DPVP does NaPoWriMo – A Veteran’s Guide with Mabh Savage

NaPoWriMo: A Veteran’s Guide

Okay, ‘veteran’ is maybe a strong term, but I’ve completed it on time two years on the trot, completed it a touch late one year and totally cocked it up another year, so I would say I have a wide experience of what NaPoWriMo is like, from all angles! NaPoWriMo is the anachronym for National Poetry Writing Month, the little sibling of NaNoWriMo which is the same for novels, which occurs later in the year. NaNo’s challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month; daunting to most people. NaPo’s challenge is less about the word count and more about consistency and perseverance; the challenge is to write a poem every day. Every single day, and if you miss a day, then you do two poems the next day. And so forth. So why do we do this to ourselves?

Poetry is Fun

Many people think poetry is the height of pretension, playing with words to look clever, or to give voice to lofty, philosophical dreams. This need not be the case, although deep, philosophical poetry certainly has its place! If you’re thinking you wouldn’t have the necessary material to write decent poetry, think again. Some of my most popular poems have been about very un-deep subjects indeed. Some are downright silly.

I almost wish it were
A metaphor for death; decay!
Instead you’ll be surprised
To hear me say
That coming home to
Mouldy guacamole
Holy moley!
Is actually a measure
Of my happiness
My pleasure
Green and lumpy
Like it should be
Now it’s blue as well:
Oh hell!
But no drama
At this sight;
I shrug and in this moonlit night
In the bin I put the mess to bed
And have a lovely curry instead.

There is no deep meaning to this poem. I came home one night looking forward to finishing off my lovely homemade guacamole, probably with some crackers and what not, and it had developed a lovely little hat of pin-mould. Yes, I will literally write about anything. And you should too. Don’t fret and worry over feeling the perfect bit of inspiration. Anything that makes you smile, laugh, roll your eyes, grit your teeth; anything you feel something over can inspire a little bit of poetry.

Poetry has No Rules

It doesn’t have to rhyme, although it can. It doesn’t have to have perfect form, although if you want to follow iambic pentameter (five sets of two syllables per line, with the emphasis on every second syllable) rigorously, that’s OK too. Here’s an example of a rhyming poem that tries to follow the same or similar rhythm on each line.

Poorly him is poorly me

A thing I cannot bear to see

A furrowed brow; a sweaty neck

A temperature I have to check

A grumpy face, a growly voice

Sad with each and every choice

Wants a blanky; wants a nest

Wants to cuddle to my chest.

Wants some food then nothing’s nice

Not eggs or ice nor toast or rice

Nor sweets or beans nor jams or creams

Not cocoa pops or ham, it seems.

So pillows, sheets and arms it is

Exhausted both; but friends in bliss

As poorly him hugs poorly me;

We rest: the best that we can be.


The rhymes lend emphasis and give the poem a sing-song quality that matches the subject, my little (then) four-year-old boy needing his mummy. In contrast, here’s a poem that has no reasonable rhyming scheme or structure.

Take a pinch of ecstatic ether

Breathe into lover’s eyes

Stretch silk over frame

Of sweat and sinew.

Remove stars from the sky

Place in own eyes

Blink three times

There’s no place like home

And there you are.


Sometimes the way the words weave together is enough. It doesn’t need to be pruned and prodded into a particular structure.


Pro tip: If you are unsure how your poem will read, try reading it out loud. If you find that it sounds a bit disjointed, try changing some of the emphasis onto different words, or getting your editing pen out. When we read a poem on the page, we always hear a voice in our head speaking it to us. If it sounds great read out loud, the chances are it will sound great in someone’s head.


Poetry is Great to Share


One of the most fantastic things I’ve found about NaPoWriMo is how many friends I’ve made dong it! From the comfort of my own sofa, which is exceedingly handy when I’m not able to get out and about, I have shared my poems through my own website and Facebook, including dedicated groups for NaPoWriMo poets. I also get to read everyone else’s poems, and comment on the ones I like best. And sometimes, I get lovely comments about my poems, which makes it all worthwhile! When someone tells you a poem you wrote made them smile; that, to me, is one of the best feelings ever. The other great thing about these groups is they encourage you to keep going. When you feel like your muse has slammed the door on the way out of the building; when you’re tired, anxious ,down, doubting yourself; when you’re thinking it all seems a bit impossible; go and have a read of other people’s work, see how they’re managing, and talk to them to find out what keeps them ticking along. And remember, it’s all for fun!


Good luck to everyone participating in NaPoWriMo this year. Here are some fantastic links and resources that I use every year. I look forward to reading everybody’s poems!


The Official Site: http://www.napowrimo.net/

They are already blogging about this year’s event, and during the month of April you’ll find prompts to inspire you, hints, tips and poems from this year’s participants. There’s also a place to share your website, should you want to.


The Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/napowrimo

An easier place to share your poems if you don’t have a dedicated website. More prompts on here, and usually a dedicated post each day to share your own poems and read the other poets’ work.


NaPoWriMo Sharing Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/357732567604333/?ref=br_rs

A nice, friendly group for sharing poems. I’ve found some lovely people here.


The Poetry School: https://poetryschool.com/theblog/napowrimo-2017/

These are last year’s prompts, and I’d be very surprised if they don’t put some new ones up this year.


My Site: https://soundsoftime.wordpress.com/

My daily poems will appear here, mostly on a theme of spring this year, although who knows when I’ll be inspired by something gross in my fridge!

Thoughts on how to complain

Sylvia Rose writes about how to bring up issues if your needs are not being met.

Firstly, it may help to see it not as “complaining” but as a somewhat more constructive process. And for that you may need to be clear in advance what you want the outcome of your complaint to be. Often when people complain they’re splurging their anger at something that’s just happened. That may be useful and it may be what you need, but it doesn’t usually help you in getting heard. Venting your frustrations may be better done on Facebook.

Something has happened which you think shouldn’t have. Do you want to give feedback to help make sure that it doesn’t happen again? Do you want to appeal an unfair decision? Do you want some form of apology or compensation? It helps to choose your strategy. And if your brain is inclined to be hazy (mine often is) it’s worth listing beforehand the points you want to cover, and what responses you are asking for.

Knowing your rights helps, be it disability rights, consumer legislation, whatever (see my previous post). This info is fairly easily accessed online, and it’s worth knowing what grounds you stand on before taking on an unsympathetic organisation.

And how you actually communicate can play a large part in how successful you are in getting your points across. It helps to aim to be assertive, not aggressive or aggrieved. If you can, watch your body language, your vocabulary (keep it polite) and your tone of voice. In my experience, nothing spoils your chance of being listened to as much as sounding shrieky and high-pitched. Aim for calm and reasonable. And in the interests of this, listen well to them as well. Acknowledge that they are human too, try to see where they are coming from, as well as not losing sight of your own agenda.

In addition to formal situations of complaint, there are innumerable ones where, as people with disabilities, we have to stand up for our rights to be different, often with people we like and respect, and who runs groups or rituals we want to still be welcome at. This may take more subtlety. Firstly, I find it helps to really deep-down believe in disability rights as important, and that in challenging someone’s “ableism” I’m arguing not just for my own good but for that of everyone who comes after me who could find themself in a similar situation. Often these are times when we can’t change what’s just happened, but we could help avoid it happening again. But only if we make our case in a way that can be heard.

There is a Buddhist saying that all speech should first pass through three gates: “is it true”, “is it necessary” and “is it kind”. This can be a helpful reminder.

Non Violent Communication theory is another way of helping us look at how we ask for things to be changed. It runs roughly along the lines of: name the issue, say how you feel, say what you’d like changed. So maybe “when you tell us all in ritual to stand up, I feel embarrassed because I can’t. Perhaps in future you could take that into account”. Not “you make me feel horrible about myself because I can’t stand for long”.

Starhawk has written in The Empowerment Manual that many problems in groups can be helped by having a group commitment to feedback as a useful process. This means both finding ways of giving it, as kindly as possible, and being open to receiving it too, in the interests of all learning to work better together for our common purpose. People don’t know what disability feels like unless we tell them.
Donald Engstrom-Reese, another Reclaiming teacher, has put together what is my favourite guide to critique. Before you speak, ask yourself: is this feedback given with the other person’s permission? Am I speaking for myself not for unspecified others? Am I saying this at a good time and place, not just when it occurs to me? Am I specific and clear? Am I focusing on something that can actually be changed (because if not, there’s not much point)? Is my intention to be helpful, not just to sound off about how I feel? And am I open to receiving feedback in turn, because if I’m not, it’s a bit hypocritical of me? http://wearewalkinginbeauty.org/Walking_in_Beauty/Sustainable_Critique.html

These things are of course not easy, especially in the heat of the moment. And disability needs are so shockingly ignored that often we are right to be angry about it. But let’s also remember that as Pagans we can see the bigger picture, and hold our intent of moving things forward in the best way for everyone.

Disability legislation made easy

Sylvia Rose explains some key legal points about disabilities rights.

It’s tough having a long term illness, impairment or disability, and even tougher in these times of austerity cuts. But something that cheers me up is knowing that there is legislation that supports our disability rights, in various ways. And knowing about it can really help. In theory at least, the law is on our side.

First and most important is the Human Rights Act 1998. Under this, disability is a “protected characteristic”, which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their disability. This is fundamental legislation that underpins our rights, and can come in handy in all sorts of circumstances.

Next comes the Equality Act 2010, which incorporated all the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.  Amongst other things, it makes it illegal for providers of goods and services to give a lesser service to someone because of their disability, unless they have good reason. So, anyone with a “substantial and enduring disability” can make a reasonable request for a service provision to be varied in order to meet their specific needs, and if the provider refuses and is challenged, it is up to them to then justify why their refusal is reasonable. So, if you have mobility difficulties and need to borrow a wheelchair to get round a large supermarket, that might be a reasonable request. If you’re asking for the provision of one to get around a public park, they might say, bring your own.
Incidentally, provision of goods and services can also apply to Pagan events, and there doesn’t need to be money involved. Anyone who is running a Pagan event or ritual that is open to the public is responsible under this and other legislation, and can potentially be sued. (Many Pagans would be shocked to know this).
This Act also puts a duty on local authorities to promote the rights of people with disabilities.

Then there’s the Care Act 2014, which gives adults the right to an assessment of their care needs by their local authority – i.e. by adult social care social workers. If they are found to have “eligible needs” due to either a physical or a mental condition, a care plan must be drawn up of how these needs will be met. This can include the provision of services direct to the person, or direct payments to them for them to arrange and pay for these services themselves.
If the person has a carer, that carer is also entitled to an assessment of their own needs for support.

Finally, if a person with disabilities has children, and due to their disability they struggle to care for them, then under section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989 those children could be deemed “children in need” and the local authority children’s services department would have a duty to provide support and help, to ensure those children are not disadvantaged compared to other children. This could be financial help, respite care, or funding of childminding or whatever would help. (This does not mean that the person would be assessed as an inadequate parent.)

And of course there’s lots more: these are just the headline Acts. Some is decided by case law or government guidance; some is down to what the local authority can actually afford when it balances these requirements against all the other demands on it. But I think it’s good to know what the rules are.
As I write this, I can hear people saying, yes that’s all very well, but I couldn’t afford a lawyer, or don’t have the energy, to challenge breaches of it. Well, there are several answers to that, as well as that you have my great sympathy. One is that there are various disability organisations that can advise you, and sometimes even pursue a case on your behalf. These tend to be related to the specific illness or disability in question. Another is that, in these times of legal aid cutbacks courts or tribunals are increasingly sympathetic to people conducting their own cases without legal help – you’d just need to have done some basic research first, and maybe bring a friend along for support.
And lastly, there is the power of threat. It works, but it helps knowing your rights first. Try suggesting that you will launch a formal complaint to their organisation, or write to your MP, or even sue. Then drop in exactly which Act you are planning to sue them under. It’s remarkable how it can focus people’s minds. My favourite helpfully non-confrontational phrase is “I wouldn’t want to have to resort to legislation, but….”.  Which is a polite way of reminding others that these laws exist.

You’re not being difficult or demanding. You didn’t choose to have these extra needs.These laws are a fundamental part of living in a civilised society, and are there to be used.

A Healing Call

A guest post from Potia Pitchford about her new, virtual healing circle.

Over the years I’ve felt the need to do something of a healing nature. There have also been times I’ve needed some healing support myself. Most of the time what I have done has been as an individual. I’ve prayed; dedicated and lit candles; developed and carried out healing spells; chanted and sung; sent out distance healing using Reiki; visited people in hospital and given healing in the form of Reiki and similar types of spiritual healing; and I’ve asked for some of these for myself from people I know that also do forms of spiritual healing.

I have a whiteboard hung on the wall by my shrine on it are the names of people I know of that have asked for healing either directly or via a trusted loved one. When I sit at meals I look across at this whiteboard so I am reminded daily of those people.  Even if only briefly I pray for their well-being, when things are quieter I sit beside my shrine,focus my mind and send out healing energies.

I’m not medically trained. I’m not trained in any of the many and varied healing and associated professions and I’ve never been called to do that sort of vital work. What I can offer, what I do, can not replace good medical care and expertise. What I offer is something that can support the heart and soul, something that helps with feeling loved, feeling cared for and supported all of which aids physical healing.

Gradually I have felt the need to do more and a few months ago I was inspired to do a full moon healing ritual.  I put a post on Facebook about a day before I did it in case anyone wanted to request healing and I was surprised at the number of people that asked me to include them.  But still I felt I needed to do something more. I felt pushed, prodded, urged to set up some form of virtual healing group, something that would send out healing more regularly.  I mused on ideas for a while and asked in a couple of Facebook groups if anyone would be interested in joining some form of distance healing circle.  I got replies from a few interested people. I bounced my ideas around with a few of those, some of whom are, or have been, involved in other healing groups. I wanted something which was open to those of any type of Pagan and Heathen path to join but that would send healing out to those of any faith who requested it.  I wanted something that didn’t restrict how healing was done or sent, other than it would be virtual. I wanted something that had a central hub that requests to join and requests for healing went through. And I wanted something that had the potential to grow.

In May this year I decided to set a virtual Pagan Healing Circle up and I think this is something that can grow. The group is still young but already there are close to a dozen individuals who have joined me in this circle.

Healing requests come to me on a dedicated email address of paganhealingcircle@gmail.com or via Facebook. I’m cautious with accepting requests.  Consent of the individual the healing is to go it is vital so ideally the requests need to come from the individuals themselves.  There are always cases where that is not possible though.  If the healing is for a child or for someone unable to give consent themselves then we trust the parent, guardian or carer of that person.  If the healing is for a beloved animal companion (hasn’t happened yet but we are very open to that possibility) then the consent would come from the person who care for that the animal companion.  Sometimes healing requests come via a third party, if that is the case I confirm that the individual themselves is aware of this and agrees to the healing being sent.  This may sound over the top to some reading this, I know  people who say if you send healing with good intentions it’s fine.  But I have known people who have become upset and angry when they have discovered someone sending healing being sent to them without their permission.  I also know people who are very sensitive to incoming energies and if they do not know something is being sent to them it can cause them problems.  For these reasons I strongly believe that consent of the individual concerned wherever possible is very important!

Once I receive requests I then send them out to the rest of the circle and make a note of what date they are sent round in a little notebook I have. The current plan is that requests stay active for a month unless we get follow-up requests or feedback of some kind asking us to keep sending. A minimum of a first name and what the healing is for is asked for although more information such as the approximate location of the individual is also useful. If the request comes via email I do not circulate the entire email just the essential information to preserve as much privacy as possible while still providing support and healing.

Some of those we send healing to have been on the list since the beginning and have chronic health conditions, sometimes multiple conditions.  We are not expecting to “cure” situations like this, we are not miracle workers although we might like to be.  We seek to help, to provide support and healing energy boosts.  In return we ask for a little feedback, this helps us target our efforts to what is causing the most problems for that period of time and also helps us feel better connected to the person we are sending healing too, it helps build a relationship. Feedback also helps us feel valued and it’s always good to feel valued.  Some people request healing for short term illnesses or injuries and knowing that is coming to them often helps them improve more quickly than might be expected. We also sometimes ask for healing ourselves. Several of us have very personal understandings of chronic health conditions, we are wounded healers and circumstances in our lives can mean it is us who need the additional healing boosts as well as others that have requested healing from us.

If you would like to join this virtual circle of healers or wish to request some healing please contact me at paganhealingcircle@gmail.com


by Becky Dowley

If, like me, you have been nurturing seedlings in a greenhouse or on a windowsill throughout Imbolc and Beltane, you will be glad when midsummer is upon us. Then you can stand back and let your seedlings stand on their own. You will have got to know their strengths and weaknesses and their individuality, having provided them with soil, water and warmth. There comes a day when they have to be strong enough and resilient enough to be planted out and left to grow and develop.

We humans are the same. If we are lucky enough to be nurtured in supportive surroundings we too can be encouraged into the world to grow and develop. If we have a disability or poor health, we may have extra needs. We may have to have someone there to assist us. In the case of autism, which I have, we might prefer to do things alone and not know when we need help.
What we must do is develop resilience. Resilience grows out of experience from knowing that we can cope, especially if we are supported.

Just as when our seedlings are tossed about by the wind and rain, sometimes we can feel as if we are being battered, bent and shaken by life. This can seem relentless and never ending. Our tolerance, strength and courage can be tested beyond limits. We might sometimes question “why me?” or “why now?” and feel as if we cannot go on. We might question where difficult events or things that test us fit into the greater plan. Disability and illness can be isolating and it is important that we surround ourselves by people who can encourage and support us.

As I have been nurturing my seedlings this Spring I have been grieving the loss of my younger brother. Nearly two years my junior he was funny, handsome, clever and a family man. He is interwoven with my life from when I can remember him being in his pram, from when he was a tiny little boy with big brown eyes and a coat that was too big for him. He died in February after a brave fight. I was with him when he died as the warm sun flooded in the window and I spoke gentle words in his ear to comfort him on his way. His wife and I held his hands and his friends and family gathered to support him as he set off on his last journey.

My resilience was tested. I had lost my mum to the same illness four years previously. I had lost my baby daughter, my father. Why them? I felt so alone and with my mum, my dad and my brother gone I felt bereft and the only one left.

My autism makes it hard for me to express my emotions and during this spring there have been times when I have been overwhelmed by my sadness, my helplessness and my anger. It’s been during these occasions when I have felt so vulnerable, weak and low. People with autism are mistakenly assumed to have no emotions, but the fact is that research has shown that we have very deep emotions that we find hard to share. Friends and family have supported me. They have sometimes just sat next to me as I cry or walked with me as I speak of him. Quiet reminders to listen to the birdsong, to walk bare foot in the wet grass. To write poetry with my niece. Gifts of smiling roses and frames to put photographs of my brother in. The gift of a new god child due in autumn, conceived as my brother died.

I have had reminders to come back to my beliefs. Just as the tiny seedlings need support towards being resilient, so do us human beings. I have been reminded to come back to what I know is certain. To feel the heat of the sun on my face, to pick and eat my allotment vegetables and admire the deep pink clematis. To remember that everything is interconnected and everything is part of the wheel of life. Just as winter ravages, spring renews and summer replenishes.

As spring has worn on and the black cloak of grief has lifted a little I can see that I am not alone and that I have my precious family, my sister in law, my niece and nephew and their strength inspires me. I am surrounded by love and positivity. The cycle of life and the wheel of the year turn and bring wonder and joy.

As I write this I am travelling by train to see my brothers loving, resilient family. This weekend we will scatter his ashes together. The sun is pouring in the window as I write, across the page and across my face. I know he is near.

This spring has taught me what it is to be resilient. When I return home to Cornwall I will walk barefoot across the wet grass to tend my sturdy seedlings and think of my beautiful brother with a smile. My autism has meant that a lot of my journey through grief has seemed to be alone but woven around me have been love, support and this wondrous world we live in giving me the strength to look forward to the future.

Trigger Warning! A Night Out with Severe Anxiety

This is an anonymous guest post

This blog post is written by someone with Severe Anxiety. It describes what it feels like to go out when you have anxiety. Please take care of yourself if you feel this article might affect you badly. Be sure to have someone to talk to. We have a wonderfully supportive community on Facebook, however we cannot take the place of professional help. It is our hope that by sharing this person’s experience that we can help others understand the demands of Severe Anxiety. Thank you to the writer for sharing this.

This piece is shared as part of the Disabled Pagans Voices Project. The project is aimed at giving disabled pagans a voice for their experiences and their creativity. Just click on the category for more.

What am I doing here?

Why did I agree to come?

No, I’m alright. It’s just a pub. They said it was a quiet place. There won’t be too many people.

What if someone touches me?

What if they’re all drunk?

What if they’re all stoned?

What if they breathe near me?

“We can go home, if you want to.” His voice cuts through the slime in my brain. It’s not a fog. It’s thick, sticky and slows everything it touches. My thoughts, my feelings, my fears, my desires; everything is heavier, it’s all just too much.

I look into his eyes. Those deep green eyes with chestnut brown flecks, speckled with gold. He takes my hand and squeezes slightly. I look at his hand. Steady and warm, full of strength. He gives his strength to me through that hand, the one I hold so often. He’s right. We can go home.

But do I really want to go home? Do I want to miss out again? See the pictures of the fun that I could have been a part of? Hear people tell me again that I missed a good night? No! I don’t want to hear about it. I want to be that person who says “Sorry we missed you last night. Maybe we’ll catch you next time?” I want to be the one telling the jokes, getting a round in, laughing at my friend’s anecdotes.

I smile into the face that is watching me, waiting patiently to see what I would do. Not caring that I may have wasted his time by having him drive me to a place that I may not even work up the courage to face. I’ve done this to him so many times. Wasting his time, frustrating him with my indecision, worrying him with my panics. This time I would try harder. I squeeze his hand and smile before turning to open my door.

As usual, I cautiously take small breaths. Trying to get a sense of how the air smells. Does it smell clean? Are there any triggers in the air? Not yet. In fact, it’s quite a clear night. I feel better. At least outside is clear and trigger free.

He comes around the car and holds my hand. I snuggle close to him and let my body relax a little, knowing that the shaking will stop soon if I can just avoid any triggers. A few people are stood by the door smoking, a cloud is hovering just above their heads, swirling in the light from the windows. I instinctively cover my face with the scarf I always have around my neck and try to make it look as though I’m just… I don’t know… Snuggling my scarf? I know I look ridiculous but it’s this or… The alternative.

I avert my eyes and turn my head as we walk past the group, holding my breath as well as hiding my nose and mouth in the scarf. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but I can feel their eyes on me. Feel their judgement. Hear their thoughts.
“What’s with the ugly bitch?!
“Why’s she covering her face? Probably doesn’t want to make us sick.”
“What a freak.”

I rush through the door, skirting the frame and door itself, held open for me so I don’t have to touch it. I stand in the dim room and let my eyes scan the people. They were right, it is quiet. It’s a big room and looks quite tidy. I do my usual checks, bottom to top, my eyes darting so fast I just know people are staring at me, thinking I’m having a fit. I ignore what I’m sure are judgemental stares and begin.

Floor – carpeted, well vacuumed, no visible stains from this angle.
Bar – smart bartender, no obvious puddles, not too strong a smell as I slowly lower my scarf.
Seats – a little too low, leather and wood so easily cleaned, sturdy looking, not too scratched or chipped and those that are there aren’t dark with muck so obviously well maintained.
Tables – usual pub coasters, look a little grubby and well used with the edges frayed so obviously touched by lots of people, none of them seem soggy from here.
Benches – silly, fuzzy fabric that’s typical of pubs, a little higher than the chairs so less likely to hurt getting up and down, not too grubby looking.
People – quiet but talkative, not sat too close together aside from groups in each corner.

I spot my group, they smile at me but don’t pressure me to sit with them. I look at my partner and let go of him, signalling that I’m ok to be left so he can go to the bar. I walk slowly to the group, breathing as shallowly as I can. They don’t watch me but two of them move up so I can sit on the bench beside them. I’m grateful that they’re taking my anxieties into consideration but at the same time I feel like I’m making them do silly things just to please me and I feel sad and like I wish I hadn’t come.

What if they’re only pretending to have fun, only pretending they want me here so they don’t seem nasty when really they think I’m a nuisance and want me to leave. I almost turn around leave but there he is, coming up behind me, exuding his strength, carrying a drink for himself. He knows better than to ask me if I want one.

We sit, me on the outside so I have him on one side and empty space on the other so I don’t feel closed in. I don’t touch anything as I sit, quickly making a mental assessment of how many layers are between my skin and the fuzzy bench fabric. They ask me how I am and I think I was being silly by wanting to leave. I enjoy their conversation and other than a few jumps when the door across the room opens and closes, I’m not too anxious.

Well… Unless you count the fidgeting with my rings while my hands hide up my sleeves so I don’t accidentally touch something. The eyes darting everywhere, the light layer of sweat I can feel on the back of my neck, the shallow breathing that is now making me feel slightly sick, the stuttering and stammering and the talking far too fast because I’m so nervous.

Other than that, I’m fine.

We spend an hour talking, I manage to make eye contact twice with one person and once with another and they’re so welcoming and open that I’m glad I made the effort but now I’m starting to get very tired. Being so anxious is exhausting.

Now I’m starting to think about what will happen when I leave. When I no longer have anything to focus on. When I’m finally too tired to fight anymore.

We leave and I see one of my friends physically stop herself from giving me a hug. I feel sad and almost try to hug her but I’m just not strong enough. I trust her but she’s been in this pub all night and I don’t know what she’s touched or where she was before she was here or when the last time she washed her hands was… I just daren’t so smile instead and she smiles back. I know she’s trying to look happy but I see how sad she is. I know she wants to ask me to stay. Instead she says she’ll call me, knowing full well that I mostly won’t feel up to talking. She’ll call anyway just because she knows I like to hear her voice. Her partner puts her arm around her and smiles at me too. She knows how sad this makes us both. We used to be so close. I couldn’t have even come tonight if she wasn’t there as a safeguard. Someone who knows what I can and can’t do.

He holds out his hand and I cling to him with both of mine. I know his hands are dirty from touching things in the pub but I need his hand right now. My hands are still inside my sleeves but I cling to him anyway. I don’t look back as I walk away, knowing I’ll just cry because I know I won’t be able to manage this again for a while. I know I’ll be in bed all day tomorrow recovering from the panic attack I can feel coming on.

I hold my breath again as we leave the pub even though there’s no cloud of smoke and this time I don’t bother testing the air. I strain my lungs as I hold my breath from the door to the car. He open the door for me and puts on my seatbelt, knowing that right now all I can do is sit stiffly and wage an internal battle of wills. Me against myself.

He puts some classical music on the stereo knowing it will sooth me if I can zone into it. He doesn’t know if I can hear it but he doesn’t ask any questions because he knows I’ll speak if I can. I sit and look out of the window as we drive home. I mentally check my whole body, resisting the urge to check my pulse and my brain and heart seem to pound. My skin seems to burn like ice. I’m not even sure how that’s possible but it does. My ears feel like they’re being stabbed, my skin crawls, my hands shake, my brain feels like it’s trying to come out of my skull. I start to shake and I know I can’t stop it but my body naturally tries to stiffen against it, causing spasms that wrack my already tired body with a pain that I know will last for days. My eyes start to close and I wonder if I’m going to faint. I wonder if I care. I know fainting isn’t good for me but I also know that if I just faint, I won’t have to think, I won’t have to feel… I’ll be cocooned in a sweet oblivion that I wished I was brave enough to make last forever.

My breathing speeds up as I realise where my thoughts are going. I don’t want to be here again. Why didn’t I just stay at home? Why didn’t I just keep hiding? I didn’t contribute. No one wanted me there anyway. They were just being nice. All this was for nothing. I’m nothing. I’m not even here anymore. All that’s left is a shell where I used to be. Panic fills the shell. A wasteland of panic, anxiety, self loathing and a pathetic excuse for a self trapped in a cage and prodded by slimy demons telling her she’ll never be good enough.

It’s all too much. I can’t do this anymore.

We pull up to our house and I see the familiar sight with a feeling of dread. Will my children be asleep? If not, will I be able to get to the bathroom and bed before they see me this way? The last thing I want is for them to turn out like me. I can’t let them see me like this.

I make a run for it. I don’t greet my oldest, the last one awake. My sister follows me upstairs and makes sure the other children are asleep so they don’t see me and she locks us in the bathroom and sits on the toilet to watch me clean myself. I know she’s there. We don’t speak. She doesn’t say it, she never says it but I know. I know she’s in there to make sure I don’t hurt myself. I turn on the taps and start to lather. I used to use seven soaps in a sequence but now I only use one repeatedly. I don’t let myself feel victory. I just need to clean.

The water burns me but I lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. I still don’t feel clean enough but I almost cry out at how hot the water is and my sister turns off the tap and unlocks the door. I strip naked and put on my night dress. I turn the tap back on and wash one more time as she watches me.

I see my bed and hope that I’ll fall straight to sleep. My sister watches me get in bed then goes down to my husband, knowing I can’t talk right now but satisfied that she’s not needed. I lay in bed and listen to the nothing screaming in my ears. I curl into a ball, my fingers at my throat to feel my pulse. I can feel the scream building inside me as the icy burns lap at my skin. I breathe. Four in, four out. Four in, four out. Four in, four out. Over and over and over until I feel my pulse slow.

The panic subsides and I wrap myself tighter, ignoring my ears, ignoring my brain, ignoring the pain in my limbs. All I am is my mind. The thoughts going around and around and around.

This wasn’t worth it.
They’re never going to ask you again.
Everything you said was stupid.
You pretend that you’re holding it together but they all know you’re a fraud.
He didn’t want to take you.
You’re ruining his life.
They’d all be better off without you.
You’d be better off without you.
There’s only one way out of this.
It’ll all go away.
Why do you even bother?
You’re pathetic.
You were the ugliest one there.
They all thought you were stupid.
Why are you such a freak?
Just get over yourself.
Drama Queen.
Ugly bitch.
Attention seeker.

Round and round and round and round… Until the darkness starts to slip over me and my last thought is a prayer to the Gods, any god… That I won’t dream tonight… Or that I just won’t wake up.

Please talk to someone if you have been affected by this post. You can talk to the Samaritans in various ways here.