Part 1 - A Lesson Not Learned
The toad had gifted me a lesson but I was failing miserably.
“One day cake will save the Universe”. I knew I’d crossed the line as soon as I said it.
I have an instinct for that subtle change of regard that comes when I say something arising from my eccentric sense of humour. A sense of humour care professionals have difficulty following and sit on the edge of pathologizing whenever it appears.
Put another way I sometimes say childish things and I can see in their faces they think I’m quite mad. So, as the psychologist’s face changed at the mention of cake’s connection to the future of the universe, I knew I had to justify or be damned. The toad had taught me a lesson. Keep my mouth shut.
Part 2 - The Toad
One dark evening, I was walking to the off licence. On the way I pass the grounds of an old Doctor's house. It was built in the late 1800s of dressed sandstone and had a matching wall around the grounds. The house was pulled down a few years ago and old people's assisted accommodation built on the grounds, but the wall around the grounds remains.
As I went by, a toad walked out of the wall and onto the pavement in front of me. You would know it’s a toad and not a frog because toads are very intense little creatures. Always striving. Striding out with a sense of purpose. No time to stop and talk. Frogs just flop about, like a lime jelly with clown's oversized feet. The toad walked towards the roadside.
I knew what was about to happen, so I picked it up, put it down in grass on the other side of the road and went onwards to the 'offy' and something nice to take home. I mentioned the toad, it's stepping out of the wall and my good deed for the day, to my family. It was just one of those rare and curious things you come across on life’s way.
In some ancient legends, the toad is a trickster and a magician, a master of escapes and spells. He is also the keeper of the real, powerful secrets of the world. Tales tell of how toads have bestowed gifts upon those who have shown them kindness. This toad left me a gift, a lesson to be learned.
Some time later I was slipping into an episode of mania. As we walked past that spot I recalled to my wife how the toad had emerged from the wall. I guess that made her rethink my original encounter and, during assessment by mental health services, she retold the story. It was an act of love. She was scared and wanted help for me.
Since then, the story has been brought up by each new community mental health professional involved in my care and has grown in the telling. The last time told, it was said I had being convinced frogs lived in a wall, I talk to them and they talk back to me.
I wish they did, they’d make far more sense than some people I know. I must admit to sitting back as I hear the story being exaggerated in the re-telling.
You see suffering depression or mixed-episode mania, if i care at all, I’m scathing of the people retelling the tale and cynical of service’s interest in the truth. So i just keep my mouth shut.
If I’m manic, the whole thing, the exaggeration of the story and presenting of it as evidence of my previous psychosis, is just too funny to challenge. And when I’m well, I still find it funny. I mean... frogs for heaven's sake! Don’t they know the difference?
When it came to the power of cake though, I had an ace up my sleeve. A 'Get Out of Jail Free' card.
Part 3 - Cake
As luck would have it, I’d addressed this very thing at a recent meeting of TEWV’s Expert’s By Experience group. Anybody who knows me, knows of my fixation on cake.
Indeed my liking for bringing cake to meetings was likened to the behaviour of a “Feeder” by a member of staff; the term being used in the context of eating disorders. It was meant in fun though, and was delivered as self-deprecating of the staff’s own inability to resist my cakes.
Full marks to her, she only had half a cream doughnut that day. I had three... and a plate-sized triple chocolate chip cookies to keep them down.
At the Experts meeting, I was to read a piece about my past and my experience of services. The piece is meant for presentation at staff training days, to give staff insight into how their interaction with service users can effect recovery. However, that day’s Experts event was a welcoming event, to welcome a new cohort of experts into our numbers. The storytelling was about sharing and bonding around common experience.
I read it from a tablet, but the tablet is slow. So slow in fact you could poetically capture the essence of its performance with this short verse.
"The wheel is turning
But the hamster is dead"
So, having a minute to kill (but not a hamster) I expounded my theory on CAKE as a solid psychological framework for developing meaningful social relationships. Friendships. It isn’t a parody, but is a play on all those helpfully acronymed ways towards wellbeing; CHIME, ACCEPTS, RICE et al. It goes something like this...
How does friendship develop? These are some of the things that need to happen.
First, we Come into each other’s social Circles.
Secondly, we Acknowledge and Accept each other. Without Acceptance friendship can’t develop.
Thirdly, we get to Know each other. Shared outlook, shared interests.
Fourth, we Encourage each other. Encouragement cements friendship.
Come into each other’s social Circles.
Acknowledge and Accept each other.
Know each other better.
Encourage each other.
When I say “One day CAKE will save the universe” it’s the idea of friendships and positive supportive relationships I’m talking about. That, just about, got me off the hook with my therapist!
Part 4 - A Memory And A Gift
You may yet wonder if the toad was real or a psychotic hallucination after all? or wonder if this piece is based on me not having accepted that. Based upon my lack of insight. Some will. My response to you is this:
“I find your lack of faith disturbing” (à la Darth Vader)
Sandstone walls are well known for eroding. Look at Durham Cathedral. It would have been a ruin years ago, if stone masons didn't engage in a perennial race to replace lost stone with new.
The rear of my childhood home was built from sandstone. The holes and crevices in the sandstone blocks were fascinating and beautiful, worlds I would lose myself in for hours. The colourful sedimentary lines in the stone. Seeing spider webs stretched across the little caves vibrate in the wind. Jumping back in fear when hated centipedes appeared, or building matchstick hurdles for woodlice to clamber over.
I even found a desiccated rat’s body in one hole. Somehow preserved from complete decay by the interacting chemistries of sandstone and lime mortar.
My explorations and adventures ended when the property was renovated and a pebble dash coat covered the sandstone.
But what other creatures might take refuge in the damp dark crevices of an old eroded sandstone wall, to crawl out in, to them, kinder conditions?
Perchance, just as a friendly passer by was there, to ferry them past hazards on the way to their generational spawning ground.
With some magical prescience accredited to their kind in ages part, would they be aware of the judgement that story of kindness would bring to the life of the passer-by?
The toad being real or not isn't important. Experience is often how we learn, however we experience it. I’ll never deny such creatures their reality, or the care I can give them. Even though I’m sometimes denied my reality or care from others.
I think finding out through lived experience just how important acceptance, kindness and hope are to our well being and that knowledge bringing me to a place in the world where I can make a difference to others and myself, in giving those things was the real gift of the toad. A gift of insight, not the curse of judgement it first appeared to be.
So I’ll strive like that toad to bring acceptance, kindness and hope where I find them lacking. However, I won't think badly of you if you think twice about picking me up and carrying me across a road. If you do though, you’ll certainly get CAKE.
I think you'll agree, this was a brilliantly written blog. Who'd have thought toads and CAKE would make for such an inspiring post.