Communication Breakdown

It is incredibly easy, in the midst of a thousand different crisis both mind and body are bouncing between, to believe you’re coping. There is often no time to sit and consider what is taking place around you: simply no right time to do so. Only in the moments of quiet and reflection, often early mornings or late nights, does reality of situations become apparent. Sharing your troubles, undoubtedly, has its advantages.

Talking to someone else can make a world of difference.

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I’ve been in counselling for six weeks. The overriding takeaway from all the sessions is simple: talking really matters. Not being afraid to share everything with someone who is not there to judge or attack, whose task is primarily to listen and make appropriate observations, is probably the most transformative thing that’s ever happened to me. So much of my life before was judgement from others, how their words affected view of self.

Now, it’s about learning how to make informed, sensible decisions without that judgement. How I look at what happens and understand the personal consequences of the actions, and then how these decisions in turn are a measure of my ability to learn and grow. It is apparent that a lot of my issues come from places that are obvious in hindsight. Now they’re exposed, it becomes quite simple to deconstruct and move on.

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The other key point that’s been grasped in this journey revolves around being ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’: it is abundantly apparent that this was never someone else’s task to complete. I’m the one who has to do the work. This is not a case of taking a course of drugs and suddenly problems vanish: for many, however, with the right medication, lives can be radically transformed. This is a discussion that’s been had, and there is no need for me to go down this route.

What happens at the end of twelve weeks is as yet not clear. Right now, the consequences of conversation are having a radical, life enhancing effect on how I conduct absolutely everything. Writing that was previously painful and inaccessible is being returned to, with cautious optimism. Confidence is at its highest point for many, many months. There’s also no fear of taking a step back and relaxing, when the mood takes.

Talking to a counsellor is actively improving my entire existence.

The Shape I’m In

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, let me tell you a story about my perception of self.

It began with a man, at my front door, just after we moved into this house, making the moment over 20 years ago. He was collecting data for the Office of National Statistics, and I was in a delicate place, recovering from a miscarriage. Having weighed and measured both me and my husband, I was presented with a green card that stated I was 10 stone 6 pounds and absolutely the right weight for my height and waist size.

I’d felt unhappy and tired that day but this made everything better. When I finally did get pregnant, this would be a benchmark to return to. I knew what was ideal; that would be my aim. For the next 17 years however there’d be a battle with weight that, when combined with Postnatal Depression after the birth of my daughter almost destroyed me for good.

I could not reconcile person before with irreversible changes pregnancy brought to my body.

Keeping weight off became impossible, simply not enough motivation or energy to work hard enough to do so. Dieting, specifically Keto, was responsible for my gallbladder finally failing two years ago and me requiring an operation to remove it. After a decade of trying literally everything to lose weight, it was the introduction of a bio-metric scale to my life that altered perception.

It was Science that freed mind from misguided preconceptions of what ‘looked’ healthy.

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The concept of bioelectric impedance was staggering: it was possible to see how my body was composed, what took place inside it. As it transpires, I was (and still am) incredibly efficient at building muscle to replace what was fat, a process that was taking place as I embarked on a serious, focused exercise routine with a Personal Trainer. In fact the harder things got, the fitter I became. Body shape has radically altered, and instead of being obsessed with thin, what matters more is strong.

This is officially the heaviest I’ve been since the weight loss journey was begun, with the least amount of fat. I am happier than was ever the case when the man gave me his card, on reflection: this form may not be my final one, but it’s a brilliant template that doesn’t expect ‘thin’ to be an answer. Weight loss is not essential to be healthy in my case. If all the remaining fat gets converted to muscle, I’ll be beyond happy, especially on my legs.

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Going back to ‘thin’ was an unrealistic idea considering the physical changes pregnancy wrought on me: I could go try and return to being the woman I was in 1998, but she couldn’t bench press 40kg, or complete a 46 mile bike ride. I like being this person, with true stamina for the first time in my life, who won’t get get tired walking for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

This is what I really am, not what societal norms suggest I need to be.

To find that true body continues to be a tough ask, which makes it even more amazing. It asks a lot from physical and mental toughness, and so far I’m managing to meet most of my challenges head-on. There will be days when it does get too much, but they are fewer and further in-between each time. This is undoubtedly the best my body has ever been, and it will only get better as more effort’s placed into improvement.

Sometimes, it is important to really understand what you see when looking in the mirror. Do you perceive what it is you really are, or are there other things clouding your judgement? For a long time I couldn’t really see what I was, but all that has changed.

I understand now what it is I am.

Somebody To Love

Starting on the 13th, the Mental Health Foundation is launching a week’s worth of posts around the topic of Body Image, and why it remains a serious mental health issue. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, social media pressures and online abuse are rarely out of the news of late, and with increasing numbers of people refusing to be shamed or ashamed by the way they look, it seems the right time to be talking about these issues on a wider stage.

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I’ll be contributing two special blogs next week: one on my own issues with body image and the fight to stop being obsessed with my weight, and some reflections on how age has altered how I feel not only about my looks, but how I present myself to the world. There will also be a special set of poems this week at 9am and 5pm, both under the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek umbrella.

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You can also join me in wearing a Green Ribbon during the next week as a means of showing your support for the initiative and those who require the vital help and support the Mental Health Foundation provide.

Purchase your Green Ribbon here.

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.