Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year, 2018.

Hi everyone

It's actually quite unusual for me to be awake at this time of the night. In previous years I have struggled to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve, and usually failed. I just used to get so sleepy. And also panicky - I felt that sleep was so important for health, I was pretty obsessive about getting enough of it. If I didn't sleep well, even for one or two consecutive nights, I would become really worried about my health and do everything I could to get back on track.

But in recent months, actually in recent years, I have had occasional bouts of insomnia. It started, I think, with a family holiday in France five or six years ago. It was so swelteringly hot, and the apartment we stayed in was so cramped and uncomfortable, that I hardly slept for two weeks and to my amazement I survived.

I still didn't like the occasions when I couldn't sleep, but after that I didn't panic so much. Which is lucky because over the last year or so, sometimes I have had long periods of not sleeping well for no apparent reason. I suspect the onset of the menopause and the fact that my lifestyle is not as calm and stress-free as it used to be (I can't remember ever thinking my life was stress-free but it must have been if I was able to sleep so well...?)

Where is this navel-gazing going? I knew at the outset of the piece...I have forgotten already. That's what lack of sleep does for you, maybe. If what I set out to say was important, I will remember and fill it in here, if I don't remember then it doesn't matter.

Anyway, I am awake and I thought I would write a blog post quickly. I have been quite unwell for the last couple of weeks - I had the flu and could hardly get out of bed for several days. I have been complaining like mad to my family members, trying to elicit sympathy. Not a lot was forthcoming, which I see as a healthy sign - I don't really want my loved ones to over-identify with the suffering of others, not even my own... Also, I guess they knew I wasn't as ill as I thought I was. Or something.

I really want to be better in the next day or so. I have things to do - the new school term starts on Tuesday (it's Sunday now) and one of the children has exams. I drive three of them to school each day - they could catch the bus but they prefer to be driven and I see it as part of my motherly duty, plus it saves the bus fare.

Paul takes our eldest to her school, which is a little further away, and she gets a minibus home. She will finish school in six months. That seems incredible. She will be properly grown up, education done, unless and until she goes to University, which I don't think she will do this year. She's planning to take a gap will be interesting to see what she does with her time.

I don't usually write about my children on here. It doesn't seem relevant, and it's personal. But what I am thinking about is how they are all growing up, how life changes when this happens. We all know how the various life stages work but it still feels odd when you start going through a new one. Luckily for me I still have young children - I am not ready to be an empty nester just yet.

I am looking forward to moving on with my career though. Hopefully I will be accepted for the PhD programme and from there move on to a career in academia. In the meantime I will keep writing, finish 'the novel'. A friend sent me a link today to a review of another book I wrote, on Goodreads. I had forgotten I even wrote it but the review was really encouraging - short but sweet, five stars and 'I loved this book'. So I looked at the other reviews, and the reviews and ratings for some other short books I wrote on Goodreads - a lot of them from India, for some reason. And I thought - wow!

I wrote these books under different pen names and, of course, my memoir is written in my maiden name. Now I am wondering whether it is time to come out into the open, to bring all my books under one umbrella, that of my real name. Whether it's time to stop hiding.

I didn't think those books were much good, so I didn't promote them, and now I am thinking perhaps that was an opportunity wasted. That's also why I wrote them under pseudonyms. When I write something really good, I told myself, I will use my real name. I will know when that happens.

Maybe though, that won't happen. Maybe I will never write anything that I consider to be really good. Maybe I just need to look at what I have already written and be proud that I tried (also, as I said, the reviews and ratings are encouraging so I should allow myself to be encouraged by them).

If I go ahead with the name change thing I will let you know on here. It won't be in a hurry, I really have to finish the novel before I get onto anything else.

Meanwhile - Happy New Year everybody! Maybe it bring you all you wish for and more. XXXX

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Next step, 'Dr Louise' - a PhD?

Hi everyone - or rather, anyone who's still checking on this shamefully under-used blog. I just wanted to get some things straight in my mind and I remembered that blogging used to be a good way to do this. I could write it all down as a journal entry on my computer or in my diary, but this way I have to think more carefully, express myself more clearly, knowing that the writing is for public consumption.

So. I finished my MA - hurrah! I got a Merit, which on reflection I am quite pleased with. Of course, I set out hoping for a Distinction - doesn't everybody? -  but it soon became clear that wasn't going to happen, due to rather poor marks received for one particular module, Reading as a Novelist. This module was rather heavy on the old literary criticism and also had a particularly exacting tutor. Enough said.

I enjoyed the course, although it was quite heavy going at times. I liked having something concrete to do and I love deadlines - the meeting of them - which is, I know, peculiar. Once we got to the summer term, when we were free to write our dissertations, it was all plain sailing. We had to complete the first fifteen thousand words of our novels-in-progress - it didn't take me long, and I can't resist mentioning here that I got a Distinction for this bit.

The thing is, I already knew before I embarked on the course that I could write. The problem was that I wasn't being prolific enough, and felt somehow that I needed motivation and an excuse - a reason - to write, so that I would get on with it. Which I did, and I am grateful that the course gave me the opportunity to do so, the freedom to concentrate on my writing. And also to practice fiction, because my natural inclination has always been towards non-fiction and I wanted to think more about the other.

I just wish we'd had to complete a whole novel instead of just fifteen thousand words, because if that had been the target I would have achieved it. Now I have around 43 thousand words written - I am around the half-way mark, but I am not pushing forward at the rate I feel I should be. What I am going to do is to self-impose a deadline to complete a first draft of the book - perhaps April 1st. No, May 1st (attempting to complete a project on or before April Fools Day is surely asking for trouble). I will have to find a way to hold myself accountable and make a plan - a certain number of words per day or per week, maybe.

In the summer, I got to the shortlist stage of a Penguin mentoring programme and now I wish that I had been chosen to be mentored, only because then I would have got on with the writing. At the time though, I was pleased not to have been selected - I had so much on (such as moving house) that I needed a rest, didn't want the added pressure. And I do have the contact details of various agents who were there on the day, as well as now being a member of a Facebook support group made up of the other shortlisted writers. So it might be a way forward. Fingers crossed. Imagine being published by Penguin! The editor I spoke to was quite brilliant. She was very young and in my stupidity I thought that therefore she would not be very clever/perceptive but she put me to shame - she not only 'got' my concept but seemed to instinctively understand the difficulties I was having expressing it.

I will finish my novel. It would be such a waste of a year and forty-odd thousand words otherwise. However, I am already planning my next step - into academia, as the title of this blog post suggests. I like the idea of being a Doctor - who wouldn't? But it's not just vanity, It's more than that. I really enjoy the process of researching, reading, thinking about things, and the subject of mental health is still the one that fires me up more than anything. For the last few years I have reviewed research proposals for the McPin Foundation and more recently I have done the same for the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research). It takes a number of hours to read and digest the papers and then another few hours to come up with a coherent and hopefully useful response to them - but I like doing this so much. I believe I am good at it too and it's well enough paid that I feel not only useful but well-recompensed for my time.  I wish it could be my full-time job. It's like writing this blog used to be - immersive, almost meditative, with the added benefit that hopefully I am helping other people out there.

Anyway, just this afternoon I applied for a PhD in Medical Humanities at one of the top universities in the UK, to begin in October 2018, and now I am holding my breath. I wrote the proposal in rather a hurry, as I was hoping to complete the application in time to be considered for funding, and of course as soon as I'd sent it in, I printed it out and noticed various errors (I wrote the word hope or hopefully three times in one short paragraph and it's not really a suitable word to be included in an academic proposal in the first place!)  I am pleased I have sent something in though and looking forward to getting a response. It has set my mind working again, and I have spent the last few hours reading various information on the net around the subject of mental health (my proposed topic for research, surprise, surprise!)

I'll keep you all posted.

As I mentioned, we moved house over the summer, after sixteen years in the old one. Only one of our children had ever known a different home to that one, and she was only a year old when we moved in. (She's almost eighteen now and has passed her driving test - where did those years go?) So it was a bit of a wrench for all of us - that was the house where our family was formed, where our children took their first steps. Where we raised our puppies - I actually mean young dogs, I am not being squishily cross-species sentimental!

This house is home instead now. I have grown to love it surprisingly fast. It's not in the best area of town - a train has just racketed past less than a hundred metres away as I am writing, there is a derelict house on one side of us, and overgrown garages on a neglected plot of land on the other side. But it's the right sized house for our family - or it will be, when we have finished the building work. It's closer to Paul's work and to most of the children's schools. It has a bigger garden. The neighbours are friendly. And now it is becoming gradually more habitable - it was rather ramshackle when we arrived, but now we have a new bathroom, new carpets throughout...we'll get there. Most importantly, the kids are happy here, and so are the dogs. It's definitely home.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

World Mental Health Day

Hi everyone. I only realised that it was World Mental Health Day a minute ago - I got an email from FutureLearn with some links to relevant courses. Writing and wellbeing, for example - sounds great. I really recommend FutureLearn - the courses are all short (usually just a few hours a week for about six weeks) and they are free, although I notice there's now an option to upgrade, for which you have to pay...

I don't think I am going to sign up right now. I have just finished my MA in novel writing - I handed in the dissertation last week, which included the first fifteen thousand words of a novel plus a five thousand word critical commentary on it - and now I need to finish writing the book. I enjoy studying, but I don't want to distract my self with any more courses right now, even if they are short, and free.

So, World Mental Health Day. I am a little out of touch with the issues, although I don't suppose things have changed that much. Part of the reason I stopped writing about it regularly was that nothing seemed to be really changing, or not in the way I hoped. I would still love to see and hear about less diagnosis - of 'schizophrenia' in particular - and of more access to talk therapy.

In any case, having come to the party late in the day (it's nearly three and time for me to start the school run) I will be looking out now on Facebook and Twitter for debate on the subject this evening.

Enough for now.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Writing and the Future

This blog title sounds rather portentous/pompous - apologies, I am a little out of practice! I just logged in here and was surprised to see that the last time I posted was back in June. I knew it had been a while, but still... So I thought I had better get on with it although as I start this post I have absolutely no clue as to what I am going to write about.

Nothing major has happened. Well, it has actually. I am about to start on my sixth week of an MA in Novel Writing. It is more of a challenge than I expected - I just thought it would be fun but of course I had no concept of the critical theory aspect of literature and how complicated it can be. I have not considered giving up though - well, perhaps I did think about it fleetingly a week ago when my first assignment was due in.

I stuck with it though - yay! I have a bit of a bugbear about giving things up - I really try not to do it but I am afraid it has become a bit of a pattern with me. I specialise in giving up on my attempts to write novels, usually when I am ten to twenty thousand words in. In some ways it is a good thing - if something is not working why waste more time on it? In other ways I am quite aware that it is a cop-out.

I have given up something this week - helping out with the local Cub Scout pack. I feel bad about that - apart from my personal feelings about giving up on things I hate letting other people down. However, I just didn't have the time to devote to it. The MA really is all-encompassing, I have been working through the evenings and weekends to get it done, and as a result something had to give. I have given the Cubs ten months and what was supposed to be just a couple of hours a week turned out to be rather more so I consider that I have done my bit.

I do feel as though I am making progress with my writing. As part of the Masters I have to do some creative writing each week - only about five hundred words usually, although this week it was a little more. The word count quickly adds up and the ideas for other stories are starting to come too. Creativity really does build once you start to work on it, at least that is the way it happens for me.

I was asked by the local library to run a couple of writing workshops last month. They were on the subject of 'Writing for Wellbeing'. The first was on World Mental Health day and it was so over-subscribed that they wanted to run another and apparently they had very good feedback for both. I was told at the end of the second workshop that I am a 'natural teacher' which made me very proud!

I do hope to get a career going at some point although I am not going to rush myself. My youngest son is still at Junior School, but by the summer of 2019 he will be at secondary school and so I will have more free time. To be honest, I would still prefer to work from home. I don't think children stop needing a caregiver at home for as long as they are still children. I also think it helps a family to function properly if there is one person at home doing the cooking/cleaning/taking to the orthodontist and general support role. We'll see what happens...if I can start finishing my novels that might be all it takes to maintain the status quo.

Should I write about something other than myself now? Probably!

Um... When I look out into the world as I do sometimes and try to assess whether attitudes to mental health are changing I think they might be. I am really not sure though! It does seem to be more acceptable to admit to having had problems with anxiety and so on. I am not sure about the more serious mental health problems - diagnosis still seems to be over-used, probably in order to access services for those more severely affected, without regard to the long-term consequences of these labels for individuals. I still think that once the term schizophrenia, in particular, is discarded there will be much less long-term disability for those who have suffered severe emotional distress.

I am not convinced that people are becoming less judgemental but I think they will have to be eventually, since the more people that are honest about their issues the more 'normal' it will seem. Obviously it is all normal human experience - I have often said that in my opinion anyone could break down, given enough stress - but I am talking about the perceptions of the general public.

There seems to be a backlash about the use of medications currently, as portrayed in the media. The idea seems to be to get people off unnecessary drugs, including statins, sleeping pills and so on - I have hopes that this will include psychiatric medications, in time. At least, medications are being systematically reviewed to see if they are helping and to what extent, which has to be a good thing.

That is about all I am going to write for now. I am pretty much out of the loop of what is happening with all that - I haven't even checked into the Mad in America site for as long as I can remember. I will get there though - the next thing on the list for me is to write a Huffington Post blog. The last one didn't get published because it was too short and I haven't gone back to it since. I will do so though, because I do have the Mind film link now.

For those of you who want to have a quick look, it is below. Imagine as you watch that you hear me saying all the things that they cut from the film - about the negative consequences of the label schizophrenia, about how it is possible to live free of psychiatric medication after that horrible diagnosis (I do!) and so on. Looking back, I don't think I made enough fuss about their cuts, especially as I only agreed to be in the film if I was allowed to say those things! Ah it is anyway.

Monday, 20 June 2016

In Case you were Wondering...

I am still here!  I haven't been blogging a lot this year because I have been thinking that I really should move away from mental health as a topic and go forward with my life.  I tell myself that my breakdowns were far in the past, that I have won that battle now, that I have told my story in the hope that it would help others and therefore I have done my bit and can put it all behind me.

So, I have started to explore other avenues.  I started a law course and gave it up.  I tried to write novels and found out that it is harder work than it appears (although I am still trying; in fact I have actually enrolled on a Masters programme in Novel Writing to start this autumn which will hopefully give me a boost).  Over the last year or so I have gone off in several other different directions, applied unsuccessfully for at least two jobs...

However.  Mental health is an important part of my life.  I find it fascinating, as I do all aspects of health.  I don't really want to move on - by which I mean - of course, I never want to be unwell in that way again, but I no longer feel the desire to move on from the subject itself.  I am still learning so much about emotional wellbeing and, to be frank, I am also still failing a lot of the time to put what I have learned into practice.  I am still a work in progress.

What is different these days is that I don't feel alone.  Through my memoir and the work I have done with various organisations over the last five years or so I have come to realise that many people have had the same problems as I have and have also managed to overcome them.  There are many more who still battle their demons.  I have realised that emotional distress is part of the universal experience of human existence.  We are all works in progress.  That's how it is meant to be.

I will never accept or agree with the label of schizophrenia, which has done so much harm to so many people - but it doesn't bother me personally as much as it used to.  This would probably never have happened if I hadn't written the memoir and then the sequel to it.  I needed to look into the whole thing thoroughly, find out as much as I could about the label and about myself, in order to be able to discount it.  I intend to keep writing about it all until the label is done away with.  It is cruel and unjust and it should never be part of any 'treatment' administered in the name of medicine. 

I don't care so much about this label being applied to me though.  I try not to worry as much as I used to about what other people think of me.  There's no point, people have to make up their own minds.  I have lost some friends over the years since I wrote my book but I have made many new ones.  Life goes on. 

The thing is, all human beings are imperfect in some way or another.  Sometimes we go to great lengths to hide this fact, which can contribute to our unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.  But the way forward, I believe, is to be honest about ourselves and about our experiences, as much as we feel able.  To keep trying to connect.  Keep trying to improve.  It is certainly the way forward for me.

So, here I am again.  I might be a bit rusty, and please excuse me if that is the case, but I intend to start saying my bit on the subject of  mental health again and to keep on saying it.  Because it matters. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Catching Up

It has been noted (by my daughter's friend - hi Beth) that I have not blogged as regularly as I said I was going to.  In other words, I have broken my New Year's Resolution.  So far, so normal. 75% of New Year's resolutions are broken by this time of the year (I just made that statistic up but I don't think it is far off the truth). 

Anyway, my excuse is that I am having a mid-life crisis.  I have been assessing and re-assessing my path in life for a while now and come to no firm conclusions whatsoever.  So, what happened was, I dropped out of the Medical Law Masters soon after I started it last September.  I have been avoiding mentioning that, but it happened, and I had good reasons for dropping out at the time although I have been regretting it recently. 

Basically, I kind of lost confidence in my chances of getting a job at the end of the course.  Everyone else on the course seemed - no, was - so professional, organised, well-presented and just out of my league.  They were all lovely people but I didn't feel like one of them.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that after a couple of years of behaving like that sort of person I would probably have been able to wing it.  It would have been a good qualification, enough to get me a professional role and then I would have been a professional for real.

Never mind.  I also had money worries - Paul was really supportive of me doing the course but it was costing a fortune and I stress about money at the best of times.  I started to catastrophise, imagining the worst case scenario, which would be that at the end of the course we would be twelve grand poorer and I wouldn't be able to get a job, or worse, I would decide that I didn't want that sort of a job and then I would feel that I would just have become a liability.

Anyway, it's history now.  I didn't do it.  I dropped out very early on so it didn't cost any money, in case you are wondering.  Now I need to find something else to do instead, because it is becoming increasingly obvious that I need to work, in some capacity.  Which is where I have started to go around in circles.  Initially I was torn between studying to become a solicitor and training to becoming a teacher.  Both are possibilities, if only I can hold my nerve (judging by the Masters course I would need some sort of external support to do that, and I would plan accordingly.  I would arrange regular sessions of counselling or similar for the duration of the course.  It would take a year of study for me to qualify to become a teacher or to start work in a solicitor's office, because I already have a first degree). 

But then, I have also been thinking, perhaps I should do a Masters in creative writing. I can write, I am sure of that.  I am a writer already.  But a Masters course might help me focus, give me contacts, possibly forge the way to a career in academia if I studied really hard and did really well.  Possibly it would just get me writing more regularly and also better than I do now.  The good thing is that the funding situation has changed between last year and this and now, for the first time, postgraduates can get government student loans on the same terms as for undergraduates.  All postgraduates, up to the age of sixty!  That makes me feel positively young.  Potentially, that could open all sorts of doors.  Too many, maybe, for someone like me who is already feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities.  I could study practically anything!

So what do I do?  Try to get a career off the ground?  If so, what career?  I would like to be a solicitor to prove to the world that I could do it.  Plus, I find the law interesting.  Plus, I can't help feeling that if I am going to do a job I might as well get well paid for it.  And have some respect for it - now, that would be a novelty. 

Teaching, on the other hand, might suit me better.  I think I would be a good teacher.  And I would be available to my own kids in the school holidays - a massive bonus.  Everything has been going so well with them all these years, they are growing up so wonderfully.  I don't know what the formula is and I know the likelihood is that we are just lucky but I can't help thinking that me being at home in what is more or less a full-time support role might have something to do with it.  I don't want to blow it at this stage. 

Then there's the writing.  I have not written much recently.  I still know I can write, but if I am not writing much, or not enough, or if the quality of what I write is not meeting my own expectations, then things really need to change in some way.  Plus, I want to contribute financially and the writing is not fulfilling that function at the moment. 

I may have stumbled on the solution today, or rather, a friend of mine might have found it for me.  This friend texted me this morning with information about a local admin job, quite well paid, quite interesting, for just twelve hours a week.  I could fit it in around the other stuff I do.  It wouldn't be too stressful, once I got used to my new duties.  And I might even be able to study for that Creative Writing Masters part-time, probably by distance learning.

The deadline for that job was today, so this afternoon I wrote up my CV and composed a covering letter and drove into town to give these in.  Interviews are being held next week, so I won't have long to wait.   

Anyone who is waiting for the link to the film and Huff Post blog I wrote about last time - sorry!  The post got rejected by the Huff for being too short - I didn't realise that they had a 500 word minimum.  I meant to re-write and re-submit it, but last week was half-term and I barely switched on my computer at all.  I will get around to doing it soon.  WATCH THIS SPACE.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Schizophrenia - or Emotional Distress?

I think this is the fourth blog I have written for the Huff Post this year.  I know I meant to write one a week and am already a little behind…  Anyway, when this one is published I will link to it here, and then hopefully you can follow the link and see the video it mentions.  It doesn't actually mean much or say anything new without the video but unfortunately I have no idea how to add photos or videos to this blog, although I really should learn that one of these days. 

In any case, I hope all of you out there are well and happy.  I am beginning to feel that Spring is in the air – so many things have started to bud out in my garden and although I know the current cold snap will halt them in their progress it still feels positive.  Exciting too, as I can't remember what on earth I planted - I must make a note of what actually grows in my garden this year. 
I do know I have some new raspberry canes - a friend gave them to me last Autumn.  I saw these sticks the other day and nearly pulled them out thinking they were dead plants of some kind but mercifully I remembered what they were just in time.  Reminds me of the time my mother-in-law planted beans for me and I pulled the whole lot up a couple of months later, thinking they were bindweed.  Easy mistake, apparently. 
This is starting to feel like a gardening column.  Back to the case in hand: Huff Post Blog 4.

‘Schizophrenia’ – or Emotional Distress?

Several months ago, I was asked if I would contribute to a video to be made by the mental health charity Mind, about schizophrenia.  I don’t like the term schizophrenia – I was once diagnosed with this condition and although the psychiatrists turned out to be completely wrong and it has been many years since I suffered from any symptoms of mental ill health, the term itself has affected my life in a negative way. 

‘Schizophrenia’ was never intended to be a derogatory term, but after more than one hundred years of misuse and misunderstanding it has become synonymous with madness and danger.  It needs to be modernised, in the same way that manic depression was relabelled as bipolar disorder, some years ago.

Young people are still being labelled schizophrenic, despite much evidence of the harm caused by the diagnosis.  The term has now been eradicated in many forward thinking countries and I live in hope that the UK will follow suit before too much longer.

In any case, I made it clear to Mind that I would be happy to speak about the condition on the video, but that I wanted to make clear my views about the harm done to people by use of the word schizophrenia.  Furthermore, I told them, I wanted to speak about the inhumane way that people who suffer breakdowns are forced to take psychiatric medication both in and out of hospital, sometimes for the rest of their lives, despite its debilitating side effects.  I also wanted to warn young people of the serious risks of cannabis use to their present and future mental health.  There was more.  The girl I spoke with assured me that my views were valid and that it would be good to have them aired.

In the event, though, none of my views about mental health treatment were included on the film, although apparently a podcast will be released in the next few months which will not be so heavily edited.  I am not complaining – Mind is a worthy organisation and they had to produce the film they wanted to show the world – it was not under my control.  And I am sure the film, which shows five of us who have been diagnosed with the condition, will prove useful to the world.  Even though, in my opinion, it could have been a lot more so.

Here’s a link to the film.  Enjoy!