Umbrella

As if there was not enough to be doing in June, I’ve taken an extra fortnightly task onto the list: Time to Change’s Story Camp. Running this week until the end of August, I’ll get a new prompt every other Monday. It encourages us to ‘tell our story’ about mental health and, in this case, I’ve decided that response will come via poetry. I’d not expected to have an automatic, almost visceral response to the initial prompt either, but it happened. This was written late Monday night and posted on Wednesday, and might be one of the best things I’ve produced for some time.

In the chaos of this week, to use my voice when so many others are being silenced seems… wrong. It really does. I appreciate that these events are arranged in advance, with no idea of the potential chaos that may unfold around us. That response needed to be the point of the poem: my own experiences at this point should absolutely not be taking centre stage. In two weeks, the world could well be in a completely different place, but for now personal history needs to mark this moment with significance.

Having someone else provide the prompts however is, undoubtedly, a bonus. Not having to think of directions or ideas, having an opportunity just to create has been what this week has been all about, and writing here after a week of doing just that? It is incredibly satisfying. Therefore, when all these are done, we’ll collate them together as a testament to how the Summer played out from my distinct and unique mental health standpoint.

You’ll see that poetic graphic a few times therefore in the next ten days: I’ll post it, optimising exposure times, just to prove I have learnt a few things about how Twitter has worked over the years. Now that’s done, it’s time to go sort out the Drabbles for next week, swiftly followed by the inaugural YouTube video … now, about that…

Warm Sound

I should have written this on Friday, but in reality it’s Sunday. The last three days, I’ll be honest, have been a bit of a blur: we’ve had a vomiting bug go around the family, which is a salutary reminder that maybe personal hygiene needs a bit of work. As the day draws to an end everything is almost back to the way it was: except, as the dust settles, I’m aware of a key difference between the person that started the weekend and the one who now finishes it here.

There’s been a lot of anger to deal with because of COVID. I try not to talk about it too much in any of my spaces except personal Twitter, where people know and understand me enough to grasp that however much you try and be kind, there are days when everything just goes Pete Tong. I also get hauled up a fair bit when I refer to people as ‘stupid’ in how they react: mostly people who should really know better. I can’t be mean like that. It’s not fair.

Today, the relevance of those comments has come home to roost.

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Everybody has a Nemesis. It’s how 007 got reinvented, the basis of a billion badly-planned Fanfics and kept Dr Who’s current season absolutely stonking. In my case, that evil is ignorance.  Read the instructions: do the work, put in the hours, make the effort. It’s easy to just do, but thinking is hard, painful and ultimately redemptive. For an awfully long time I never took my own advice either, but fortunately I got over myself eventually.

Calling people stupid as an insult however is going to have to change. A memory surfaced this weekend, as I was on my hands and knees clearing up after a particularly effulgent round of sickness. Trauma flashbacks, each time they take place, are easier to cope with but this one wasn’t. This one still sits in my brain, right now, making me upset as I type this. You used to be called stupid as an insult.

You had no way of replying coherently when it happened.

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Next week, therefore, there will need to be some mental rearrangement. The government can become incompetent. People breaking lockdown and thinking only about themselves can be selfish. I’m not going back to delete those posts because honestly, a lot of white people are genuinely not covering themselves in glory right now, and my opinion on them isn’t going to alter that one iota.

However, the training is beginning to kick in. My counselling has taken a year to really take, but now the changes are indisputable. I need to be more kind: to myself, mostly, and then to everybody else without thinking. However, the latter won’t ever be a given until the former is properly taken care of. That meant writing this before anything else happened. It’s a public acknowledgement of progress.

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Nobody’s perfect, me more than most. However, it’s improving.

Every step forward is progress.

Negotiations and Love Songs

Really, this shouldn’t be being written, I should be getting ready to go away for some much-needed time off, except this week’s thrown up a lot of moments where my plans going forward have altered in both scope and significance. As a result, there is something that needs to be said before I go away: belief in yourself is, undoubtedly a part of the deal with ambition that never gets talked about enough.

I mentioned on Wednesday that I had an evening class/workshop that was being looked forward to, and it transpires that there was a lot more to the evening than I had initially envisioned. It was so successful, in fact, that if the organisation answers my email because I can’t find a link on their website,  a monthly amount  will be thrown down to go do more interesting things on Wednesday evenings in the future.

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You have to be careful when people are being paid to be nice to you, of course, that their affirmations and responses can be somewhat tainted by the fact that if they’re honest with you, that might not be the answer that you want to hear. Wednesday night, undoubtedly, can be seen in two distinct lights. It was in parts an enormous ego boost. In other parts it was a testament to how far I’ve come as a person.

Somewhere in the middle was a set of writing exercises, the opportunity to just think about writing and not worry about chores or demands from others. That was perhaps the most important thing of all, at the end of the day. Whatever else may emerge from the experience, I held my own with a group of people whose only experience of me was that session. I didn’t fuck anything up. That’s a massive bonus.

The truth of the evening’s success therefore can be distilled from these parts.

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It is a foolish woman who does not learn from everything that is thrown at her. Sometimes, undoubtedly, that takes some time to either register or absorb, but in the end being critical of your own actions is one of the most important life skills that can ever be learnt. Better is the state we all should be striving for regardless of whatever anybody else says needs to be done. Being successful does not mean you can be selfish.

The arrogance I see from those who clearly feel that success has granted them some kind of absolution from improvement is the most difficult part of a life online. How I’m choosing to deal with that is twofold: life the best life possible, whilst simultaneously maintaining healthy levels of cynicism and realism. It all works fine if internal balance is maintained, and that’s the plan moving forward.

Any true path to enlightenment, let’s face facts, is never going to be an easy one.

Walk Away

I finished the last portion of my formal Mental Health Champion training at the end of January, but all of that ended up being overshadowed by RED January Fundraising for Mind. At the end of the month, exhaustion was real. It’s taken a week to get everything back to something approaching normal: during that time it became apparent that this year, I wasn’t really comfortable contributing publicly to Time to Talk Day.

That came as more relief than surprise, if truth be told.

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The last couple of years this date in February has been marked by me trying to be honest about my own mental health journey. Last year however, a lot of the perceptions that personally existed around those feelings was quite significantly altered by counselling. It’s taken this long to really begin the process of unpacking all of the baggage that’s been trailing behind me, in some cases for my entire adult life.

I’d even planned to try and get out to support an actual, real-world event this week, but when it came down to the day something else came up. It too was mental health related, and I made a decision: this was the moment to do my talking elsewhere and not online. It’s a measure of how faith in my own ability has improved in the last twelve months that this was automatically the place that it made more sense to be.

It’s also cemented my desire to become a Mental Health First Aider.

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The course is not cheap and I suspect it will take me time to save, then it’s about finding the right time and location in which to take part. However, as I got so much from the MHF’s Mindfulness course when I first took it (you’ll find the details here) that it seems the logical extension from that initial process to pursue. It’s also a decent bet that my lived experience of mental health issues will become useful in training.

However, as a result of this revelation I have provided information to Mind which means that, at some point in the future, I may be called upon for interviews with the media. This might seem odd considering what has just taken place, but there is method in the madness. I am happy being interviewed, and a fair amount of front-facing public work will be taking place via the reading of poetry.

If I can read poetry to an audience, I can talk about mental health to others.

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The difference, I now realise, about contributing this year was literal exhaustion. I need to be both physically and mentally awake to do the job justice. Yet again, all of this is a bigger process, learning and expanding my remits across multiple spheres. As confidence and ability increase, so does the capacity to do good and help wherever the need arises. I like this new me, so much better than the person I was before.

There is new purpose I fully intend to learn from going forward.

The Race

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REDJanuary, Day 12. RED of course stands for Run Every Day. Let me tell you a secret, @redjanuaryuk: I am asthmatic. Running has frightened me for DECADES. Today I ran 2km, on a treadmill, without stopping. I could have done more, and am still a bit in shock. Somewhere in the last few years I got strong enough to do this. Now, I want to see if 5k is possible before the end of the month. You never know what's possible until you try… ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ #redjanuary #mind #mindmatters #community #dailyactivity #getactive #wellbeing #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthsupport #fundraising #movement #newyear #newyearchallenge #kickstart #redjanuary2020 #countdown

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This month will be remembered for many things, but particularly because after a number of false starts, I’m running. There will be those of you who undoubtedly will scoff at such a pronouncement, but it is completely serious. Never been able to do it properly, or indeed for very long. Sixteen minutes on a Sunday lunchtime is, like it or not, the equivalent of Planet Sarah putting its first female astronaut into orbit.

This whole endeavour wasn’t just to highlight mental health, but to address issues with my own. Could I use the internal health wake up call from the end of last year (cut the fats, improve the iron content) and make a real difference to what is being done in the Gym and on virtual trainers? Right now, the prognosis is looking quite hopeful. I’m five pounds down in weight, biggest single fat loss drop for… well, about three years.

Yes, it does seem to be working.

This week is the third one of January so I get to start a lovely new row of crosses. There’s been a very judicious use of fitness apps to keep the cravings (and my calorie count) in check and the result is undoubtedly being more awake. It means that when a mental health wobble happens (which was the case last night) it was dealt with far more successfully than has ever really previously happened either. If running equates to space exploration, this change is better health and longer life for everyone.

I’ve tried very hard not to evangelise over these achievements, just put my head down and get the work done. Fundraising is not nearly as high as I’d hoped at this stage but we’ll push things into a higher gear next week. There’s still not as much outstanding stuff done either but you can’t have everything. There’ll be clear air soon enough, and as I’m definitely more alert now than I’ve been for months?

Everything will be done in good time.

Run for Home

This should have happened on Wednesday, for which I apologise, but it has taken me 72 hours to adjust brain and body to the new world order, which is EXERCISE EVERY DAY. The RED in Red January stands for Run Every Day and having done that two days out of three this week? Nope. Huge fat nope. Not happening this week, or indeed the rest of January. By June? Quite possibly. We’re working on it.

This will be the only post I make about this here until I’m done on February 1st, because there doesn’t need to be the boring repetition of the same stuff. People have already given money, without prompting, and the £250 total that’s been set should be easily attainable if there’s a slow, sensible reiteration of intent. The best bit of all this, undoubtedly, is having means to be truly accountable using technology.

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There’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the organised exercise classes I do: if you don’t work hard enough, you’re only cheating yourself. Although this is undoubtedly true, it is no longer possible to pretend you went on a 5k run if the stats won’t support it. I’ve never felt the need to do that in the first place: the stats now aren’t just a record of your work, but are useful insights into how your body reacts to exercise.

I’ve been trying to shift some areas of fat on my body for close to a decade. Now I know where the optimal zones are to work in for my heartrate to do that, and have proved this is actually now taking place with the addition of a sensible diet and calorie limit? These areas are beginning to shrink. Fat really is starting to vanish. Now all that is needed is a month’s worth of hard, targeted effort to keep the momentum up.

You can follow me on Instagram to keep up to date with affairs. Like I said, we’ll be back in February not only to see how well things went, but also look at weight loss. I’m down on this week’s weigh in, let’s hope this continues going forward.

Then we can talk about training to be a Mental health Champion…

Deliver Me

Everything’s a bit out of order here, for reasons that still include dentistry and Christmas. You sometimes can’t predict the outcomes of certain events: tooth pain is a special Circle of Hell which I can only hope is now gone for good. In the midst of it all however, a lot of good has come from the experiences. Most notable of all is the Altered Paths project which, this year, has made me more than happy.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself in 2019; to continue to do so in 2020 there needs to be a redefinition of what I read and consume via Social media. The changes are already in place, and a bunch of new and interesting projects will be investigated during the next 12 months, plus there will be the continuation of the body of work which keeps this site alive and relevant.

As a result I’ve decided to leave the Christmas week fallow of posts and content, allowing plenty of time to prepare for the new year. That’s included graphics work today, poetry contest submissions and other pieces being given much-needed love and attention. After this is all finished and I’m up to date with poetry, we can start planning for my January fundraising project.

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We’ll formally launch RED January on the 1st, and begin a year of fundraising for Mind (as well as my training to become a Mental health Champion) on a strong, positive note. There’s also Time to Talk Day in February, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So much has to happen before that, including some fairly significant real life gubbins. Let’s see if this year, that precious life/work balance can be finally located and maintained…

For now, let’s clear the backlog and ready ourselves for January.

All Quiet on the Western Front

It has been a trying week, but this afternoon there’s been some concrete, forward motion in lots of things that yesterday were merely intractable and distressing. Once all the backlog is done, we can try and make some headway with planning: as means to ease that stress, the post I’ve been trying to write since Friday is consigned to the trash, and good riddance. Honestly, it was rubbish.

Instead, today’s been about organising the way forward for 2020. There’s a shonky graphic, couple of pages of A4 notes, with a plan to start printing stuff for sale in the New Year. After that we’ll have some discussion via Social media on what happens where, a push to get myself a bit higher visibility than is currently the case and then, in January, I’m flirting with the idea of vlogging.

I’ve said it now, it has to happen.

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This is to lead into Time to Talk day in February where I’ll be offering a special day’s worth of content, in an attempt to give back a bit to the people whom have stuck by me for I don’t know how long. You’re all really lovely, thank you to everybody who’s ever donated to my fundraising. This year I promise not only will it be different, but challenging too. It’s time to start thinking about your part in this equation.

There will be a fundraising drive this year, with some actual thematic gubbins as accompaniment. The normal features will be back too: short story’s too much fun to stop now, YouTube playlists will have some content to back them up… for the first few months of 2020 we’ll be going back to weekly poetry too, with Instagram going in hiatus until February. More on this in the coming weeks.

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For now, I have many things to stick in my 2020 planner 😀

Change

I don’t believe anybody who tells you there’s nothing they could do to improve what they are. I also find it increasingly difficult to aspire to anybody’s else’s level of what constitutes competent. Each of us is so different, it seems utterly ridiculous to want to be like anybody else, and yet that’s what happens. Dress like your idol, use their skincare routine, borrow their working practices for a better lifestyle… nope.

When writing, especially, I’m beginning to realise the folly in trying to sound like anybody else except yourself. Sure, it is easy to imitate a style, or a fashion, but these things are so fleeting and often fickle. How do I get better as a writer, regardless of the genre being practiced, without compromising the essence of what I am? Being ‘better’ is clearly the intention, but how does it happen?

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The internet is overflowing with guides, authors happy to offer their ‘advice’ whenever possible. Reading these, it becomes apparent that there are perilously few real answers to be found once one moves past ‘spell check, write to the word count, don’t waffle.’ It is as much a game of persistence as anything else: if you can’t hack being rejected, your career won’t last long. The rarity of hitting your target first try is just that.

For me, therefore, the process of self-improvement was at first daunting, until the sheer repetition of writing every single day began to expose flaws I’d not previously grasped. My sentence structure needed work, there were too many personal pronouns. Explaining how things went from A to B was consistently skipped or skimped on. Telling the story required a narrative pathway that often only existed in my head, not on the page.

Only by practice do we finally grasp what it is that is lacking within our work.

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Most importantly, however, it’s being hard on ourselves for not moving at a speed we consider ‘progress’ that can ruin so much achievement in the first place. If you know your rate of change is glacial, expecting to be an expert overnight really is an unrealistic ask. I’m in that camp,  only now understanding this journey’s being hamstrung by the past. Once that’s sorted properly, so much more should flow freely.

Therefore in December it’s time to see if freedom of expression can be wrought from some new materials. Processes are already being planned, and if I can look past what has previously managed to derail both confidence and ability… is anything possible? Could EVERYTHING be possible?

There’s only one way to find out.

Fairytale

Quite early on in my online career, it became apparent that other people expected significantly different things from relationships than I did. Inevitably, it is impossible to reasonably control who decides to follow you, or indeed how they operate when interacting with you. Being kind, generous and understanding should be the default settings for everybody but inevitably this becomes unrealistic in reality.

I’ve spoken at length in other places over the issues that inevitably rise from being female and high profile in any kind of gaming capacity. Earlier this year, when asked if I’d want to talk about that in public, there was really no desire to do so. Pulling up past events as a signpost to the future might be useful in certain situations, but in this case…? it’s probably best that these sections of my history are consigned to obscurity.

Except, it is apparent, these issues never really go away.

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There’s been a bit of drama around my sphere of late over the business of online stalking. Knowing that it doesn’t matter what you do and that sometimes, people will latch onto you as some kind of personal saviour, is the lesson I wish more would take seriously but inevitably never do. Inevitably, enlightenment has to come from learning the lesson: you don’t even have to be generous to a stranger in reality to become a victim.

In fact, many people are learning that just existing and refusing to think or act as others expect they should is often enough to receive abuse. So many women in high-profile positions run the risk of becoming the fixation, crux of increasingly demented obsession, because other people’s perception of their personality is as far away from reality as it is normally possible to get.

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So, what can you do if you’re caught in a situation that makes you uncomfortable? Even as an obscure writer, there are ways and means to assert control. The most important thing of all, undoubtedly, is to not generate personal capital off the back of it or to allow the individual any indicator that their actions are affecting your existence. In that regard, at least, it is very easy to take back ownership of personal domain.

That last lesson is still one I’m working on, it has to be said.