In between the published works –
the novel that did OK
a story in that collection put together by MA students,
a poem here, a poem there
the joy of a short-listing
the folder of ‘no longer on submission’ scribblings
there is the ‘other’ stuff.
I couldn’t fit it all into the bookshelf:
hours spent tinkering with broken friends, instead of broken sentences;
days spent with Netflix, instead of cutting, instead of copy-pasting;
weeks spent holding the cat, instead of the pen
piggy-bank empty and smashed. All spent.
Tears leaking from the hot water tank
shredded text messages used for mouse nests
reams of progress stacked, dormant
still in their polythene. Sterile blank pages.
Where is all the work I could have done
if other people had been
kind? accepting? loyal?
had trusted my life had to be lived this way?
It’s weird, I only spent just over a year in full-time academia, and yet September is still my ‘new beginnings’ month.
January is just lentils and baked beans and NO FUN until pay day, am I right?
This year is even more special because since the beginning of the summer we’ve moved house, and both kids are at new schools.
And I’d love to tell you I’m turning over a new leaf – that all the rest of the ‘stuff’ is in the past – that I’m going to stay well and, um, whine less.
But everyone knows you can’t run away from yourself.
What I now like to refer to as ‘my trauma’ has come with me, and is enjoying the new house just as much as I am. We are working together, and hoping to feel better soon.
A cactus can be a type of person.
Soft on the outside, spikes on the outside.
I didn’t used to be a cactus. But, y’know, life happened.
I used to push it all inside, instead of allowing my feelings. It was like filling myself up with poison, breaking from the inside out.
So if you tell me I’m not being kind or patient, I might not listen.
And I’m sorry about that.
I had an incident with one of my plants the other day and I know it stings.
I suppose, if I’m arguing with you, it’s evidence that I care enough about you to try, as a wise friend of mine clarified recently.
Because if I think you don’t care enough to recognise my spikes act as protection,
I will walk away,
in case you poison my soft parts.
I have wonderful friends. And family. I’m lucky.
But the bar can always be raised, right? Right? We all went to a friend’s house the other day. Regular readers will know about my ongoing (whining about) mental health problems. It had been one of those weeks.
What is the best thing to do to help a friend who is struggling? I am rubbish at helping other people with their mental health – I know what it feels like, not how to help.
But this friend, she knew. She didn’t ask anything of me, not even my company. I was tucked up on a day bed, in their spare room, with my youngest, and a computer playing Spiderman and the Spiderverse. I had a power nap and managed to keep up with the story.
It was the best visit ever. Thanks guys!
You know when you think you just have a bit of a weird habit and then, 40 years later, you find out it’s a recognised syndrome?
I’m not going to talk about it in detail, but if you want to look it up, it’s called excoriation disorder. And I’ve not been diagnosed with it officially, it would be classed as ‘mild’ I think. There’s a test to do with ‘interfering with your daily life,’ and I don’t think I’m there, most days (thank goodness!).
What’s interesting is to observe my reaction to this new knowledge. I’ve been under a bit of stress these last few months and I’m adding in these behaviours as evidence of how I’ve been feeling. I’m using some of the advice online to manage the symptoms. But they haven’t stopped.
Knowledge is not always power.
I had agreed to go. Waking up at 5am with a headache, which developed into a migraine, then being sick just before I had to wake the children up and get them to school didn’t mean I was going to cancel.
In the car, Mr HB asked how I was. I told him the truth, the stress of my tiny insignificant worries leaking out in tears. We picked up a friend on the way, so I wiped my eyes and pulled myself together.
We got there, and I had a nice time. A small group of friends, celebrating, taking time out from their own lives to be there for someone else on a special day.
Postscript: later, I was reminded of the pains and worries carried by every other friend that had been there, talking, smiling, laughing – holding it together.
Years and years ago, an advert came on the TV that spoke to what I had been trying to do in a small way ever since I came back out of hospital after psychotic episode two. Piecing myself back together, explaining why it was taking so long, meant I had to talk about my mental health.
I’d never wanted to hide what happened – I’m an oversharer, in case you didn’t already know – but I didn’t realise this was a bold choice at the time.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to meet with See Me to talk about writing for them. The organisation has loads of active volunteers who are doing all sorts of cool stuff all over Scotland – but what’s missing is people to write up, share and champion this work.
I’m excited. It’s a perfect fit for me.
Here is an update on how I am feeling.
I am nearly two weeks into taking my daily pill. I have some paid freelance work today, and I’m driving to the meeting where I’m expected to take a minute of the proceedings.
My usual thoughts at a time like this are as follows:
‘I won’t be able to keep up with my shorthand.’
‘I won’t be able to read my shorthand back.’
‘I won’t be able to follow what is going on.’
‘I won’t make my deadline for the draft.’
‘Someone will tell me I am not dressed smartly enough for this job.’
And my personal favourite: ‘Am I heading to the right venue at the correct time?’
I am driving to the meeting.
I am thinking – ‘I’ve got this.’
It was a good call to go to the GP.
So last week, I was persuaded to go to the Doctor. I have been ‘out and proud’ about my mental health since suffering two episodes of psychosis in my late teens.
But I didn’t realise I was still ashamed. Happy to be medication free since 2003, (and not just because it rhymes), over the 14 years since I have tried a range of things to stay off the daily tablets.
- Counselling x3
- Diazepam (for the bad days)
- Leaning on friends
- Maintaining a tinylife
Last week, it became clear that my less-than-good mental health is not something that is going away any time soon. I thought I didn’t care about the stigma. I do care. But not enough to risk my health and the wellbeing of those around me.
So, I’m back on the tablets. And I’m getting on with my tinylife.
‘Do you think maybe you need to go to the Doctor?’
I have asked this more times than I can count. To friends that have seemed more than a little bit down, to family that don’t seem to be able to stop. I’m not sending them for a sore throat or a muscle strain, I’m asking whether they need some medical assistance with their mental health.
Awareness is so much better than it was, but stigma is, in my opinion, as bad as it ever was. Of course no one wants to feel that they can’t get through the day without taking a tablet, doing a meditation, knowing that another counselling session is on its way. But if that is what you need.
If that is what you need.
Last week, someone asked me. And I went.
More next week.