The Shape I’m In

I’ve spent the last couple of years raising money and awareness for various mental health charities, and promoting the events that happen (Time To Talk amongst others.) I also cycled for Mind last year and raised £500 whilst completing the RideLondon 46: thank you again to everybody who supported and helped cheer me on during what was an extremely transformative experience.

This year, I’m making a conscious decision to spend an entire week using words and pictures as an explanation as to how we are often incredibly hard on ourselves as people when it comes to self-image. This is a subject that I don’t often talk about publicly, but my obsession with weight and appearance has been a significant stumbling point to mental well-being across the years, especially after my daughter was born.

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Beauty is an incredibly subjective concept: perception of self massively dictates the ability and confidence of us all to be what it is we wish to become. If you are one of those people lucky enough to block out jibes and taunts of others, confident enough to stand as you are, looking happy and relaxed, those are skills you should be proud of. It has taken me a lifetime to feel a measure of that, and it’s far from a given.

I have some good words standing by for the third week in May (which is not long off now, hence why we’re talking about this now) and I hope you’ll consider reading (and sharing) them for a wider audience, to help the Mental health Foundation spread the word. If it wasn’t for their Mindfulness course, a lot of my progress forward would not have been possible, and it is high time I thanked them publicly for that assistance.

The first poem and article will appear on May 13th. I’ll see you then.

Let the Right One In

Today, we present a lesson in need versus want.

You guys will know about the struggles with short stories last week. This morning, I’d sat down to work on the one idea I though had enough legs to transform into something saleable. It’s odd how so much of my mindset has, of late, simply focused on what other people are looking for, what style matters to make myself noticed. Forget that it’s become difficult to write because there’s a part of me being held back for a minute.

Yeah, I only just worked that out. But I digress.

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This little nugget dropped into my inbox yesterday, and set me thinking. There’s a prize, sure, but it’s not a publishing contract, or anything that would further my own desires. So, why on earth would it be of interest? Well, for one thing that’s the most detailed brief anybody’s given me about anything for about six months. Second of all, I have a story to tell. As it happens, it’s quite an important one as well.

This morning I tracked an article from the BBC Website about nature writing to its source, and then wrote 150 words for that and sent them off. No days of editing, no navel contemplation. Take a pictures, write the words, BOOM. I spend too much time worrying about stuff sometimes: I am the robot monkey girl who polishes everything so hard it shines, and yet nobody gives a damn about the result. Then, it hit me. I’m now a member of Mind. I wrote a story in two hours.

This one will need at least a couple of passes, and an edit from my husband, but in essence it is exactly what I wanted to write. It was the release of mental pressure I had no idea was really needed until it happened. Most crucially, it’s not fiction. It is autobiography. Perhaps, finally, the time has come to be totally honest not only with myself but the world in general about how this all affects my existence.

If all else fails, it’s been a very useful release of mental pressure on a part of my brain that’s been attempting to perform for an audience and failing.

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This’ll get sent off in due course; for now, it is time to see if the original job in hand can be completed today or not…

Run for Home

It was all going so well. No really, it was: Confidence was high, stories were set. Tuesday afternoon I’d got exercise out of the way and was ready to roll… then, I got a phone call. After eight weeks, a spot is now open for me to be assessed for mental health counselling. I’m happy, comfortable and very ready to get started on that new journey, and so afterwards a couple more ideas fell out of me. One’s a sequel to my Bondfic that, on reflection, I didn’t know I needed to acknowledge, but have.

Going to bed Tuesday night, it really was like I’d managed to turn a massive corner: ideas are no longer the problem. As it stands, there’s enough content with what’s been written down thus far to keep me going until the end of the year. Except, none of it had depth, they are just ideas. The hardest part of this process, undoubtedly, comes when the ideas need to become stories. I sat down on Wednesday to begin and it wouldn’t happen.

In fact, as I sat down to work, I just wanted to cry.

It is inevitable, on reflection, that there will be struggle when a new thing gets learnt. Looking back on my issues with poetry, which presented over a far longer period, understanding shortcomings is nearly as important as admitting your problem to begin with. For me, the story side of things is incredibly simple, but it is the descriptive depth that separates a story from a great one where I truly lack the ability to be genuinely descriptive.

This is not necessarily an issue when working in the long form of fiction, but when you’re distilling down ideas into the limited word-count format, that ability becomes absolutely essential to pull narratives together. It is, at least in my mind, the ability to grasp the poetic and weave it seamlessly into your fictional tapestry: so well done that no-one ever notices it until they’re done. Then, on looking back, those are the portions of the story which really shine.

Except, looking at my work, everything is dull and lifeless. There is no depth, no massive bursts of brilliant. I am, undoubtedly, caught in the grasp of a pretty nasty attack of Impostor Syndrome, and when that happens by far the most useful thing I will ever do for myself is walk away. So, on Wednesday evening, I did. All my other work slowed, and instead, we went to the Gym for two days and pushed myself into a new zone of effort.

The work is not going to be looked at again until Monday, and when it happens it will be with a lot less critical eye, but with sympathy and understanding that perhaps, being too hard on myself and pushing too much for perfection might well be one of the reasons why mental health needs to be addressed with the same care as everything else right now. My physio summed it up brilliantly: my hip and ankle were damaged, so I go to a specialist who can fix them.

My head is damaged too: the same thing should apply, but so many people are too afraid to do just that.

There is only a finite scope of issues I am able to successfully manage. Maybe, just maybe, short stories are not a priority right now. When I’m able to understand better what exactly is going on in my head, then it is entirely possible my issues will become trivial, because that is how everything else has sorted itself out previously. If that isn’t the case, we’ll deal with the consequences when they get here.

If I can’t escape the clutches of Impostor Syndrome right now, it’s better not to let it win.

The Day Before You Came

Yesterday was, without doubt, one of the most difficult days I’ve ever had as an adult. ‘Yeah yeah, it’s all hyperbole,’ I hear you mutter BUT THAT IS WHERE YOU ARE WRONG. It was apparent, going into this year, there would be points where everything could topple, but what wasn’t expected was the opposite to take place. The permanent, ongoing assumption is that things get better with time. Except, sometimes there’s a release of pressure, and amazingly everything just improves.

How that happens is often a cause of considerable surprise.

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Yesterday was the day I submitted probably the most important piece of work I’ve ever completed. Sitting mentally exhausted in front of my PC and Mac, I became really very angry. That same day’s events hadn’t helped, as came an understanding that all of this, countless revisions and  rewrites and polish plus everything else are not contributing to my happiness, but serve to attain a standard other people set. There needs something that is my standards alone, or else slowly, everything will begin to suffer.

Then, I remembered the Gym. Those numbers after weigh in today, let’s be honest, are a revelation. Most people exercise to get lighter, but that’s not me. I’m here, gaining muscle mass, and becoming something a world away from the woman who thought ‘thin’ would solve all her problems, which of course is so patently untrue as to be funny. For the record, there’s less fat than ever before in my makeup, but this journey is no longer about dieting.

My road to success just took a massive detour.

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All of this is a complex cocktail of emotions to add to the general state of mental health, which pretty much relies on there being more to life than writing and submissions. Once upon a time, of course, writing was the therapy in itself, but that has now become the job. Therefore, I need a new means to cope, and exercise has become that means not only by which events are in my control, but that destiny is allowed to throw up some interesting possibilities.

I’ve learnt an awful lot about myself in the last month or so, and that’s set to continue. The lesson to learn, if it were needed, is that the best way to improve is often the least obvious route offered. I’m sure someone’s said that better, but that’s not the point. Talking about mental health isn’t just dealing with the issues, it’s finding the means by which you better communicate all the other stuff about your existence that matters just as much, sometimes more.

I’m really looking forward to travelling this way going forward.

The Grand Tour

This has taken all day to write. It should be obvious shortly as to why.


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This is by some way one of my favourite GIF images, for several reasons. Uppermost is the sense of calm and contentment I gain from watching doughnuts get coated. This is the kind of mental relaxation that, after a hard day having to cope with being on the same wavelength as the rest of the world, is sorely needed. It’s not just eye stimulation that’s required either…

This piece of music has an amazing, regenerative effect on my brain, in much the same way as the doughnuts, but is far more subtle. There are points in the music where it is almost as if parts of disparate subconscious come back together, fusing into a stronger and more capable version of myself. It could almost be considered a version of ASMR were it obviously not something far more significant.

In preparation for going into autism assessment, there’s a lot of thought being given to what makes me calm and relaxed, countered with the things that can (and inevitably do) trigger a sensory overload. That means looking at triggers, which has not been an entirely pleasant experience to sit down and recount. There’s a list now, the things that will undoubtedly push me over the edge. If you want to know what that feels like in my brain, this is a pretty accurate visual representation.

As to the triggers themselves, mine are a fairly complex bunch, and no I’m not going to share them. However, there are lots of notes, far more than ever existed before. Sitting down and admitting to yourself that something can cause you mental anguish is not an easy admission. This blog post was significantly delayed because of that very epiphany, realisation there’s more to be gained from not sharing everything.

Needless to say, this is significant progress, and is allowing an expansion of my consciousness into situations that were previously inaccessible. However the biggest single change is in writing: being able to accurately convey the issues, using language that makes it easier for other people not only to interact but react to my issues… this is an amazing place.

This truly feels like a step forward.

Sympathy for the Devil

It’s almost time for me to set up my charity page for Time to Talk Day. For the last few years I’ve used my own experiences with mental health as the means by which participation is presented, but this year we’ll be doing something different. In my role as a poet, there’s new ways to put the point across that you’re not alone, and that many more people than you realise understand the issues at play.

This year, therefore, Thursday will involve a great deal of music and verse.

I’m going to take you on an audio-visual journey of what its like to be Inside My Head.

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I’ll be firming up the last of the details for this early next week, but you can expect to see at least some of the following:

  • Observations on how anxiety can still control existence, and what I do to deal with it
  • The fact I’ve decided to return to therapy in my 50’s
  • Music that helps keep me happy, focused and even affects the means by which my brain can help body become stronger
  • Micropoetry and Haiku on the feelings and experiences ‘Inside My Head’

Basically, the whole of next week for me will built around mental health, what its like to deal with the issues and how you can find help and support should you need it most. This will culminate on Friday with my poetry performance, a major step forward for efforts to be less anxious and more outgoing and confident. In tandem with this, I’ve become a Time to Change Champion this week, and will in future be looking to interact with my local community as well as continuing online to raise awareness of mental health issues.

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Helping other people ought to be the default setting for everybody, but so often these days its just easier to ignore the issues, especially if you have problems of your own. My issues have become an important, almost vital part of the writing process, and bearing this in mind it is probably the right moment to open myself up to a little more scrutiny than has previously been the case.

I’d like to promote more honesty, and make it clear all this isn’t done as a means of generating revenues or trying to encourage a following. That’s now what any of this should be about. Helping each other feel happier, confident and stronger in our daily lives matters more than anything else. If there’s the means by which this can be achieved though words? You absolutely bet I’m gonna be all over it.

I’ll see you bright and early on Monday morning.

Dancing in the Dark

This has been surprisingly hard to write, which is strange. I’ve spoken a lot about the issues that exist, there are various blogs you can easily locate on the site which detail history, such as it is. However, something important has happened in the last couple of months. My husband was sorting through pictures of me after my daughter was born. A number of them I cannot remember being taken. This person may have have looked full of smiles but there’s no depth to the images, they’re a lie.

So much of my past is just that.

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This picture is from 2009. It is small, and blurry, but these smiles are genuine. I’d passed the lowest point a year earlier, and considered ending everything. I’d come close enough to planning the exit. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t think about how worthless I was, what a failure woman had become as wife and mother. What changed, ultimately, was an ability to see in the dark, forgiving myself, creating a new existence that factored me into the equation.

I was a wife,  mother and daughter, but nothing of me that made any sense, or was actually true. All the stuff that had mattered in my teens had fallen by the wayside. That had been willingly sacrificed when kids were born, including friendships and career, but without something to call my own, there was simply no point. In the darkest depths of despair, arguing in decreasing circles, truth was inescapable. The only person who would save me was myself. To redeem existence, truth has to be found.

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Depression did odd things to my brain, PMT making things worse, plus some horrendous issues post my daughter’s birth with body’s general state of disrepair. It was time therefore to drag myself outside (best therapy ever prescribed to me, it must be said) and start walking: when daughter started Primary School, I’d do an extra fifteen minutes walk home, often returning exhausted and dripping in sweat. Slowly, that became an hour. The local leisure centre had a Gym, and I’d pay to go use the treadmills. Then, when husband was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, came a Gym membership.

At the same time, brain therapy pushed me to write every day, about World of Warcraft. Issues were kept secret from everybody, and only when comfortable enough to tell people did it happen. During both pregnancies, a lot of old friends were left behind. Some I treated well, others not so much. There are two that are regretted even now, but considering the history behind them both, everybody wins by us not being friends any more. In 2015, whilst on holiday in the US, a ghost from the past tried to follow me on Twitter, and pushed me into answering some major questions.

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That might mean of course they’re reading this now, and that’s always something that never leaves me. There’s a lot of people I’ve met and passed by, many with whom  friendship was mutually ended and the occasional person who frankly scared the crap out of my by refusing to let go. It was this issue, that some things were out of my control,  that finally pushed brain to start questioning how stuff is processed. This year it was that which finally led to the confirmation of an ASD diagnosis.

Then there’s anxiety, which is now well managed, occasional issues with light sensitivity and sound input and the fact it appears to take me twice as long to learn new Gym exercises than everybody else. All of that is eminently manageable because now, I’m happy. This might be the heaviest I’ve ever been for a while, but it is undoubtedly the fittest and mentally alert. Steps have been taken to redefine what matters most, and yes all of that works, on a daily basis. A lot of that is to do with comfort in everything, including my sexuality.

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Now, when asked to complete application forms (and there have been a lot of them in the last year) the word ‘bisexual’ gets ticked. I’m happily married to a guy who I’ve known for 30 years, and long may this continue because nobody in that time has even come close to bettering what he is to me. I have been a flake to him, a coward and a bitch, but he still stands beside me as the best person to love. Only realising what I truly was in the last couple of years, this final confirmation changed entire sense of self.

We are equal, in every respect. The other people who matter don’t see a label, they understand me. What this means going forward is being capable of accepting these changes, and not allowing others to affect the quality of life that’s now been achieved. This is the happiest I have ever been, and were this to be the last blog post ever written there’d be no remorse that life isn’t what was either hoped or planned. Every day is a constant reappraisal and reorganisation of everything, and that’s perfectly fine.

This is my story. It is part, inescapably, of what I am.