Welcome to the disastrously fabulous column and wonderful ways to live fearlessly and well, no matter what. Let me tell you that since my mother died suddenly two and a half weeks ago, after experiencing multiple strokes, I have tried everything to make sense of it all, to find calm and deal with the strange sense of discombobulation and fear. I've been transported to a kaleidoscopic musical Eden by Hania Rani's compositions for piano and delightful focus playlist for BBC Sounds and I've gone to bed with raw hot chocolate drinks like an Aztec Queen made with the dark stuff from Peru, loaded with magnesium, after reading our charismatic Secret Life of Chocolate book extract by herbalist Marcus Patchett. Did you know that a daily intake of 50 grammes of 85% dark chocolate has been shown to reduce cortisol and adrenalin within a matter of hours?
I've watched and rewatched a whole lot of romcoms, especially Somethings Gotta Give at least five times, just so I could watch Keanu Reeves, who once opened the door for me at Home House, the loveliest of private members clubs, play a doctor who admires Diane's Keaton's playwright for her mind, her un-selfconscious sexiness and her ageless beauty. Keanu was just how I imagined him in real life. He is modest and charming and as result, I forgot to ask him for an interview! Damn it! How could Diane Keaton prefer Jack Nicholson to Keanu?!
Then along came Shtisel, the magical family saga about an orthodox Jewish family living in Jerusalem, now streaming on Netflix, which is like getting into a spacecraft to another universe at the flick of a button. The genius of Shtisel is the captivating performances of its leads, notably Michael Aloni as Akiva. Akiva is like a bashful medieval knight from another age and I am mesmerized by his attempts to follow his heart with the bewitching, maddening and closed off Elisheva. All human frailties and failings are there too and examined in a way that is so much kinder, funnier, sweeter, non-violent and gently tolerant and forgiving than just about everything on television right now. I highly recommend it.
It's An Alison in Wonderland Life!
The idea for this column has been bubbling away for the past year, during Covid, the epic challenges I have faced with being mad enough to found my own arts and culture magazine after working for far too many newspaper barons and trying and failing to make sense of the suffering my mother endured over the past decade with bowel disease and then vascular dementia. In the end, my mother gave me the most radiant smile and waved before she was gone. That's my mama! She was always in the driving seat, right up to the very end!
Quite simply she knew she was about to die and she was thrilled to bits to die peacefully and with dignity in her own bed at home.
Of course, I am happy that she is no longer suffering from the twilight world of a broken brain; and yet the little child in me is scared to bits of being motherless. It has also dredged a lot of family water under the bridge, some of it is difficult and traumatic. One of the very best things to do for stress is to take a warm bath in magnesium salts or take a high-quality magnesium complex. Dr Sharief Ibrahim, FRCP a former NHS consultant and top functional medicine doctor who treated my mum calls magnesium the stress mineral. Many of us are deficient in magnesium which is essential for life itself as it supports and regulates muscle and nerve function and energy production.
I am belatedly taking Nutri Mega Calmeze and I feel quite different. I feel calm, grounded and I am able to focus on happy, joyful memories with my mum. Such as the day we drove to Windsor and we had a wonderful lunch by The Thames. My mother loved elegance, and she told me I needed a new winter coat as the current model was looking past its best and wasn't swish and smart enough for my work!
So, now I would like to talk some more about the ingenious and splendid ways I have found help, solace, inspiration, calm and brilliant support during the past four years since my mother's dementia diagnosis.
Turning Disaster into Triumph with Courage
I have PTSD, which I've had since I was seventeen. The summer before I went to university to read English literature, I was abducted by a company taxi driver who should have simply delivered me home safely after I finished my late shift at a holiday job I had taken to save some money for university. Instead, he drove me out to a sequestered lane in the Berkshire countryside and told me he was going to rape me. In a heartbeat, I turned myself into a warrior girl and talked my way out of the most terrifying situation of my life and the man, a total stranger eventually agreed to take me home unharmed after a battle of wills that seemed to go on for an eternity. To be honest, I don't think he knew what had hit him. I became fearless, indignant and very angry. I told him I would ruin his life and that of his family and ensure he went to jail for a very long time if he didn't let me go. Looking back, I feel that it was the mental toughness of both my mother and maternal grandmother that kept me safe that night.
Pride and Prejudice
While I am so proud of what I did that night, my father had very messed up ideas about sex as a result of a traumatic childhood and he blamed me for what happened. When the taxi driver took me home at 3 am and I tumbled out and I began to shake and cry as shock took over, there was no solace or comfort waiting for me on the doorstep. "What did I do to provoke the man?" asked my dad. He didn't apologise for refusing to come and pick me up from the late shift. His outrageous and appalling attitude and failure to call the police would lead to a fraught and fractured relationship for years. I had flashbacks and a breakdown at university and the aftershocks would reverberate around me well into my late thirties.
Anger, Injustice and Closure at Last
I was so angry with my father for not protecting or believing in me. When I went into work the next day to resign and demand that the restaurant where I worked contact the police, two women approached me and told me that the driver had threatened other women and their complaints had been ignored. Does that sound familiar?
My mother finally apologised for the events of that night in 2019, and I started to feel closure for the way both she and my dad let me down and did not help me to recover. I've also detoxed from all that unhealthy, internalised anger!
The thing that saved me was my passion and instinct to become a journalist. I found great success from that passion and I lived with PTSD without knowing I had a broken stress response until life caught up with me once again.
The Boss from Hell and a Downton Abbey Drama
Fast forward fifteen years, and I suddenly landed up with the boss from hell on broadsheet newspaper, I bought a tiny, pretty commuter house that would turn out to be a disaster every which way I turned, and then there was the Downton Abbey moment, when the love of my life, Garth, a newspaper columnist, now also deceased, from cancer, almost died from a massive stomach haemorrhage in front of me. Let me tell you that this is worse than watching a slasher movie, which I never would do in any case. Give me Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell or Henry James any day of the week.
A Sense of Wonder
So this column is essentially about the art of survival and living in the moment and learning how to switch off from external stresses and also how to build resilience and a sense of wonder into the sudden, unexpected disasters and maelstrom of everyday life which happen to us all. It doesn't matter what that is.
It could be dancing around the house to Gengahr and their utterly life-affirming, lyrical odyssey song Before Sunrise. Or it could be going slow like a flaneur as my friend and journalist colleague Carl Honore suggests and cultivating the art of viewing the world with multi-coloured specs and looking at everything from a shop window to a flower with a sense of wonder and intention.
When I was first diagnosed with Complex PTSD about seven years ago, the first thing I did was go on a course to learn Tm Meditation. Tm is brilliant. Alas, I did lapse for a while which was a mistake. I recently started to meditate again after the songwriter Sarah Class reminded me how wonderful it is for creativity and to bring clarity and calm in the toughest of times as mum's health plummeted in 2020. She is right. I find that when I start the day with at least half an hour's meditation, I have the most productive day, my writing and editing flows and my mind is illuminated. It's like being re-born and having an invisible suit of armour.
A lark in the park or the green gym looking at clouds
To find out more about Tm or to take a course visit the TM website here. If you really don't think you are cut out to sit still and meditate, like a friend of mine, then the other tactic that works wonders is getting up early, going for a walk in nature, even if it's just to the park or doing half an hour's high impact exercise. I'm not really a fan of indoor gyms, but give me an outdoor green gym with a view, a chorus of blackbirds and cloud formations to study and I love it!
In 2019/20 when I was looking after my mum and juggling the magazine, I received an email that would change my life. Kim Palmer received a million pounds in funding for Clementine, the hypnotherapy app she created to help her with PTSD, overwhelm and the juggling act of a high powered career, family and children. The app offers on-demand sessions with the UK's top hypnotherapists. There are sessions and courses from a few minutes to half an hour to help you reset and deal with sleep issues, anxiety, confidence and focus. What I love is that it democratises the cost of hypnotherapy. For £8.99 PCM, I can have my own top hypnotherapist in my pocket whenever I need help, to switch off or to reboot. We have ten six month subscriptions to the Clementine App to offer on a first come first served basis to the next ten paying subscribers to our magazine. Support us and send us an email - email@example.com to activate your perk.
My current favourites include the calm course, the three-minute, start the day fuck it session and coaching sessions on how to cut the procrastination and be more productive.
As a parting idea for this column, I have rediscovered my love of drawing and the therapeutic delight of getting lost and thoroughly absorbed in sketching and painting. I hadn't picked up a pencil or paintbrush since I was sixteen when I decided to stay for an art class one evening at my favourite arts hub. I'm so glad I did.
The Joy of Art
I sat for a couple of hours doing speed sketches, enjoying the camaraderie with the rest of the class and drawing a curious bird in a subtropical bush I had photographed at the local botanical garden. Although I was competitive with myself and I wanted the sketch to be really good, what was more important was the journey and giving myself permission to tune out, to slow down and do something purely for fun. I can tell you that I was on cloud no 9 for the rest of the evening and I had the best night's sleep. I can thoroughly recommend life in the slow lane. It's remarkable how much we can achieve when we live for today!
The Royal Drawing School offers marvellous courses in person and online - take a look and start drawing!
Have a magical weekend, until next time, AJ.
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