This weekend just gone was my second Midsummer in Sweden. And, like every celebration ought to be, it was deeply, gloriously, refreshingly magical.
Midsummer in Sweden is a big deal. At this time of the year – the VERY FUCKING HOT time – in northern Sweden, the sun always remains above the horizon. In the South, it only sets for a few hours. This can prove to be a pain in the arse if you don’t have yourself a pair of black out curtains, as I have come to realise.
Swedes are so massively enthusiastic about Midsummer, you could almost say they become manic in the approaching days. It’s sort of crucial to just go with it, else you’ll be seen as a kill joy. As well as being an ancient pagan festival, Midsummer is the launch of the LONG summer break, which the majority of Scandinavia enjoys.
Everyone is flitting around trying to get things done, before the nights start to get longer, and the cold months start to creep back. This includes tanning the shit out of themselves.
Midsummer celebrates fertility and in gardens across this northern land you’ll find a phallic looking Midsommarstång (Midsummer Pole) erected. A Midsummer Pole is a beautiful thing, decorated with foliage, masses of summer flowers that have been harvested from the fields and the forests and patriotic yellow and blue ribbons.
Food is central to the celebrations…namely potatoes in various forms. If you celebrate Midsummer, it’s inevitable that you will, at some point during the festivities, fall into a potato coma. It’s so worth it.
This year, like the last, we made the four hour journey to Middle Sweden to spend the weekend with the man’s family in Hagfors, AKA the small town in the woods…woods that are populated with moose, bears and wolves, as I relish pointing out at any given opportunity.
I had been dreaming about Midsummer for weeks, though predominantly the potato and anchovies dish Jansson’s frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation) and Jordgubbstårta (strawberry cake.)
The journey to Hagfors is through miles of farmland and thick forest. I always say a little prayer to the universe before we set off, asking if we can have the privilege of having a glimpse of the forest king – the moose.
The universe clearly doesn’t like me that much at the moment though, because I’ve yet to see a moose to gasp at.
The style of the Swedish home is something really special, especially Sebastian’s family home. It had an air of tranquility about it that I haven’t felt anywhere else. It’s virtually impossible to be pissed off when you’re being washed with light.
Woman of the house Pia has exceptional style, and I appreciate it that she appreciates Swedish author and illustrator Elsa Beskow. Every month this frame receives a new interpretation by Beskow.
Sebastian took on the task of creating the Midsummer Pole this year…I helped by snipping some greenery off a few bushes. The pole never did get it flowers though, turned out we were too busy inhaling potatoes…
…and stopping the latest member of the family – a Maltese puppy called Ozzy – taking off our fingers with his adorable needle teeth.
I’m not much of a drinker, so preferred to just look at my glass of strawberry cider.
Midsummer is very much about the Strawberry Cake.
With Sebastian’s dad living in the woods, when we visit we’re regularly reminded of the fragile line between life and death. Even on a blissful weekend like midsummer.
We always pass this ancient moose skull at the end of his road, and there is usually something recently dead when we arrive. In this instance it was a lizard that had met its fate at the teeth of the lawn mower. We also stumbled across a newly shed snake skin among the flowers.
On the way home, enticed by a sign offering a view of a rune stone, we pulled off the main highway and ventured through the narrow country roads.
When we finally found it, it turned out that it was no ordinary rune stone, it was, in fact, the Järsberg Runestone, one of four in the region of Värmland and one of the best known stones in all of Scandinavia. Discovered in 1862, it dates way back to the 6th Century. Needless to say, I was pretty psyched.
The road home.
NOTE: If you’re interested, you can read about my first Midsummer here on my archived blog The Girl With Cold Hands.
As a young un of about seven, I used to pretend that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder. We had The Little House On The Prairie series read to us in school and I was besotted. I mean, if I happened to miss one story time for whatever reason, I’d cry. Literally. It was the best part of going to school and was always the last thing we did before the day came to a close.
We had four channels on the TV and when we quit for school at noon, I’d go home and eat my lunch – usually beans on toast – while watching The Little House on the Prairie adaptation. I loved, and still do love, the wholesomeness of the show, but even at the tender age of seven, I was infatuated with the fashion, and felt I needed one of those floral pioneer dresses to make my life complete. I never did end up with one, until the other day.
I have only just started to feel comfortable with wearing floral stuff. When I was deep into Goth, the overuse of roses in Gothic fashion made me feel nauseous. So I turned by back on pretty much every floral decoration I encountered.
But yesterday, while out thrifting in Erikshjälpen in Borås, I found this staggeringly gorgeous pioneer dress for 65 krona or just under £6. Needless to say I flung myself into the nearest changing room.
While I was admiring the little blue buttons and the fluted collar, the full sleeves and the sweet floral design, a little voice took a swipe at my joy, saying ‘really Katie? What the hell do you think you’re doing with this, are you crazy? Look at how not black it is?’ But I didn’t listen. I bought the dress and was finally able to fulfill my pioneer dream…now I just need to find a field to run though.
When I Am With Child
When I am with child,
there’s a chance I’ll suckle icicles,
binge on beach combed glass,
chew the ends of my hair.
My uterus will wax from
the size of a snowball to a pumpkin.
The egg my child will form from
will be the same size as what sits
in a rabbit’s or a whale’s body
at the beginning.
I may lactate
if I hear the rattling sound
of a baby crying.
By the 20th week
my body will be warm
with 50% more blood
than before conception.
My heart will swell
I will not be burned at the stake
if I ask for pain relief.
I will not be told
I need to feel the pain
for Eve’s actions
in the Garden of Eden.
When I deliver,
my pelvic bone will part
in the middle
and the cartilage
will never really go back together.
Bi-polar + anxiety can equal a fucking disastrous ride through life, full of hurt and angst and misunderstandings. Hell, if you only knew how many times I’ve fallen hard, and needed to gather my damaged self back up again…my head is home to a world of scars.
Sometimes it feels like life has never been a straightforward experience. I’ve always been falling over and breaking, then staggering back upright and fixing myself, determined that I’d never be caught off guard again. That this time I’d stay ok.
But of course I’m caught off guard, of course I fall. In some ways, I think I was put here to show people that you don’t have to disappear underground forever when shit gets bad. Even though I’m one who can do that…the disappearing act…I always come back after a while because I refuse to be defeated.
The valuable thing for me to remember is that I know I can pull myself from the maelestom. I know I can get my head above the water and breathe and live for the moment, instead of in the darkened past or an imagined, shaky future.
This morning I woke up and said to myself,
‘From now on, I’m going to be happy. I’m going to accept that life is uncertain and embrace the uncertainty. When negative thoughts try and plough into my consciousness, I’m going to let them starve from lack of attention, and when shit gets difficult, as it inevitably will from time to time, I’ll deal with it and move the fuck forward without hesitation.
I have a beautiful life, in one of the most spectacular countries in the world, and a partner I wouldn’t trade for anything. The people around me own the biggest hearts. I have my eyesight, I have my hearing, I have my voice, I have four working limbs and a strong heart. I have life-bettering opportunities offering themselves to me, and I have experience enough that I can tackle any challenge head on. I want to inspire happiness in people, I want to inspire hope.’
A few months ago, an art curator called Jan Van Woensel contacted me. He’d seen my photography and poetry on Instagram, and was interested in exhibiting my work in Belgium.
Needless to say I first thought it was some kind of joke. I mean, my photography on walls? Nah. Wouldn’t happen in real life.
But it wasn’t a joke. It was mightily serious. And I have the photographs to prove that it’s actually happening.
If you happen, for some reason, to be in Genk in Belgium on May 24th, check out the Your Eyes Burn Like Wild Fire show where I and dozens of other artists are having our work on public display.
Today I was writing an article about terminally ill children. One story was particularly painful, that of an 11 week old boy who was diagnosed with terminal cancer…
I have been thinking about children a lot recently, and having a family so I started something this afternoon…it’s very rough, very rough, but I just needed to get something out.
I thought this would be interesting to write about because my relationship with food is so radically different to how it used to be.
When I was 14 years old I developed Anorexia Nervosa. Over the course of a few months, I bid farewell to over half of my body weight. The hair on my head thinned and dropped out. My periods dried up. My nails and bones became brittle as kindling, and a strange, blonde fur (lanugo) started to blanket my sad and broken skin.
My body was trying in vain to keep itself warm, to keep itself alive. When the fur didn’t help, my body started to cannibalize itself from the inside out.
First it consumed any fat that I had left, then it started to steadily eat away at my muscles. I was – very effectively – starving myself to death and became little more than a bundle of bones tied up in a scrap of dry flesh.
Yet I wanted to be…no, I needed to be thinner, smaller, less noticeable. I needed to be leaving a fainter footsteps when I walked. I needed to be practically able to float. Nothing else other than getting thinner mattered in the world. Nothing.
My diet when I was at lowest weight (just under 5 stone) was tragic. Nobody really knew what I was eating because I lied about what made it past my mouth. I became an expert at magicking food away to anywhere but my stomach.
Before this sickness adopted me, I wasn’t fussy with food. Actually, I fucking loved food, and had a more than healthy relationship with the stuff. But it didn’t take long for it to become the enemy, for me to be afraid of it even touching my skin.
This is what a day of food looked like for me then:
- 15 grams of dry branflakes.
- A small glass of water.
Note: It was VITAL that the branflakes were weighed, and I quickly replaced milk with water when I realised how many calories I could save. But then I started to become worried about the amount of water I was having and thought that it would increase my weight, so I started to have my branflakes dry instead. There were some days, before I was admitted to hospital, where I would actually count the number of branflakes in my bowl. They always needed to be an even number.
I’d forever had tea in a morning, but that quickly became forbidden when I became ill.
- 2 Ryvita’s each with a transparent layer of sandwich spread.
- 1 small apple.
- A bottle of water.
Note: I would eat about half of one of the Ryvita’s and then throw the other one and a half in the bin. When I was having lunch at school this was easy enough. Though I still did it discreetly, just in case. More often than not the apple wouldn’t get eaten and would be thrown in the bin too.
- A Quorn burger or something similar. Whatever it was I didn’t want to eat it.
- Peas, Carrots.
- Mashed potato.
Note: The fights that I would have with my mother at dinner time were so apocalyptic they became legendary. I would scream so loud I’d break an eardrum or two, and I think I remember even catapulting plates of food. I’d usually end up swallowing a few tiny mouthfuls, then somehow manage to get away with not touching the rest, most of which would end up down my sleeves then in the toilet.
After I’d pretty much reached the weight I was when I was a toddler, I maintained my exhausting anorexic existence for over ten years. I would sort of get near to being better than I’d relapse, then I’d sort of get near to being better again, and I’d relapse…and so the cycle continued on and on and on.
It pushed my terrified family to the edge, then, making me watch, flung them over relentlessly. They’d dust themselves down, repair what had been broken, then they’d be taken right back to the edge again, even more terrified than before. And again, I was made to watch as they were flung over.
Fast-forward to 2017, 17 years after I was diagnosed with anorexia, and my relationship with food is poles apart from what it was. My family and I have, together, recovered.
I have a womanly belly. My arse is taking on something of a curve. My collar bones aren’t sharp enough for me to cut my fingers on anymore. I’m also in a relationship with a Swedish man who has weaned me onto crisps and chocolate and pick n mix and Pepsi. A man who has managed what no one else has managed – he’s managed to make me eat foods which I was still, up until a few months ago, forbidden from touching.
And this is what a day of food for me looks like now:
- A bowl of…I dunno…maybe 55, 60 grams of branflakes? I don’t weigh stuff anymore, with plenty of semi-skimmed milk.
- Non Fat Greek yogurt. Again, I don’t know how much, several tablespoons?
- A BIG cup of tea with milk AND one teaspoon of sugar.
- A piece of dark chocolate.
- 1 40 mg citalopram tablet, 1 100 mg quitapine tablet.
NOTE: I used to weigh my cereal OBSESSIVELY when I was ill, and I would NEVER use semi-skimmed milk. Just skimmed or unsweetened soya…soya because it has less calories than the skimmed. Also, when I was in hospital I’d drain the milk from each individual branflake and eat just one flake at a time. I’d didn’t finish a bowl of cereal until at least 5 months into my stay in hospital.
It was only when I discovered artificial sweetener in hospital that I started to drink tea again. I became obsessed with the stuff and would have up to 8 in one cup of tea…how I have no fucking idea. Anyway, I ditched the sweetener several years ago because of a million and one different reasons which I can talk about in another post – though primarily because it works to agitate my mental issues.
The dark chocolate thing is new. When the lovely lady who contributed to my Arctic Library sent me a heap of dark organic chocolate (70% + cocoa content) I became infatuated and have been having some every day since. I’m now on the last bar she sent, and I’m trying to make it last…the benefits of dark chocolate are EXTENSIVE, as you’ll probably know.
The medication I’ve been taking since 2010 helps with the shit that goes down in my brain, because it doesn’t function like everyone else’s and needs some help. The citalopram works as an anti-depressant, while the quitapine works as an anti-psychotic. I was diagnosed with depression when I was 15 along with the anorexia. Then, when I was 24 I was accessed for the millionth time and diagnosed with bi-polar.
- Ham sandwich cobbled together with 2 slices of white bread and butter.
- A banana.
- A meringue.
- A cup of tea with milk and sugar.
NOTE: Yeah, yeah, I know. White bread is shitty, but we didn’t have any multigrain in, so I had to make do. Back in the thin days I just wouldn’t have eaten. The butter is a relatively new. I NEVER EVER EVER had butter on my bread when I was ill. To be honest, I used to be so paranoid about butter that I thought if I touched it, the calories would leech through my skin.
The meringue was just there. Wanted it. Ate it. Licked my fingers.
- A muesli bar. Blueberry or something. Love muesli bars.
- A cup of tea with milk and sugar.
NOTE: If I don’t have a snack mid-afternoon I’m a mega bitch. Seriously. When I was at my sickest there was NEVER a snack.
- A tuna mayonnaise and spinach (!) sandwich made with wholewheat bread. (I went to the shop.)
- A bowl of Greek yogurt with a chopped up banana and a handful of strawberries.
- Some more dark chocolate because I needed the good mood boost and brain energy.
- A cup of tea with milk and sugar.
NOTE: I know a tuna mayo sandwich isn’t the best dinner option, but I just could not be arsed cooking. Anorexia wouldn’t have allowed that back in the day. I had to have what I’d planned to have a week earlier, that or nothing at all.
- ANOTHER bowl of branflakes with milk.
- 1 disappointingly small apple.
- A cup of tea with milk and sugar.
- 2 100mg quitapine tablets.
NOTE: I always eat a snack in the evening. I went to bed hungry for too many years. Plus, this is usually the time the man and I devour our crisps and chocolate…
- Some Horlicks because I was having anxiety attacks in bed and couldn’t sleep.
- 1 banana because I wasn’t hungry but I needed something comforting that could also help me sleep. Bananas are good for sleep.
NOTE: My food routine was ESSENTIAL when I was ill. I couldn’t deviate away from it. If I couldn’t sleep when I was ill, there was no ‘grab a cup of Horlicks’ option.’ I just had to sit there, shaking my legs – it burned calories – waiting for sleep to come.
My, how things have changed. And how very fucking proud I am of myself and the man who has helped with much of it.
I don’t know when I started to think to myself ‘septum piercings are fucking gorgeous,’ but one day it just happened. I think it may have been when I saw this photo of one of my muses Darby Lagher.
It’s been about a year since I first developed the urge to nab myself some imitation rings, so I could see if I’d actually suit having a septum piercing, or if I’d look like a total twat.
Personally, I’m thinking it looks suitably mystical and edgy, and I’m liking it a lot. I have a high pain threshold, so I know I’d be able to cope with having a needle put through my nose, but, the idea of just going with pretend rings is massively appealing as there’s none of the faffing around with the healing and the cleaning and the closing up.