A darkness rises up

I have a bit of writing news coming next week – but first a personal update:

On Thursday I left the house early to board a train from the south coast to Manchester, where I had a medical appointment. Obviously I had good reasons for this, or thought I did. I was also planning on travelling up to the north-east of England after the appointment to visit my mum, who recently started having chemo (again).

Some context: we moved house in September. July and the first half of August were spent (literally spent, since train travel in the UK is expensive and buses didn’t go where we needed to go) zipping up and down the country to look at flats that were much more expensive than the tiny house we rented in Manchester.

Two days after we found and applied for a flat, I learned that my mum’s cancer drugs had stopped working. My mum, as you may have noticed above, does not live on the south coast; in fact we are moving even farther away from her right when I want to spend as much time with her as I can.

She started chemotherapy in September. We moved house in September. In the past few weeks I have worked long hours on a work project that is one of the least rewarding in my twenty years of experience, both financially and emotionally. I am dealing with some pressing matters in my voluntary role as board member for a national arts and wellbeing organisation. Our living room is full of books in boxes, because we have no bookshelves; we’ve been sleeping on the floor for three weeks because we didn’t have a bed…and first thing on Thursday morning, I set off for Manchester.

Once I was on the train from London I pulled out my laptop and tried to work (because holidays aren’t a thing when you’re a self-employed person who has just moved house), but the wifi wasn’t good enough. I received some feedback from a client. I drafted a reply and drifted closer to Manchester, feeling sick with panic/exhaustion/stress/worry/those ridiculous tilty trains and hoping I wouldn’t actually vomit.

I got to the hospital. My blood pressure was much, much higher than it usually is, and when the nurse questioned me I waved it away by saying I was stressed.

Then it was the doctor’s turn. It was all going smoothly, until suddenly, at the very last second, it wasn’t. They couldn’t do the procedure, and she asked me if I could come back in a few days.

And finally, the flood. The tears I’ve been unable to cry because I had too much to do, because I couldn’t afford to let myself feel too much, because I can’t have a proper break, because I’m working on a big project (and then another big project, and another one), because I have voluntary responsibilities and things need doing, because climate change is a thing and I’m not even doing much to help fight that, never mind look after myself and write my book and do things that make me happy. All of those tears spilled over as I lay on the couch, half-dressed, and the doctor and nurse tried to get me to explain why I was so upset. I pulled myself together enough to escape into a toilet to cry in peace, and then found a cafe in which to while away some time before my evening train.

I have been trying so hard to do everything. My sense of self has been pushed so out of kilter by the past few months, I’ve lost sight of any semblance of prioritising. In fact, I’ve become a little too proud of my get-things-done approach. If something came up, no matter how big or small, it got added to the list of tough shit I needed to deal with, until getting a train from the south coast to Manchester for something I could have dealt with a few weeks later on the south coast, and then continuing from there up to Newcastle to see my sick mum, became just one more day to get through.

So clearly, my mental health is not great at the moment. I still have a mountain of stuff to get through before I can relax, but I am starting to think about what needs to change again so that I can look after myself. I need to stop telling myself that I will relax once x is out of the way. There will always be y and z to get done as well, and after that the whole treadmill will start again at a, and my mum will still have terminal cancer and I will still have to find a way to live with this. At the other end of the country.

(My mum, now I’m up here and can see for myself, is doing better than she could be doing.)

I am lucky, though. I’m lucky to be able to recognise this before I reach the point of barely leaving my bedroom for six months (which has happened in the past). I’m lucky  to have the resources and the experience to look at myself and 1. think about what I can do and 2. know I can help myself. I’m lucky to be able to see that my current state of mind is a direct result of a really stressful period which was mostly not self-inflicted. I’m lucky to have a loving partner who has done enough work on his own stuff to know how to support me. Lots of people are not this lucky.

As I zipped around the country on Thursday having my own little mental health crisis, the internet was full of posts about World Mental Health Day. I’m glad it’s a thing now, and I’m very glad that, at least among the people I know, we are kinder to ourselves than we used to be.

But it’s a tough world out there, isn’t it? It’s really hard to put ourselves out there, to allow ourselves to care enough to try and make things better, and yet also protect ourselves from the inevitable slings and arrows.

I don’t have a pat way to wrap this up. Part of me is terrified to post it at all, but I feel like we need to talk about this stuff, and I don’t have anywhere else to put it. So: this is my mental health at the moment. Hopefully I will be in a better place soon. And if you’ve read this far (thank you!), I am sending love your way, and hoping that we all keep moving in the right direction – towards better self-care and more kindness for ourselves and everyone around us.

A Darkness Rises Up – Broken Records


Minimalist writing

It happens every time.

Every time I get into something resembling a routine with writing, life takes over and I lose the momentum. Sometimes it’s personal troubles (heartbreak, health worries). Other times (now) it’s taking on a scary new job that is taking up every spare minute I have and more. I needed the new job; I needed to change something about my work. But still, it’s frustrating. I put “spend an hour on novel” on my to do list each Sunday, and somehow the next Sunday rolls around and I still haven’t managed to write.

This week, I got desperate enough to try something different. At the moment, when I’m still getting to grips with the new job and doing the mountains of preparation it requires, taking an hour out to write simply looks too much. That’s an hour I could spend planning lessons, or catching up on much-needed sleep. Even half an hour looks like too much at the beginning of the week, when the pressure is greatest…and by the time the pressure’s off (Thursday-ish), I’m too exhausted. So I thought about what period of time would not be too much, and came up with…ten minutes.

Ten minutes. It sounds ridiculous – what can you get done in ten minutes? Well, more writing than I’ve managed in the past few weeks, apparently.

Monday – ten minutes on the YA novel. 191 words.

Tuesday – ten minutes on the Depressing Literary Novel (TM). Planned the motivations of one of the main characters.

Wednesday – ten minutes on the YA novel. 202 words.

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s words/thoughts that I wouldn’t have if I’d still been pressurising myself to write for half an hour a day. Obviously, I hope I’ll be able to spend more time on writing in the near future… but in the meantime I can’t express how relieved I feel to be back at it.

Ten minutes. A tiny amount of time, but enough for now.

Thinking about writing

Last summer my life fell apart in various different ways: relationship woes, health worries, the realisation that I needed to redirect my career, with a few other bits and bobs added in. This coincided with a huge loss of confidence in my writing ability, partly because of lack of progress and success, and partly because I truly did find it harder to write when I had so much else to deal with and think about.

Since then much has changed. I have a plan for career change, my health worries have been resolved, and I’ve relocated to West Yorkshire, partly to be closer to my lovely family and partly to save money. I am also living alone again, for the first time in ten years.

And with the additional headspace and physical space has come…writing. Not that I’d ever stopped, but for almost a year, I felt as if I was progressing at snail’s pace. For the past couple of months, I’ve been making more time to work on both my novels, with the predictable result that the momentum is gathering. I’m thinking about them, or about writing, all the time, and the stories I thought were so awful, dull or silly are taking shape.

I’m also finding that I want to talk about writing, and I’m not comfortable doing it to just anyone. So here I am, in a space that I guess people can find if they want, but which I don’t have to publicise anywhere I don’t want to.

It’s writing time again.