Life, Mental Health, Writing

2021 So Far, So…

If 2020 was the annus horribilis, then 2021 is shaping up to be the annus phaulia (courtesy of Google translate, forgive any etymological oversight).

If you’ve kept up with my blog, you’ll remember back in January, I had a breakdown, resulting in me taking almost two months off work, popping the happy pills, and signing up to an online CBT course.

I returned to work full time a few weeks ago, the pills seem to be working their magic, and the CBT course is proving to be very useful. There was, it turned out, light at the end of the tunnel after all. I am in a much happier place, and feeling a lot better. I must mention the fantastic care I’ve received from the NHS’ Mental Health services (severely underfunded and understaffed). If it wasn’t for having access to the service, I’d be in a straitjacket . We in the U.K. have a responsibility to fight tooth and nail for our wonderful NHS.

I digress…

My writing mojo made a reappearance! After months of languishing in the doldrums, my half hearted attempts at editing Horizon Skies almost put paid to me ever getting the damn thing back out there. During the last few weeks of my sick leave, I not only started editing properly again, but came up with some new ideas for the novel. I have worked out more backstory for book two, added in some interludes, put more detail in around the magic system, and tightened up elements of the plot. I’m really happy with the latest progress, and my aim now is to send the second round of queries out in the first week of May.

On a sorrowful note, my boyfriend lost his father to leukaemia on the 18th March. Pete’s dad fought a long, hard battle with the disease, and never truly let on to us the extent to which he was suffering. He was 79 when he died, which is a great age, but there is still a sense that he was robbed of a full life. He was robust, active, and always cheerful; were it not for the illness, I believe he would have had another good 10 years in him.

Grief is a strange emotion, and we all process it in different ways. With the difficulty of the last few weeks behind us, we can now start to move on, and work on healing. I’m enthusiastic about my writing, and have tried to do as much as I can so I can put the final draft of Horizon Skies together.

I’ve also given Instagram a second chance. I could never get on with it before; too many ads, spam messages from profiles I wasn’t interested in, and the inability to share posts a lá Twitter. However Twitter has become incredibly toxic, and I’m tired of seeing so many negative trends and events. I’ve discovered with Instagram, that I can avoid all that as my account is geared purely towards my passion for books. It is quite difficult to gain followers though, and takes a bit more work (hashtag the hell out of every post!), but quality over quantity is more important.

Watch this space!

Life, Mental Health

Find A Happy Place

It’s something of a trite saying, but if this past week has taught me anything, it’s the importance of making space in my head for a happy place. A place I can retreat to that’s all mine, contains the things I love, makes me feel safe, happy and content.

I have gone some way to making a happy place in my own home. Working from home during the pandemic has meant my home office now has to cater for the day job, however I’ve made it a nice, comfortable space with an armchair, beanbag, TV, DVD player, and of course my collection of books. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s the coldest room in the house, I’d probably use it a lot more!

Today, I did a very simple thing with my space; I added a new set of shelves for all my writing and course materials. It wasn’t too expensive, simple to build, and once I’d arranged everything just so, my spirits felt immediately lifted. I absolutely love it. It also means I’ve managed to free up an entire shelf for my growing book collection; I’ve almost reached the point where I will need to buy yet another bookcase.

But what about a happy headspace?

This one is simple: a house overlooking a beautiful bay somewhere along the Devon coast, where my study has a gorgeous window seat with views to the ocean. Where I can sit and watch a storm rolling in from the horizon, and the undulating hills of the countryside stand out stark green against charcoal grey skies. Or bask in the warm sun, windows open, breathing in fresh sea air whilst reading or writing.

Living landlocked as I am, in a small 2-bed semi, I’m a way off achieving this sort of environment for real. But whilst it exists in my head, I can always imagine myself there, and make it one of my life’s goals. Studies have shown that people living near the coast are less likely to develop depression and anxiety, than their landlubber counterparts. (Source Live by the Sea) My other half, who spent some time living in Exeter loved living on the coast, and is determined that one day it will be our reality. I’m from the coast myself, but Southampton is an industrial port city, the best beaches still require a car journey of about half an hour.

Weird how I never really enjoyed going to the beach, but the idea of living near the ocean is such an appealing one.

I’m now halfway through my sick leave from work, and whilst the depression is still very much there, I have been a little less tearful. The anxiety is omnipresent, today has been a real day of butterflies in the tummy, and having to take lots of deep breaths to calm my racing heart, but I’ve kept myself busy. I have a number of self-help books (I’ve NEVER gone the self-help route) which I am reading to help me prepare for the hard work ahead, and I’m at the point now where I’m wanting and needing to make the changes necessary to become a happier, better adjusted person.

If you don’t have a happy place (real or imagined), and are struggling like I am, I recommend giving it a go. Do you have a nook in your home that can be transformed into a space that’s yours, and yours alone? Could your work space do with a bit of sprucing up, maybe add some personal touches? If you don’t have the space or resources, take a few moments to picture a happy place in your mind. Once you have it fixed, write it down, or draw/paint it (I’d draw mine if I could, but I’m terrible at art). Whenever you feel the need, go to your happy place, and take all the time you need.

Life, Mental Health

I’m Not OK…

…and that’s ok.

On the last Saturday in January, I stood in the kitchen, and I broke down. I sobbed and sobbed. My boyfriend thought something terrible had happened, he tried to comfort me, asked me what was wrong, and everything poured out. All of it. All the emotions I’d spent the last few months keeping at bay finally broke through.

I’m sad, every single day.
I’m angry, all the time.
I’m ugly.
I’m worthless.
I wished I was dead.
How can someone be expected to live in so much pain.

For the record, I am not suicidal. Which I realise is a bit of an oxymoron, after I’d expressed a wish for death. It was more a case of thinking it would be better if I’d simply never existed at all. Is that worse? I don’t know. I do know that I couldn’t inflict that sort of harm on myself; and as someone who lost a relative to suicide, I’ve seen how it affects those left behind.

I’ve tried so hard not to let depression and anxiety get the better of me, but that weekend, it all became too much. I finally had to admit it, I am no longer able to manage this by myself, and I need help. I’ve been wandering alone, through a dark green forest, not knowing which direction to go, and a road has appeared to guide me. Having hit rock bottom, it’s time to take the road, step out of the forest, and head in a more positive direction.

I’ve done therapy before, I spent two years with a therapist back in 2006/7; and I found the experience to be very helpful. I gained a lot of insight into the causes of my depression, which was a real breakthrough. What I didn’t do, was continue the work once I’d finished my treatment, and being reluctant to go back onto Citalopram or Prozac meant I was simply setting myself up for another fall.

And then came anxiety, just to spice things up a little bit.

Remember the Sunday blues? That horrible feeling you’d get knowing school was the next day, or work was looming, and you hated your job, or you were worrying about a potential problem? Anxiety feels like that. The constant butterflies, heart palpitations (anxiety also lead me to have an ectopic heartbeat), breathlessness, sensitive skin, and a head stuffed full of noise.

People want to help, which is lovely, I always appreciate the gestures and offers to chat, but there is nothing anyone can do to help me. A trained professional will help guide me, provide me with exercises to work on between therapy sessions, but unless I use the tools provided, I won’t get better. And that’s another thing, these illnesses are with me for life. I accepted a long time ago that I will never be free of them, that they are part of me, and always will be. What I want is to reach a point where I can manage them better from day to day, so I don’t end up feeling overwhelmed again.

One thing that really pisses me off though? I have no idea of the sort of person I could have been had my life experiences been better. I feel robbed of any potential I had to make a success of my life. I lost the confidence to pursue my dreams at a young age, and that makes me really angry and resentful. Emotions, I realise that do nothing to serve me, but exacerbate the negative thoughts.

There are people in this world who don’t believe that mental illness is a real thing, that unless someone is manifesting physical symptoms, they can’t be ill. How blissful it must be, to live in such ignorance. Think of the mind as our internal software; like software it is vulnerable to attack, it can be corrupted and damaged beyond repair. There’s no bandage or ointment to protect it, it can’t be rebooted, parts of it can’t be replaced by donors, transfusions or grafting; treatment is a long, complicated process, and not always successful.

Over the years people have said to me, “you seem ok”, “but you’re always having a laugh” etc, etc. And that’s one of the common misconceptions about mental illness. I look ok, therefore I must be ok. But one thing depressed people are very good at is putting on that front to the outside world, it’s a defence mechanism, purely for self-preservation. Inside, we’re usually crumbling.

I’m currently signed off work for two weeks, I’ve got my referral through for the NHS Let’s Talk Well Being with an assessment appointment coming up. My doctor hasn’t put me on any medication for the moment, but it is a possibility. This is time for me to rest, gather myself, get out into the fresh air, exercise, eat well, and just focus on working towards getting well. I know it’s not going to be easy, the temptation to sit around and wallow in self-pity is strong so it’s time to dig deep, find some motivation and work to beat this thing.

If anyone reading this is also suffering, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t feel you have to struggle through on your own, that no one will understand or care. That is not true, there are people who do care, and who want to help. From free services such as the Samaritans and NHS Mental Health services to private therapists who you can talk to in total confidence.

It’s ok to not feel ok. You are not alone.

NHS Every Mind Matters

Mind

The Samaritans

UK Council for Psychotherapy

Life

Battle Scars

This is a very personal post for me. It doesn’t relate to writing, or any creative endeavour, but rather the battle I have with my demons on a day to day basis.

The sadness and despair has been creeping up on me for a little while now. I usually describe depression as feeling like I’m standing on a beach, where the tide meets the sand, my back to the sea. There is a huge wave about to come down and engulf me. Most of the time, I keep the tsunami at bay, but it’s always there, waiting.

This week, the tsunami won. The sadness I feel all the time welled up inside me, and overflowed. The trigger was minor, (it always is); but it was enough for me to let the floodgates open. I just sat on the bed, sobbing. Lamenting the failure of my life, how I’ve not achieved anything of significance, how no one knows me, how I feel I’ve missed out on so many opportunities, how dreams have been crushed, how ugly I feel, how I just plod along, rootless; no sense of belonging anywhere or being part of something.

Obviously, it felt good to let it all out. Afterwards, I felt spent, exhausted. Boyfriend took me to the pub for a couple of hours, we came back, had dinner; but by 9.30, I had to go to bed. The mental and emotional toll depression takes on the body’s physicality is significant. The anxious butterflies in my stomach have been a constant reminder that something bigger was on its way.

I’m halfway through a week off, a week in which I should be focusing on my writing. Horizon Skies has suffered for my lack of motivation, and I have other works needing my attention. I’m full of good intentions, until that tsunami sweeps them all away; then I lose myself in gaming or reading, my only forms of escape. I become lazy, demotivated and uncaring.

I should exercise, it makes me feel good. I managed to lose half a stone this year, then hit a plateau, and haven’t lost any since. Just another hurdle to get over. I like how exercise makes me feel energised, it’s true that it does wonders for one’s state of mind. Those happiness hormones should be bottled.

Of course, I will fight back. I always do. I’m battle scarred and weary, but I am a fighter, and I always remember what a former therapist once told me of how I’m “psychologically strong”. I arm myself with this knowledge as I go to war.

Life

What Is Happiness?

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “happiness”: “The state of being happy.”

Seems a bit of a lame definition. Let’s try happy instead:  “Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Much better.

However, it’s possible for someone to express happiness when they feel anything but. Someone suffering crippling depression or anxiety can still laugh at a joke or sitcom whilst on the inside, they are crumbling.

I seem to exist in a perpetuate state of melancholy. No matter how much I can laugh at things, the deep rooted sadness within me is always there, ready to pop up and remind me that what I’m feeling isn’t true happiness. I’m simply able to express amusement at certain times.

I am definitely not happy though.

Sometimes, I feel geared up ready to go, and I spend productive time on my writing. Whether it’s editing and revising Horizon Skies or trying to get past the block with Sanctuary of Stone or exploring new ideas, those are the times I feel a modicum of something approaching joy. I’ve always retreated into a fantasy world to escape reality. It’s a defence mechanism, something I’ve been rather adept at since I was a child. My books have always been my sanctuary, through the stories told, I am transported to other worlds, other realities. If I didn’t have such a love for reading, I don’t know what sort of state my mental health would be in now.

I feel the weight of the world, heavy on my shoulders. Veganism has done so much for me, but I have to close myself off to the realities of WHY I became vegan in the first place. This doesn’t mean I stop fighting for animals, I never will. I just don’t need to be exposed to farm footage, lab footage or any kind of media depicting the abuse, torture and murder of any animal. ALL animals are innocent, and undeserving of cruelty. You may love your cat or dog, but how are they different to a cow or a pig?

I’ve had a great idea for a story, which I am now working on. I’m up to eight chapters already, and I’ve only been working on it for the past few weeks. This is unprecedented where I’m concerned! The genre has been done to death (post-apocalyptic, zombie invasion), but I’m hoping I’ll be able to lend a new voice to it. There’s no point having an idea in your head and not doing anything with it. 

Maybe this whole happiness concept is what holds me back sometimes. Maybe I don’t feel capable of finishing my work because I’m scared of the response I’ll get. When I first sent out to agents, I submitted without the weight of expectation, I knew it was highly unlikely I’d get picked up straight away, but I didn’t let it put me off. I received some lovely feedback which was definitely more than I could have hoped for. I’ve kept those e-mails as they’ll be the agents I approach on the second round.

Maybe I’m not deserving of happiness? Maybe I came into this existence to experience  the desire for it instead?

I don’t know. What I do know is that when I am melancholy, I know who I am. It’s like my natural state, and quite possibly, true happiness would be a strange experience.

 

Life

Sticks and Stones

Last week was anti-bullying week. I have written about my experiences of bullying in previous posts but every time the campaign resurfaces, my old bullying demons decide to rear their very ugly heads.

Having gone through years of being bullied at every single school I attended, I went out into the workplace at the tender age of 16 thinking I had left all that behind, only to discover that not only was workplace bullying a common occurrence but that I was to be granted no reprieve and became a victim once more on several occasions.

I am yet to reconcile my feelings of anger over what happened to me. I still boil with resentment when I think back to how so many different people treated me. In my experience, girls are the worst. They can be vicious, vindictive and downright evil when belittling someone they consider to be beneath them. During my latter school years, they almost drove me to suicide. In one work place, a particular tormentor managed to turn all my colleagues against me.

No one helped.

My friends could only do so much. I was lucky to not be totally alone as some victims of bullying are. My home life wasn’t a happy one so I kept a lot from my parents and retreated into my books and music, squirreling myself away in my room to be alone with thoughts of worthlessness whirling around my head.

Bullying is one of the most psychologically damaging experiences a person can go through. At a young age, those seeds of discord are sown so deep that the roots will remain long after the experiences have been consigned to the past.

I am no longer a victim of bullying, I am a survivor but it still hurts.

My heart breaks every time I read in the news that a child has killed him or herself as a direct result of being bullied. Why aren’t the bullies being arrested and charged with murder? Why aren’t their friends or parents being arrested as accessories to the crime? Because that is what it is. Driving someone to take their own life is murder.

I understand that a lot of bullies become the way they are as a result of their own unhappiness, they lash out and pick someone who they perceive as being too weak to fight back. Then again, there are some who bully simply because they get a kick out of it, in my opinion, this makes them a sociopath.

Whatever the reasons behind their actions (reasons or compulsions?) I will always loathe those who seek to destroy the essence of a person, make them feel worthless, that life isn’t worth living, that no one loves or cares for them. I know this to be untrue. Victims of bullying tend to be those with the greatest potential. We’re the geeks, nerds, the wordy kids, the kids who are bit different. Ultimately, we are better than those who belittle us.

To all the bullies out there who may read this, just remember, karma has a very long memory and she is more vicious than you can ever be.

Ruby Redfort, Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.
Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me.
Pain from words has left its’ scar, on mind and heart that’s tender.
Cuts and bruises have not healed, it’s words that I remember.
Life

A Mixed Up Kid

I am in a bad place at the moment. In fact, I’ve been in a bad place for most of my life. Sometimes, (like now) it overwhelms me and other times, it’s more manageable.

I was diagnosed with depression in my mid to late teens, I’ve been in therapy, I’ve taken Prozac and Fluoxetine so I can say, “been there, worn the t-shirt” and it doesn’t phase me anymore. I’ve been living with the condition for years.

What has prompted me to write about it, however, is that in the last few months, I’ve been at a stage whereby the darkness is overwhelming me and it’s horrible. I really hate it. Aside from the sheer exhaustion I’m currently experiencing, I’m running on auto-pilot. I’ve got to a point again where I’ve had to stop and say, “I can’t cope anymore, I need help.” I’d be driving to work with a perpetual feeling that I was heading towards a nervous breakdown. My mind is a massive tangled mess of worry and anxiety. It doesn’t matter how trivial the problem is, you can guarantee, I will worry about it.

I was a very unhappy child. I was bullied throughout my entire school years so that amounts to twelve years of near constant abuse. In secondary school, my attendance record was terrible, I would play truant, fake illnesses; anything to get out of going to that hell hole which I shall name and shame as Regents Park School for Girls in Southampton. I was utterly failed by the system and those who ran it. My tormentors got away with giving me hell and that is something I have never been able to forgive.

I would very much like to forget that it ever happened but I have also fallen victim to workplace bullying over the years and there’s only so much one person can take!

I went to work at the age of 16 as a travel agent. There was no way on Earth I was willing to continue with formal education and be faced with the prospect of ending up in the same college as those who had treated me so badly. I was a mixed up kid, suddenly I was in an adult environment with no idea of how to behave around adults. I went to college on day release, found it hard to make friends and ended up being the loner of the group. A girl with quite a nasty character came to work in one of my branches for about a year, instantly singling me out and proceeding to turn my colleagues against me. Again, I was let down by my colleagues, bosses and peers. Imagine my surprise when, years later, she sent me a friend request on Facebook!

Fast forward to now. I’m 43, I’m stronger than I ever was but I’m still fragile. My sense of self-worth, self-esteem and confidence are low. I make up for it by being outwardly gregarious whilst inside I’m shaking like a leaf. I constantly worry about what others think of me, I still find it hard to make friends and I have a terrible tendency to put others first instead of thinking of myself. When I do try and be a bit selfish, I feel guilty. But why should I? Surely, looking after oneself should come above all else? For, if you can’t look after yourself, how can you help others?

I don’t believe I’m a bad person. I’ve always gone out of my way to help others. I love animals, I care about the environment, I support various charities, I’ve helped create friendships, given food to homeless people etc. People have called me a “lovely girl” and apart from the usual teenage rebellion and questionable past relationships I believe I’ve created some good karma.

One thing that does sadden me is that I have no idea the kind of person I could have been were it not for all I’ve been through. Like Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Whilst my past hasn’t beaten me, for I am still here, it has made me choose different paths and make different decisions, my life could’ve gone in a very different direction had I been able to choose differently.

I feel sad for kids being bullied today, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc. bullies have better access to their victims. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if those things existed when I was at school. I’m sure the outcome for me would have been very different.

All I can do now is make up for lost time, learn to put myself first, succeed at my goals and not get dragged down.