Escaping grief with words

All has been relatively quiet on here partly due to a busy work period, followed by the death of my wonderful uncle Quentin. He went peacefully, as an octogenarian, so I am thankful for that much. It has hit me very hard.

For those who know me in real life, or some other semblance of social media, you’ll know that I spent much of the last year in therapy to learn to cope with my mental health problems, and get myself back on track for being a functioning human. I’ve been doing relatively okay at this, with your usual ups and downs, thanks to skills from CBT, a heavy dosage of happy-making-medicine from my GP and a lot of love and patience from those around me.

One of my focusses was learning how to feel big emotions. I’m classically avoident when it comes to big emotions – something that surprised a lot of people and even myself because I’d gotten so good at kidding myself into thinking I’d ever processed anything in my life.

With my uncle’s passing, came the crushing wave of grief, something that I’d never let myself properly feel. This sounds ever so melodramatic, like I’m the only one whose lost someone, but stick with me, it ends up somewhere. Basically, I’m learning to grieve for the first time and to not dissociate away into my safe space of blurred non reality or bury my feelings. It’s been really hard, because my regimented care of my daily mental health has fallen a little by the wayside at the same time. I’ve basically been a bit of a blank, sad mess.

While not permitting myself to venture into a separate reality my brain escapes into when it gets a little freaked out, I permitted myself to escape into stories. Reading quietly, with a warm cup of tea, has always been a safe space for me. When things were hard when I was small, the library was my haven and my bunk bed. When I go home next week for the funeral, I promise to dig out some childhood photos of me with my nose in a book as proof of this.

So I suppose this blog was heading towards me telling you about the good things I’ve read, now that I’ve told you about the bad things that are around. While I usually read a lot, I’ve noticed my consumption has gone up a lot since the start of May. These books are some I finished and piled up in the same place in our house, so I could be sure they were read in May.


Bring Up the Bodies is the superb follow up to Wolf Hall, a book that starts out slow (partly because it turns out I know nothing about how Henry Tudor dismantled the churches) but gets you hooked into Cromwell’s snarking, calculating mind. Brilliant stuff. The Secret History followed this up with a on-the-edge-of-your-seat story of how obsession can lead to darkness in a group of proto-hipsters at a small university; don’t let my poor explanation of it put you off. The Awakening is just fantastic, and upsettingly short, but basically a story about a woman in the late 1800s saying “well sod it, my husband’s a bit shit, I’m off” which I appreciate.

From there came the comforting stories of Tove Jansson – her wistful words are always there when I need them most, having read the Summer Book at another time of need. Not pictured is Tales from Moomin Valley because I’ve been reading bites of it in bed, and only commit them to photograph when I’ve finished.

I was lucky enough to see Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House this month with some wonderful people – that’s right, a ballet based on Virginia Woolf. The Lighthouse was the next book of hers on my list, but not one of the books performed – I look forward to trying to understand how Orlando the book links to the spangly in-and-out-of-light whirring dance on the stage. I love delving into Virginia’s stylistic tones, committing a full day to indulge myself. It feels indulgent. It’s what I needed.

Easily the most whimsical book I’ve read was the Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher, which is a beautiful little fable by Korean poet Anh Do-Hyeon. It is literally the story of a salmon migrating upriver, but it is also more than that. He speaks to the river, he falls in love, he questions life’s purpose. There is something a little Jansson about it, but that may be just because I’ve been filling my mind with philosophical Moomin tales. I recommend it, wholeheartedly.

In fact I recommend all these books.

In the middle of these comforting words was “Feynman”,  the graphic novel biography of Dr. Richard Feynman, eminent physicist and astounding mind. While it challenged my knowledge of physics (which has always been astonishingly poor) but it made me want to understand everything, which I feel is a key part of the process. Feynman, like other popular scientists like Dr. Oliver Sachs, had a fascinating colourful life, and it is really worth a read.

As I began to come out of the lowest lows, I treated myself to Supermutant Magic Academy because it seemed like it was going to be the thing I really needed at that time, and it was. Jillian Tamaki’s one page comics about a group of mutant students is breathstealingly funny – especially if you’ve played D&D a few times though this only applies to a couple of the comics. It’s also really touching, with the rawness of first loves and heartbreak. I’m already considering reading it again.

These books kept me going – just keep reading. A few more sentences.

Honourable mention goes to The Shepherd’s Life which rescued me from having a panic attack or worse on the Strand last week – I ducked into Waterstones repeating “just get the Shepherd” under my breath, bought it, and sat quietly in the upstairs cafe looking longingly at the hills of the Lake District that exist in my fondest childhood memories. I’ll write about that more when I’m done.

I’m not sure if this post was coherent or even had a point, but this is the end of it.