Surviving the Shit Show: 2018 End of Year Review

I used to have a good habit of publishing annual reviews. Reflection is an important part of the design process – evaluating where we are at, what we have learned and so forth.

2018 in three words? Total shit show! So here we go…

What was challenging?

• October 2017-April 2018 was back-to-back bereavements. I lost six beautiful people from my life. Each death had a different flavour. Some, like my grandfather and grandmother (on different sides of the family), involved slow weeks of a gradual descent into death. A beautiful goodbye at their bedside. Others involved a brutal shock, including my ex-partner Anna who was killed in Afrin. Her death sent shockwaves around our anarchist community and broke my heart. Each death brings its own kind of disruption, demand and dent to your life force as you contend with the weight of grief.

The day after Anna’s memorial gathering, I got a call from Her Majesty’s Prison Service saying one of my best friend’s, Taylor, was in the hospital and might not make it. I bolted down to the south-east to the hospital and soon began a hellish experience of them being in a coma and me being left to pray. Coupled with the emotional challenges of interacting with prison officers and Governors, as well as transphobic and queerphobic nursing staff who couldn’t understand Taylor’s gender needs or our relationship (as I’m their next of kin). Thankfully I was supported by a few absolute mega-babes who visited the hospital with me. When Taylor finally woke up and was able to talk properly, they told me they’d tried to kill themselves with an overdose. It was the first of many attempts to take their own life this year. This autumn, I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve gone to the hospital after slitting their own throat or trying to hang themselves, only to be found by prison officers who are meant to be keeping them on suicide watch. Taylor is an IPP and feels powerless and desperate enough due to this sentence that death feels like the only possible option at times. The heartbreak and rage move me to organise against the prison system which is destroying so much life.

• My other best friend, Sam, who I have blogged about on many occasions, finally accessed surgery in January for her anal cancer. This was after over 13 months of intense medical neglect in a private prison who failed to take her to hospital appointments (we later learned, 9 in total). Unfortunately, when operating the surgeons found cancer had spread (but thankfully, we learnt 8 weeks later that this lump was benign). Sam has had to return to the hospital for further laser treatment to remove the AIN3 (pre-cancer cells) and now has to return every 6 weeks for monitoring, which often includes taking biopsies. The doctor told me on the phone if it had grown 3 more millimetres it would have been game over by now. Sadly the doctor also believes Sam still has cancer under an ulcer but she has but has been unable to prove it with biopsies. We just keep going. Sam is due to go to the hospital again in January.

My health got bad again, really bad. Especially after losing my grandad. I had to step back from one of my jobs which meant a big loss of income and more financial precarity. In February, I could barely work more than an hour or two a day before being crippled by rib pain again, something I thought I’d really ‘got on top of’. However, this month of pain did lead to some interventions which have dramatically improved my health.

• Another close friend entered the prison system, which meant more support work, prison visits and all the physical and emotional challenges they come with, as well as a deportation order from the Home Office that we’ve been resisting.

• Having stepped back from Feed Avalon meant that now my whole life feels like prison, prison, prison – researching prisons for work, visiting friends in prison, doing anti-prison and prisoner support organising. More than often, it’s felt completely overwhelming and it’s taken a lot of energy to integrate new ways to connect to the land and find more balance again.

What went well?

• I had some major breakthroughs with my health. I got some food intolerance blood tests done which showed up a reaction to wheat and yeast. Militantly cutting these out of my diet has stopped 95% of my rib pain(!!!). I couldn’t believe it. I also got my gut bacteria tested and this has influenced my dietary choices and a new herbal and supplementation regime which has massively improved my energy levels. I also had some osteopathy on my ribs which I think has made a difference too. I’m still trying to build my immunity and strengthen my gut so that I can have a more diverse diet, but I’m getting there slowly!

• I finished my masters degree!!! I’m about to graduate with an MSc Applied Agroecology with Gaia University. The weight off my shoulders is truly phenomenal. After five years of hard work, in all honesty, I’m super proud of myself.

• I’ve really enjoyed working at Corporate Watch and got to publish a bunch of important research on prison expansion, carceral colonialism and more.

• All the back-to-back deaths and life-and-death situations with my friends in prison have propelled me to re-engage more powerfully with my own spirituality. I am unashamedly witchy as a fuck and this year I’ve found so much strength in making altars, learning tarot and astrology, connecting with plants and doing little rituals. I’ve also been studying the lunar apothecary course and it’s been simply incredible.

All of the collectives I am involved in feel stronger than ever and people really stepped up during my many months of challenges. There finally feels like a burgeoning anti-prison movement in the UK now <3

• I began a four-year apprenticeship with the Plant Medicine School in Ireland this October. I finally made the decision to train as a clinical herbalist after many years of uncertainty. I’ve also set up a new website for my herbal work, the Solidarity Apothecary – http://www.solidarityapothecary.org

• I have been studying the soil food web courses with Dr Elaine Ingham and to be honest, I have loved every second. Anytime I have a day off, I literally wake up in the morning super excited to study. With some inheritance from my grandad, I even bought a microscope!! Watch this space for more soil geek adventures.

• I am absolutely head-over-heels in love and have been in the most supportive, amazing relationship for 18 months now. My friends and all my queer babes have also been incredible this last year <3

What have I learnt?

That even in those most awful moments, there is also joy, friendship and connection. The days I spent at the intensive care unit with Taylor brought me closer to an amazing crew that have been incredible at supporting both of us. Even in a heartbreaking loss, there are opportunities for silly memes, affection and hope. (BTW – wholesome memes have literally got me through the year!)

• That if you’re engaging with heavy stuff, it feels a whole lot lighter if you can balance it out with anything that gives you joy. For me, that is agroecology and herbalism. I’ve realised no matter how hard I try to be this frontline organiser who is as tough-as-fuck and able to deal with prison 24/7, there are still so many other sides of myself that I need to express to be happy. Whether that’s witchy shit or soil science.

That it’s okay to not be okay. This year I got really useless at managing emails. I used to be a militant ’zero inbox’ kind of girl but now, well, I’ve just let it all go. Sorry to use a speciesist phrase, but I’ve ‘lightened the reins’ on my self. I used to want everything done yesterday, and being sick has made me reduce my expectations of myself and others. Being kinder and compassionate to myself has actually helped me be a better organiser. I learnt, after all these bereavements, that actually when the shit hits the fan, it’s okay to forget things, it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to not be available to everyone else 24/7. And communicating how others can help you takes you a whole lot farther in getting your needs met rather than expecting friends or colleagues to be telepathic. And also? If you can’t organise for a month because of a death, the sky isn’t going to fall down.

So there you have it, my 2018! There’s probably a bunch of stuff I have forgotten but these are the high and lowlights. For any astrology geeks out there you won’t be suprised to know that this has been the climax of my saturn return.

Once again, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has been there for me and my friends in prison this year. I love all the people I organise with so much and if you’re reading this, you know who you are!

I aim to do better in 2019 with some more regular newsletters and updates!

Grief is not a straight line

It’s been 6 months since my best friend Gilly died in January. For some reason it feels like a milestone. I haven’t felt able to write about her, or how it felt loosing her, so I thought I’d finally attempt to share.

The first few months were a total blur. A hazed memory of stress, anger, depression, sadness and pain. I felt angry at the world when people told me they thought it was ‘her time to go’. I felt stressed by the impatience of comrades wanting me to return to my productive self, unable to cope with this new person who they weren’t used to seeing be a total utter mess. My cheeks became eroded through unending tears. Moisturiser or calendula oil couldn’t restore them to their soft state. I had recurrent nightmares of burying her in different places. Waking up in a cold sweat as I was lowering her coffin into the cold dark earth.

The slightest thing would make me cry. Bursting into tears at train stations, in the shower, in the garden. Anywhere and everywhere. Nothing could contain my emotion. I’d drive to her grave and lay on the earth next to her. The first few months, the piled soil seemed unliving. I planted vervain, violets and thyme. I watched the flowers from the funeral rot into the red raw earth. Then one month, I think maybe May, I saw a little earthworm. Its presence lifted my spirit and I felt this deep connection to the beauty of life and death. On my latest trip I also saw a woodlouse and spider. (Gilly was the most fearless person I have ever met. However she was afraid of spiders and it always made me laugh).

Those first few weeks I never thought I would be happy. I never thought I would recover my sense of self, my strength, my passion. I felt stripped bare, exhausted and alone. Over time, with gentle hang outs, trips away, the returning of the spring, I felt like I could breathe again. My projects had more energy. I started to sleep more soundly and slowly started to accept what has happened and how being unhappy won’t bring her back.

It sounds crazy but sometimes I miss her more when I’m happy. I miss sharing good news with her. I miss texting her my gossip. I miss calling her in delight when I’ve just had an amazing night. I miss asking her for advice when I’m confused about my feelings for someone. She knew me inside out and had this long term overview of my life. She’d seen me ‘come of age’ and sometimes I thought she knew me better than myself.

I’ve had some magic moments recently. Swimming in a lake with a setting sun, swallows diving for insects around me. Night time foxes sneak around me on city streets. Huge buzzards launching off oak branches and crossing my path (near her grave). Every moment I have wanted to share with you. And for some deep unexplainable reason, I know that I am. I miss you Gilly. I miss you every day. You always worried you were a burden, but you never were. I’d have it all back in a heart beat. The hospital trips, moisturising your feet, pushing you by Swansea Bay, eating mash potato and gravy and watching Lark Rise to Candleford until we were both asleep. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be then with you. It sounds cheesy but I don’t think I could have loved or cared about you any more than I did. I don’t think you could have been a better friend in any way, shape or form either. I thank the world every day for the opportunity to love you and learn from you, ‘my animal rights mum’ for so long. I’m trying to bring life back to this bare soil in my heart, I know its going to take a long time.

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

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Class struggle and mental health: Live to fight another day

Class struggle and mental health: Live to fight another day

Contributors from the Libcom.org and Edmonton Small Press Association have produced a pamphlet bringing together accounts from anarchists around the globe about what it means to suffer from mental illness and what we, as individuals and a movement, can do about it.

I haven’t had a chance to read it fully yet, however it looks pretty rich in real-life accounts and ideas about what we can do better to support each other. I’ve never gone through depression myself, however have supported several people that have. Especially as a young girl supporting a mother with clinical depression. I have longed for more information and awareness about how these issues connect to class and how we have a radical responsibility to look out for each other. It’s not just for the ‘professionals’ or for intimate partners. It affects us all. Hopefully this zine will contribute to learning how we do this better.

Read it or download it here: http://libcom.org/library/class-struggle-mental-health-live-fight-another-day