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!

To Paula, With Thanks

PaulaBack in November 2016 I was working for a friend of a friend, typing up audio files, and she asked if I would help one of her dream writers with a final edit of their autobiography. My first response was to say no: I didn’t feel qualified to edit someone else’s work, especially when I pay someone to do a final edit on my own novels. In fact, I recommended that the author speak to my editor, and assumed that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

The author, Paula, wanted me to look at her book regardless, and our mutual friend agreed. I gave a low quote, reflective of my lack of experience, and took it on. To this day it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got to read an inspirational autobiography – My Life in Colour: From Brighton to Bali and Back [Free on Kindle I see] – and meet the extraordinary individual who wrote and lived it. I also got to feel that I had contributed to the final shaping of a wonderful book, as well as helping to put together the manuscript ready for self-publishing: that at least I have plenty of experience at.

Fast forward a few months, and I got to finally meet Paula at her book launch in Waterstones in Brighton. It was a lovely event and Paula was even more amazing in person. Larger than life and even more colourful than her book.

Paula taught me to have more belief in my own writing. When I first had contact with her, she said of her book, “I am at that nervous stage and would like to hide it and me from the world.” Despite self-publishing all my novels, I’ve never really escaped from that feeling. I apologise for my writing, because I feel it hasn’t been validated by the awarding of a publishing contract. And with my children’s books, I always felt I couldn’t promote them because they weren’t illustrated.

Paula inspired me to get Moon Pony illustrated: in fact she gave me the means to do so, through the work I did for her and other subsequent editing work. Without her support and financial help it wouldn’t have happened. But it did, and I am so proud of the result.

Tomorrow I stand up in front of three different primary school classes to talk about my writing, read from Moon Pony, and hand out some signed copies. I have actually sold copies of my children’s book to children. It feels epic.

I write about Paula in the past tense because tragically she died last autumn, following a car accident on what turned out to be my birthday. I have never mourned someone so much who I had only met once, but it was like a firework burning bright and leaving a pitch darkness behind.

When I was asked to do the author talks, my first response was no. I don’t do people, especially children, and I hate talking in public. Never mind the thought of reading something I have written out loud for people to judge. Terrifying. It’s why I don’t belong to a writers’ group. But then I remembered Paula, and I said yes. Because she was brave and, despite her fears, she launched her book into the world with gusto and self-belief.

Books are meant to be read, heard, shared, loved (and hated) and they can’t do that lurking at the end of a URL.

So, wish me luck. And Paula, thank you. You are missed.

The Narky Nines

IMG_2724
I’ve just had my first week of living the narky nines and it does not bode well for the future. I thought the sarky sevens and insolent eights were bad but she’s upped it a level.

The full title is the narky narcissistic nightmare nines. If it isn’t passive-aggressive screaming sessions in her room, intended for a wide audience but just incomprehensible enough you have to engage (and further enrage) the beast to have a clue as to cause, it’s teenage-style pouting selfies wearing a ton of make up. The only spoken languages are sass and defensive sulking, and any form of gratitude is a thing of the past.

I’m exhausted, physically and mentally.

I lay upstairs today, after 24 hours of wakeover with her best mate (like a sleepover without the sleep) and realised I had nothing. No energy, no patience. No fucks to give. No idea what to cook for dinner. In the end I sent husband and hell brat off to McDonalds (with hell brat sulking all the way) so I could walk the dog in artic peace.

I know it gets worse. Don’t tell me, I haven’t bought my necessary vineyard yet. I’m going to need it!

In the meantime, hurrah for my therapigs… IMG_2721

The Problem of Potential

As I was sitting in the coffee shop yesterday, knitting (which is the new writing, don’t you know), I couldn’t help but overhear two concerned mums talking about their children’s schooling. It was a long conversation, and a private one, but the gist was very much balancing the achievement of potential with happiness.

By the time I got home, I had a splitting headache that left me zoned out for the rest of the day. It was only this morning that I realised why – the conversation triggered my anxiety. Because it is the crux of everything, isn’t it?

We spend our lives balancing survival with living. Making a wage with enjoying our money. Trading wishes for shoulds and back again. Behind it all is this constant message that we have to be the best person we can be. The richest, thinnest, most successful, happiest, living in the most tasteful house, watching the right movies, reading the edifying books, eating healthy nutritional sugar-free meals.

No one can live with the pressure of that.

It certainly drives me loopy. I know I’m a talented artist, a creative knitter, a reasonable writer. I know I was a good Marketing Manager, clever with numbers, a quick grasp of strategy, calm in a crisis. But I excel at none of those things: none of them are a driving passion that make me want to be the best at them. I flit from one to the other like a distracted five-year-old. And the guilt of not fulfilling my potential in any of those areas, never mind all of them, leaves me exhausted and incapable of achieving anything.

If I paint a nice picture, the advice is that it should become my future: selling cards on Etsy, perhaps, or painting commissions. Except if I paint when it isn’t for someone I care about, it’s no fun. And there’s no money in it. Ditto knitting. Ditto anything that isn’t to make someone happy, or to receive praise (we won’t go into how wrong that is as a motivation).

I achieved at school. I had straight As pretty much across the board. A first class degree. A Masters. I aced exams. I worked hard. It was all I knew, and I enjoyed it. I wasn’t trying to reach a certain goal – the doing was enough. The grade in itself was the reward. I wasn’t aiming for a good university or a specific career. But my success set an expectation of fulfilling my potential (to the point where I nearly got suspended for a week the first and only time I got caught smoking on site, because I was ‘setting a bad example’.)

No one could tell me what that ‘potential’ was, though, or what it was for. Only that I had to fulfil it.

And now I clean poop for a living. I muck out the guinea pigs and the hamster, pick up after the dog, wipe the kids’ bums. I cook and clean. Iron. Moan and whinge about it. Not exactly fulfilling the potential of all those qualifications. But it’s the guilt and frustration of that, rather than the chores themselves, that makes me unhappy. I love my guinea pigs, hamster, dog, kids, husband. I love my messy house and free life. And I’m not sure I know what ‘more’ looks like.

I follow Matt Haig on Twitter and Facebook. If you haven’t come across him, he is a best-selling author who is honest about his struggle with anxiety. At New Year he tweeted a succession of messages that have stuck with me (see the image above). I love this one particularly (and the Russian Doll one).

His message is powerful, and came at a perfect time for me, when the New Year Resolutions were insisting on improvement. But we are not iPhones. We don’t need an upgrade every few months. We are not Russian dolls with better versions of ourselves hidden inside. We are ourselves. We don’t need to fulfil our potential, we need to live the lives we choose to live, without worrying what other people think of us. There is no test at the end of life. Assuming there are pearly gates, or whatever version of nirvana you believe in, no one is going to say, ‘You never achieved a size ten / perfect grades / ….’ If there is a test, it is going to be, ‘Were you nice to people? Were you happy? Do you have regrets?’

Of course, this post is the exact opposite of my last one, which ended with a desire for motivation, for ‘smashing every expectation’. Life is a dichotomy. It’s precisely that contradiction, both for me and the choices I make for my children, that gave me a twenty-four hour stress headache. To ensure we don’t coast through life without a sense of achievement, but are not pushed to achieve beyond the point of happiness. To make sure the children don’t struggle at school, but to know that exam results aren’t all that important in the grand opera of life. To know that I can run to feel better inside but I don’t have to have the discipline of Jessica Ennis-Hill. To know that I want to be a best-selling author, but I perhaps don’t have the drive or emotional fortitude to get rejected thirty times.

Sanity lies in finding the balance between motivation and the endless drive for perfection. Between fulfilling your potential for you, and doing what the world expects of you.

If you figure out where that path is, I would love to know! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some final Matt  Haig advice:

“Be happy with your own self, minus upgrades. Stop dreaming of imaginary goals and finishing lines. Accept what marketing doesn’t want you to: you are fine. You lack nothing.”  Matt Haig