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Islay and jura days 2-5

June 19, 2019 Leave a comment

2 nights in gorgeous an cladach bothy. Fires both nights. And on a walk over to see the lighthouse saw a sea eagle. Thought the day had peaked, and then 5 minutes later sea eagle returned, again directly overhead, but this time a peregrine falcon, presumably nesting nearby, attacked it and we had incredible aerial gymnastics from them both! Sea eagle at least 4 times the size, spun in the air several times to evade the mismatched peregrine, except the latter obvs had more to lose and successfully drove off the eagle! Yayy for small fierce things! ;)

Then back to port askaig, via lovely tea shop in ballygrant. Ferry to jura. Camped in hotel grounds – once again the call of a bar won out, especially given the rain. Fabulous community run shop, so got some (beef) square sausage for breakfast :)

Now back on Islay for last few days of this adventure.

Categories: islands, travel

Islay – arrival

June 16, 2019 2 comments

Unprecedented for a “two go on an adventure” trip, it is not sunny. Soon after the ferry left kennacraig the rain started, and now an hour after landing in port askaig, its still coming down. The weather definitely made our planned long trek to an claddach this evening much less appealing, more so when we clocked a cosy bar/hotel at the harbour. I was feeling shy but, buoyed by our previous experiences on islands, we went in and asked if there was anywhere close by they could recommend to pitch a tent. Immediate friendly response from first son, then mother (who runs hotel) was to check if someone was already there, and then invite us to pitch on the grass next to their little concrete slipway in front of their house, behind the hotel!

And so what seemed initially like a bad beginning to our adventure turned into a heart-warming reminder of how lovely folks are away from “civilisation”. After pitching our tents we went into the general shop as I needed to get some waterproof tape to fix a rip in my backpack. It was a shop that sold one of absolutely everything. Another customer bought cat food and party balloons. And we were offered a camping spot – we explained we were fine and turns out he’s the husband of the hotelier.
And thus the first 3 Islay folk we met all went above and beyond, volunteering information in order to ensure 2 strangers had somewhere to sleep, even when we already did!
Categories: politics

Healing from PTSD, emotional numbing and disassociation. Newly experiencing grief, Day 5.

January 10, 2019 1 comment

As my PTSD and disassociation subsides, I am rediscovering feelings and emotions. I lost a dear friend, a sweet sister, to suicide at the weekend. This is my first bereavement in years, and the first I have actually gone through any proper grieving for. For the dear dear friends who died before, my numbing just deepened and I struggled to cry at all.

So I feel like someone plunged into the ocean, having never been to the seashore before.

The waves keep washing over me, though their hues have changed over the days. Initially the rawness was frequently tinged with denial. I felt that I could return to some previous saved game state and alter her passing. Telling someone about her death, talking about her in the past tense, even using her name in a facebook post made it too real and was to be avoided. But then the reality would hit, and tears would flood out of me, accompanied by guttural moans. It almost felt like being possessed, because of how involuntary this was.

Before I began my healing journey I would do anything to avoid letting these feelings out, for they felt bottomless, that they would overwhelm me, and the vulnerability was terrifying. Additionally, many of the times when I would have felt distress and sadness in the past it was not safe to do so, because I was still around my assaulter, or because I was in warzone. I got very good at pushing them down. However a few years ago I realised that it had become impossible to filter which emotions I could suppress, and I was losing the good uns with the bad. I was not experiencing life because it was all grey without emotions to colour it. In order to feel joy, I had to feel pain. And I made a conscious decision that I would begin opening myself up to those feelings too, and trust that I wouldn’t lose myself forever in a pit of despair, but that my body and mind would find a path to stumble through to some other side. I began to cry. I’m still not good at it – like an immobilised muscle that is very slowly strengthening I can manage only a few minutes at a time and feel utterly exhausted afterwards. But I don’t fear feeling it anymore, as I know there will be another side, and it will probably be a washed clean (temporary) peacefulness.

And so now when I feel the buildup of pain, I let it come. It is still a conscious effort, with me telling myself over and over “it is safe to cry, it is not a burden on whoever’s around me, it is consented to, it will pass and there will be another side” until the tears finally, blessedly, break and I’m engulfed. Which feels weird – instead of pushing pain down I am facing it head-on. No longer am I fleeing from my own shadow.

Observing, as well as experiencing, grief, here is what I have noticed.

When I’m depressed I comfort eat. In grief I am having to make a conscious effort to eat at all. And when I do, its been easy, moist foods. A friend cooked soup for us on Monday, and otherwise its been beans on toast, boiled eggs or cereal. I think the difference is that when I’m depressed I feel empty of feeling and so hunger and eating are louder and more compelling against that flat landscape. In contrast, ear-splitting grief drowns out other feelings and exhausts my capacity to feel them. There is no satiation in eating, no pleasure of taste, and little hunger drive. I understand better now why so many cultures and religions emphasise the importance of bringing food for the grieving.

I was due to work a 12 hour shift the day after finding out about her suicide. My first impulse was to keep that shift. I need the money, but that was just an excuse. I realised that the “new, post-PTSD, me” correct decision was to cancel it and prioritise self-care and grieving. Additionally would I have the concentration required to safely give out medication to patients? It was the latter that sealed my decision. And I went to Edin instead to spend the afternoon with 20-30 of Danielle’s friends. This was definitely the right thing to have done. I was making her death real, being around people who were also mourning her, sharing memories, making sense of what had happened, and crying, a lot, in public (unprecedented!). I went home exhausted but was aware of how healthy and necessary the day had been. Refusing to let myself grieve for those I’ve lost before has not kept them with me, and nothing will bring Danielle back.

Emotions come in waves, lasting from minutes to hours. None lasts longer than that. Initially frequent visitors included denial, anger and guilt. Gradually they have been replaced by deep sadness, missing her very much, and slowly accepting that she did what she needed to do. I feel these one or two in a row and then go to “numb” as some kind of emotional refractory period.

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about anything apart from Danielle. Other times I need a break from that. She is never far from my thoughts. But I don’t want to share them always. I am super lucky to have been with people who have been open to hearing, but not been pushy if I don’t want to talk about her. I’ll be thinking about her, but talked out, and not want to explain whatever is going on in my mind.

Last night I even went out on a date. I warned the person in advance about what had happened and that I would be subdued. But I honestly felt that I needed a break from constant 24/7 grieving. I needed daylight and fresh company and a change. I was very lucky that my date was familiar with grieving processes and a total sweetie about it. I have been having a big family crisis as well, and that was also on my mind. But it was a relief to at least partly get away from all that.

Today I crashed again though. As if the sadness that didn’t express itself for 12 hours or whatever had time to make up for. I still feel like taking that break and going outside of myself for that time was healthy. Pre-new-me would only have done that – kept myself busy and distracted and with a full to-do list and schedule. However I think a little of that is probably necessary.

For my own reference as much as for anyone who’s managed to follow my stream of consciousness this far, here’s what I wrote on facebook about Danielle.

CW: transphobia and suicide
My heart hurts. You have left a unique, unfillable space in the universe. I’m glad I got to know you, and had you in my life. I wish you could have internalised how much love there was for you, and I’m furious at a transphobic world for making your life so much harder. The world was not ready for you, and you suffered for that. We, and the world, suffer for losing you. You will be dearly missed, sweet sister.
On Friday the world lost a wonderful, unique, beautiful person. And, in large part, it was transphobia that meant she could no longer face life. It was having her gender questioned and doubted and fetishised and mocked in popular culture, and most painfully of all, amongst those that pre TERF (TERF is someone who is anti trans people, but claim to come from a progressive, feminist, perspective) wars, she would have thought were on the same side as her, as an Anarchist.
I hope to write a longer post once I have recovered from losing a beloved sister from my life, but in the meantime, please do one thing in her memory.
Offer a hug to a trans person, or someone else who faces structural prejudice and oppression. Remember you are doing it as an offering to them, so please do it in a way that does not pressure them – some people don’t like touch, or only on their terms. I suggest the phrasing “Would you like a hug?” and genuinely listen that they actively want that.
And whilst I’m at it, please remember that it shows care and respect to ask someone “What pronouns do you use”, and, inevitably when you get it wrong (as everybody does at some point) “Sorry, she/he/they” and continue with the conversation. Remember most importantly, when you get it wrong do not turn it into a big deal where you are apologising and explaining so much that they need to comfort you, when you were the one that trod on their toes! “Sorry” and move on is all that is required.
But back to our dearly missed, sweet sister Danielle. She is not with us because the world is transphobic. When we argue with those who use language that insults, minimises, fetishises or stigmatises trans people its not just an abstract political theoretical debate. These things matter. Real people suffer. Their lives are made unliveable. And we lose dear people from the world, and from progressive political movements.
Categories: politics

Barvas to callanish via black house museum, Norse mill and kiln, and rebuilt shielding. Outer Hebrides day 3

June 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Breakfast of muesli with boiling water (a kind of porridge which I really like when camping) and tea. Then broke camp, went back to local shop for cheese and a couple of tomatoes, and headed out on road towards callanish.

Almost immediately we came across something that looked interesting on side of road, which turned out to be a rebuilt shielding. Inside was set out as it would have been, with an explanatory leaflet. Shieldings were one room buildings up on the moors where some women and pre school children would go to with the cows for summer pasture. Inside was 2 parts, separated by a wooden bench the width of the building. Behind the bench was the “bed” – a platform with bags of straw for a mattress and wool blankets. The front half had a fire, and basic cooking facilities. Apparently it was an warmly anticipated time away from the oppressive winter life in the black house. I imagined also to be away from the dour men folk!

It was another very warm, sunny day. I’m convinced the Hebrides are always blue sky, bright green hills and sparkling water.

Black house museum was fascinating. Very friendly, helpful, and informative assistant explained that the last person living in a black house had still been there til the 1960s. We’ve seen a lot of ruined ones, just behind post war houses. Poverty kept people from living in modern buildings until very recently.

Surprisingly spacious inside, but the immediate impression was smokey (peat fire kept going) and dark (occasional oil lamps but otherwise no lighting). Incredibly thick walls – double drystone, turf filled for insulation. In from the front door, to the right was the byre. Keeping animals inside must have helped protect from raiding/predation as well as warmth. To the left was large main human room, with peat fire in the centre, over which was a large iron kettle hanging from the ceiling by a chain. Sitting on the long bench down one side of the room I imagined how cosy it would have felt, as well as crowded, especially during the long hebridean winters. Box beds with curtains in front provide some minimal privacy, though clearly they were all multiply shared.

We lunched on bread, cheese and tomatoes.

Further along the road to callanish was a whale’s jaw bone made into an arch.

At 3:15, 7 miles short of callanish, I foolishly believed google maps stating the visitor’s centre (which we hoped would purvey ice cream…) was to close at 4. So I raced ahead to get us both ice cream, and am chuffed that though fully laden, and the road being hilly, I made it by 3:45, to discover they were open til 8 during the summer! Lovely cafe, shop and “story of the stones” exhibition / mini museum, all run by local people as part of a community trust. Good food, good prices and great setting. Most importantly, they do sell ice cream!

Not to seem too “seen it all before”, but I’ve seen a fair few stone circles and they are less exciting to me in general now. So I wasn’t expecting to feel much at callanish stones. We climbed the path up to the site, me feeling blasé, and then… Oh Wow! So many of them, so close together and in this intriguing unique shape. Radiating arms to the compass points, one, an avenue of parallel stones. Such beautiful rock too, studded with white and black crystals. From the 2nd circle, 10 min walk around a bay onto another hill, the main stones were clearly silhouetted across the water on top of their ridge.

We camped on a hillock, once again metres from the sea. Temperature dropped when the sun did, bringing the harr in, so we ended up picnicking in my tent.

Categories: travel

Aird arsaig to leverburgh via tarbert and beaches. Outer Hebrides day 5

June 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Beautiful spot to waken and breakfast, on the tip of the little peninsula.

Next stop tarbert. Pretty port village. Stopped at only place we could see and struck gold. The bar at the hotel at the port has amazing food and pot of tea for 2 was £3! My burger was freshly made in house. Very very yummy. And we charged phones and hand washed a day of clothes each too.

The local shop didn’t have camping gas, and hardware shop closed as its the weekend. We have the Kelly kettle as well as the gas stove so its not an emergency. Did restock some food.

I struggled with the next hill – I think the burger was sitting heavy in me, and for 1st time this trip I had to push up the hill! Landscape now mountainous with lots of small lochs and rocky outcroppings. Apparently was the setting used for Jupiter in 2001!

Down off the higher ground to the coast, and stunning white beaches. Swam in the clear water, mountains and islands all around coming out of the blue ocean.

At the entrance to a campsite we were beckoned to a burger van by the scent of frying fish and enjoyed a super good Cullen skink and then outstanding fried locally caught herring and mackerel coated in oatmeal.

More miles of stunning coast, machair, beaches, flowers, cliffs, and interesting sea, feature rich with islands and peninsulas.

Tonorrow, the uists!

Categories: politics

Stornoway! Western Isles cycle day 1

June 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Off on installment 3 of “Two go Island Hopping” with E, my semi regular partner in crime. Been wanting to get to Outer Hebrides for years, and finally yesterday I saddled up my noble steed for 12 day trip. Deliciously familiar to have camping gear, food for 4 days (we’ll restock as we go) and feel that sense of self sufficiency, independence, and awaiting to find what adventures are around the next corner :)

Managed to get cheap trains to Garve, but only by leaving Monday evening. So we stayed in a cheap hostel in Inverness and I popped across to the shop so we had 6 boiled eggs for breakfast! Very very crowded train took us to garve for midday.

Very hot with slight headwind cycle across from garve to ullapool. The pub we were planning on a tea and ice cream break was closed so we had to manage it all on the 2 cups of tea we’d had at breakfast!!! O_o

E’s fitness and cycling endurance continues to improve and she is a much stronger cyclist than our previous trips. The route was very scenic but the traffic was fast and not always good at leaving us wobble room as they passed.

Ullapool is pretty village making the most of its stunning location in a bend in a sea loch. And the cafe gave us a free tea refill after we glugged down our pot!

Newish ferry now doing ullapool Stornoway route. Very swish observation lounge. Which was good as there were lots of cetaceans to observe! Harbour porpoise before we’d gone far. And multiple dolphin schools leaping and playing, especially as we got closer to Lewis. Shared experience with all the other excited observation lounge occupants as another dolphin was sighted.

Bought some bread in the co-op which do actual reductions with end of day bread at 10% of original price. This place is so civilised!

Now in pub in Stornoway. We only count having been on an island having consumed something on it, so this is our official arrival on our latest archipelago. And it seems great so far :)

Categories: politics