A Long, Long Year

I want to write an update on life and writing and everything quite literally in between, but I’m having trouble knowing where to start…

Flicking through past blog posts, I can see that NaNoWriMo last year didn’t quite go to plan for me. After that, in December 2016, I tried to take a break. That didn’t quite work out either. I’d been so heavily involved in client work, I’d built up a ton of momentum and found the sudden stop incredibly jarring.

Next, the come-down happened. Burn out from doing too much for too long hit me once I finally stopped and took a breath. I think I allowed myself three whole breaths before New Year hit and I was right back to expecting the world from myself.

I wanted to hit 2017 running but found that I couldn’t go straight back into top gear having stopped the engine for a bit. So I beat myself up for a while, wrote a couple of stirring blog posts about how I was determined to do better. And then I got married, which of course was wonderful but also a bit of a whirlwind that left my head spinning. Months of building up to a single event can kind of have that effect.

Home from honeymoon, I told myself ‘this is it, time to be serious now, get back to work for real.’ So I threw myself into the Women Aloud NI events in March. I had a birthday, and then a little bit of a breakdown in which I admitted to the world just how sick my new husband was/is and how burnt out I was still feeling.

I carried on caring for him, and battling the government on his behalf, and trying to keep up the level of client work I’d been doing before, and trying to write and everything else. And the writing was pushed to the side because I didn’t have the time or the energy, and I felt worse and worse about that. (Writing keeps me sane, I swear. When I can’t do it, I really come apart at the seams.)

During that time – May until like September – client work became increasingly stressful and time-consuming to the point where I snapped and couldn’t do it anymore. I had pushed aside practically all of my clients to work on one main contract and it became too much, so I quit, leaving myself with no income from my business.

I actually stopped operating as a business somewhere along the line, knowing that I needed to focus on my craft as an artist.

The lead singer of my favourite band died during this time, too. A big part of the band that had got me through my teenage years without killing myself killed himself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely think, much less write.

Then a big relief came when my husband won his welfare appeals, and we finally were able to get the pet we’ve always wanted.

And then I got swept up in launching Belfast Writers’ Group’s two new short story anthologies.

And now I’m here, about to start NaNoWriMo 2017. I had hoped that I would be going into this year’s writing challenge with the backing of the Arts Council, but I have just gotten word that they have turned down my application for funding.

So, I’m going to redraft my novel anyway; not doing much client work or taking a wage besides. I am going to write and relax and try not to traverse any further into burn out territory.

Not gonna lie, I’m exhausted before I even begin this next leg of my journey. Please, please wish me luck.

Breaking News: Double Book Launch!

Belfast Writers’ Group have been going from strength to strength since we reformed in September. After stalling for nearly two years, we are finally launching a new short story anthology AND re-releasing the first anthology with new, bonus content.

I have a story in the second edition of Ghosts in the Glass, a story in Creatures and Curiosities, and another story in ‘creatures’ that I helped write with my husband. It’s his first publication, so we’re really excited.

The official launch for both books is on Friday 27th of October at Malone Lodge Hotel Belfast, between 7 and 9.30pm.

Please come along for some readings and free tea and coffee. Facebook event here.

On Getting Help

So, it’s mental health day again. I’ve seen a lot of great posts floating around on the internet – poems and blog posts about what it’s like to have a mental illness, ones intended to inspire and uplift those who are feeling down, and a lot of statuses advising people to reach out and get help if they need it. Which is all great.

Except, what does reaching out and getting help entail, exactly?

While I was at university, I had what I now describe as a breakdown. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or how to stop hurting. Needless to say, it was terrifying.

I had a decent sized social circle, so a lot of people knew I was having problems. Some knew more than others, of course. But no one really knew the full ins and outs of it – how could they, when I didn’t understand it myself?

In a lot of ways, I was crying out for help. And many of them tried to help, but only a few actually did.

Now, I’m not laying blame here. There were a million reasons why people didn’t and couldn’t help me – legit reasons. But that’s the simple truth of it: I needed help and, despite everything, couldn’t find it.

I phoned a helpline and, to be honest, found it unhelpful. They wanted to talk, but I wanted to stop drowning.

I asked them something along the lines of, ‘Can you get me an appointment to see someone, or have someone diagnose me, or do anything other than listen to me?’ and they said no, and I hung up.

Don’t get me wrong, having someone to listen to you is important. For some people, it’s all they want or need. And it was part of what I needed but, down in the dark where I was, I needed more.

I tried counselling to mixed success. I went to my GP, and googled ways to find help (and googled, and googled, until I could google no more).

Nothing was working. Nothing was enough.

For a long while, I would have actually been relieved to have been sectioned. Then people would realize how bad I was, and come to me with help rather than me having to be the one to go out and find it.

In the end, I can’t actually tell you what stopped the downward cycle. It probably was a mix of friends, counselling, GP appointments, Google, and helplines.

All I know is, one day I didn’t hurt quite so badly. I came out of a big period of depression and was able to see clearly enough to chart my way back to health. For the most part, anyway. (I still have bad days, of course, but nothing like my last year in Lincoln.)

Maybe that particular bout of depression shifted all on its own, the same way it had come of its own accord. Maybe if I hadn’t left Lincoln, I’d still be under it. I don’t know. Answers still aren’t easy.

Telling someone to ask for help is easy. What’s harder is the listening, and the searching for solutions on someone else’s behalf.

This is not a blog post for those who are drowning, but those on shore wondering whether they should phone the coast guard or not.

Here is my advice to you: regularly ask the people around you how they are – like, really ask them, and don’t accept simple answers. They may be great, having the time of their life. Talking to them might reveal that they actually have a lot of possitive things going on behind the scenes that you had no idea about. Talking to them might help you realize that, actually, you have stuff going on in your own background you weren’t even aware of.

You can’t (and shouldn’t!) ever force help on someone, but don’t assume that if your friends are hurting they will come to you. And don’t get upset if you hear, after the fact, that they were struggling and didn’t reach out. I can’t emphasize this point enough but, DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU.

Don’t content yourself with passive pleasantries. Actively look out for people who need you, and try asking them what they need. Like me, they may not know what they need. That’s fine. Don’t pressure them for answers, for god’s sake. Reassure them you’ll search for answers together, staying beside them all the way. And then STAY BESIDE THEM.

A number of people who say, ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ and then vanish away into the ether is insane (and, yeah, I use that word with all it’s stigma and implications).

In conclusion, realizing you need help and asking for it is monumental, but it’s only one side of the equation. Realize that people ask for help in thousands of different ways, and listen out for them.

Do not go alone.

Herron Family Update

This year still shows no sign of calming down for my husband and I, but things are looking a lot brighter. After I put up my most recent post about Steve’s health and ongoing issues with the welfare system, in which I imparted the news we’d been told about having to wait a year for a new DLA tribunal, our objection to the first tribunal was allowed and we got a new one without having to wait after all.

So, we had a new DLA tribunal and a new ESA tribunal within a few weeks, and thankfully, thankfully (I cannot impress that word strongly enough!), we won them both. Steve also had some follow-up tests with neurology, and things are actually moving forward! Relief upon relief!!

Steve and I have been wanting to bring a new addition into our family for good, long time. And, now that things are sorted, I can happily impart even more good news: we have adopted a cat!

Sox Herron* is settling in well, and we love her.

For now and (I bloody well hope) the next wee while, things are well  🙂


*For those confused about the Herron surname: it is my married name. I write under McKee as it is my maiden name.