June 9, 2012
By the time you read this, it will be close to 5.30 a.m. On June 9, 2012, as I write it.
I’ve slept badly. I fell into dreams without realising and awoke at 2.30 with a sadness in me, so black and terrified.
I didn’t want to wake my sleeping family so I called the Samaritans. I wasn’t sure if they’d pick up. It rang for a bit but then a man with a voice as gentle and soothing as gravel popping under the slowing of car tyres, came through the phone.
I’m never sure of what to say. I shudder out the first words all the time, usually something like “Do you mind talking for a bit?” or “I need to get something off my chest”, if I’m feeling desperate.
I decided to say “Good Morning”this time. It seemed apt.
They always listen.
Always kind. Always patient.
I talk for an hour, sometimes less, sometimes a lot more depending on the state I’m in. I went 8 minutes over the ‘talk free for an hour’ allowance, meaning I’ll be charged for the whole call, plus those 8 special minutes. And I don’t care.
Without the Samaritans, I’d be nowhere. I’d be nothing. I’d be in tears, hysterical and too frightened to tell the truth about what’s going on inside of me. I’d be waiting for ever, like I am now, to talk to someone about it.
Waiting for a therapy referral to come through is waiting for a cure.
Not a cure for my mental health problems but a cure for my loneliness, my sadness.
The Samaritans are my cure.
And so I’ve done what is right. I never have a lot of money spare because I have debts and bills to pay and a manic person inside of me who is obsessed with books, vinyl, iPad apps, and mysterious objects.
But I have made space for £3 a month to support a charity who gets at least one phone call from me every week.
That £3 will join the £3 that goes to the WDCS which helps protect whales and dolphins across the world, and £3 to the RSPB which helps protect our country’s bird life and environment.
The £3 to the Samaritans is to thank them for everything they do and, I realise, it’s there to help them continue to protect me. And when I say ‘me’ I don’t just mean myself; I mean all of the people who call up in the wee hours, any hour, needing a kind stranger to help them through a rough patch.
The volunteers don’t get paid.
My Samaritan in these early hours was called Paddy and he was just what I needed. I said he should be paid for his good work. He said knowing that he helps people like me to continue living life is payment enough.
If you see a Samaritan fundraiser, don’t run from them because you run from me and you run from yourself. Give spare change, make a Gift donation, set up a regular donation even if it’s small like mine. It keeps the call centres open.
Become a volunteer.
I’m not usually this honest on my blog, even though I’m honest about my mental health; without the Samaritans, I’m not sure I’d be writing this. I think I’d be in hospital.
I’m going back to sleep. I still feel unsettled but because of Paddy, I feel less alone.
February 18, 2012
Finish reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
- Finish the draft of my short story in preparation for either the Mslexia 2012 Short Story Competition or the Bristol Prize
- Complete the first wristwarmer I’m knitting and begin the second one
- Complete sock 1/2 that I’m knitting
- Write the next post to continue the ‘Creativity for Agoraphobiac’ series
- Draft ideas for my novella
- Redraft Scene 2, Chapter 6 of Trace
My yoga practice Write letters to friends
- All of the above without exhausting myself
Update: It’s almost 5 pm and I’ve barely touched the list. Some of this will have to be moved to tomorrow.
Update 2: Getting there. I’ve decided to pick three more I know I can accomplish by the end of the day. Number 11 obviously isn’t one of them…
Update 3: So picking three was a bit adventurous. Moral of the story: be realistic about what you can achieve in one day. I’ll do more tomorrow.
January 8, 2011
We all knew it’d happen. I’m still trying to figure out the link between ‘loss-of-interest’ and ‘forgetting’ but let’s not make this too complicated because it can’t be any simpler than this: I almost screwed up on my ‘one new post a week’ promise I made at the start of the year. I think I’m in time to catch the last moments of a week, aren’t I?
What matters is that I’m here now. Actually what matters is that I have something to say, should have something to say, and I think I do. Something about being dissatisfied with what I’m doing at the moment, that is, trying to write the first chapter of this novel. Again.
I changed a bunch of things; I’ve figured out some decent imagery instead of groping at bored clichés and hoping they’d work for me, and I’ve started the process of letting my main character be herself (which is in part me but tenfold) and call the shots when it comes to her own details.
The plot has changed again but has simplified which I’m pleased about because it was all getting out-of-hand and becoming a farce rather than a genuine exploration of an existence that in part seems alien to me but one that I wish would cave in on itself so that I can experience it fully and then find a way out of. Because escape is so much easier to practice when there are gaping holes.
Things are working out in a haphazard way and I’m guessing that this is okay as long as I produce something (which I am) so why the dissatisfaction? I’m going over the same old stuff again and again, trying to reshape it when I’m close to scrapping the whole lot and starting again. I hear this is common practice but I’m whining about it because
- I don’t have the luxury of time; this needs to be completed soon or I fail the module
- I’m getting restless; I want to move on and explore other chapters
- Everything I’m writing is hollow; the inner critic is trashing everything I do and this isn’t helped by the fact that I keep reading exquisite novels by published authors including Bret Easton-Ellis (Lunar Park), Scarlett Thomas (PopCo), and Amy Sackville (The Still Point), my most recent expedition into the land of ‘They’re So Much Better Than Me’.
- I’m discovering huge gaps in my knowledge and worse, my memory. There’s a residue of all the things I should know and a bunch of faint memories where I was learning these things but apart from the occasional scrap of detail that arrives as an epiphany, there’s not much going on upstairs. I learn and then forget.
The real plus out of all this is that my notebook for the project is intense and detailed. I can trace (hehe) how everything has been changing from those weird seed moments right to trying to figure out the formation of a family tree where fathers and mothers are really aunts and uncles.
I think I’ll take a risk today and begin the novel again. I’ll aim to reach 5,000 words by 6pm. I can only gain. Even if I don’t use it as the opener, I’ll have plenty of new material to work and adjust the original chapter with.
But first, lunch.
Until next week (if I remember).
October 16, 2010
I’ve done something socially abhorrent: I’ve quit Facebook and without telling most of my ‘friends’. I can hear you asking me why so I’ll do the decent thing and answer.
There’s a point where my resilience to people, their dumb-ass attitudes, bigotry and constant negation of my feelings stops, even though I try to remain mindful that compassion extends to all. Including those who resemble parasites under the skin.
I doubt that there are many individuals (asides from the raging masochist but I reckon even they would get sick of it after a while) who would continue to expose themselves to a constant barrage of negativity and ill-will. Perhaps some of you would recommend that I stop taking it so seriously? I’d say that’s rather apathetic and completely against the spirit of community.
Social networking is great for smiling and connecting with friends and sharing the good times with hilarious photos, even for raising awareness; until people start bashing their views into cyber-space like they’re the only one with a valid opinion, photos you don’t want on public view start cropping up and friends constantly fail at the ‘friend’ part despite being able to fulfil it for their other 3,864 mates.
(Disclosure: I have to admit that I’m a little sad to know that I’m going to lose touch with some people but then if either of us truly cared, we’d make the effort and email one another.)
I could have simply removed all of the individuals who have made me lose faith in the human species for the billionth time but I’d not be able to remove the ads and the constant demand that I connect with people I don’t know. See previous rant.
Again there’s only so much resilience I have when being force-fed crap I don’t want to know about, look at, participate in, connect with or listen to. Go away and let me discover things for myself; let me make my own decisions; all is mind-control.
Facebook is a fine example which aptly illustrates my belief that humans aren’t social creatures. On a large-scale anyway. Pocket communities that are interconnected but remain independent of an enormous whole, fine; massive social movements en masse? Not cool. A lot gets done but a lot also goes terribly wrong.
Can you blame me for having had enough?
In other news, I’m constantly thinking about the PhD in The Contemporary Novel offered by the University of Kent. The odds of me getting funding are so slim that if Chance and Luck were physically manifested as deities, they’d be suffering from intestinal parasites and instantly landed with modelling contracts.
I’m relatively optimistic. Note the relative part.
Asides from dreaming up my research area and slowly teasing an idea for the novel out of the fog that is my imagination, I’ve been contemplating the notion of there being a genuine opportunity for me to get the cash I’d need to do this.
Would a charity fund me? I would have thought that being a disabled student might open some supportive doors for me but I’m yet to find anything. Research councils, public bodies, employment grants, university grants. They’re my options.
But there is a problem: the Guvmint is running around with a giant switch-blade (which are illegal, ironically…) which means that getting funding in this atmosphere has just become highly fashionable.
Even if there was a charity out there willing to support someone who lives openly with mental health problems and are committed to dispelling the ignorance currently choking any chances of mental health being understood, I would have to be something very, very special indeed. My writing would have to be a revelation.
Whilst I have no doubts that I could bring my writings to a decent standard with a bit of elbow grease, I’m ever-the-cynic when it comes to believing that I’m special, gifted, talented – whatever. That’s not self-depreciation by the way, I just don’t think I’m that fabulous. I’m good but not cut out for celebrity.
The same concern arises when I think about being accepted onto the PhD itself; am I good enough? Are my ideas, even in their infancy, original? Can they be developed tightly? Is the research I’d produce unique and would it create new pathways for the academic world? Would the novel be engaging? Would it open eyes and encourage independent, rebellious thought – something I think we really need at the moment.
If I can answer ‘yes’ to even half of those questions and survive the dozens of other swimming around in my head, maybe I could survive a PhD.
I desire it greatly. Not for the extra letters added to my name, not for the money from the funding, not even for the fact that I’d be staying on in my favourite institution.
I desire it for the knowledge. To have free reign over what I’d research, to be able to dream and create on this level would be devouring. And I’d not only write my already forming ideas, I’d practice them too.
I’ve already started doing it…
September 27, 2010
The art of learning any lesson is to get down off your horse and suck ‘it’ up. Of course it isn’t as cruel as it sounds (although sometimes it’s a trial).
How many years have passed? I’m still learning. I’m still learning that I need to let go not only of past hurts but also things that haven’t even happened yet – the notorious Future Worries.
I’m still learning that with every episode of insanity (for want of more apt term, although I’m quite fond of reclaiming it seeing as people are so terrified of it now) an episode of reprieve will follow; the disconnection itself is not the problem, but the feelings of dread and sickness are.
I understand, now that I’ve let off a little emotional steam, that it’s been several weeks since my last bout of ‘not on this planet’ which lends reason to why I’ve struggled with it for the past five days. Regularity breeds familiarity, breeds ability to cope? I’d not like to suggest learned helplessness.
(But why does becoming familiar with difficulty mean learning helplessness? I’m not helpless, I’m off my rocker and quite happy about it! It still astounds me how even the most subtle and apparently caring language can disable anyone who acts or exists contrary to the status quo; enrich your minds and read Foucault.)
Having been so long since the last time, I’ve virtually forgotten the ecstatic euphoria, the hunger to read and learn, the fascination with the shapes and colours of the world around me; the pink rose that looked like a sodden wedding serviette, the fence that was missing new paint in a very haphazard place that took on the shape of a cat and the old telephone poles that intersected the brilliant skies with their thick wires and housed jars filled with ancient, glowing insects.
And then the sudden thrashing of the mind as it begins to become too aware of the immediacy of the world. Coming back to a dull, unnoticing reality when you have spent days in stunning places free from worry and despair is a grim shock.
I don’t blame myself for having such a difficult time.
To return is to make a mental note detailing how to land on your feet:
- Always have herbal tea at the ready
- Don’t fear cancellations
- Keep warm
- Eat foods which bring comfort
- Read a book which confirms your reality
- Sleep lightly through the day
- Avoid television at all costs
- Listen to music that feeds your soul
- Become aware of the world again through the radio (BBC Radio 4 is my choice)
- Don’t rush back to socializing
- Re-familiarise yourself with pets as they are much more understanding that humans
- Have a cry if you need to
- Speak truth
- Ask a true friend to confirm love
- Harbour no resentment for yourself, or any other being
These things happen and I have a choice to make now that my head is clearing: shall I fall into misery or shall I sit gently, allow myself to recover and come through this more prepared for the next wave?
August 20, 2010
I had a geography teacher at secondary school who had this notice on the wall that read: compromise is the enemy of achievement.
You get a lot of jobs and businesses and products that say ‘we never compromise on the details / quality / dedication’ etc. but it’s funny because all those who say it expect you to be compliant and sedate in return for their guarantee.
We’re raised to be polite and make compromises as we make our way through life and I for one have seldom questioned why I do it, why I let other people get their way under the guise of ‘compromise’ when I’m not happy doing that.
Prime example: I was back in counselling, but now I’m not.
I made it very clear in my own mind when I started again that I’d not want weekly appointments because I need the space found in fortnightly appointments to deal with all the other rubbish that goes on in my life, such as the Mystery Illness that’s still undiagnosed after three years and still here. Plaguing me.
The doctor said that weekly sessions would benefit me better. Uhh… didn’t I just say they wouldn’t? And I’d know because I’d previously spent a few months in weekly psychotherapy sessions and found that after each fifty minute round I was exhausted, emotionally unstable and feeling worse than before I went in. And then I’d have to rinse and repeat the following week, spending the days in between dreading going back to that room and trying to control the anxiety attacks that resulted.
Weekly session are out of the question. I don’t care who you are. You could be Buddha and I’d tell you weekly sessions are not on the menu.
So what happened today is that I found myself under silent pressure to compromise and accept weekly appointments, even though this isn’t actually a compromise because I get nothing of what I want out of it. If I had accepted what was offered, that’d have been me doing as the good doctor said.
I plucked up the courage for once in my feeble life and clearly stated that I wasn’t going to do something I didn’t want to do and so, my counselling sessions ended before they’d even begun. I walked out of the hospital to find my Dad and ‘Square One’ waiting for me in the car.
My Dad was understandably dismayed that I had walked away from something that I’d been trying to arrange for the past few months but when I explained that I wasn’t going to do things I didn’t want to do any longer and was very unhappy that my rights as a patient – the rights to request another doctor, to arrange visits to a convenient health centre, to be given appointments that are suitable for my life and to seek second opinion – were being undermined – again – he understood where I was coming from and was very supportive.
I made the correct decision today and for once, I didn’t compromise and give up on what I knew with absolute certainty, was best for me. So why do I feel so terrible about it?
I think it’s this culture of ‘you should be grateful’ that I’ve come across before:
you should be grateful that you have these sessions; dozens of people are going without and waiting long periods of time for this
Yes, I’ll be grateful for a service that I’m very unhappy in. I’ll give regular thanks to the gods of guilt for it.
Sometimes it pays to be fussy. Why should I compromise on my health? Why should I sit in a room and divulge my darkest thoughts to a complete stranger who makes me feel like I need to go home and scrub my skin with Ajax?
At the very least, one of the poor souls who has been waiting decades to finally get some counselling will be able to have my slot. I hope they’re happier in it than I ever was.
If compromise is indeed the enemy of achievement, then what have I achieved in walking away? I’ve taken control of my life for the first time in years. I’ve given myself the strength to clearly and firmly say ‘no’ without curling up into a ball and crying or exploding with rage. If I’d have compromised, I would not be sitting here telling you that I’m a better person for being able to stand up for myself and confidently make my own choices.
So what happens now that I’ve ditched that avenue of exploration? As Matt Bellamy says in Muscle Museum:
And I’ll do it on my own…
with a pen in my hand.
The things we think are important in life are illusions, distractions from the voice that says “slow down, please slow the hell down” – and we ignore it. We fake it, wear a mask and all is fabulous.
I keep telling myself that this is what I always wanted, and it is, but it’s not what I can manage. I can tell I’m doing too much because I have to concentrate to relax my shoulders and I’m finding it harder to sleep, even though I’m so tired.
You’re pushing too hard, slow down.
But what if all of this slips away? What if I wake up tomorrow and I’m back in that place again – god I have to go there tomorrow and I’m not sure what day it is today, neither am I convinced that it’s the day people said it is. What do I do?
You slow down. Things won’t vanish because you put your feet up for a bit.
I have so much to do; it’s my fault it’s all piled up because only half of me is dedicated at the moment and I keep forgetting everything. I’m beginning to question myself more and more. Something happened somewhere along the line and I’m not sure if I can recognise it.
Take a break, find some trees. First organise what you can do, work systematically and then let it go. You will remember the things you’ve forgotten. Slow down.
But what if I…
What if I slow down? Maybe my heart will beat steadily; maybe my dreams will be lighter; maybe my feelings won’t screw themselves up; maybe I’ll smile.
February 1, 2009
No wonder people wipe their feet on us. Manners? Please. Sensibility? Indeed. The bottle to follow through on a decision? Oh wait… that one’s a bit too much.
It happens. That weird occasion when predictability goes against our expectations in such a violent manner that it fulfils the things that we were hell bent on wishing it to do. Basically, predictable surprises us by being … predictable.
The thing that might leave you wondering (or worrying if you’re that way inclined) is whether this predictability was drawn into existence by the collective will; the unquenchable desire to master everything even when it’s clear that our control is just an illusion, something to make us feel secure in light of the devastating obviousness that we have little control over anything. We foresee and we remain adamant; we invent and our monster devours us.
So what do we do in the shadow of our vision? We shit ourselves.
I have boots and a good number of layers to wear, a hat and headphones, gloves and whatever else I need. I have stamina and a good tolerance to the cold. I have a thermos. I have dedication, determination. I’ll take a shovel if I have to.
We predict snow and we shut down; the desperation to control cripples us.
It’s … just … snow…