Sunday, April 30, 2017

Unconditional Love

Had she not died from a rare cancer of the ear (who knew such things existed?), my mother would have turned 80 today. Perhaps something else would have got her, but her father lived to his mid 80s and her mother into her late 90s. Certainly we all thought she probably go on to be a 100 or more, and possibly out live us all.

So it was more than a little shock when she died at the age of 65, less than a year on from her diagnosis.

People who have not been through the loss of someone close tend to assume you’ll grieve for a while, then get over it. But the truth is you never do.

You shatter into a million fragments and then spend the next few years trying to gather them up and stick them back together again. Inevitably some bits are missing, or damaged beyond repair, so you fill the gaps with other bits, and slowly you recreate a version of yourself that is able to live in the world without the loved one.

To the outside world you may even appear to be the same person you were before. But you’re not, and you never will be.

This isn’t to say that after 14 years and a couple of months I don’t go days, or even weeks without thinking about my mother, but periodically it whallops me deep in my chest and for a few moments the pain is as excrutiating as the day I lost her.

Sometimes it’s triggered by something one of the children have achieved, and I think of how proud she would have been, and how sad it is she isn’t around to experience it. Other times, like today, it can be a particular date. I completed a Sudoku puzzle over a cup of tea after my breakfast and scribbled the date in the margin (I don’t really know why I do this, but I always have). And as I wrote out 30/04/17 I remembered today was her birthday, and then realised she would have been 80. And the tears welled up.

What I have learned to do on these occasions is give her a hug, hold her tight and remember her love for me.

A mother’s love is unlike any other – it is completely unconditional. I could have murdered someone and, while she would have been deeply saddened and upset, she would still have loved me.

That complete, total, unconditional love that is there whenever we want it, is something we don’t fully appreciate until it’s gone. Like the air we breathe, until we experience its absence we don’t truly understand just how vital it is to our being.

My daughter, Meg, is away today with the café she works part time with, who are providing catering for an event a few miles the other side of Dumfries, so I won’t see her until tonight.

But when she does come home I will steal a cuddle from my amazing daughter who still gives herself to my hugs with total commitment. No matter how bad I feel about myself or the world, in her eyes I can do no wrong. From Meg I also get complete unconditional love, and I know I am an extraordinarily fortunate man.

My mum

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Soul Soup – Everyday Superheroes

"There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have mental health problems, and those who are in denial."

I've been quoting this one for years, but I can't remember where I first heard it. Even a google search hasn't helped. Perhaps I made it up. Where ever it comes from, it's always had a deep ring of truth to me.

Mental health is still something of a taboo for many people, so it doesn't get talked about, much less admitted to. Fear of rejection, of appearing weak, or even of employers using it as an excuse to get rid of us, all contribute to so many people staying quiet, and ending up feeling completely on their own with it.

By the time you hit 50, the chances are you've probably found coping mechanisms, perhaps even solutions. But when you're young and all your friends and peers seem to have brilliant lives – as promoted on Facebook and other social media – then the feelings of isolation can be overwhelming. The fear of facing and trying to deal with the emotional turmoil on your own can lead to suicide looking like the only way to end the suffering.

Soul Soup is an amazing local charity offering professional counselling and support for young people (12 to 25 years old) facing emotional distress and difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing.

Having had an on-off relationship with Depression since I was 18, when I was asked if I would help create a photo for them to use to launch a publicity drive to raise awareness about mental health, I didn't hesitate.

"Everyday Superheroes" is tied in around the notion that nearly all of us attempt to appear invulnerable and easily able to cope with the world, so the idea is to get people to photograph themselves as superheroes doing everyday things – be it shopping, gardening, washing the dishes etc – and share it on social media.

To kick-start the drive, though, we created a photo of people dressed as superheroes in a group therapy session: even Superheroes are vulnerable to mental health problems.

The concept and the costumes were all created by a group of Soul Soup workers and users.

Recalling the Moniave Manga project I did last summer with Ralph Yates-Lee of Basement 20 Hair Salon, I asked him if he’d like to be involved too. Ralph leapt at the chance, brought along an assistant, Angelique, and sorted out hairstyles for several of the participants.

As well as the main image, I needed to create a series of photos of each of the characters in proper Superhero poses to Photoshop into posters placed on the walls behind them.

A couple of people whipped out their mobile phones to record some of the process of getting hair done and the photo shoot itself, so with a soundtrack from my band, The Cracked Man, I edited together this short (1:10) video to give you a taste of the day.

Feel free to "like" and support Soul Soup over on Facebook if you're there.