The Fragility of an Even Keel

As you may have read in my last post, I was accidentally bitten by a dog at the weekend. Seemed like a pretty trivial if irritating thing at the time. But I thought I’d share how, five days later, I’m fighting off thoughts of not wanting to wake up tomorrow, and how fragile even the most level-looking keel can be when you battle mental health issues.

The bite was small but painful and, being on my thumb, I needed it to heal well, so went to the docs. Who prescribed a wide-range antibiotic, because dog bite apparently. The antibiotics (I think) caused cramps and a dodgy tum. I say I think, because my daughter’s been off school for two days with the same thing. It might have been the child at the docs with the sick bowl, or the pale lad slumped on the floor. Who knows? I just know that my daughter is never ill, and mine tends to be viral rather than gastric.

Regardless of the cause, the dodgy tum (or the antibiotics) has screwed up my SSRIs. I can tell because I want to break things and keep shouting and crying. Which has put the dog and kids on edge, so it’s been pacing and begging and ‘Mummy mummy mummy’ round the clock. They’ve even found me in my hiding place: the dog is outside tiptapping relentlessly under the window

There are a whole heap of other things thrown in the mix, least of which is the damn internet not working (kids can’t do homework, I can’t upload book files, hub can’t play Fortnite) but they’re every day annoyances.

Still, all in all, I’m going on holiday next week and instead of being excited I’m hiding in the spare room thinking of all those things you’re meant to think of, to stave off the ‘I can’t take this anymore’ thoughts. You know; how everyone needs you and loves you, and it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

It doesn’t help.

For a start, it’s being ‘over needed’ that tends to make me desperate in the first place. I feel pressured to be the perfect wife and mother and the guilt of failure can be unbearable. Secondly, depression isn’t actually a temporary problem, it’s a lifetime condition. I never understood it when people said that. I guess if your end-it-all thoughts are because of a broken relationship or other ‘event’ it could be considered temporary, but not depression. It’s pretty bloody perennial.

So, anyway, I’m not going to do anything desperate. My tablets are working enough that I will hide and know that, if tomorrow isn’t better, the day after might be. I love my family and know that they need me, however much that feels like a prison sentence at times. I know that even if this post upsets them (assuming I post it at all) they’ll understand and forgive me. I know I have much to be grateful for and that kids grow up and leave home eventually (and apparently I’ll miss them). I know that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m probably not a failure for not cooking proper meals or giving my kids and husband all my attention, or for shouting at the dog.

Some are not able to find that perspective, I’m one of the lucky ones. It can be the smallest thing that triggers a cascade. And it isn’t selfish or attention seeking or dumb. It’s an illness that can take hold like sepsis and attack the strongest people like a cancer.

It’s morning now. I slept. The world is still a fog but I plod through, waiting for my medication to wrap me up again in my safety net. I wasn’t going to post this (no internet! Ha!) but if it helps one person breathe and hang on until the morning, or one person understand why a loved one couldn’t, then that’s enough.

And I hope one day to learn that I am enough.

Jinxed

So I jinxed the weather with my last post. That lovely chill wind that made the heat bearable? Stopped the next day. It has been like living in a sealed attic. Sorry to anyone local to me! Mea Culpa. Forecast says it might rain this afternoon though, hurrah!

Even so, this week has been all work. I finally got Game Girl on kindle, although I’m not super-happy with the result. Kindle-uploaded-through-Word and images don’t really mix. For the love of literature I couldn’t get the images to centre on the ‘page’.

My marvellous fellow author, Rinelle, has offered to help, so my first job today (after tea and cake in an air-conditioned cafe) is to send her the file. I love the supportive writing community. And if you’re after some fab romantic summer reading, go visit her page!

Talking of community feeling, I had the chance to spread a tiny bit at the Walk-In centre yesterday, where I spent two and a half hours after an accidental run-in with my mum’s dog.

The day after an England football win is not a good time to use emergency services. The poor NHS staff were run off their feet. But I had gone prepared, with book, snacks, water, phone and – most importantly – no children. I was able, therefore, to be part of the Village as it were, by dishing out crayons and paper to bored toddlers and watching hyper youngsters running outside. Every little helps.

Not sure how much more book work I’ll be able to get done this week, though, since my thumb still hurts like heck. At least I can file the information under ‘how to write about a dog bite’.

Thankfully I did most of the formatting for Seren Kitty last week, as the illustrations came back from the talented Annie Welton. So excited! That said, I’ve had an alert from CreateSpace regarding the uploaded manuscript, which means they’re not happy with something, so the work isn’t done yet. Self-publishing is so much more than words!

The third book I’ve been preparing is my adult novel about Domestic Abuse, that was longlisted for the Mslexia award. I find it a hard book to work with, and wasn’t sure I was going to publish it. But when I was working on the kindle version of Game Girl, I noticed that Amazon are running a Storyteller competition with a £20k prize fund. While I don’t have anything like the presence on kindle to win such a thing, you just never know. And I’m proud of the novel, even if I find it hard to read.

I decided to research the market to give it the best opportunity, including the title and cover. Having posted this selection on Facebook, the choice is between the bottom left and bottom right title/image. What do you think? Which would you find most compelling? I like the title ‘The Family We Choose’ taken from the phrase ‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. I’m also more drawn to the right hand image because it’s cheaper 😂. I’ll have to make a decision this week since it’s my last available for work until September.

Which reminds me, I’d better brave the heat and head home. Books aren’t going to publish themselves. Keep enjoying the sunshine. We’re away for a UK break next week so it’s bound to rain!

Pixie Cuts, Hot Days and Minecraft Mania

Not a good time to have black fur

It’s been a crazy month. For those not local to the UK, we have been enjoying an unexpected heatwave for the last few weeks. Positively Mediterranean!

Usually I wilt like lettuce in anything over 20C but fortunately this sweltering weather has been accompanied by a fresh wind, meaning respite is at hand. Unfortunately it doesn’t do much for the motivation and I haven’t achieved a great deal since I finished invigilating.

I have, however, finally cut off my pesky hair. I’ve wanted to do it since I turned 40, but the kids were rather anti (my daughter said she’d never leave her room again, but that has become a rather tempting prospect recently). Anyway the heat and an impending karate exam made me take the plunge. And I love it. Although, contrary to expectations, it’s no cooler. Definitely needs to be shorter still!

Oh yes, that’s another achievement – I passed my karate exam and am now a brown belt! Still only half way to black, but an amazing feeling nonetheless.

One final achievement is that Game Girl is complete. It’s been a labour of love, as I illustrated this one myself, but definitely worth it. Turns out having a Minecraft-themed storyline has done something no other book I’ve written thus far has managed – my children are actually reading it. I know, shock right? Not just that, but their friends want to read it too, even the boys, even with a unicorn! Such a great feeling.

If you fancy a gander, the paperback is available at cost (£3.99) until tomorrow, when it will go up to £5.99 (although for some reason it’s showing an earlier cover). I hope to finalise the Kindle version today.

So that’s me. There’s been sport too, obviously, but who wants to hear about that right? Even with a certain team breaking its penalty jinx last night! How are you surviving hot days, sticky nights, and endless football and tennis? With beer and good books I hope.

A Note on Suicide

[Apologies in advance if this hurts my friends and family but I need to say it.]

There is a lot of discussion about suicide at the moment for obvious reasons. How it’s selfish. How people suffering from depression need to remember they are loved. Much of the latter is heartfelt and well meant. But.

I’ve struggled with depression. Struggled with suicidal thoughts. And yes, before my medication, I often thought my family would be better off without me. But now, when it happens, my main, overwhelming, sometimes only thought, if it can be called thought, is I want the pain to end. That’s all.

Perhaps that is selfish. But unless you’ve lived with a battle in your brain most of your adult life, you can’t really judge.

If someone going through chemo just wants it all to be over, you wouldn’t judge. And for many at least there is an end in sight. My depression is mild and mostly controlled, but even I sometimes can’t imagine living with it for another forty or fifty years.

So don’t judge, not even in kindness. Don’t tell people with depression to ‘think of their loved ones and how much they are needed’ because that IS selfish. How can being needed, being required to get up every day and give to others, when you are struggling just to breathe, lessen your pain?

It must be horrible to be on the outside. I’ve spoken to people who have lost family members to depression (and that’s what it is, succumbing to an illness). It’s awful. Just as losing someone suddenly to a heart attack or a brain tumour or septicaemia is awful.

And there is always the ‘what if’? I have it. I was meant to be staying with my father the weekend he died, rushed to hospital with septicaemia. What if I had been there? Would we have reacted sooner? Saved him? And that’s as valid for suicide I guess. Medical intervention might have helped. But telling a person they are loved, needed, required, precious, selfish, or anything else AT THAT POINT, I believe would be no more effective than it would to tell someone to stop having a heart attack.

I would love to end this with an answer, a right way to help sufferers of depression. I don’t have one. Except actions speak louder than words. For me, the friends that showed up and put the kettle on, watched the kids for an hour, walked the dog, those were the ones who helped me survive PND. Don’t wait for the sufferer to ask for help. Often they can’t, the darkness won’t let them. Take a risk and just show up. And above all, don’t judge.

Working, Anxiety and Mental Health

If I’d written that title a decade ago, I would have had only one thought: that working and anxiety are non-compatible. My life as a marketing manager was full of terrible moments of anxiety, inadequacy and much sobbing. It’s taken ten years for me to even contemplate having a ‘proper’ job, rather than freelancing, parenting and farting about writing books. And even though the job I finally got was casual shift work, I still nearly didn’t turn up on day one.

So glad I did.

Working as an Exam Invigilator has done wonders for my mental state. The body might be exhausted but (or maybe as a result) my mind is more settled than it has been in years.

Invigilating is a bit like mindfulness. You can only focus on the moment. Of course the mind wanders a bit, but then a student will need something or it will be time to collect papers, and I’m back in the present.

There is no trying to focus while a dozen other things are happening (for example I’m writing this while listening to son singing along to Harry Potter in 99 seconds and daughter’s Maths Whizz homework, and the dog wants breakfast, the guinea pigs are squeaking, and the washing machine just played it’s happy ‘I’m done!’ jingle). No wonder my head is clearer. Even when the children were at school I would have all the different things I should be doing clamouring at me. And I didn’t do any of them.

It is true what they say, if you want something doing ask a busy person. I’ve got more done in the last few weeks than in the last six months, mostly by having no time to procrastinate. Although I’m even more in awe of parents who never drop the ball. I’m only averaging 20 hours a week and still I’ve forgotten to pay for a club, left my daughter’s coat at home twice, and lord knows if they’re doing their homework.

I remember reading the Stephen Hawking quote above after he died, and seeing the absolute truth of it. “Work gives you meaning and purpose.” It sure does.

It isn’t just getting paid, although that is fabulous. I feel useful. I go into work and people are nice to me (not the students: teenagers are terrifying). I feel like I can make a tiny difference. If I can smile at an anxious student, be speedy with something they need, or notice their desk is wobbly, I can make their exam experience less horrible.

Not that work has been anxiety-free. I have had one panic attack, when a Lead was being particularly horrible to me, and it’s tough trying not to break down in a hall of 140 students who probably feel worse than you do. And I nearly quit. But I didn’t, and what doesn’t break you and all that.

Most of all I no longer feel disconnected from the world. I no longer feel invisible. I get moments of appreciation (which are rare from my own kids – in fact they’re much worse now I’m not always available). The random shifts are hard, my feet hurt, and the dog hates me. But I feel more content with life that I have in a long time.

Work! Who knew?

The Injustice of Indie Editing

2382425Recently, it seems I haven’t been able to pick up a major-publishing-house book without finding that it’s littered with editing errors – missed quotation marks, extra words, wrong character names being used, someone present in a scene when they can’t be (because they’re in hospital), or, my favourite, the find-replace. I’m particularly guilty of this – I once replaced a name and didn’t notice that it had replaced the same three letters wherever they appeared, even in the middle of words. And yes, I published it by mistake. Not my finest hour (thankfully noone bought it). But in a seriously published book? Not good.

I’ve just been reading The Riddle of the Frozen Phantom, a book my son had from school but changed after a few chapters because he’s only seven and words like Mukluks and Polypropylene are a little challenging. I’d bought it as a kindle download though, when we temporarily misplaced the school copy, and decided to finish reading it. Turns out that, throughout the whole book, ‘mere’ has been replaced with ‘there’.

As I’ve said, we all make mistakes, but between me, my beta readers, and my ever-vigilant editor, I hope most of mine are spotted pre-publication. Which is just as well, because woe betide an Indie or Self-Published author having a single typo.

Now, I know there are some self-published authors who haven’t even met spell check, or have a clue how to use a comma or a full stop, never mind shelling out cash for a professional editor. They give us all a bad name. But there aren’t that many of them – most writers want their best work to be seen – so why must we all be tarred with the same brush? And why oh why is it so worthy of comment?

spellingreviewYou don’t see an Oxford Press or HarperCollins book getting review headers like, “no real grammar/spelling mistakes” (yes, that’s from one of my reviews, and the reviewer offered to edit future novels of mine free of charge) or “A couple of typos but not enough to take anything away from this great love story.” You certainly don’t ever find books published by big publishing houses with reviews that blame the author for any mistakes, or worse still make it clear the reader has gone looking for them.

Some books I’ve had from the library have been so poorly edited I’ve felt like marking them up and sending them to the publishing house with a ‘could do better’ note attached. But I don’t, because I want to support authors, publishers, novels, and all that is great about fiction. Even if you can’t have a butler in a fight scene if he’s in hospital. Looking at you, Janine Beacham 😉 (But I love Rose Raventhorpe, so you’re forgiven). Besides, who says it was the author who missed it, or the editor, or the proofreader?

So, next time you read a self-published book with a typo or two, remember – if the might of a big-budget publishing house can make mistakes, so can we. And when you leave a review (and please do, we live off them. Literally.), please judge fairly and perhaps comment on plot and story and readability and enjoyment, rather than the faint praise of ‘surprisingly few errors’.

Thanks.

Update

Oh my goodness, has it really been nearly three months since my last confession? How life interferes and shreds time.

Part of why I haven’t posted is because I have too much to say. I’ve written so many posts in my head that I don’t know what to write here. And if I’m honest I’ve forgotten most of them now!

But, like exercise, the longer you leave it the harder it gets and the greater the mental block. So consider this a gentle jog around the park.

The main reason for my silence is that I got a job. I know, shocker right? It’s only casual but I’m working as an exam invigilator. And I tell you, there’s a whole heap of posts right there. Nothing makes you dwell on the state of modern education than watching a bright kid sit through multiple exams and write nothing.

I’ve also started illustrating one of my own books. I adore Annie’s illustrations for Moon Pony, and she’s working on another of my kids’ books, but I can’t afford to have them all done, so there you are. The picture above is of my snooty unicorns, they’re okay aren’t they?

Aside from that it’s the usual daily chaos of house and family, which is probably best taken at a quick pace. Although now I see the time, I must hustle some kids to school at something closer to a sprint!

So now I’ve broken the block I hope to get back to blogging (and running at some point, but that’s another post!)

Have a great day!