The High Priestess from the Steampunk Tarot by Barbara Moore and Aly Falls

Difficult

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you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

For women who are ‘difficult’ to love, Warsan Shire

I have often been called difficult so it gives me great joy to see the above poem by Warsan Shire. I want all women to read it so that each woman knows that when someone calls her difficult, it is all about that other person, not the woman who is just herself, she is not difficult.

We are all triggered in different ways and we manage our stress differently but it seems to me that some people externalise their own reactions to the things which trigger them. Over the last 20 years every time I have eaten a meal with an older male relative, whenever I help myself to whatever food dish is on the table, he tries to take it off me and give it to his wife, and when I make conversation he sneers and challenges everything I say. I understand now that even though I am incredibly small and don’t eat that much, my presence makes him feel threatened and taps into his sense of scarcity and overwhelm.

I guess we could say the same about Covid-19. Its presence in the world feels overwhelming and makes us all feel threatened. Panic buying is one way of trying to assuage our fear of scarcity. I am sure if that old male relative of mine saw me even entering a supermarket he would try to wrestle me to the ground to stop me going anywhere near the toilet roll in case his wife needed it. I think supermarkets should employ Old Yorkshiremen: Now then sunshine, calm thaself, you don’t need all this bog roll, let the lass take one. Though honestly, I’d be ok without any. As a child, I remember staying at my auntie’s house and they didn’t always have any. They had strips of newspapers and that was back when the print came off on your hands.

We all wash our hands much more now, and as part of the #handwashing campaign, I enjoyed Gloria Gaynor singing I will survive – my favourite karaoke song. Though part of me wants to turn into a Monty Python Yorkshire man and shout: Twenty seconds, that’s nowt, because when we were new parents, the hubby and I washed our hands for 20 minutes a day in surgical scrub as we were performed paediatric peritoneal dialysis on our baby. We took turns to follow hospital protocol: 1) one minute handwash before starting, 2) one minute handwash before unpacking the fluid and cleaning the machine, 3) three minutes handwash before connecting the fluid bags to the dialysis machine, 4) one minute handwash before switching on the machine. 5) three minutes handwash before uncapping my baby’s catheter… and so on… if you made a mistake, touched the wall or the hand towel dispenser or anything, we would have to start again, one mistake could land our little baby in hospital, like the time I dropped her catheter. We lived on a knife edge for 20 months.

And, actually the staying in the house thing avoiding Covid-19 reminds me of having a small baby on dialysis, and again two years after that, when I was having chemotherapy and was too tired to do anything. I had a second small baby who would wake me up in the middle of the night and as I was on steroids I couldn’t get back to sleep. The world shrinks down to you and yours. People drop away because they don’t want to bother you and they don’t know what to say to you, and it’s too difficult. A lot of people drifted away from us over those years and we’ve never heard from them since.

That tiny baby of ours leaned out of the window the other day and shouted: Can you turn that down? No one wants to hear about her vagina. I was listening to City of Girls on audible by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was fabulously read by Blair Brown and super distracting. I laughed so hard and put my headphones on, and thought how different that felt to when I used to come back from the library with my books as a teenager and my dad would shake the books and see where the book fell open to the most read passage. He would then read it aloud and everyone would laugh, as he proved his theory that it would invariably be the sex scene. I still get flushed when I remember how uncomfortable I felt. Writing that now, I still can’t decide whether this is harmless fun or not. My dad said it was and was unpleasant if I got upset and tried to get my books back. Stop being difficult. I parent differently, if I do something which makes my girls feel uncomfortable, I stop. I guess if I am really analysing everything, difficult woman that I am, I would hazard a guess that my response is one of my coping mechanisms, the need to make everyone feel comfortable when I feel uncomfortable.

We signed up to Netflix last night. I was a bit worried as the last time we had Netflix six years ago we had just moved house and I just couldn’t stop watching Orange is the New Black, no one got fed and nothing got unpacked. But this time so far, so good self-control wise though I finished City of Girls today so I’ve not had time to get addicted to something and everyone can feed themselves, even our new kitten who keeps nibbling on everything. Last night, we watched Daddy’s Home 2, and our girls told the hubby and I, that we parent like Dusty and Brad (we high-fived each other when they weren’t looking).

We have already received our NHS letter about sheltering and staying indoors for 12 weeks, it seems a bit keen to me, but then as my PhD supervisor (another older man who found me difficult) used to say, I don’t know what I don’t know, because I thought it was a bit keen when my GP sent me to the breast clinic, which led to the chemotherapy and other life-saving treatment so that I am gratefully still here to be called difficult. Someone, somewhere has thought about this carefully about us social distancing and sheltering in the hope of keeping us all alive, and that’s why we all stood out the front the other night and clapped for the NHS, and that’s why we are staying indoors for what seems like forever. It is for all of us, everyone on earth. We all are worthy of medical treatment, food, toilet roll, and life itself, even the difficult ones amongst us, even me.

Currently, I vacillate between I can’t stand another minute and God, this is great, I get to save the world by lying on the sofa. Today, I am doing ok, actually much better than ok, I am watching my husband cook Sunday lunch and having a nice glass of wine as we chat and I write this and I am so grateful for everything.

Yesterday, well yesterday, was not so good. In fact it was awful. I was up in the night for a couple of hours after a sweaty panic attack woke me up and I couldn’t calm down. And, I had had too much red wine which acted rather like the steroids and I couldn’t get back to sleep. My head spins after two sips of any alcohol so you would think I would stop after one glass wouldn’t you? Yeah, but no, I don’t. I never want the party to end and having spent a lifetime being made to feel difficult and inadequate, and then having some extended difficult situations in which I felt inadequate and hopeless, it’s nice to get blurry round the edges now and again. Instead of wine, really I should focus on Bikram (oh how I miss my Bikram), blogging and meditation and now we have Netflix and Audible, I have a great choice of ways to get blurry without wine and then sweaty panic attacks would be easier to manage. In meditation, they call the blurriness the gap and this week Light Watkins on Commune explained it brilliantly – it’s that moment when you have a mini lapse in time and you feel blissful and you forget about everything that makes you anxious.

We are in a liminal space right now, though feminist that I am, I can’t help but point out that throughout history women have often spent their lives in the liminal space, we are living quietly and waiting until life returns to normal or at least that is what I used to think when I was doing dialysis and recovering from each round of chemotherapy. I know from those experiences that life never returns to normal ever again. What is normal anyway? Each experience changes us whether we accept it or not. Sometimes we deny it or fight it by trying to make it what it cannot be and we hold onto it for far too long which causes us pain for many years afterwards. Other times we assimilate it, learn our lesson, and move on. If that is the case then count yourself lucky. I know I am very lucky. Some people live for a large portion of their lives in this liminal space as I’ve seen many welcome to my world and this is my life everyday messages on social media. I seriously hope no one is selfish or stupid enough to call them difficult.

If you are not feeling the love as everything and everyone is terrifying and too strange, before you speak to someone, or indeed before you speak to yourself, in a way which may cause harm, take a moment to breathe, and then give thanks for the fact that you still can breathe and speak, and then, and only then, proceed with kindness.

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