Inconveniently Ill

I feel a bit all over the place. There’s a lot of cool and exciting things going on for me at the minute, as well as in the long term, and that’s obviously great, but I’ve also found myself in this headspace where I can’t fully appreciate it. Maybe I’ve come into a new season of depression, maybe I’m burnt out again, or – I was considering this option earlier – maybe I’m feeling stressed about this busy month because I know how stressful such times have been in the past and I’m really only feeling it because I expected to feel it, in a placebo kind of way.

I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that I’m exhausted, and a bit nauseated; I have a clouded mind that can’t quite seem to settle, and the physical health issue from the start of the year that I mentioned previously still ongoing.

When I said in my new year’s resolutions that I wanted to deal with my health in 2018, I didn’t mean this.

But I’m not here to bitch and moan. What I want to highlight it what it’s like being in this weird state where I’m both happy and sad. For those who haven’t experienced mental health issues, it might sound a bit ridiculous. That’s because it is. But it’s also 100% a thing that can actually happen.

On the one hand, I had a brilliant few days with Women Aloud NI that I’ll probably remember for years to come. But, on the other hand, while I was having those great, positive experiences, I was really struggling.

When I get exhausted like this, my emotions go haywire. I find myself forcing myself not to cry at, well, nothing. There is no logical reason for me to be upset. That only makes how I feel all the more annoying.

I wrote a tweet along these lines a little while ago, but one of the things people don’t really talk about in terms of illness is just how damn inconvenient it is. It’s unpredictable, and can’t be planned around. That’s a headache in itself.

I care for my husband, which is fine when I’m on top of my game, but when I’m sick, everything falls apart just that little bit.

I don’t want to sit here and complain about my life. Really, I, don’t. I just want to sleep, for like a month, and then get on with it again. That’s where I’m at right now.

Tears in Heaven: Eulogising Myself

To be read in the event of my death (read my previous blog post for context).

This may be obvious just by the fact that I wanted to write my own eulogy, but I’ve always revelled in being different; in doing the unexpected thing, and embracing my quirkiness.

I have always felt different – never quite fit in – but I like to think I learned to fake it when the occasion arose. Eventually.

It’s no secret that I had a dark, lonely childhood, except maybe to the few people who were around for it, who never seemed to notice. I don’t want to dwell on that, but I want to acknowledge it. It’s something I could never really escape and, as such, it became a part of my person, not to mention many, many poems.

Aside from Steve – who we all know is so perfect for me, it’s as if we were specifically sculpted by life to come together – words and stories have been the great love in my life. I said once, that there was a time I made a list of all the things I wanted to do, and it turned out to be a list of books I wanted to write.

There’s so much I could write here. I’m not entirely sure if this should be in third person, or if I should force it into past tense. No doubt, given the circumstances, the people I have left behind are negotiating that same challenge.

How do you deal with someone just being… gone? I don’t pretend to know, but I do try and plan ahead as much as possible.

As I sit here, in my first home with Steve, I try and think about what parting words I want to leave you all with. I think it can be fairly well summed up in these song lyrics by Linkin Park:

Weep not for roads untraveled
Weep not for sights unseen
May your love never end
And if you need a friend
There’s a seat here alongside me

[Roads Untraveled]

I want to just follow that up with the words of a poem:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

[Mary Elizabeth Frye]

Finally, continuing on a theme, I present you with my favourite quote:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” [Dr. Seuss.]

Which is not to say I’m adamant you don’t shed a tear for me, so much as I urge you to think about why you cry. If you cry for me, it must be because you cared. And that’s no bad thing.

I love you too.

Death Wishes

One of my ex-boyfriends found the idea of bucket lists really morbid and was horrified when I asked him, conversationally, what he wanted to achieve or do before he dies. (I’m always asking questions like that. It must be such smooth talk that helped me woo my husband.)

Given the reaction, I can only imagine how he (and no doubt others reading this) would feel about this blog post, which is going to be the first in a set of two. In one – this one – I want to outline my wishes for when I die. And in part two (which I’ll put out probably tomorrow, if I see it), I plan to share a eulogy for myself – written by myself, about myself (because who better to write it?) – to be read at my eventual funeral.

Cheery, cheery stuff, I think to myself, with a heavy dose of sarcasm; but here’s the thing: I don’t find thinking, or talking, or writing about death morbid. Not really. I find it fascinating, which is maybe morbid in itself, I guess.

Maybe it’s down to having been severely depressed for a lot of years, and suicidal on and off during that time, but I think about death a lot. I’ve formulated a lot of strong opinions about it. And – here’s the main, main thing – I am going to die. Everyone is. That’s not bad news, or good news; it shouldn’t even be news, just a simple fact. Facts hold no emotion. They don’t have to be scary.

Now, having just said that, I’m aware I’ve probably spooked a few people reading this already, so let be backtrack a bit before I proceed: I would just like to clarify that I am not currently depressed or suicidal, I don’t have some terminal condition, and I don’t particularly foresee myself dying in the near future. But it will come, at some point – maybe tomorrow, or next year, or before I finish writing this blog post. We don’t and can’t know when, but can be certain it will happen sooner or later. So, me being the very organized person that I am, I thought I would plan ahead and put my wishes down in black and white so there’s never any uncertainty about them. Also, I want to open a discussion, because I think talking about death before we have to face it is not only a good idea, but the most reasonable idea around.  Continue reading

February Update

For me, January felt like a too-long month but, despite the fact that it seemed to stretch and stretch, I never quite managed to fit in everything I had planned. I only finished reading one book (a novel-length piece of fan fiction) though I did listen to most of an audiobook, too. I finished it (Star Wartz by Patrick Tilley) in the early hours of this morning. So, here I am on the first of Feb. with two books off my 52 book goal for the year and five-thousand words written of my ten-thousand-word January goal.

I think it was getting sick right at the start of the year that threw me off. For about a week, all I could focus on was the physical pain I was in and whether I was going to be taken into hospital. The jury’s still out on that one. I may be sent back there tomorrow after I see my GP again, or I might have to wait a year – who knows?

On the plus side, after having to cancel the first week of my class, I started it a week late and it is going well. My task for tomorrow is to put in a proposal for next term. Now that my taxes are (finally!) in, I can really focus on it.

Maybe I can even get back to writing fiction after that. I certainly hope so!

A Bumpy Start to 2018

I should, right now, be getting ready for the creative writing class I’m due to attend tonight, and the class I’m supposed to teach tomorrow. Instead, I’m in bed; in pain.

Now, I’m not going to go into too many details here (you don’t want them, believe me!) but I will say that I’ve seen a number of doctors in the last few days, I’m on a lot of medication (as pictured, right), and also on the waiting list for surgery.

So, the sad news is that the first week of my new class is cancelled. I am genuinely gutted about this and so sorry to anyone it inconveniences. All being well, I will be starting next week instead.

I have my fingers crossed and will share updates as soon as I have them.

Reviewing 2017 & Making 2018 Resolutions

There is so much I could say in this post, about lots of good and bad and trying things that have happened this year, but I’ve already spoken about many of those things in lots of different other places, both as they happened and after the fact – yes, I’m a serial reflector, I confess! – and I’m going to cover what I wrote and what I had published in a separate blog post in the new year, so let’s talk resolutions. I started 2017 with six of them:

  • Get married
  • Read 50 books
  • Join the Society of Authors
  • Get a literary agent
  • and a cat
  • Take an official proofreading course

Getting Married – I did that. It was awesome! Probably enough said 🙂

In terms of books – my Goodreads goal for 2017 was 50 and (as of an hour ago, when I finished a collection of stories by Dr Suess) my total is 57. Of that, there was the usual mix of genres and formats. Audible tells me I listened to 12,760 minutes of audiobooks this year, and my most active day for listening were Sundays, apparently. My reading goal for 2018 is 52.

I didn’t join the Society of Authors or get a literary agent, so those goals have moved to 2018. But I did get a cat and (as a complete surprise to me as well as you), I ended up getting a dog as well! Giles (pictured above; bottom right) has been with us less than a week and having the time of his little life.

The proofreading course I mentioned is something I keep changing my mind about. Part of me wants to do it, but then there are other things that would be of more use to me that I want to do more, so it’s nothing I’ve followed up on thus far. It would be nice to have, but if I never complete it I won’t exactly feel sad.

Things of a higher priority on my ‘to do’ list currently are getting my driver’s license and eating a bit more healthily. I’m not intending to go on a diet, exactly, but I do want to take better care of my body.

Those are pretty much my plans for the new year. I guess we’ll see how it goes!

Taking a Moment

For as difficult as this year has been, I am taking a moment to appreciate it.

Right now, as I type, I am sat in bed with a laptop on my knee and the love of my life sleeping beside me; our cat in the other room, no doubt curled up on a chair by the bookcases I built.

I get to work on my writing – easily considered the second love of my life, though I discovered it first.

Really, truly, I love my job and my life.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, when I get absorbed by projects and the stress that follows. But quiet, peaceful moments like this make it all worth it.

So what if I’m over 5,000 words behind in my word count for NaNoWriMo? I am right where I’m supposed to be.

As little as three years ago, I had no such contentment. I’d just gotten out of yet another bad relationship, was still living with my parents, and not getting very far professionally. I was unhappy with my place within organized religion, but feeling like I was helpless to change much about my situation.

If only I’d known I was three months away from meeting my husband and having the happiest months of my life that’s brought levels of personal freedom and confidence in my work I’d never before experienced.

Probably, I wouldn’t have believed it. Which just goes to show, you never know what’s around the corner.

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.

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.