Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

When I was a kid I was painfully shy. Ridiculously so. So much so that when I went to school my Mum was called in by the teacher to ask if I was deaf and dumb (it was the 70s, political correctness hadn’t been invented). I couldn’t speak to strangers. I couldn’t speak to adults. I wasn’t keen on crowds.

I know that many people that know me now will find this a bit surprising and might be a bit cynical but it’s true. I’m an introvert. Quite an extreme introvert but I’ve learned many coping strategies to help me survive in an extroverted world. It’s a world that exhausts me.

People exhaust me. Strangers in particular. The thought of small talk is a horror that I don’t want to think about. A trip to the hairdresser is terrifying. I have a dread of crowds. I still have to take a few deep breaths before I walk into a crowded room. I have to prepare myself carefully for social occasions. But I have my coping strategies and some of them I have learnt from what you may consider odd places…

But that’s where magic and inspiration comes from.

When I was 8 or 9 I went to my first gig. It was at the glorious Apollo in Manchester, still one of my favourite venues. I saw Adam & the Ants. It was really a birthday present for my older brother but as an annoying younger sister of course I had to be there too. It was a magnificent, flamboyant, spectacular affair complete with pirate ship, swinging chandeliers, leagues of drummers and wonderful costumes. I was entranced. I was hooked; on live music, on theatrical performance, on the arrogant swagger of a front man.

I saw Adam Ant again this week. I was entranced. He was spectacular. I was 8 years old again and totally swept away.After the joy and awe started to fade he made me think.

His mental health issues have been well documented and sensationalised but the man that stood before me was fit, healthy, well and performed for over 2 hours, certainly appearing better than most of the audience at the end of it.

As I sang along to his back catalogue I considered his struggle. Even in the most beautiful of his songs there is reference to it. But blink, in it’s poppy, Lightening Seed-esque lyricism and you will overlook it.

Wonderful

Fundamentally it’s a cry for help. An acceptance of the horror he is capable of and a plea for someone to stop it.

Even at his most popular, at the height of his fame he was telling us about his pain. Our Dandy Highwayman, our Prince Charming was trying to convince us, or was it himself, that ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’?

Prince Charming

I have clung to that lyric all of my life. Actually, I’ve clung to Adam too. If you see me at a wedding chatting to a (poor, unfortunate) DJ or at a jukebox, you will find, at some point some ant music making it onto the play list. I find it and him empowering. Accepting.

Now I don’t know if it was Adam Ant or Mr Benn that taught me that fancy dress was the most wonderful idea but whichever it was I am forever grateful. Because every day and for every occasion I choose an outfit and put it on like a costume because it gives me confidence. you may not notice, you may think it’s a business suit, a pair of jeans…some hot pants? But in my head I’ve created a character. I’ve put on my costume. I have a suit of armour that will protect me and which I can wear with pride and sass. Most people don’t know this but it works for me. Whatever works for you, do it!

Don’t you ever, don’t you ever, 

Lower yourself, forgetting all your standards

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

The black dog

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and it’s really made me think. One of my mates posted on social media, ‘If anyone said that they haven’t been affected by mental health issues, they’re lying’. That really resonated with me.

I pretend that I haven’t but I know that I have. I struggle with what I call the dark clouds (it seems less serious that way) others would call it the black dog, depression. I’ve had black clouds for as long as I can remember and I fight them hard.

My best and most wonderful weapon and defence is to have a purpose. A reason to get out of bed every day and to care. 19 years ago that purpose was a funny, silly, skinny little puppy who I met at Manchester Dogs’ Home called Oscar. He wasn’t a black dog, he was sandy coloured and truly wonderful. He nestled into my heart from the moment I saw him and from the day I brought him home we loved each other completely. Unconditionally.

He kept the black dog at bay.

He was my baby, my hero, my best friend. Together we could take on the universe.

And then in the blink of an eye he was 15. Going grey around the eyes. Slowing down. Sleeping more. The vet said it was arthritis and gave us pills. I took him swimming. I learned about dog massage. It all helped.

We were hanging on for each other.

I eventually had to admit that my boy was in pain. Incurable pain. He had to admit that he couldn’t hang on. I lay on the floor with him for seven hours until the vet could see us. I sang to him, all the silly songs that I’d made up about him over 15 years. He was the only one that had ever heard them and this would be their final show. We cuddled. His chocolate brown eyes looked into mine the whole time as I stroked his velvet ears.

I can’t share the moment when I had to say goodbye. It breaks my heart now, even after four years.

I was broken. I spent three days in bed. What was there to get up for? I had four panic attacks. I thought I was having a heart attack during one of them. I think that my heart was just breaking. I promised my mate I would go to the doctor. I did. I never told him about how I felt. I didn’t to be a burden. I didn’t want medication. I was in pain and wanted to feel it. But also I could never, ever admit that. I never wanted to ask for help. Me? That’s not what we do!

Before you think, ‘It was just a dog’, that’s not what this is about. Re-read what I’ve written. That dog was my saviour. My reason to get up in the morning. I used to say to him regularly “They call you a rescue dog but just who rescued who?”. He was brighter and better than me and just cuddled.

We all need a reason to exist and being there for someone else is a very bloody good one.

There are tears running down my face as I type this because I will never recover from that great loss. I struggled in the weeks and months after wondering ‘what was the point?’. I swore that I would never let myself get that hurt again, I would never have another dog. It was too hard…

Two months later I adopted a 3 month old puppy. He was due to be put down the following day. His time was up. His photo stared from me from Twitter with chocolate brown eyes and they said ‘I’ll keep the black dog from the door’.

He has. He is. He’s snoring next to me as his younger ‘sister’ snoozes on my feet. I now have a (small) pack who make me laugh every day and  keep the dark clouds away. I’m lucky.

We’re a small pack of rescues and we get each other through.

Be kind when you can.