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.

Second Update on ‘The Situation’

I took this photo at Belfast City Hall the day we set our wedding date. Little did I know how fitting it would become.

At the end of April, I published a blog post here about the nightmare my husband (and, by extension, myself) was facing. At the start of May, I wrote an update. Well, it’s August now, and we’re still facing the Same. Damn. Thing. It’s exhausting just thinking about it, but let me give you a recap:

When I met Steve, two and half years ago, he was already ill. He was diagnosed with diabetes maybe four years ago. Six months after that, he collapsed, was in a coma for a bit, and woke up to find he had the bonus condition of seizures. Fatigue came along for the ride, happy in its task of exacerbating his existing mental health issues (anxiety and depression) – I speak of all this with levity, holding fast to the old adage, “If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.”

About three years ago, Steve moved back home with his parents and got a new job. He collapsed again, while at work, and had to be removed in an ambulance. There was just no way he could go back, so he did the obvious thing of applying for welfare. (I hate the word ‘benefits’ and the connotations it conjures up, but that’s a different rant for a different day.)

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All of the Thoughts

I feel seventeen again, and not in a good way.

I’m feeling like I was last September, when the poems were running out of me like blood and my mind was lost in space.

…and it’s all in my head, I think about it over and over again

I can’t stop thinking in song lyrics. Can’t stop thinking.

There’s so much more I want to say about Chester, but I don’t know where to start.

I may not get over this. I mean, Linkin Park have been with me 15+ years. Over half my life.

I may not still be living without them. How do I start to get my head around that?

wake me up, when September ends

Chester

I am devastated. That’s not hyperbole. Not an exaggeration. The death of Chester Bennington has rocked me. I’ve spent the last couple of hours crying.

Every so often a celebrity dies and there is public outcry. Often, a small portion of the population consider such reactions to be ridiculous, as if celebrities don’t count as real people, or as if someone can’t be crushed when someone they’ve never met passes on. Thankfully, most people aren’t as stupid as all that and know that music is one of the most powerful things on the planet and that, through it, singers and songwriters can touch you, and change your life.

Linkin Park changed my life. Again, I don’t care if you just read that as dramatic or whatever. Truly, the music they made saved my life and made it bearable. They have been my favourite band since I first heard them, in my early teens. Along with Buffy, they helped me through such intense highs and lows that are beyond words.

It cost me an absolute fortune, but I got to see the band live when they headlined Download a few years ago. I went on my own, and I sang my heart out, and I didn’t give a shit how it looked. I will treasure that experience for the rest of my life (even if I am kicking myself that I didn’t take any pictures).

I’ve spoken on here in the past about my checkered history with mental health. Many of you reading this will, I’m sure, understand what I’m feeling right now. Part of me is angry that a life is gone, but I know exactly what it’s like to just… not be able to continue.

For those of you with me, let me share some words that have come to mean the world to me:

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.

The Evolution and Extinction of Ellie Rose Writing Services

As I’m sure many of you reading this blog will know, I used to offer a range of writing-related services as a business. That business started in 2013 and, as of last month, has now ended.

It took me a long time to see it, but I was overstretching myself, and my mental health was paying the price.

Going forward, I’m feeling confident that I have a clear idea of where I’m headed and how to get there.

I’m still self-employed and that still consists of client work, but it is exclusively for writers and writing based organisations, now. The work is going to be carried out under the simple business banner of ‘Ellie Rose McKee, Author’ because, this time around, I’m not going to lose focus of the main strand of my career, which is writing for myself.

My main client at the minute is the John O’Connor Writing School, and I’ve just accepted the post of Project Support Officer with Women Aloud NI.

So, even though Ellie Rose Writing Services is no more, this is not a sad blog post for me to write. I was updating my CV just before writing this, looking over the testimonials I have received, and I’m damn proud of myself and everything I’ve achieved.

Onward and upward, as they say!

Dyspraxic Life

So, I was in the middle of writing some fan fiction towards my Camp NaNoWriMo goal, mug in hand, when I accidentally tipped the mug too much the wrong way and spilt a good portion of the contents over myself.

Ouch.

I know that’s not particularly noteworthy – especially when you’re me, a person who does such things several times a day. But what happened next was that I went online to complain about my clumsy self to Twitter, using the hashtag ‘Dyspraxic Life’ – I had to actually google the word Dyspraxic to remember how to spell it.

Having had the affliction for quite some time (or, I suppose, having had it for my entire life, and being aware that it had a name for a good few years), I’ve researched it before. I know the basic symptoms (particularly the clumsiness), so I wasn’t intending to actually find out about the disorder in my searching for it.

I did stumble upon a link, however. This here piece about Dyspraxia in Adults. I clicked it out of curiosity and, wow. I’m actually sat here stunned.

Never before have I seen such an extensive list of symptoms, and never before have I been summed up so accurately in a single document. It says at the bottom that “not even the most severe case will have all the above characteristics” but there are literally only one or two on the list that don’t personally apply.

I had no idea that my disorder affected me in so many ways. To those who know me, I really recommend reading the list. It’s a startling insight into my inner self.

On Pride

June is pride month – a month-long celebration of everything LGBT – and today is exactly one year from when I came out.

I thought I would reflect on that but, here’s the thing… I’m not sure I’m properly “out” – if there even is such a state of being. (I’ve heard other LGBTQA+ people talk about how you don’t come out just once, but lots of times, as you meet and interact with new people.)

My “coming out” was in the form of the blog post I linked above. It’s a disjointed, rambly thing that I hope got my point across, but I’m not 100% convinced that it did.

At the time, I was incredibly nervous to post it. It felt monumental for me, and it was (purely for the fact of how I felt about it), but looking back at it now, I’m not sure it was clear enough. The detail I go into about my religious upbringing accounts for that.

Putting the “I’m pansexual” declaration up on my blog was, as well as being terrifying, a very liberating experience for myself. Perhaps only for myself, though. Outside of people who have read it, I’m not sure anyone knows about my sexual orientation. I’m fairly certain my family don’t, hence me wondering if I am indeed truly out.

Part of me feels like it doesn’t matter if people know or not – in a sense, it does, while in other ways it doesn’t matter at all. Like, why should who I find attractive matter to anyone? Especially since I’m in a secure, monogamous relationship. Relatively speaking, it’s a small part of who I am.

Yet I know the importance of representation. I’m sure there are young (and old!) gay and lesbian people out there who haven’t been able to tell people about their identity, who find heart in stories of other’s bravery. And I think it’s important to stand up and be counted as a member of the community. It’s important for the people who run the country to be aware of how vast the community is so they’re better able to represent it.

Regardless of who knows and who doesn’t and whether that matters or not, I can only speak of my own personal experience and feelings on the matter. One thing I can say objectively is that, no less than two years ago, the idea of attending a pride parade filled me with a sense of dread, whereas now I actually know what it means to have pride in that aspect of myself. For me, love won.