A gesture. The fairy that usually sat on top, the doll, there every year, every Christmas when we visited, it had gone. The fairy had gone. Later, I learned my uncle had torn it off, after he’d been out the day before, after he’d seen the tree at the bottom of the garden, the tree behind the shed, the tree they pictured in Time magazine. That tree. But in the living room, balanced on the furniture in front of the window, a Christmas tree, decorated, obscuring the view, but behind it on either side, behind it you could see the park, the park that was no longer a park – the park that was a storage area, catalogued, protected. And while you look at the tree more and more is added. Things are brought out from what had been the house in the corner, brought out and added in line.

Christmas trees. That sight of Christmas trees with baubles, with lights, and you’re there. Back there.

Of course there’s not just that. Last week as you walked to the train station the air was heavy, the sky grey. You’re wearing a hat, a scarf part wrapped round your neck, keeping you warm. The old farmhouse at the end of the street had its fire on. And the stench of smoke hung close to the ground, filling each hollow, each dip in the road.

You could smell the air. Long after, it lingered. Fuel. Oil. Smoke. The remnants of those fires that rained on the town.

People only rarely talk about the smell. When the stories are told again, the anniversary tributes, there’s mention of the crater, the rows of luggage, the cockpit, the ice rink forming a temporary mortuary. But rarely the smell. Even going up two days later it was the smell you noticed. It was the first thing your mum mentioned when she got back that night, when the medical staff were turned back because no one was needed, because no one was injured, because no one had survived the crash.

The stench combed your nostrils. You can still smell it now. And it carries with it what you saw.

The kitchen curtains were shut. This was not normal. They were closed. And the back door was closed. And it was dark in the kitchen, that grey sky outside casting little light.

You’re aware of the goings in and out at the corner. The vans that pulled up, and left. Silent. Another taken into the back with appropriate reverence. Van after van. A seemingly endless cycle of vans.

You twitch at the curtains to see, open the door. Smell the smoke. Smell the fuel. Combing your nostrils. Hitting the back of your throat.

And you see the tree at the bottom of the garden, catch sight of the hillside behind the houses at the back of your granny’s. You catch sight of marker after marker on the hill. Sheet after sheet.

And then.

In the upper window of the house to the rear you see the seat. In the bedroom window, still there. A seat. And you see the arm. Lolling to the side.


Your stomach knots. The smell combs your nostrils.

Your stomach still knots. The bile rises. You still feel nauseous.

It never leaves you. It’s never completely out of mind.

And some days it’s harder than others.



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The map

I had not thought of the map for years.

But afterwards, as we talked, I told her about the map that had been dumped in the middle of sounds and tastes, and tensed shoulders and tightened neck. I told her I could remember lying there in the half dark, the light from the landing illuminating the parchment paper map of the world, five portraits – line drawings, not cartoons – scattered round the edges of oceans, five ships mid ocean, dotted lines, dotted and dashed lines, lines made of dots and small equilateral triangles, lines made of unfilled circles and passing from land through the ships to destinations.

The lines were marked with felt tip pen, different colours – green, blue, red, yellow, purple – differentiating each. Every individual portrait was marked with one of the colours, a badly filled irregular square, an awkwardly pinned badge on the lapel.

I followed each line from land to sea and back to land. I followed each. And looked at the portraits. The Norse helmet – inaccurate, I realise now – and the large beard exploding from under the nose. The beards. The wigs. A ruff. A small black hat perched jauntily contrasting with the sullen expression.

I stared at each portrait, eyes tired, aware where my colouring had been clumsy.

My neck was sore.

I stared at each ship, each felt tip mark, each line connecting dots and shapes.

I tried not to hear.

I stared at the felt tip squares, tried to read the writing beneath the portraits from the awkward angle, and I told her now that I decided then that I would not feel.

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I don’t know who I am

– I’m scared.

– why?

– of what comes after. When this is done. When it’s finished. When I’m better.

– I don’t know who I am.

– I don’t know who I am. Or why I am. Or what I am.

– I don’t know.

– It all happened before I knew who I was, before I had a shape, before I was. You know?

– What would I have been? Who would I have been? Who could I have been?

– Understand?

– This. This passivity has been there throughout. All the time. Choices. Individual choices. Did I make any of them?

– Who am I?

– Can you tell me who I am?

– I’m scared. I don’t know what I decided, what I actively decided. I’ve told you about the degree, the job, after. Life. I. I feel like I was a recipient. They happened to me. I didn’t. I didn’t choose, you know. I didn’t. Not actively. They happened.

– Would I have done any of them? Would I have done anything? Would I be where I am? Would I be who I am? Would I be doing what I do? I.

– I fell into things. I fell into everything.

– I don’t know who I am.

– Can you tell me? Can you help?

– I don’t know who I am.

– Please. Please help.

– Who am I?

– Who?

– What if I throw everything up in the air? What if I want to throw everything up in the air? What if that’s who I am? What if none of this is me? What if this passivity has disguised that I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time? That I’m not the person people think I am. What if it’s wrong? What if I’m wrong?

– I’m scared. I can’t hide forever, can’t hide behind that passivity, can’t let every decision be one where I react to what happens, where I do what others want, what others expect. I can’t.

– But the responsibility. The responsibility is scary. It’s terrifying. What if people don’t like me as I should be? What if I’m not who I think I am? Not who they think I am? What do I do?

– Taking decisions is scary.

– But it can be empowering.

– you can decide what you should do, where you should be. That’s empowering.

– You can shape your future. Your future is yours. You can choose it.

– I know.

– That’s what scares me.

– Why?

– What if I know where I am right? What if I know? What if I know already? What if I’ve started making choices?

– I’m scared.



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You fear them.
They are there, always.
They know who you are. They know what you are.
They are there for you, only for you.
No one else sees them.
No one else hears.
No one else feels them lean across their chests.
Standing in front of the room full of people as you ask a question to still heads and silence, you see them, you feel them, hear their words, the sound of
You slip.
Gone as faces blur. The walls contract. Day becomes night. Warmer. Constrained. Mirrors. The mirror. Shadows. The stench. The sharp stench. The shadow.
You reach for the band around your wrist, pull it. As it hits your wrist you are back asking a question to silence.
You fill the gap. Talk. Gabble. You cannot afford silence. You cannot let your head be quiet. You cannot let your head be still.
Because they are there. They are always there.
The shadows in the corner of your eye. They wait for you to notice them. They know you will. Eventually. They sit just on the edge of your vision. Sometimes it is easier for them to be still than to move. If they move you look away. But when they stay still, whisper, they know you see them.
Your therapist told you that you needed grounded, that they could only be exorcised by being aware of now, by being in the present. A rubber band round your wrist. An opened paperclip to jab into your palm.
It works sometimes.
But you still hear them. Every day. You still feel them. They move into and out of shadow. Every morning. Every night. Every time there is a lull in your head. Every time there is silence. Every time it is still.
They come, unwanted, when you

feel the hand on your shoulder,
the man behind you greeting you with no words but his arm tight round your neck,
the man sitting too close on the train,
the face too near yours,
smell the stench of alcohol,
see the eyes the colour of phlegm,
hear the words.

You never forget.
They are there. Haunting you.
Days later you sit, eyes closed, listening to the wind. Holding. Held. Cheeks damp, but all cried out. You cannot sense them. They cannot get to you here. Sometimes you are safe.

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Hurting yourself

It is hard to admit that there are times where you deliberately hurt yourself. Talking or writing about an illness, with identifiable symptoms where there is a treatment is easier. It might be a mental problem but talking about an illness in a matter of fact way can be done. Sitting with a therapist or doctor explaining what is going on in your head, experiencing treatment, can be painful, it can be exhausting, but it does not have the shame that goes with an admission of self harm, that at some point your negative response is directed at yourself to such an extent that you wilfully deliberately cause yourself pain. To feel. To assert control.

The admission alarms therapists, prompts them to bring out certain questionnaires. To reassure them. To reassure you.

The summer had been difficult. I had finished school, was working in a shop before going to university, trying to build a bank balance aware that money would be tight. I’d had exams, had not really had a break for months. I’d worked every weekend through my final year at school, a couple of nights at week too, studied after, studied on the nights I wasn’t working. The shop wasn’t too busy, but there was toing and froing. Bringing through boxes and opening boxes and emptying boxes and filling shelves and arranging shelves and checking stock and bringing through boxes and opening boxes and emptying boxes and

The empty boxes were kept in a side store, along with large metal pallets used for deliveries and uplifts and two giant red waste bins. The roof was a clear plastic, ridged. Sometimes I was sent through to the side store there to break down boxes, unload pallets, fill the bins. It was cold in the winter in that side store – gloves were needed, a scarf. But as the temperatures grew warmer the roof retained the heat, the store became airless. A few weeks after my final school exam I was in there fevered, forehead moist, face flushed. I was moving trays of cans when I collapsed. Fainted. Unnoticed for a while in the shop, someone came through eventually, woke me.

I was drained, so tired. I had some days off, went to the doctors, told him about the tiredness, the way that walking was an effort, standing was an effort, being was an effort. I was tested for this and for that.

I didn’t tell the doctor what scared me though.

I had stopped being able to read. I realised around the time of the fall. When I picked up a book and opened it at a page the letters slid off, words became shapes, abstract shapes that meant nothing. Lines and circles, tops and tails. I was about to head to do a degree in law, where reading would be fundamental, and I was lost. I picked up Ladybird books in the house, those I’d read as a small child. Ned the lonely donkey. Sleeping Beauty. The pictures were clear enough. The donkey alone in the field. The scratches of blood on the face of one of those trying to fight through the thorns outside the palace. The words weren’t. Even simple texts fell apart. Words breaking up. Letters dancing.

And that scared me. Everything I was, everything I could be, vanishing.

The tests came back. I was ill. A post viral illness. There was something in my blood. But while the lethargy and physical symptoms were there I had an apathy too, a disinterest. Not caring. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered. I didn’t matter. And I couldn’t read.

I had lost control.

I had lost control of my body. I had lost control of my mind.

I stayed in my bedroom, avoided people.

I was scared. And I was alone. And I could not see how it could get better. I could not see why it mattered. I could not see why I mattered.

And I felt nothing. I was numb, so numb. I felt nothing. I could feel nothing. The anniversary of a bereavement came. There were no tears. I stopped responding to letters I’d been exchanging with a friend from the year above me at school and I didn’t care. I lay in my room, radio or television on, staring at the ceiling, or out of the window.

I could not feel.

I could not


One night when everyone was asleep I went to the bathroom, took a blade, thin, cold.  I was deliberate, slow. No rush. There was a burning as I cut. I felt. A heat. A burning. And a pain. There was a little blood. And I stopped. It was enough. I used to joke that I’d fainted. On brand messaging. I didn’t though. I watched the blood clotting, felt the tacky nature of it. I cleaned up.  The next time I did this in a sink of warm water, watched the blood bud and flower, before withdrawing my hands, and cleaning up with sheets of toilet paper so the towels were unmarked.

It was about control. As things spiralled out of control, health, physical and mental, deteriorating the marks were things I could control. But most important, I could feel again. Within days I could read.

I started university later that year. I was a very long way from anywhere, in lodgings where I was uncomfortable, the landlord drunkenly trying the door in the middle of the night, where I needed a half hour bus trip to get to the campus. The owners had lost a child a couple of years before, letting rooms to student was a poor substitute. They would not let me cook in the place. They didn’t like the smell of cooking. I could eat out, I was told.

I was lonely, hurting. I had fallen into the degree, studied law because a teacher said that with grades like mine I should. I was a long way from home, a long way from the campus. When I got out at night I didn’t want to go back. Eating out was expensive. Travel was expensive. I hated the work. I hated the place. I hated the people.

I wrote to a friend in the year below me at school, the subject of a crush, easier to communicate with when I didn’t have the capacity to stammer in front of her and she didn’t have to see my face. She replied erratically. I lost hope even in this idolised non-existent love.

I had taken books with me when I went away. I read The Bell Jar, Love in the time of cholera, Call yourself alive?, a book of poems by Nina Cassian, an angular Romanian poet who revelled in rejection. Damage and lost loves. I projected what I read, onto myself.

For the second time in a few months I felt that I had no control, felt myself in a spiral. Money, work, personal life. Everything. I hated it. I hated everything about the place. But while I was desperate to leave I couldn’t. I couldn’t embarrass my family. I couldn’t admit failure. Not then. I’d wait until Christmas, leave at that point.

I decided to stop eating. I could manage one thing. I could manage what I consumed. Meals were missed. Water or milk. I was obliged to have breakfast in the lodgings but that was enough. And as I ate less the colours I saw became more vivid, heightened. That autumn there were never oranges as orange as the leaves on the ground. The yellowing leaves, with the dark marks of decay were the yellowest yellow. I lived in technicolour. Eventually, you don’t even notice not eating. It doesn’t matter. You live in an instant, every sensation heightened.

She saved me though, then. My oldest friend. My closest friend. She fed me, and cared. Made sure that at least one night a week I felt worthwhile, that I mattered to someone.

I broke from the spiral.

But within it, not waving but drowning in the vortex it did not take much to reach the point where self damage was rational, was sensible, was a reasonable response, a way to feel alive, a way to assert yourself over something, a way to be, a way to live.

It was only later that I realised that as well as the physical such self damage could be psychological.

I found, still find, making friends difficult. Friendship required vulnerability, giving myself, dropping the masks. I had one or two close friends, who I trusted and who trusted me. Where we could be honest about things that had happened, where conversations were comfortable not because we dwelled on things, but because we could talk about them if we needed or wanted and did not have to skirt around topics, watching what we said.

And those friendships meant so much, giving mutual comfort and support.

But over time I pushed them away. Every one of them. With various forms of self destructive behaviour. Breaking friendships through action, or inaction. Losing touch. Losing their support. Losing their love.

And it hurt. How it hurt. That isolation. The pain. The scars. That loss.

And psychological self damage comes from the same source as physical. The same despair. The same powerlessness. The same loss of control.

You feel each step towards isolation, but you feel the pain with the absence, the gaps. After The Satanic Verses was published Rushdie spoke of having “a God shaped hole” inside. There are friend shaped holes. When you read a book or watch a film or programme or see a show and want to share, to enthuse – but can’t. When things happen, when life happens, good and bad, and the calls you would make aren’t made. That’s when it hurts, when you realise what you’ve lost.

And trying to remedy that, trying to be kind to yourself, is self care.


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Some old stories: Party going

I wrote Party Going in late 96. I was midway through a legal traineeship, some years on from school. I didn’t really do parties. I attended a couple when in secondary school. And by attended I mean turned up and either didn’t go in, reaching the door and giving up once – throwing up from the stress of having reached the door in the first place in a park on the way home, or turned up and left very quickly. I found the interaction of the large group uncomfortable, struggled with the alcohol being present, the way in which people became tactile quickly. I didn’t like the hand on the shoulder or back, the way people would ease their way into your personal space unaware of the tension you felt. I avoided parties for most of University too. I had friends, would visit and be visited. But the larger the group the more awkward I’d feel. Social anxiety. Stress. The discomfort of small talk with people you barely know, struggling to find topics of mutual interest. I remain uncomfortable in those situations today. I’ve attended two or three things, my stomach knots in advance and I feel the stammer I thought i’d left behind years ago revive. When I’m in these situations I often want to leave, look for escape routes – clock the doors as I go in. I did then. I still do. So this was written in my mid twenties about what I thought then was teenage discomfort I’d not yet got over (and turns out is just who I am).



Party going


Two summers before leaving school a group of us were invited to a house in a village near home. Our host, short, pigeon-toed and blonde haired told us her parents would be away. We were to take our own bottles. I arrived early, endured small talk with people with whom I shared only our mutual attendance at the local secondary school. After discussing television and weather and passing snide comment on the interior decoration, we’d got on to just who was seeing whom when others arrived including Dave, who I was assured was ubiquitous at these events. Three years older, tall, aquiline profile, his arrival prompted a flurry of excitement among our host and her friends, rewarded by Dave with an instant smile baring too many teeth. The smile didn’t reach his eyes. Within minutes he’d vanished.

A short while later, conversation exhausted, I hunted for our host, hoping she’d tell me where the toilet was. Most present were unfamiliar with the house, directed me from the bottle laden kitchen to a small utility room, empty and cooler than the other rooms – the hose from a tumble dryer clamped by a part opened window.

I went upstairs, by-passing the couples embracing, oblivious to each other. I tried a couple of doors, stumbled into a darkened room where our host and Dave lay fucking. She looked at me, the light from the hall reflected in her eyes.

I closed the door, saying nothing, stumbled downstairs my urge to urinate forgotten.

Carole grabbed me at the foot of the stairs. First aid, she said. D’you know First Aid? I don’t remember saying anything, but in response to a query from my eyes she pulled at my sleeve. Graham. It’s Graham. His head. He’s hurt his head.

She dragged me to the back door. Graham sat there, head gashed, blood matting his hair.

We need a doctor. Call a doctor, Carole said. Call a doctor.

She watched as I wandered out of the garden to the phone box at the corner. It was still early. I’d no trouble getting a taxi.



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Some old stories: Steve and the Hamsters

Between the ages of 17 and 27 I wrote a lot. Short stories. Poems. Autofiction. I got rid of most of it. Hardly any of the poetry survives, which is no loss to humanity. I had kept some stories though. Some by accident. Some by design. I found them in a carrier bag full of scribbled notes, typed pages. Portentous pompous titles – deserving to be narrated by Jim Carter. The pieces spoke of teenage angst, early relationships and love, friendship, loss. Some touched on aspects of the trauma that would form the basis for my therapy two decades later. Lots were about conversations, about learning to trust, about learning to be open. None of it is particularly good, but the process of therapy has led me to go back through aspects of my life, to revisit the material. To look at who I was. To look at it in light of who I became.

I am aware this is not really of interest to anyone but me. Much of the recent writing on my therapy is like that. An attempt to try to piece together and understand what is going on, to articulate what is happening to me, to understand what happened and why I am who I am.

So amidst a lot of self indulgence, excuse some more self indulgence. Occasionally on here I’ll post some old stories. Bits and pieces I ended up keeping.

The first one is called Steve and the Hamsters. I wrote it in July 97. I’d been reading a lot of Jim Kelman’s short short stories across collections. I’m sorry.



Steve and the Hamsters

It’s one of those Saturday nights and me and Steve are walking back the usual route by the jewellers and the fruit shop. Steve’s pissed, leans into me as we walk, and he starts acting real funny as we pass the pet shop. He stops, throws his hands either side of the window and stares at the cages. I’m walking on when he shouts:

– Jim. Jim. There’s fucking hamsters.

I turns round and he’s just standing there staring at the cages. I looks at them and there’s nothing moving. Nothing.

And Steve whispers:

– Don’t you turn your backs on me, you bastards.

And I keeps walking as he breaks the glass.

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Words matter

In recent weeks sitting in the chair talking has become uncomfortable again. I slide down, arms folded, legs crossed, head inclined, glimpsing my therapist over the top of my glasses. Sometimes we talk for nearly two hours, sometimes less, sometimes talking comes before she switches the light bar on, and I see and hear and feel the ghosts.

When I sit in the chair, whether before the light bar or just with my head exposed, I am conscious she is listening to every word, become very aware of what is said. Words matter. Word choice matters.

I realised this within the counselling sessions that preceded the psychotherapy. My counsellor would sit on the other side of a low table, sometimes with a notebook open, sometimes with the dictating machine running. She knew why I was there. I knew she knew why I was there. But we did not talk about it for weeks. I talked about thinking about talking. How I had thought about what to say, how choosing the words was important. And as I got nearer the moment of revelation, that evening where I trusted my oldest friend, the telling moment, my words slipped. I became you. I told her that you spoke. I told her that you clumsily introduced the topic awkwardly after a meal. I told her that you told her that something had happened.

I noticed. And I knew she had noticed. There was a distance. I knew the person I talked about reasonably well. I could understand his actions, and his words. I could explain them. But was he me any longer? Or was it easier to speak of him than to speak of me? I could keep the door closed when things happened to him.

The transition was made without thinking. But as weeks went on I became aware of the transition, stopped myself, explained. This was part of the process. And when the psychotherapy started you had gone, and I filled the gap.

Initially, talking in psychotherapy was easier. I had opened up a little and discussion focused on now, while the light bar concentrated on then.

Eye motion desensitisation and reprocessing is a process that can feel like witchcraft. Sitting in front of a light bar, buzzers in hands, you are asked to go back to the worst thing that happened, to sit there and describe the thing that traumatised you, the worst thing that happened, the worst thing in your head, in as much detail as you can (which initially is not much), to notice as much as you can, to notice how distressed you are, to notice where you feel that distress. And then the lights start. They ripple right then left. The buzzers follow the lights. Right then left. And you watch the lights and you feel the buzzers and you are back at the worst moment and you relive it. You see it. And you smell it. And you hear it. And you taste it. And you feel it. You are there. You are back there as it happened. You are a time traveller. You are stuck. You have time travelled, and you know you have time travelled. You know you are from now not then. But you are trapped in your body as it was then, and you cannot move, and you know what is going to happen. You know how it ends, and you know that you cannot change a line, not a syllable. You know that everything that happened will happen again, and you will live it again, and you are stuck. And you experience it. A full sensory experience. You feel what happened. Every aspect. And sometimes your eyes tear up and you cannot see the lights, but you feel the buzzers. You feel them. And you are still there. Wholly there. Wholly now.

And the lights stop.

And the buzzers stop.

And you hear her ask what you notice.

The first time was odd. I knew what I’d felt. I knew what I’d seen. I spoke. But it was not me that spoke, not my words. It was from then, with the understanding and language of then. I had filled the gap when I spoke with her, but when the lights came on you were back. But a different you. Not the one who watched the reflection of the fire, not the one who stuttered as he trusted. He’s younger, less articulate, struggling to understand.

I hear him speak. I hear his words with my voice.

This goes on for weeks. As the experience is relived again and again whenever I speak his words are there. Until one week, as the lights stop and the buzzers stop and she asks what I notice, I silence him. I speak and he says nothing. My words. My words from now. I notice, not him. I speak, not him.

That’s when she knew it was working. That the trauma was moving. No longer just something to be reexperienced. No longer something that led me to flashbacks, those instants where outside the chair, outside the room I would be back, transported back to feel again. It was integrating. It was becoming part of my memory.

The words mattered. My words mattered.

And as the experience moved, as it cohered with my memories as it joined together I sat at home one night and I realised. I knew what had happened. I knew. And I understood. I knew why I was not sleeping, why I heard and I felt and I saw. I had the words. I finally had the words. And I cried. And I cried. And I emailed my oldest friend to tell her again, to tell her that I finally understood.

And as I sat in the chair, sliding down, arms folded, legs crossed, glimpsing my therapist over the top of my glasses, through tears and sniffs I spoke it aloud. Me. Not him. Not you. I told her.

And she nodded.

Realisation is progress.

Understanding is progress.

Words matter.


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In the loop

Waking at four. Lying there. Hearing, feeling heart, chest raise, fall. Hearing the voice. The whisper. Hearing it. The whisper in the ear. The whisper that denies self. The whisper that denies worth. The whisper that denies. In the ear. In your ear. Again.

And again.

You are stuck. Seeing. Smelling. Tasting. Hearing. Stuck.

You are stuck.

You are stuck. Hearing the voice. Hearing the whisper. Hearing it. The whisper in your ear. The whisper that denies your self. The whisper that denies your worth. The whisper that denies you. In your ear. In your ear.

There is a pressure on the shoulder. On the front of the left shoulder. A pressure that stretches across the left side of the collar bone. A pressure that holds. Tightness on your shoulder. Again.

And again.

You are stuck. Smelling. Tasting. Seeing. Hearing. Feeling. Stuck.

You are stuck.

You are stuck. Hearing the voice in your ear. The whisper in your ear that denies your self. The whisper in your ear that denies your worth. The whisper in your ear that denies you. Again.

And again.


You are stuck.

The tension in your shoulder. The tension in the front of your left shoulder. The tension across the left side of the collar bone.

And you hear the voice.

You are stuck.

You hear the whisper.


And again.

And you are stuck.

And there is the tension across the left side of your collar bone

and there is the tension in the front of your left shoulder

and you hear the whisper in your ear and it denies your self and it denies your worth

and you feel the tension in your left shoulder and you feel the tension in the left side of your collar bone

and it is getting tighter

and it is getting


and you are stuck


and you hear the whisper in your ear that whisper in your ear that denies your self and denies your worth and denies you and the tension in your shoulder and in the left side of your collar bone is tighter and you feel it and you hear it and you see it and you smell it and you taste it and you hear the whisper that denies you

and you hear the whisper that denies you

and you hear the whisper that denies you

and you hear the whisper that denies you

and you hear the whisper that denies you

and you see the denial of you

and you taste the denial of you

and you smell the denial of you

and you feel the denial of you

and you are nothing


you are nothing


you are nothing

and it is just past four, and you are lying there, hearing, feeling your heart, your chest raise, fall and you hear the voice, the whisper

you are stuck


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I’d told her that I couldn’t sleep. Every night I was fighting to sleep. My head was preoccupied. It would get to two in the morning. I’d put music on, radio shows. And I’d hear them through. I’d lie there, my wife asleep. I’d lie, eyes closed, reliving. I’d open my eyes, and I was reliving. On a loop. Over and over. Stuck. It was stuck in my head.

I didn’t tell her that. Not then. I didn’t need to tell her that it was replaying on a loop and I could hear and I could see and I could feel and I could taste and I could smell and hear and see and feel and taste and smell and hear and see and feel and taste and smell and hear and hear and hear and hear. On a loop. Again. And again.

– Is there anything else?

– I exchanged some messages with a couple of friends. I was thinking about the people I’d been in touch with, the people I’m really friendly with now or was then, that I’m trying to. Well, not the ones I view as people I’ve met, the friends. It’s about vulnerability. They’re people I’m comfortable being vulnerable with. Being open. Admitting frailty and fragility. That’s important to me. To feel I can be myself, no secrets.

I looked towards the door.

– It’s tiring you know? It’s so tiring. Just keeping doors shut.

– Is it that bad?

– I wonder if. Should I be more open about what happened? More frank?

– There’s no need. But it’s your choice. And

– It’s not necessarily the best time to decide. I know. Not the best time.

I felt her look at me.

I folded my arms.

– Being open. It’s. You see, it’s what I’m finding with the people I’ve contacted. It’s either been a case of me having been open before or being comfortable with being open now. I think that even after a time, sometimes years, decades, we resume a role – that level of trust, that level of comfort with being vulnerable. It’s odd. That resumption. I see it sometimes. People that were at school, meeting again. Resuming the roles from then irrespective of what they do now. Power is inverted. Bullies become bullies again. The bullied become prey. It’s odd. I. I’ve avoided that. The people I’ve. They’re all people I liked, liked a lot. People I felt.

I closed my eyes.

– They’re all people I felt safe with. That matters. That really matters. But I. I needed a nudge.

I opened my eyes again, looked to her

– I had one conversation. You remember I’d told you that I’d had a message, not long after I went off? It was from someone I worked with nearly twenty years ago. She got my out of office. It was stark. No detail. Just saying I was off through ill health. No date for return mentioned. Just. Anyway, she contacted me. I. I was really touched. I didn’t expect. And. And she’d guessed what was up, asked if I’d like to meet. And we did. We did.

I scratched my neck.

– We met a couple of times. Lunches. It was really nice. We chatted. And it wasn’t quite like. I mean, we’re older. Married, kids. Life’s moved on. But. It’s that shared history. Picking up. Being able to feel vulnerable, frank. To talk about it. And to listen.

She nodded.

– I wrote to her this week. To thank her. Just to say that she contacted me when I was at my worst. And. Seeing her was so nice. Reconnecting. It’s. It was lovely. That circle, that circle that had contracted for so long. It was nice to reconnect. And if she’d not been in touch I wouldn’t have contacted others, wouldn’t have dreamed of contacting. Well, you know. I’m just really grateful to her. She took the time and I. I got a lovely reply. Where she said that. She said that contacting me had been a bit selfish. She’d liked when we chatted back in the day. About work stuff, life stuff. And knowing who we were. Then. That matters. That acknowledgement that who you were shaped you, even if people you know now are unaware of it. She made me cry. Because I got it. I completely got it. And. And.

I sucked in my lower lip.

– It was nice to feel wanted, but it was nice to feel. It was nice to feel that that thing in my head – that need to reconnect, to find. It’s not just. You know?

I reached down by my chair and lifted a bottle of water, sipped.

– It’s lives unlived, you see. Lives unlived. That reaching out, that need – and it is a need – to meet people I liked and loved. It’s grounding me with who I was. Reconnecting with my past. I need it. That link. That.

I sighed.

– It’s the positive cognition you see. I. You told me not to fixate on it, not to let it get to me.

– But it is.

I smiled.

– It is.

She explained where we’d moved from, that notion of worth, through a notion of having the potential for worth to last week’s acceptance, acknowledgement, that the trauma had happened, that I could move on.

– It’s the potential that matters. Not that you have moved on, but that you can, that you have the ability to move on. And that makes a difference. It might take a long time. You might not realise you’ve moved on until long after you have. But you have the potential. And I’m seeing it every week. The difference from when you first came. You’re much further on. Contacting people. Meeting them. Sending that message. Having that lunch. They’re big steps. They’re all part of the process of moving on. But I worry you think in absolutes. Black or white. You have moved on or you haven’t. It’s a process. You need to concentrate on the potential.

I nodded.

– You’re right.

She tilted her head.

– Again.

She laughed.

– I found the first part easy last week. “it happened”. I know that. It’s factual. I know it happened. But it was the bit about moving on I struggled with. I feel I should be further on. I should be. I feel I’ve failed, that I’ve failed by not being further on.

– But it’s a process. It takes as long as it needs. Think how long you’ve lived with this.

– I know.

I looked down.

– I know. And what you say makes sense. I feel I’m not ready for it. I’m. You know the other week you talked about grieving. I’m grieving. It’s. I’m lost. I’m still lost. I need to say goodbye.

– The installation of the positive cognition won’t work if you don’t believe it. And you mustn’t get hung up on. It’s only part of this. You’ve come so far. And it’s about the potential. The potential to move on. That you can move on.

– Yes. Yes. But it’s the first bit. It felt fine. But it’s.

I closed my eyes.

– I know it happened. It did happen. I know it. But. It shaped me. And.

I opened my eyes and looked at her.

– I was talking to my wife this week and she. It wasn’t the right word, but I got it. I completely got it. And I understand what she meant.

I scratched my neck.

– Comfort. She said there’s a comfort in it. And it’s not the right word but it’s true. There’s. There’s a. A security. Yes. There’s a security in it. In knowing it happened. That who I am has been shaped by it. That how I am, that who I am, that why I am, that what I am, they’re all shaped by it. Defined even. It made me. It made everything about me. I told you last week. About what my mum said. I changed. Even times where I’m not aware necessarily that I changed.

– I changed. After it happened. And it’s a much bigger deal, it’s a much bigger thing than I imagined, than I realised. All life choices. Everything. It changed me. And so. Well, it happened is more uncomfortable, more upsetting than I’d realised. Would I have chosen different things to do? Acted differently? Would I be me?

– Everything. Everything is up for question. Who I am. How I am. I look at things I’ve done. And I can tie them back. The way I act. I tie it back. Avoiding situations. Avoiding people. Being passive, letting things happen. Feeling I can’t act, can’t do anything. I.

– it’s integrating. It’s moved from that place where it sat and you relived the distress and recalled the distress. And it’s gone. It’s tying in with your memories and you are trying to make things make sense.

– But there are so many unlived lives, paths not taken. Decisions I’ve not taken. Actions I’ve not taken. Choices I made. Did I do them because I hate me, because I did not feel worth anything? Or should I have done things before? I.

– This shows the process is working. You are trying to move on. You are trying to deal with it. And of course there are questions. You’re trying to make sense.

– There is a revolution in my head. Everything is falling apart. I. I’m lost. What could I have been? Who could I have been? Am I what I should be?

– That it happened is true. I know it. It did. It happened. But it’s hard to accept. It’s hard to acknowledge that it closed off all those lives, all those possibilities. It hurts. It hurts knowing that. I can’t. You understand? It’s a revolution. My head is caught in a revolution. Everything is unsettled. Everything about me.

– But if this didn’t unsettle you, if it didn’t upset you I’d be worried. You have lived with this for decades. But it’s not been integrated. You’re integrating it now. That’s good. But it’s unsettling. But you’re still you. You’re more than what happened. Aren’t you?

I thought about it. I thought about it again. Back in my head. Again. Back in my head. What I saw, and what I felt, and what I smelled, and what I tasted, and what I heard. What I heard. Again. Back in my head. What I heard. And I nodded, and started to cry.

I closed my eyes.


I closed them.

– I can’t sleep. It’s in my head.

When I opened my eyes I saw she’d moved the box of tissues nearer to me.

– I can’t get to sleep. I hear it. You know? What I talked about in the light bar. I.

My eyes were wet, my cheeks were wet. I breathed and breathed. Slower and slower.

– I’m thinking about it a lot. I’m scared to go to sleep. It’s in my head. As I’m going to sleep it’s there. I hear it. I hear it over and over. In the middle of what happened.

She flicked through the file.

– If we were to do the work now, going back to the worst, you’d not be.

– When we started. When we did the light bar stuff at the start I was there anticipating it. I was waiting for it to happen. Trapped. Stuck. I was time travelling. Every week I was time travelling, unable to change a line, not a line. I knew what was coming, knew was going to happen. And it did. And that fear. That fear of what was to come. That was the worst.

– But?

– It changed. You know? Over time I moved. I moved forward in time. It was later on. It was later, but still beforehand. Still in advance. That anticipation. That fear. The anxiety. Knowing what was to come. Knowing it.

– I’m scared.

– we

– I’m scared. I’m scared to sleep. I’m stuck. It’s there. I’m right in the middle of it. I feel it. And I smell it. And I see it. And I taste it. And I. I hear it. I hear it again and again. I hear it.

– I hear it.

– And this is getting worse?

– Yes. It’s my new normal. It’s. It doesn’t feel like flashbacks. I’m not transported. I don’t get swept away. But. It’s in my head. It’s there. It’s there in my head. On a loop. And it’s getting worse. The more agitated I get about the positive cognition the worse it gets.

– I hear it.

– I.

And I heard it again. Again. And again. Quiet. Invasive.

A violation.

I closed my eyes, and I saw. I heard and I saw.

I opened them and I heard.

She checked something in the file.

– I think we need to go back. It’s your choice, but I think we need to look at moving this. We need to focus on this with the light bar. Are you happy with that?

I nodded.

I closed my eyes and I nodded.


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“It happened and I can learn to move on”

I had not done light bar work for three weeks. The last time I broke down. I started sobbing. She’d stopped the session.

I had started work on positive cognition. Reflecting on the trauma – having the image of the trauma in the head as the lights started and trying to believe the words I heard her say “I have worth”, which morphed into “I believe I can have worth” as the session went on.

As the lights flashed left, then right, it jarred. To be back there, again, trying to find worth did not make sense. To have that whisper in the ear. To be there. To be lost.

As I tried to engage with what she said, and have the circumstances in my mind I sloped further down into the seat, raised my heels off the floor. I could feel the tears. I could feel them so I closed my eyes.

I knew the lights were still going because I felt the buzzing pads in each hand. Left, then right. Left, then right.

It wasn’t true. It wasn’t true. How could I have worth? How could I have value? After that. After letting it happen. After letting it happen without a word, without a sound. I felt a wrestling match was going on in my head. There was a rational side reflecting on the “evidence” we’d discussed previously. People who had been pleased to see me again after I’d lost touch for so long. Meantime the other part of my head nagged. They’re overly polite, altruistic. You’d not had a reply to that email.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by an image. The cover of The Satanic Verses. That dark blue cover with the small figures entwined, wrestling, falling. Mirroring that opening chapter. The plane explosion.

The plane.

They fell, angel and demon spinning, clinging to each other, wrestling. Demon and angel spinning over and over.

Afterwards she told me that she could see my discomfort. That I had closed down, face bowed, tried to become smaller and smaller, to vanish. My voice had become quieter. She handed me a paper handkerchief when the claws of my hands released the buzzers.

We talked for a while that time. And the time after. And the time after that.

I went through everything again. That when going back to the worst, to the very worst, to the thing that was the focus of the light bar work it wasn’t in the middle of what happened. It preceded it. This sense of anticipation. A sense of fear. A time where there might have been a choice. But it was always time travel. Nothing from the past could be changed. Not one fullstop. The moment I was there again it rolled forward. And everything happened again.

I couldn’t make anything positive fit that. How could you make something positive fit?

And I felt I was failing. I had come so far in this process. Had relived what happened time after time. Back and to the left. Back. And to the left. Reliving it. Seeing it. Eyes open. Clockwork Orange like, eyes held open. Knowing what was coming. Knowing what was next. Seeing it again. Seeing it again and again. Hearing each sound. Again. Hearing each word. Again and again. Insidious. Invidious. Invasive. Over and over. Smelling each smell. The sharp stench. Again. Choking the back of the throat. Eyes watering. Tasting. Again. Tasting. Again. Foul tastes. Again and again. Invasive. Feeling. Again. Feeling. The skin hypersensitive. Reliving. Again.


And again.

And I was failing. I had no worth. I had no value. This wasn’t working. I wasn’t fixed. Still damaged goods. Ready for return. Box up. Shut away.


I was broken.

I tried and I tried. The words would not fit. They could not fit. There was no worth in this. No worth in what happened. No value. I. I was nothing. I was nothing. I deserved this. I deserved it.

And the demon and the angel continue to spin.

I had hope once. When things had calmed. When I’d talked. When I was able to place my head in a compartment, lock the door.

But things bleed through. The walls buckle.

Was all of this worthwhile if at the end nothing had changed?

The positive cognition bothered me. I could not make it fit. Whenever I thought back to what had happened, to the way it happened, I rejected the notion that I could find worth in it, the idea that I could find value in it. And as I thought about trying to find something positive, as I thought about trying, nothing would fit. We’d discussed it in the sessions. Aspirations had moved down. Looking for something more neutral, something that might work.

And so on the third week after the first attempt, when she told me – again – not to worry about it, not to stress too much about it, that things would progress, that they would come together, I was back in front of the light bar.

I told her beforehand what was in my head. That reflecting on this for these weeks had left me thinking more and more about what had happened, that I was going over it repeatedly, that I was crying.

– Were you distressed?

– It’s not like the flashbacks. I’ve not had one of those for ages. That sense where you relive, where you are wholly there and wholly here. Schroedinger. Stuck. It’s not got that overwhelming, all-encompassing feeling. It’s. I just.

I could feel her look at me.

– I just feel sad. That when I think about this I feel sad. And everything there. It’s here. It’s in here. All the time. And when I asked you last week what is normal? You know. I had a normal which turned out not to be normal. Most people did not have that. Not have the flashbacks. The intrusion. And the flashbacks have gone. I’ve. Not for ages. Not since. But I’m left with this. It’s in my head. It’s in my head. And I keep thinking about it. And I think it’s what lies at the heart of this negative belief. It negates me. It denies me. It makes me. Me. Who I am, what I am. It makes that nothing. I am nothing. I am. I.

I felt myself slide down the chair.

– And I feel myself here making myself smaller, and you noticing that. And the change in.

– You were much more like you were three sessions ago, before we started the.

– Yes. Yes. Exactly. It’s.

I folded my arms.

– I am finding this so hard. It’s so hard. Coping with distress was hard but this is as bad. It’s different. It’s.

She tilted her head, quizzical.

– The distress. The EMDR it’s in my head  but it’s external. That revisiting. That reliving. I’m a time traveller. Stuck. No control. It’s hard, but I know what’s coming. But this

I crossed my legs, left over right, foot pointing to the door away from her chair.

– It’s inside. It’s hard because it’s about me. It’s about what I think of me. About my perception of me. And I. I don’t like me very much. I don’t think much of me.

– We need to work in small steps. But it’s as if you have a bulletproof vest on regarding this. Any evidence I give you, just bounces off.

I smiled as she mimed bullets ricocheting. I looked back at the table.

– I let it happen.

She stopped.

– I let it happen.

She shook her head. She went through it again.

I stopped listening. I was in my head, replaying it. Hearing. Feeling.



She gestured to the other chair, in front of the light bar.

I moved, sat, asked her to turn off the lights. I felt a draught on my neck from an open window behind the chair.

We had agreed that the positive cognition needed changed. That worth was too strong at this point. She asked what I wanted. We have discussed this. I thought of her words.

– I accept, no – not accept. It’s wrong. I acknowledge what happened. That it happened. And I need to park it. To be able to. To be able to leave it.

There was some adjustment. She asked if I preferred to think about moving on or about learning to move on.

I wanted the more neutral, the less happy. She made a note.

She asked me to bring up the event we were working on.

I was there. Again. Seeing it. Hearing it. Feeling it. Smelling it. Tasting it.

– And when you’re thinking of that I want you to associate this with it. “It happened and I can learn to move on”

The lights started. To the right. To the left. To the right.

I was there again. There. I tried to think of the words. And it was happening again.

“it happened”

I knew. It had. I knew that. I knew that it had happened. I was there. It was happening. I was there. I could see it happening again. I could feel it happening again. I could hear.

“it happened”

I could hear.

I clutched the buzzers harder. I clutched them, feeling my nails in my palms.

The lights stopped. She asked what I noticed. I told her. I noticed it.

I was back in. Back there. The words. I heard the words. I felt the words. “It happened”. I could. I knew. It had. I knew that. I knew. It happened.

I started to cry.

I felt the tears.

I felt them on my cheeks. It had happened.

I was lost.

So much lost. Lost lives. Lives gone. Lives unlived. I was lost.


The lights stopped. She asked what I noticed. I told her. I noticed it.

I closed my eyes. I wasn’t watching the lights. I couldn’t watch the lights. I was feeling the buzzers. Clasping them tight. Nails in my palms. I was feeling them buzz. To the right. To the left. The buzzers. Clasped in my hands. I felt the tears. On my cheeks. I felt them. I sniffed.

The buzzers stopped. She asked what I noticed. I told her. I noticed it.

And again.

And again,

And as my mind moved she took me back. Back to what happened. To think about what happened. To bring it up. And to think of the words. “It happened and I can learn to move on”

And the first part was fine. The first part made sense. It was okay. It happened. I knew that it had happened. It was real. I felt it. I saw it happen. I felt it happen. I felt it.


I felt it.

It happened.

I heard it. I heard.

It happened.

I heard it.

It happened.

I heard.

I heard it. Again and again. I heard it.

It happened.

Buzzers stopped. The question changed. How much did I believe it. How much did I believe it happened and I could move on? To choose a number between one and seven.

I believed it. I believed. I knew. But I could not.

Not yet.

Lost. I was lost.

– Two or three.

– Which?

– Three.

How did you move on? How could you move on?

I looked at who I was. I looked at who I am, and I saw lives unlived, lives lost. Lives gone.

A mess. Just a mess.


I looked at the lights through tears, felt the buzzers.

I concentrated on the words. I felt the words. “I can learn to move on”. Could I? Could I really? There was a lost boy. I saw this lost boy. My lost self. Crying in bed.

“I can’t learn to move on. I can’t. I can’t do it. How can I move on? How can I? How? How can I move on, while he’s lost?”

Lights stopped. Buzzers stopped. What did I think about when I heard “It happened and I can learn to move on”?

– Loss.

And I was back in.

Again and again.

Back. I saw a crow. A black crow. Perched there. Watching what happened. Watching it. Listening to it.

It croaked at me. It croaked.

How could I move on? It sat there, wings folded, beak open. The crow.

A crow?

Lights stopped. Buzzers stopped. What did I think about when I heard “it happened and I can learn to move on”?

– Darkness. Dark.

And I was back in again.

And again

And again.

The crow tilted its head and looked at me. Had there been one outside, a call through the window? It was there: vivid. As vivid as the angel and demon the last time I did the light bar.

It looked at me. It croaked.

“You ca-a-a-an’t move on”

A crow.

Lights stopped. Buzzers stopped. What did I think about when I heard “it happened and I can learn to move on”?

– Whisper. I feel it being whispered in my ear. But I can’t. I can’t.

She stood. Switched off the light bar, released my fingers one at a time, removed the buzzers.

I felt her push a paper handkerchief into my hand.

I lifted it to my face, dabbed at my eyes, my cheeks.

It was wet.

I sat for a while, each breath exhaling for twice as long as I inhaled. An old meditation technique from when I was a student. I opened my eyes.

I went back to the seat by her desk.

– and how do you feel about that?

– There are two parts. And I feel so differently about them. The first part is fine. It’s okay. But moving on. I

She sat.

– I can’t. I can’t yet. I. I need to say goodbye. I need to. Last week. You told me last week that this was grieving. That this being in my head so much was grieving. I need to grieve. I lost. I lost so much. I lost myself. I lost me. I need to.

– Do you need permission? Do you need permission to move on? And who from? You talked about whispering to you? Who needs to tell you to let go?

– I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’ve not told them, never told them. It would break them. But. But maybe I should. Maybe I need to. I feel.

I sighed.

– It’s hard. It’s exhausting. But I feel I’m transparent. That people know. That they look at me and they know. They know what happened. Understand? You can tell. The way I am. The way I react. They know. They must know.

– I’m not sure you’re transparent.

– I feel it. I feel it. Although I told someone. I. I was meeting someone I’d worked with. And I told her not because I had to but because I wanted to. I wanted to explain why I was here, what I was doing.

– And did she know?

I smiled.

– No.

– You’re not transparent.

– She knew.

– Was that different?

– When I told her she knew. I think she’d always known. Damaged people gravitate together.

– But there’d have been cues, tics. People pick up on some things. Micro-gestures. If you spend a lot of time with someone and communicate a lot there are signs you give.

– That night I told her as I left, afterwards as I walked to the bus home I felt everyone knew. I felt illuminated. In a spotlight. Everyone I passed. Everyone could tell. Everyone knew. They could see into my soul. They knew.

– Don’t you think that that sensation, that feeling comes from this being such a big part of you, and a big thing for you, that telling one person about something so tied up with who you are, about something so tied up with your perception of self, that telling one person, one special person, was like telling the world.

– Thank you. I’ve not.  Before. That’s it. I get it. I’ve never seen it like that. But yes.

I looked at the table again.

– Would moving on be easier if I was more open, franker?

– You don’t have to tell anyone you know. You don’t have to. The choice is for you. To do what is right for you. But moving on is not dependent on it. Being able to grieve, to acknowledge the loss, it’s okay.

– I feel stuck.

– It will get there. I don’t want you to feel anxious about it. This is part of a process. There’s more to come. Baby steps.

Baby steps? Yes. Baby steps.

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Some stuff


Back at work. In the room where you locked the door. In the room where you locked the door and closed the blinds and sat. Sat on the floor, in the corner. Feeling each breath. Forcing each breath to be slower. Closing your eyes against the prickle of tears.

The room is the same. Same books. Same files. Same desk. Same blinds, still closed.

You feel each breath. You force each breath to be slower.

You force each breath

To be slower

Each breath.


You switch on the computer. The machine whirrs. The screen flickers. An update. Months of updates.

You need out. You need out of the room.

You open the window, floors up, locked so it doesn’t fully open. A gap you can barely get your arm through.

You need out.

The door locks behind you.

You walk up the stairs. A smile greets you under tousled dark hair.

– Hi.

You nod, try to smile.

– It’s nice to see you back.

You try to smile, nod.

– How are you?

How much to explain? How do you start? Where do you start?

– Getting there.

-What was wrong?

You try to smile.

You try to smile.

You try to.

– I’ve got PTSD.

The look. The moment you mention it there is the look.

And there is the decision. Some nod. Move on. She asks.

– What happened?

And you stand there, and you know that it is out of concern or curiosity and she does not know that it took you weeks to share the details with the woman in the room you visit every week, looking away as you told her, eyes on the door, or on the floor, arms crossed tighter across your chest, the itch on your left ear best reached by stretching your right hand round the back of your head as your left hand reached under your right arm and feels the jut of your shoulderblade,

And she is waiting.

And you know how many people know, and that you do not need to tell.

The awkwardness of the silence leads to her head lowering,

you do not need to tell

peering through the fringe.

you do not want to tell

– Sorry. I don’t mean to.

you do not

– Stuff happened.

You wave your hand, glance to the window.

– Some stuff.

You look at the floor.

– Some stuff. A while ago.

She nods.

Yes. Some stuff.


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– How have you been?

– Fine, I guess.

– Last week seemed a bit more emotional for you.

– It was. It was harder than the weeks before. I struggled. I got upset during it, and was a bit upset after. It’s the positive stuff. I can’t

– The positive connotations might be wrongly phrased. We need to think about

– I have. All week. I just. I just don’t believe it.

– We tweaked it during the session. From “I have value” to “I can have value”.

– I know. I don’t know what to think, what to want. It’s hard.

– It’s hard.

– It’s about the potential. And you have evidence. There is all that evidence.

– I just don’t feel it. It’s like. You remember the old Warner Brothers cartoons and Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny would have two little characters, one whispering in each ear? And on this side there’d be the one with the halo. And on this side there’d be the one with the horns. It’s that. The rational side. I. I know. But I don’t feel it. I don’t believe it. It’s that. You know when we did that last week during the light bar bit I said I felt like there was a wrestling match in my head. It reminded me of the cover for The Satanic Verses, the hardback. Angel and devil wrestling. Thinking about it made me

– I just don’t believe it. I don’t feel I have worth. Negative core beliefs?

– Negative core beliefs. People often take a time to think about the negative associations, to formulate them when we do the light bar work. But you were quick to

– The counselling. It was the counselling. About week twelve. The articulation. I knew.

– Formulating the positive connotations can take time too.

– Why is it so prominent in your thinking at the moment?

– Work I think. Being back.

– I used to find it easy. I was good. I divorced, detached my personal issues from my work. For ages. It worked. The two were discrete. I might be a mess, but it didn’t dominate my thinking. The degree went well. And after, I could write quickly and well. Things would be done. When our eldest was born I wrote my part of a book in six weeks. A hundred thousand words. No problem. And it was fine. Useful. Properly done. But somewhere later it stopped. The barrier broke down. I used more and more bandwidth because it was in my head. Increasingly in my head. I stopped believing in my work. I’d start stuff, part write it, but just think why would anyone care? Why did it matter? No one was interested.

– When did it stop?

– When?

– It was just in head more.

– Negative core beliefs are there. They underpin things, but they can lie dormant. But they only dominate when there’s a trigger, something that pushes it to the front

– It just expanded. I kept thinking more and more about what happened. It was in my head. News stories. Just constant reminders.

– But was there anything that made you doubt?

– Two things. There was a death. Back home. You know the thing? When you get the phonecall and you’re told people who’ve died. “Do you remember Mrs X?” “No” “Oh, she’s died.” And the list can go on some times, and there are one or two people you remember, but most you don’t. They mean nothing. No recollection. Anyway, she mentioned a name. It was her mum. It jarred.

– Why?

– She used to look after us. Why they were there that night. Why they.

– And if I mention her to you what do you think?

– Laughter.

– But that’s good.

– No. No.

– Outside the room. Downstairs.

– They were laughing.

– Catastrophising. You’ve called it catastrophising. That she was laughing with him about what. That they were laughing at.

– It’s assumption.

– They were laughing after.

– And the other?

– there was a job. I’d applied for. I wasn’t encouraged to go for it, but I felt I could contribute something and. Well, I didn’t get it. And it was fine. But. Timing wise it mattered, I think. From then I doubted what I was doing. That it wasn’t, that I wasn’t, producing anything worthwhile. That it didn’t matter.

– But it was two things together. There was bleeding, leeching from the personal to the work. That these things that had left me for years feeling worthless. That I deserved what happened. That I deserved being treated badly. That I was nothing. It bled through that divide, the divide I’d kept up for years. And the space to deal with that growed and growed. It was in my head. What happened. It was there. In my head. And I needed more space to cope. More energy. And it kept getting bigger and I functioned, operated. The things that didn’t require any effort, any thought, I could keep doing. Low level operation. But that space got more cramped, eaten up. I. I stopped. Everything stopped.

– But you had no evidence your work was worse.

– But who cared? Why did it matter? Why would anyone care what I said?

– But it was fine before. What changed?

– I

– I don’t know. I was lost. I am lost.

– So when it was okay what was the difference?

– I didn’t intend to come in and talk about this. I was going to tell you about this week, about meeting.

– I’m not going to let you evade it. What was different?

– I

– I had hope.

– Why?

– Why did you have hope?

– If I tell you about the meetings it might make sense.

– I met a friend from work. It was nice. You know how I’ve said that I’ve not felt engaged with. I mean, been a bit semi-detached. Well, we had a coffee. She’s on maternity leave at the moment, told me that I was the only person that had kept in touch throughout, the only person that had asked about her baby when I contacted her. And she. She’s been supportive. She’s been there. Understands. It was nice to see her, and her baby.

– This is more evidence. About worth. About value. Isn’t it?

– I

– I saw her. We met.

– You met?

– The first time in nearly twenty years. I arrived early, worried. I’d gone inside, and was going to wait, but went back out. I was worried she wouldn’t turn up. That I’d be abandoned.

– And was there any likelihood she wouldn’t turn up?

– ?

– No.  Up here.

– Catastrophising?

– Catastrophising.

– She’s not changed. She told me I hadn’t changed. She was lying. But it was lovely. It was so nice to see her. We talked about children, spou. The plural of spouse should be spice really. Spouses doesn’t sound right. Spice. We talked about our spice. About jobs. And it was comfortable, relaxed. I felt

– I felt safe. I always felt safe.

– We talked, just sat and talked. And it was lovely. I told her I was here, why I was here. What had happened. About the counselling. She knew of course. She was the first person I told. And I told her because I wanted to not because I needed to.

– She’d suggested therapy then. Afterwards. That it would help. I told her she was right. And she knew she was.

– I told her. I thanked her. I told her she’d made a difference. That my life would have been different.

– I’ve missed her being there, being my friend.

– It feels ridiculous now, the worries. It was so nice. To reconnect, to get another chance.

– We’re going to meet again. We’ve exchanged some messages after meeting. She said that when I’d said this she’d felt like a fraud. And she wasn’t. Not ever. Then she said she didn’t want to negate my experience. And I got it. Remember the other week when you asked what she got from it? From being there? From being my friend. And I couldn’t see. It’s. It’s this solipsism. This process. You’re in your own head all the time. Just there, looking at yourself, focusing on yourself. And you can’t see. I know what she meant to me. She gave me hope. I felt worthwhile. Valued. She trusted me. She trusted me for a reason. I mattered. And she mattered. And I gave her something.

– For those years I mattered. I felt safe. Being safe meant so much.

– I told my wife that I felt safe with her before I told her I loved her. Because it was important to me. It meant so much. And when we married. Throughout those years I felt that I had a value. That period of time, those years, when the divide worked. I could keep the divide because the personal stuff was under control. Because I. Because I was trusted. Maybe that’s what the positive connotations should be.  Not about value. But about trust.

– Because when you are trusted you are trusted because you have value.

– And do you believe you have value?

– I

– Do you believe you have the potential of worth?

– I.

– Despite the evidence. All this evidence we’ve got. Meeting people, people getting back in touch with you, you making an effort and people wanting to see you.

– I

– The little Daffy Ducks on the shoulder. You know? There’s the rational one. And there’s the. You understand?

– It’s hard to believe. I am worth. It’s hard.

– I don’t. I can’t.

– Okay. Trust is good though. We can work with trust.


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Reaching out

– So, how are things this week?

– Fine. It’s been fine. Last week, it’s been different. The session last week, the light bar, it was different. I wasn’t in the event as long, not really. Not reliving. And I roamed a bit, my head was in various places. When you brought me back it was. You know?

– Quiet. Empty. There was low distress.

– And that continued. Through the session. Afterwards. On the train home. I was tired. But I didn’t have that hit, the inability to. And the day after’s usually bad. I’m tired, keep quiet, sit in front of episodes of Quincy because I can’t concentrate to read. But I didn’t have that dip. Not until a couple of days after. It was the weekend that was a bit worse. When there were more people around, and I was overwhelmed. I hid away for a while, let things quieten down a bit. And it was okay.

– And the days after. It’s been fine.

– The past few weeks, since that bad period, the drop. It’s been. I mean this week I. I did stuff six months, even a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have. I’ll try to, you know? Explain. To explain.

– My wife says I look better than I have for five or six years. I feel it’s been longer. I. I started

– I started shutting down about ten years ago. I can see it now. When I was at Uni, when I started work, I could avoid. Distract and avoid. And keep going. And I functioned well. I functioned at a high level. I wrote. Poems. Stories. And looking at them now. The poems are rubbish, but some of the stories are okay. And there were exams and I was good. I did well. And I contributed to work, big things, big projects. And then there were books, lots of stuff. I was good. I could. And then. Things stopped. It was in my head. And I had to shut parts of me down to keep going. And the writing stopped. The concentration went. And I shut down. And over the years with flashbacks and the stuff in my head it was. It was too much. That circle of working contracted. It closed down. I stopped being able to do lots of things. The bandwidth to cope was increasing and I had less. There was less. I’d stuff half done. Things started. But I didn’t think they were worthwhile. Why would anyone care what I thought? Why would anyone bother? If I was worthless, what I thought, what I said was worthless. And so it contracted and contracted until I was left doing the stuff I could only do on automatic pilot. But even then, even then. That ground to a halt too.

– But that’s only part of it. I didn’t have lots of friends through school, through University and work. I found it hard. Giving myself. Because to have friendship you need to give yourself, to emotionally engage, to be open, to trust. And I can’t. I couldn’t. It was hard. So hard.

– I told when I had to. When circumstances made it unavoidable. I voluntarily told once. She’d trusted me so much. I. I.

– I couldn’t give myself. Found it, find it, hard to trust. I find it hard to give myself. I could once. Be there. Be open. But I cut myself off. Every step through life. I don’t keep in touch with anyone from school. There was a reunion I was invited to. I ignored it. Never replied. I couldn’t face it. For a long time the only people I kept up with from Uni were the people I worked with. And my jobs. I’ve lost contact with nearly everyone. And the people I work with now. I’ve come to regard them as people I’ve met. I never had massive heart to hearts. I keep up barriers, withdraw. It’s not necessarily deliberate. It’s benign neglect. Unanswered invitations. Social things I avoided. And so that circle of friends contracts. And there are other circumstances too. Families. Relationships. Children. You lose touch. It’s easy to lose touch. But you feel that no one wants to be in touch with you. You attribute motive. Requests are unnecessarily made. Someone pitying you. They don’t want the contact. And so you reject it. And as you feel more worthless, more valueless you shut off. And it’s tied to work too. As things go on I see it. The bandwidth to cope, as that expands, you lose belief in your self. You’re not worth it. You isolate. You close off.

– But these past few weeks.

– A friend from years ago contacted me. She’d got my out of office, the stark message. She was worried. She bothered. I arranged to meet her. And it was nice. Catching up. We met a couple of times. It was hard. I was tired. But it was nice. So a few years ago I got an email from a former colleague. I didn’t reply. But after. Well, I emailed her. Told her I was ill, that I’d lost contact with people, that I regretted it. And we arranged to meet. And we had lunch. And it was lovely. She’s married now. A child. And it was nice to talk, and she was so understanding.

– It’s all evidence you know. Challenging your negative beliefs, your negative assumptions. They contact you because they care about you. They think you’re worth bothering with.

– I’ve met a few other people, folk I’d had contact with on twitter. And I’ve been quite open. Sometimes they’ve worked it out. They’ve read the blogs or the tweets and. But it’s been nice. I wouldn’t have done that a few months ago. And it’s not always easy but.

– That’s great. You remember you always asked how you would know it was working, and I told you you’d know?

– You understand now?

– Yes. I’ve started reaching out. Reestablishing connections.

– That’s important for the recovery. After you’re well again. New networks. New old networks.

– Do you remember the woman who helped me at University? From my school?

– Yes.

– You know how important she was, how she.

– Well, I found her. A few weeks ago I’d not have thought of looking, but I was searching for her name and I found her.

– I told you I’d never told her how grateful I was. I wanted to write to her. But I was scared. We’d not been in touch since her wedding. That’s nearly twenty years. I was scared. I was worried about upsetting her, worried about how to word it, worried that she’d not reply, or would reply and

– I wrote to her. I found her and wrote to her. I told her I was ill, had been off for months, sick for longer. I told her about the PTSD, about the despair, the haunting. She knew, of course. I’d told her then. She was the first person I told. She told me then to have therapy, that it would help.

– and she was right

– And she was right. I told her about coming here, about the treatment, about the sessions before with the counsellor. And I told her I remembered what she’d done. I told her she’d come up. She’d come up in the counselling and she’d come up here. That I remembered she’d fed me, listened, cared for me. She’d made me feel that I’d mattered. So I thanked her. I told you the other week that she had saved me. And I told her. I told her she’d saved me, she had transformed my life. Without her I’d have left, maybe more. I wouldn’t have the job, wouldn’t have.

– I wouldn’t have

– And I told her that she didn’t need to reply, that I just needed to thank her, because whatever else she did she had made a difference. She’d made a difference and I just needed to thank her.

– She replied.

– It was lovely. It was so lovely. I.

– I got a bit teary. I wasn’t expecting.

– It was. It was lovely. And we talked about our families. And we exchanged email addresses and we might. We might try to meet. And I know we’d not be able to pick up where. But

– Thank you.

– No really. Thank you. You’ve been. This is being so. You’ve been so supportive. And this has been transformative, genuinely transformative. Thank you.

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– so how was the past week?

– better I think. I had a dip after the session, but it wasn’t as deep and it wasn’t as long. But last week’s session was different. We went longer on the light bar, and moving beyond the event, it made a difference. When I left the session I didn’t feel as down. I’d gone beyond the event. Relived it again. But it wasn’t as visceral. It wasn’t in my head during the week. Maybe because I avoided stuff. Last week I’d read that article and was preoccupied. But this. I avoided stuff.  Usually it’s like a moth to the flame. I can sense it. Media stories. My counsellor had said that we’re drawn to them, that we can tell. She said a lot of the people she spoke with couldn’t avoid them. But last week.

– Anyway, last week was different. You left me with her. So she was in my head a lot. I’ve not see her for years, twenty years near enough.

– She saved me, you know. I was in a bad way. I wasn’t eating. I wanted to leave. If she’d not been there I don’t know what would have happened. I’d self harmed before. When I was younger. To feel. I wanted to feel. That numbness that overcomes you. That numbness. That void. And there was nothing. I felt nothing. I could feel nothing so I. To feel. To feel anything. If she’d not been there I wonder

– We’d met. I’d known her from school. Not well. She was in the year above, and I’d see her in a classroom a few times when we saw the teacher. But we didn’t really speak. Not until sports day. We spent a day then avoiding it. In a small room. I can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere no one would disturb. We spoke. It was odd. We’d not spoke to her before but I told her about my grandfather dying, about Lockerbie. It felt normal. And she didn’t judge, didn’t intervene. I felt. I was safe. I felt safe.  And I didn’t see her for ages. Fifteen months, sixteen months. And then I met her. Bumped into her opposite the law school. Literally. I was crossing the road and. So we spoke. And she asked me round.

– I saw her every week. She knew I wasn’t eating. Knew I was trying to assert control over some part of my life. But she cooked for me. Looked after me. We’d talk. And she made sure I’d eat. And we shared things we’d written.

– Talking mattered. I felt safe. Safety matters. I felt safe with her. And I planned to. I planned to tell, to say why, to tell her what had happened. And I did, eventually. But when I was going to tell her she told me. She trusted me more than anyone had ever trusted me. And I. I didn’t know what to do. I loved her and I wanted to. But I couldn’t tell her I loved her. I couldn’t hold her. I didn’t want to, to intrude. I. I didn’t know what to

– I don’t know details. I didn’t ask. I couldn’t ask. But I sat there. I just sat there.

– She loved poetry. She loved Ted Hughes. At one point, years after, I was in a second hand shop and found a book I’d not seen before. Cave birds. With drawings. I. It was just to tell her. To let her know I was.

– Anyway, months later, I told her. I told her that something had happened. And she. She understood. And she

– Afterwards as I walked from her flat I felt like I was walking in a spotlight. I felt everyone was turning and staring. That everyone knew. That everyone looked at me and knew. The old ladies coming out of the bingo, queueing for the bus. I felt the eyes of each of them on me. I

– I trusted her.

– I felt safe. I felt

– And in telling her I was exposed. It was telling her how much I trusted her. It was telling her she’d

– She changed my life. Her friendship genuinely changed my life. Without her I’d either have left University or I’d have.

– There are life changing moments. Some people talk about religion. That instant they find God. I’m not religious. But I’m aware, conscious that the language I use about her has connotations. Saved. Salvation. But she did. She saved me. If I’d left law I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have ended up in the job I’m in. My life would have been so different. She looked after me. She trusted me. She saved me. And she had no need to.

– But don’t you think she might have been helped by you too?

– She did this for so long. Don’t you think that you were helping her?

– I

– I don’t feel. I mean why would she think that? I’m. How could I help her?

– Why did she do it?

– Because she was unnecessarily kind. Altruistic. She tolerated me, put up with me.

– You don’t see that she might have been getting something from this?

– When I did the counselling we talked a lot about negativity. That I. I feel worth nothing. I am nothing. I can’t understand why people would want to be with me. And when I am close to people, when I was close to her, I. I cut people off. I push them away. I’ve never thanked her. We lost touch twenty years ago. I want to speak to her, to tell her she saved me. That I. That I started counselling. That I’m doing this.

– But she’s not the only one. Friends from University, from school, even from early jobs. I’ve cut them off. Not made an effort. Now I know that getting married, having children, it changes things. You lose contact. Things become strained. Your focus changes. But I made no effort. I cut myself off. I couldn’t afford to be exposed, to let myself be known. I.

– I can see myself doing it again now. Not replying to people. Avoiding phone calls. When people arrange things not responding. Vanishing.

– You know the Homer Simpson gif, gif. One of them. I’m not sure how you pronounce it. By the hedge and he slopes back in. I do that. Vanish. Hide.

– Seeing yourself doing it means you can do something about it.

– no?

– perhaps. I

– This week I contacted someone I’d not seen for years. An old colleague. A friend. We got on. She’d contacted me, god, two years, more, ago. We’d not seen each other for nearly ten years, maybe more. She said she’d been thinking about me and we should meet. I replied and did nothing about it. I contacted her this week. Told her I was doing this, that I’d been ill, and that I felt guilty for having no contact.

– so?

– so?

– people don’t contact others after ten years unless they think the other person is worth something.

– Sorry for rambling. I.

– This week has been different. I feel.

– Remember when you asked me how you would know it was working and I said that you would know.

– do you understand now?

– ha! Yes.

– Ready to begin?





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Conversation before the light work

– when I started this, when I went to the counsellor, I wanted it all to vanish. If I’d had a switch and I could have flicked it and erased everything up here and in here I would have. But now

– It’s part of me. It’s a big part of me. I wouldn’t. If it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be who I am. It matters. It’s impacted on my relationships, on my life. I wouldn’t have bonded with certain people. I wouldn’t have had that break, the awkwardness – trying to explain. The tears. The. I wouldn’t have ended up where I did, met my wife. Taking it away, excising it, it would change me. And I might need changed. Hell, I know I need changed. But it made me. This. This thing shaped me. I can’t wipe it. I didn’t realise that at first. I thought this was about a fix, about a panacea. Not living with it any more, not putting it in the cupboard, pretending I can’t hear the noises. I thought that addressing this, confronting this. I thought it would be about deleting it. Like Total Recall. Finding some new memories, dropping them in. But I realised. I knew it didn’t work like that. But I realised that I didn’t want it to. That pretending it didn’t happen wouldn’t make me normal, wouldn’t make everything happy.

– My counsellor spoke about acceptance. But acceptance is wrong. The word’s wrong. Acceptance connotes assent, satisfaction. A degree of happiness. I don’t want to be happy about it. I don’t want to be happy that this happened. I don’t want to be satisfied with it. It was wrong. It shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t

– No-one should have to. No-one should ever

– I can’t accept it. I can’t.

– I told her the word was wrong. I preferred acknowledgement. Awareness. To acknowledge, to remain, to be, aware. That’s fine. I can live with that. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.

– There are other things too. The language. Victims. Trauma survivors. They’re not adequate. The connotations. They define you. You’re left in a permanent state, defined. The victim. Always the victim. It perpetuates it, your agency removed. You’re passive. It happened to you. It always happens to you. Always. But survivor. Survivor is wrong too. It defines you by what happened. That that is who you are. That your experience determines everything about you. You don’t want to be defined by that. That’s not who you are. You are more than that. You are much more. It’s an experience. Just an experience. We are experiencers. Neutral. No connotations. Not constantly harking back to something happening. You can’t avoid it. You can’t pretend nothing happened. But it’s not what tells the world who you are. And I know it overwhelms, that it, that it is why I’m here, why I was there. I know that these things matter. That it’s in my head. It’s there. Not all the time, never all the time – but it’s there. It sits there. And I couldn’t see before it. And sometimes what came after was obscured, hidden. It reached back, tore what was there before, clawed it, shredded it, until all that was there was. Just it. Sitting there. Squatting. Just there. Always there.

– I’ve not had flashbacks for a while, not had that violent transportation – the time travel – moving from here. The touch. The story. The sound. The smell. There was a time where I was jerked out of today – even for an instant. I would be aware of where I was quickly enough but I was transported. Ratatouille. I told you, I think. Like that scene in Ratatouille. Where the critic is served with the dish and as he tastes, as he smells, he’s instantly small again. The last time was a couple of weeks ago. It’s not to say there haven’t been intrusive thoughts, that it’s not been on my mind, that I’m not thinking about it. But the flashbacks have toned down. And as that’s happened it’s been accompanied with the memory dump, that thing between, during, sessions where thoughts emerge – people, places. When they come back to mind. As the distress in reliving lessens, as the flashbacks ease, it’s not obscuring as much. Some of the fractures are healing. Fragments are joining up.

– It’s slow. I wish it was quicker. I wish it was much quicker. I’d like to be back to whatever normal is going to be. But it’s moving. Things are moving. Forward. And then back. And to the left. But it’s moving. It’s change. Things are changing. Change is good.



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they laughed

you heard them laugh

you heard them laugh downstairs

and as you heard the laughter that night it was there

it was there in your room, large, dark

it forced its way in – snarling

you lay – quiet still scared

reaching back it uncurled its spindly large jointed fingers, clawing – frenetically clawing – ripping what was there, shredding what had been, taking what it could

you felt each scratch, the wounds rough edged, soon septic

it squatted, waited – and you could feel it waiting

you flinched as it lashed out occasionally, wrestled others for your heart, pulling you away from them

it never slept but watched – and you could feel it watching

you couldn’t see behind it, knew there were fragments there, sensed them, half remembered, were unable to bring them into focus

you caught glimpses of its shadow as you lived, as you loved

until it rose, limbs flailing, kicking, punching, screaming – breaking you





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