Monthly Archives: November 2014

Blank

Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a second memoir.

I thought I might call it ‘Blank’ because as well as the obvious connotations it has with writer’s block, it also relates to gaps or ‘blanks’ in one’s memory, and to the ‘blank’ expressions I am often accused of wearing.

My first book, ‘Cracked: Recovering After Traumatic Brain Injury’ was launched in December 2002 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and in it’s two-hundred-and-twenty-four pages it documented the early years following my accident: from the initial struggle to receive a diagnosis, to my incarceration inside an adolescent psychiatric unit, and my eventual descension into bulimia and anorexia, as I failed to cope with school and exams and ordinary teenage nuances on top of memory loss and other cognitive impairments; before, finally, recounting the positive search for a new identity as I learnt to accept my limitations.

I was young when I wrote that book, and if I could go back and pen it all over again I’d definitely do it differently. I’d mention some things that I left out, and leave out a couple that wormed their way in. I’ve been told that it helped a lot of people (both brain injury survivors and their families, as well as doctors), and that pleases me because it was not originally written with publication in mind; because writing for me was simply a cathartic outlet, something I did to make myself feel calmer, and to understand myself and those around me a little better. However, I also noticed that ‘Cracked’ had received a one star review on Amazon last year by someone who said it was ‘a ridiculous waste of money’, and who claimed that it provided no insight for them into the condition at all. Well, whilst I’m inclined to be of the mindset that you simply can’t please everyone, I do concede that, perhaps, the book only described the tip of the iceberg when it comes to explaining what living with traumatic brain injury is like, and that a sequel is in fact long overdue.

I was not out as a lesbian at that time – in fact, I was only in the early stages of realising and understanding my sexuality – so I didn’t have to navigate my way around a countercultural gay world with it’s separate customs and fashions, as well as the usual mainstream one that was already highly confusing. Neither did I have to put up with others’ desexualisation of me or the assumption that my girlfriend was simply a carer.

I was also still living a rather sheltered life at home with parents, free of financial worries and responsibilities; and aside from a weekly paper round, a trial run as a silver service waitress, and an unpaid work placement via the brain injury rehabilitation centre I attended, I was completely ignorant of the world of employment and it’s complexities.

Being a person with a brain injury hugely affects the way I react to the world and in turn the way the world reacts to me: I spend a lot of time nodding and agreeding with people simply because it’s easier (and often less offensive) than saying, ‘I haven’t got a fucking scooby what you are talking about.’

 

It’s also a lot less tiresome than making the effort to tell people that a) I have had a brain injury, b) most people with brain injuries have trouble receiving and processing information (which basically means it takes longer than average for words to sink in) c) because it takes longer for words to sink in I’m still thinking about the first part you said so I’ve totally missed the second, and d) I don’t understand what you’re saying because of a), b) and c). Of course, usually when I have to explain that, I either forget what I’m saying half way through or said person gets bored and cuts me off midspiel by saying something completely dismissive like: ‘oh, that happens to me all the time’.

And believe me, having someone who has never had a brain injury tell you that they / their mother/ father / dog / most people they know have trouble understanding what folk are saying, is a bit like being vegan for seventeen years then having some clown who recently gave up red meat and dairy (‘except cheese’) tell you they are ‘basically vegan’ too.

Sweet Fanny Adams

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When I first came out to my family more than a decade ago, my mother shrieked then promptly blamed the serious blow to the head that I’d received when I was just fourteen:

‘You’re confused!’ she’d cried. ‘And you’re vulnerable because of all the traumas you’ve had in your life. And it’s not doing you any favours hanging around with all those gay people.’

She swiftly followed this up by asking if I’d now slept with women as well as men, and when I didn’t answer (largely due to embarrassment, because sex was something we’d never talked about), she decided to take this as a no, and therefore proof that I was going through ‘a phase’.

Even now, at the age of thirty-six and a quarter, I find it difficult to discuss my romantic relationships with her, and as a result I’ve experienced a wall of barely concealed resentment gradually piling up between us. Of course, she was right about one thing: it’s quite normal to have emotional and social problems after a brain injury; and so it was no surprise that I found myself regarded with suspicion (and sometimes ridicule), by the wonderful and mysterious lesbian peers that I set out to know.

Frankly, I was desperate to find a girl and fall in love – I wanted moonlight-and-roses, candlelit dinners, fireworks, serenades, and one of those kiss-in-the-rain-endings that you see in old movies; I didn’t just want a romance, no, I wanted a full-blown courtship, but for some reason the girls I met found flowers on a first date inappropriate, and were expecting cunnilingus by at least the second. I wore the term ‘romantic’ like a shiny gold star badge; and in my head, sex was supposed to equal love, and love meant wooing and waiting until they told you that you were ‘the one’, before sweeping them off their feet and into bed. In saying that, a night spent nauseously in a gay bar, jaded with alcohol, and loneliness, and the frustration that I was somehow detached from everyone else and was looking for something that did not exist, was enough for me to temporarily throw chastity to the wind.

When I broke up with the partner I was with before I met Antonia, my whole romantic reverie fell apart spectacularly; and I spent nine months feeling like I wanted to rip my own stupid pulsating heart from my chest and hurl it full force into a spiral slipstream. Every ballad I heard, every dreamy handholding couple I glimpsed on the street, made my insides jerk and my eyes sting. Because even though it was me who had ended the relationship with my ex – I’ll call her Fanny Adams because sweet FA was precisely what I got out of that relationship, and because it softens the blow a little to give her a ridiculous name – I could not stop thinking about her.

I had finally realized that love – albeit it wonderful and warm and fuzzy, like a cotton blanket you want to stay wrapped up in forever – could also be a viper that squeezes and constricts and then turns on you with sharp plunging teeth.

If there had been an on-off switch for my emotions, then I would have jammed it permanently, so that I never again felt that tightening of my chest or the dryness in my throat, when I saw her grinning back at me from photographs we’d posed for, or heard a song on the radio that we had allocated as ‘ours’.

And it didn’t seem to matter how many times I poked and prodded at the corpse of our relationship, for I could not erase the lies she’d told or understand exactly how I’d gotten myself so entangled in her mind games in the first place.

Because the truth was I never in love with her. And right from the start I was suspicious of almost everything she said. But I was also blindly optimistic and I was clinging so badly to this stereotype of what I wanted love to be.

I fell in love with Antonia because she was everything Fanny Adams wasn’t: she moved to Scotland for me; she became vegan for me; and once, during a particularly stressful road trip, she told my mother a few belated hometruths for me.

It just goes to show how much your ideas regarding matters of the heart can change.

Sophie’s Adventures In Veggieland

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Lynsey, Antonia + Tash in The Veggie Red Lion in Great Bricett

In a break from the normal weekly blog as written by Lynsey, for a change this week, we have a guest blogger, Sophie Norman from Glasgow who has spent the week visiting with Lynsey and Antonia in Sudbury. 13 years ago I spent a year vegetarian. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love my food; and that year was a challenge that tested my love of food to its breaking point. At the time I was a student living in Edinburgh with flatmates, one of whom had been vegetarian for years and the other two avowed carnivores. I became vegetarian when I first moved into the flat thinking that it would be easy to survive eating similar things to the vegetarian flatmate. However, I soon discovered that my flatmate seemed to subsist purely on a meal of pancakes with spinach and cheddar which she cooked seemingly every day. While delicious this quickly became very repetative so I quickly started making meals for myself. My meals were a disaster. I love to cook but had no idea what vegetarians ate. Also being a student I was very poor and I soon found out that vegetarian cooking on the cheap is a lot more expensive than its more meaty counterpart. I found restaurants a challenge. At the time in Edinburgh there were a splattering of vegetarian restaurants, mainly pretty poor fare, and trying to convince non-vegetarian friends and family to come to a vegetarian restaurant was a non-starter; so I would be forced to go to restaurants whose idea of a vegetarian option would be macaroni cheese (a dish I detest) or a dish of mushrooms in a cream sauce (ditto) or that most ubiquitous of vegetarian options, the salad. This was very disheartening, and after a year I had enough. The straw that broke the camel’s back however was getting a new flatmate who cooked almost exclusively steak and the smell drove me wild until I finally gave into temptation. Jump forward 13 years to this week. I have been looking forward to coming to Sudbury since I heard that Lyns and Antonia were moving down all those months ago, but knowing that they are vegan, and not knowing much about the area I mentally prepared myself for a week of restaurants serving rabbit food salad. How wrong I was. Lynsey and Antonia eat well. They eat very well. Sudbury itself has no vegetarian restaurants, however just a short drive away you have the rustic Veggie Red Lion restaurant in Great Brickett. This restaurant completely annihilated my expectations of what a country pub vegetarian restaurant might be like. The food was simply amazing even though I ended up eating pancakes with spinach and cheese, the very same meal I became so sick of all those years ago. The following day Lynsey and I went to Colchester. There we found the Viet Kitchen; a restaurant serving half carnivourous – half vegan food. Changing the habbit of a lifetime I went for the vegan option of a tofu noodle soup, and well the smile never left my face. Leaving Sudbury to go to Brighton the standard of food jumped from merely brilliant to out of this World, super-duper, orgasmic food. Restaurants such as the Infinity Food Café, VBites and Food With Friends were enough to convert even the strictest carnivore, however the crème de la crème was Terre A Terre. The standard of food in this restaurant blew way even the very best non-vegetarian restaurants I have ever eaten in. The night we arrived in Brighton we ate in there and new previously undiscovered emotions were felt; but even this was trounced by the afternoon tea we savoured the following afternoon. Who would ever have imagined that the pinacle of culinary art would be achieved in a vegetarian restaurant?

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Sophie Norman + Antonia

So, after all this, will I be returning to vegetarianism? Well no, probably not, but I will definitely be exploring more veggie and vegan restaurants and meals at home will be far less meat dominated and have a lot more tofu.

Imagined Nations

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I’m reading a kids’ book called ‘Un Lun Dun’ by China Mièville at the moment. It’s a quirky comedy-adventure novel set in a Wonderland-y Londonesque parallel universe, about two children who are pulled into an escapade which involves riding in a flying Routemaster bus, adopting a living milk carton as a pet, and fighting a vaporous foe called ‘Smog’. It’s Mièville’s first novel aimed at younger readers (although he has previously written four novels for adults and won the British Fantasy Writing Award twice), and so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

I’ve always liked stories with imagined worlds: Lyman Frank Baum’s ‘Oz’ books with their legendary Munchkin, Gillikin, Quadling and Winkie countries still remain fast favourites of mine; as do the Narnia ones, and any fabled nonsenseland where Lewis Caroll’s Alice appears. But aside from the Harry Potter heptalogy I gobbled up repeatedly during my twenties, and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ – another parallel world story set in the fictitious ‘London Below’, which was introduced to me by my old schoolfriend and fellow bookworm, Tracy Norman – I’m afraid to say that I largely abandoned the fantasy genre until Antonia reintroduced me to it three years ago.

I keep saying that I will write my own Oz story one day: I started but then abandoned writing a piece for Antonia called ‘The Kitchen Witch Of Oz’, about a young woman called Piccalilli Womble-Snugglebottom (although she objected to the Snugglebottom part) who had the power to heal people via the cakes she baked; she was also the estranged niece of the deceased Wicked Witch Of The East and ‘the kindest person in all of Oz’ – which was precisely why her aunt disowned her. Piccalilli is, of course, completely unaware that she has any kind of magical powers and this just adds to her charm. I was also going to make her vegan.

My other Oz-y idea was to inject a bit of social realism into the Ozites’ world by having Princess Ozma run away from the palace cross-dressed as a servant boy. Because, despite the fact that Baum’s second book ‘The Marvellous Land Of Oz’ is probably my favourite in the series, I was completely disenchanted with the ending after it is revealed that the missing princess our boy-hero ‘Tip’ has been looking for, is in fact himself, and that he was placed under an enchantment as a baby. If you ask me, Tip settled into his frilly dresses and his new life as Ozma the girl ruler of Oz all too easily regardless of his initial objections at being magically changed into a girl.   So I’d like to write a splinter story where Tip/Ozma goes in search of Glinda the Good to ask her to reverse the magic once again.

I’m on page seventy-six of ‘Un Lun Dun’ now, about to start chapter fourteen which is called ‘Attack Of The Manky Insect’. ‘Curdle’ the pet milk carton has just hurled itself at nasty bearded man in the toga who is trying to capture the goodies… oh dear, suddenly it looks like things could turn sour…