The Wonder of Silence: 2013 365 Challenge #115

Puddles more fun than Paddling Pools

Puddles more fun than Paddling Pools

I used to be afraid of silence. All through my years at university I had to have music on to drown out the voices in my head. The ones telling me what an awful person I was. The ones reminding me of every stupid thing I had done or that I was fat, single, unloveable. Doomed to fail. They say the voice in your head comes from how your parents spoke to you as a child.

God help my kids.

Although, having said that, I am teaching them self awareness if nothing else so hopefully they’ll learn to challenge the inner voice. Eventually i learned to be at peace with the voices. I had an amazing flatmate at university who listened and soothed and told me I wasn’t bad or crazy, just normal. Eventually I believed her although faith in that view took a dip when my boyfriend snogged someone else in front of me, New Years Eve, final year.

I broke.

Dancing in Puddles

Dancing in Puddles

Thus began my first major bout of depression, although I’d had dark periods before. It wasn’t so much being single (looking back it was a lucky break as he was awful): It was losing my link to the future after graduation. That dark future that academic schooling doesn’t really prepare you for. Music became my crutch. Loud, positive music, like Bon Jovi or dark heavy music, Metallica being my favourite. (a bit of And Justice For All at full volume kept me awake through week long study sessions with virtually no sleep.)

I can’t tell you when silence became acceptable. I think when I became free of other people: when I lived alone and learned I was worth something even with no friends, or A grades and awards to define me. I earned good money and was valued at work. I remained single for a long time. Eventually work broke me and I had my worse bout of depression.

The world ended for a while.

Silence once more became my enemy. I was worthless, useless, trapped. That time SSRIs came to my aid. I quit my job, flat, town, friends, Guide Unit and flew half way round the world. I drove a rusty car in the huge silences of New Zealand, climbed mountains and found a semblance of inner peace.

Fishing for Fir-cones

Fishing for Fir-cones

The demons still have house room. Doubt, Guilt and Inadequacy are long-time flatmates of mine. But I don’t have to drown them out with electric guitars and drums anymore. I do love music. Singing to an uplifting song rarely fails to improve my mood, not that I get much chance. Apparently Mummies aren’t allowed to sing.

What gets the demons raging now is quite often the opposite of silence. 12-hour days of endless yabbering, questioning, squabbling, laughing, crying, shrieking, coughing, sighing and singing leave my nerves jangling and my equilibrium battered. For some reason it fuels the rage until a shout builds up that I can’t always hold in. That’s followed by more crying and some sorries all round before a precious moment of calm.

I hope when both my darlings are at school, and I get some silence every day, Rage will join the other unwelcome emotions crowding my house and I’ll chuck it in the attic with the rest.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


The sun pressed down as Claire and Sky walked into the centre of Walsingham. White and wood-striped buildings huddled round, making Claire feel like she’d been transported to Tudor Britain. There’s something about arriving by steam train – even a toy one –that makes it feel as if we’ve travelled back in time. She remembered a book she’d read once, about a time travelling woman who found herself stranded amidst the bubonic plague. Somehow this place feels closer to the time of the Black Death than Eyam.

Their reason for coming to the Shrine echoed in her mind. I don’t want to think about death, not when Sky is here to pray for her Mummy. She turned her face to the sun and let its promise of summer days warm through the chill in her bones.

Peace descended like a blanket of mist as they meandered through the grounds of the Shrine. Trees and shrubs showed off their spring colours; bright greens mingled with the pink and white of early blossom. Their footsteps slowed as even Sky lost the need to run and skip. Bird song filled the space between the trees. A few other visitors drifted past like grazing deer, and the courtyard of buildings blocked out the sounds of the village beyond the walls.

Silence wrapped around them: not the absence of noise, but the absence of humanity’s intrusion. Tight knots began to unravel in Claire’s mind and a tension she had been previously unaware of flowed free like a river bursting its banks.

Sky remained quiet as she walked with Claire along the path leading to the main building. As if made obvious by its absence, Claire became aware that her world had become saturated with the little girl’s chatter. When I think how lonely I was when I first started this journey, and now I can’t wait to be alone with my own thoughts.

The lack of constant questions and observations allowed Claire to hear her own inner voices. To begin with they clamoured to fill the space, as if Sky’s conversation had kept them mute for too long. With strong words from Claire, the garrulous voices fell silent.

Time enough later for angst and self-doubt and plans for the future to be aired and discussed. Right now I’d like to enjoy my silence while it lasts, please.

A new voice piped up with the last word. You do realise talking to the voices in your head like they’re a pack of unruly children might not be entirely normal? Schizophrenics are usually the only ones who acknowledge the different people in their heads. Claire shrugged away the unwelcome suggestion and turned her attention to her surroundings.

Sky walked with her head high, holding the map they had been given of the complex. For once, Claire was happy to follow on behind and let her niece take charge. This is more her area than mine, if she’s a Believer.

The girl led them unerringly to the Chapel where she wanted to light a candle for her mother. At least there isn’t a service on. I’m not sure I could sit through Mass. The irreverent thought floated into her mind before Claire could banish it. Come on Claire, hold on to the peace. Belief in a more meaningful existence than designer labels and Starbucks lattes wouldn’t do you any harm.

Trying to be present in the moment, rather than trapped in her chattering mind, Claire looked around the chapel. It really was tranquil. Tall windows let in rainbow-hued sunshine, illuminating the details of the architecture. She felt eyes watching her and turned to see Sky standing by the rows of candles, a lit candle in her hand. Claire felt her heart lurch at the sight of Sky’s face, a mixture of grown-up seriousness and childish hope.

Crossing the stone floor, Claire moved to her side and gave the girl’s shoulders a squeeze. After a tiny hesitation she also picked up a candle and lit it. Trying to think about Ruth was harder than stilling the voices in her head. Ruth who had been in her life longer than the voices; who had helped her, dressed her, tormented and teased her. Ruth who – whatever else she might be – was her only sister.

How does it work, lighting a candle for someone? I can’t pray, I wouldn’t know where to start. She decided instead to fill her mind with all the positive pictures of Ruth she could find, focussing on everything that made her sister unique. With tears pricking her eyes she followed Sky’s lead and placed the candle on the stand. Then she reached for her hand and gripped it tightly.

“Everything will be okay, Sky. It will.”

She felt the hand squeeze hers in reply, as Sky remained staring at the flickering flames. Then, almost too quiet to hear, even in the heavy silence of the chapel, Sky’s voice whispered like the breath of a candle.

“I miss my Mummy.”

Claire felt the shudder through her hand as the little shoulders began to shake with sobs. Gathering her close, she led her niece to a seat. “It’s okay, darling. We’ll call her from the coffee shop. She’ll be missing you too.”

Holding Sky tight, Claire looked over her shoulder at the image above the candles. If you’re listening, Mary, we could use your grace about now. Don’t let this little girl lose both her parents. You let her Daddy run off with a ballet teacher. It would be cruel to take her mother too. Have mercy.

Goosebumps raised along her arms as a breeze swept through the room, setting the sea of flames dancing.


2 thoughts on “The Wonder of Silence: 2013 365 Challenge #115

  1. I think I got lucky. My mum’s voice in my head is pretty rational, so I had a good starting point. I have seen how badly it can affect others though, and it can be so very hard to shake.

    I can’t imagine that your voice in your kids head will be anything like that though. Because you’re thinking about it, you are aware of it, and so I’m sure that will be passed on to your kids too.

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