Monday, 29 December 2014

Surfacing - or, How to Recover from a Nervous Breakdown

Well, everyone, it's a red letter day!  I have just finished my 'recovery book'.  Not for the first time, admittedly, but this time I am going to go ahead and publish it.

I wrote it in a bit of a rush, over about eight hours last night and today.  Well, I re-wrote it really - I've lost track of how many previous drafts I have done.  But I didn't look at any of those - I wrote this off the top of my head, hoping that the important points would drift up to the surface.  So.  Literally.  Surfacing.

The thing is, I really feel as though I want to move on from mental health, in my writing.  I find the subject fascinating, and I'll keep posting on here from time to time and I'll stay in contact with people through social media.  But I want to write about more than mental health and I want to write in a different form, not journalistically.  I'm going to see how much fiction I can churn out, in 2015.  That's my aim.

So, obviously the recovery book is really short, but I've just checked it against some of the earlier drafts and I think it pretty much encapsulates what I want to say.  I am going to price it as low as Amazon lets me, so nobody feels ripped off, and I really hope that it will be useful, and help people and maybe even influence future mental health policy (I've got a few things to say about the misuse of force in the system and how this has arisen because the administration of the criminal justice system has been confused with the treatment of mental (emotional) health.  It might not be anything I haven't said before, but I'm hoping that maybe somebody might read it and take notice.  You have to keep trying).   

I just wanted to get on and publish this book, and I have been attempting to write it for so long.  I have surprised myself with how it has just suddenly appeared.  I kept thinking about the person who commented on this blog that they hoped it would come out soon because they wanted to use it in their recovery.  I felt an obligation to this person and to anyone else who might have been waiting for me to come good on my promise.  And now here is the finished book - not perfect, but it was never going to be perfect. 

I have had the cover of this book ready to go for ages now, since the summer.  It will need changing a little - just the wording of the title, because it was a (very boring) memoir in its last incarnation.  But as soon as that is done it will be ready to go - it should be published in the early New Year, if not before. 

Hurrah!  Job done! 

I'm exhausted now.  I'll post again here, and Twitter and Facebook, when the book is available.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Greetings, and apologies

Hello, and sorry for the length of time since I last wrote this blog.  Funnily enough, just as things were starting to pick up, in a good way - a request to write for the Huffington Post, a new book almost ready for publication - it all seemed to get too much and I have had to take a step back.  Maybe that's not odd at all, maybe it's just natural, given my history with stress. 

There was simply too much going on.  I finished my recovery book, but then realised that it really was not good enough to publish.  I wrote it as a memoir and always had a niggling feeling that it was not going to be very interesting, but then took a long, cold look and had to acknowledge that things were worse than I had feared - it was really a stultifyingly boring piece of writing.  The book was only going to disappoint readers, and I didn't want to do that.  I am just pleased I realised in time before I published it.  So I have been trying to re-work it into a self-help book for those who have suffered emotional distress. 

Although, to be honest, I have not been trying all that hard in the last few weeks.  I have had a lot going on at home - I won't go into details but I will say that there has been no crisis or upset, just a lot of domestic stuff to deal with. 

I hate letting people down, and I had announced on here that the book was going to be published on World Mental Health Day.  At least one person had said that they were waiting to use it in their recovery, which felt like a huge honour but also a huge responsibility so I felt particularly bad about letting that person down.  But I have decided not to beat myself up any more - I am doing the best I can, and in the end everyone will be better served by a book which I am satisfied with than one which was published despite my misgivings.

So, just to check in really and to say that I have been having a short break from mental health matters but will be back soon.  I also signed out of Facebook, but will be back on there soon, and on Twitter. 

Oh, and by the way, I have already dipped a toe back into the water - I just wrote a review of Lucy Johnstone's fantastic book, A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis.  Here's the link, in case anyone wants to take a look:

Monday, 20 October 2014

So, How Can I Tell If My Kids Are Weird?

I am stinging a little at something that just happened over on Twitter.  Here's a little background - I was catching up on Style magazine from The Sunday Times today, and reading the second extract from India Knight's new book, which is about how to cope with middle age.  Very topical, in my case - I am about to turn 46.  Anyway, I was struck by a small part of a section about how to deal with kids - and surprised by the way the writer expressed herself.  She basically said, nobody likes kids who are weird, lots of kids are weird and if yours are more than ordinarily weird you shouldn't delay in getting a diagnosis for reasons of social embarrassment or stigma.

I mean, what?  Hang on a minute, I thought.  Does she have someone particular in mind - or, lots of someones?  Who are all these kids she thinks are weird?  Is it just kids or does she think lots of adults are weird too?  What sort of diagnoses is she referring to?  And the whole thing kind of jarred, because I have a book by India Knight and I read her columns and articles regularly and she had always previously come across as kind.  Not a pushover - a straight-talking, no nonsense, sort of person, but kind.

Anyway, I put it to the back of my mind.  I stopped subscribing to The Times a month or two ago, because I realised I could get the paper free from Waitrose.  Waitrose is an indulgence for me, but I have grown to like the routine of going there every day, getting my free cup of tea and paper, browsing the aisles to buy a few bits and pieces.  I read an article a while ago about how the regular, old-school Waitrose shoppers are upset by the likes of me, just turning up for the freebies and lowering the tone, but the staff certainly don't give any indication of thinking like that.  It's a really pleasant shopping experience. 

My point is that if I had still been subscribing to The Times, I would have commented on the website, underneath the article, and I am sure that Ms Knight would have explained her thinking.  But I don't subscribe any more, so I couldn't. 

I had forgotten all about it by this evening, when I was browsing Twitter.  I was on Twitter to link to my latest HuffPost piece, on the subject of pet therapy (here's the link by the way  And then I noticed India Knight promoting her new book, so I took the chance to ask her (by tweet) how I could tell if my kids were weird.  Silence.  I expanded.  I was asking because, I said, as far as I was concerned, anyone who thought my kids were weird would be weird.  Especially me.  Still silence.  So I realised she might be feeling attacked, and sent another tweet saying that anyway, I would buy the book, I was sure it would be an excellent read.  No reply.  Now, meanwhile, Ms Knight was still tweeting about her book and replying to others who were saying nice things about it.  And within a few minutes my tweets had been removed from her timeline (not sure if timeline is the correct term, but basically my comments had been edited out of the conversation). 

That hurt.  Mostly because I was really not trying to be unpleasant and she clearly thought that I was.  And I really have never deliberately provoked or hurt anyone in my life, and don't intend to do so.  I really just wanted to understand what she meant.  But I suppose Twitter is not the place for that sort of a conversation.

So I thought I would just air my thoughts here.  And what they amount to is this - a lot of damage is done in society by some people branding other people as weird.  I guess they do it because of fear or lack of understanding - but why they do it is not really the point.  It's wrong. 

One of my sisters often refers to other people as weird.  The funniest time was when she told me how weird she thought one of my friends was (they had just met, at a party in my garden for one of my children).  'She is a consultant psychiatrist,' I told my sister.  I thought that would stop her in her tracks, but she persisted, 'Well, she's really weird'. 

The thing is, my friend was not, and is not weird.  My sister is not an unpleasant person either.  She is just freaked out by people who are not like her - and she fails to realise that actually none of us are like anyone else in this world.  We are all different.  Society dictates that we form groups, and if we happen to be outside the group we are in danger of being ostracised.  But society is now so fragmented that the groups are increasingly small, and instead of trying to be more inclusive they tend to be getting exclusive.  And society is becoming less cohesive as a result. 

Does this make sense.  Or am I becoming incoherent?  What I am trying to say is that we should not call each other weird.  It makes people feel bad to be set apart.  And we really should not call our children, or anyone else's children, weird.  Children are different, people are different.  They can still be good, and valuable and worthwhile.  We do not all need to be the same.

I honestly think that it would be very, very wrong of anyone to consider their own child weird.  All they are really saying is that they do not understand that person, that they are different from themselves.  But they are saying it from a position of such power because they are the parent, that the child will almost certainly believe them and internalise the message.

And I do know that Ms Knight did not say 'weird' without a certain irony, or tongue-in-cheek intention.  She means - what?  Disturbed? Strange?  Different?  Not normal?  Whichever way you look at it, it's wrong.  The kids who are outcasts in the playground now will almost certainly be outcasts in adulthood.  The ones that are diagnosed - with what? - ADHD? Aspbergers?  - are marked for life.  Some children are now diagnosed with worse - schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder.  Some are medicated from a very young age.  It happens more in the USA than here, but what starts there usually follows on here, within a few years. 

And these kids are not, in fact, inherently different to anyone else.  They are simply reacting to their experience of the world.  If they are having difficulties of any kind, they need to be helped.  And the best way to help them is to make them feel safe and loved and normal.  Not to make them feel wrong.  Or different.  Or weird. 

It makes me so sad.  We need to be kind above all, and to teach our kids to be kind.  We need to be understanding, inclusive, to help others, to be non-judgemental.  I will always reassure my children that they are normal, I will always love them unconditionally.   I will do my best to be non-judgemental towards other children and adults.

I am not looking to start a witch hunt against India Knight.  I am sure she didn't really think about what she was writing and hasn't had personal experience of stigma.  Lucky for India Knight, really, if she has no knowledge of mental health issues.  I mean it.  And I know how it feels to have negative comments about something you have written so she was probably just freaked out by my comments on Twitter and that's why she didn't reply.  But I really was making a serious and very important point, so I thought I would just come and make it over here, where there is nobody to silence me.

Readers, I do hope you understand.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

How to Self-Publish Your Recovery Story

I decided to write this post on the spur of the moment, although it's quite late on a Saturday evening.  I just wanted to say a few words for anybody who wants to publish their own story, as I have done.  Recovery stories are invaluable in the mental health world (I was reminded of this recently while reading 'A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis' by Lucy Johnstone) and publishing them in the form of a book is a very good way to disseminate them. 

So - how to do this?

You can write your story as fiction or memoir.  Both types of writing have their advantages, and I am sure you can work them out for yourself.  I would just advise you to write your story as simply and clearly as you can.  Because if you want people to read it - and you do - there is no point in making things difficult for them.  Mastery of the English language is best shown by expressing yourself as straightforwardly as possible.

You can self-publish your book as an ebook for no outlay at all.  The best way to do this is on Amazon Kindle - go to Kindle Direct Publishing and you will be talked through the process.  I say Amazon is the best because I have sold an awful lot more books through them than on any other site. If you sign exclusively to Amazon you can use their Kindle Select Program, which is really useful for promotional purposes.

Obviously you need to make sure your book is in the best possible shape before you publish - get it read by a friend, several friends if possible, get it edited if necessary, do your research on the sort of cover that would help your book sell, and think about how best to price it.  This might all sound complicated, but there are lots of blogs out there on self-publishing, or 'indie' publishing, which can point you in the right direction.

You can also set up your book to be sold as a paperback - again, the simplest way to do this is through Amazon, on their CreateSpace site.  You will have to pay a very small upfront cost - less than fifty pounds. 

Well, that's all for now.  It may not be that useful - I am not entirely sure why I suddenly felt the need to fire off a blog post about self-publishing.  And please note - Amazon are not sponsoring me to write this.  (Thought - maybe they should be!)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

New Huffington Post Blog on Anxiety

I have my friend Karen to thank for this.  I anguished all week about what to write about for my second HuffPost blog, having decided to try to publish one a week.  I overthought it, to be honest - but what I wrote for the Huffington just seemed to be more important than what I write on this blog.  I still think of this blog as private in a way, because although I get a steady number of hits - usually around two thousand a month - the Huff has a readership of seven and a half million in this country and one hundred million worldwide.  That seemed like a lot of responsibility.

Anyway, I realised eventually that not all of those people are going to read what I write, and the ones that do won't have any emotional investment in it - nobody's going to think I am letting them down if what I write is not original or ground-breaking.  So, Karen told me that anxiety is a good, current topic, and I knuckled down to writing some words about my experience of it, off the top of my head.

Here's the link to the post:

Hopefully, I won't spend the next week wondering about my next topic.  But if anyone wants to suggest anything, feel free to write it in the comment box here!


Friday, 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day - Living with Schizophrenia

I have to start this blog post with an apology.  Today was supposed to be the publication date for my 'recovery book' - unfortunately I have not been able to get it finished in time.  What happened was this - I gave the manuscript to a friend to proof-read and she told me that it needed totally re-writing.  I had written it as a memoir and she thought a self-help book would be a better format. 

Well, I was tempted to ignore my friend's advice, because I had worked really, really hard to get the book finished on time and I just wanted to get it out there.  But I knew that she was right - the book was not as good as my first memoir.  She said people would be disappointed as a result, and I really did not want that to happen. 

Anyway, that was last week and I decided just to think about it all for a while.  I also realised that I had become far too fixated on getting the book finished - my home was a tip and I was completely stressed out.  So this week I have been cleaning and tidying the house, which has helped to ground me.  I have also been catching up on some reading - I have whizzed through Julian Barnes' 'The Sense of an Ending' in the last couple of days...

So.  Sorry, everyone (anyone) who was waiting for the book.  It's still on the way.  I have the cover sorted and everything.  (Briony Hartley from Goldust Designs worked on this for me, by the way.  I highly recommend her services).   I just need a bit of distance before I decide how I am going to publish it.

Meanwhile, I had relaxed successfully.  I was starting to like living at a slower pace.  I had been spending more time with the children, and all was good.  Then, yesterday afternoon, the Huffington Post asked me to blog for them.  This was the most exciting thing I had heard since I was invited to talk at Newcastle University, almost two years ago.  I could hardly believe it was true.  They asked if I could get the first post ready for this morning, for World Mental Health Day.  They had pointed to a particular blog post here that they liked and said they would be happy to use that, so I adapted it a bit and sent it over.  I still could hardly believe that it would really be used in the Huffington Post...

But it was!  It is!  Here's the link:

It's not the best piece ever, but it's a start.  And now, they say I can continue to blog for them for as long as I like, up to twice a week.  So I will do that, and link to any blogs here.

It's odd that this happened just as I decided to stop pushing myself.  Maybe it's better sometimes to wait to be asked.  Although I suppose they asked me because they noticed me on Twitter and on this blog, so you have to be out there in the first place.

Anyway, I am going off to relax for a bit now.  Sorry again about the late/missing book.  I might try and put some extracts on here soon, just to give a flavour of where it's going and how.  As soon as I work that out for myself!

Monday, 15 September 2014

It's ALL about Self-Esteem

Bear with me - as the title suggests, the point of this post is to emphasise the importance of good self-esteem.  But first I am going to tell you about a little family break we just took to Legoland. 

Now, I probably should not be posting about this, because above all else I am a responsible parent and I never do anything to give the opposite impression. Ever since my eldest was taken from me as a baby, the last time I was sectioned (and the last time I ever will be!) I have been slightly paranoid about anyone ever accusing me of being a bad parent and removing my kids.  It's not going to happen - the girls are at secondary school now, model students and brilliant all-round people.  The boys are strong, healthy and happy.  Everyone can see I am a good Mummy (and Paul is a brilliant Daddy of course).  No-one is going to take our children away!

Anyhow, for many years, we have taken the children out of school for occasional, short, term-time holidays.  We always asked for permission, and it was always given.  Head teachers had discretion to grant families up to two weeks holiday in school time.  Our kids had good attendance records, always caught up with the work they missed, and if we hadn't taken holidays in term time we would not have been able to afford them at all.  (Although we never put the cost as a factor when asking the schools for holidays, it has always been understood that for most families this is the overriding issue).

Our fortunes have improved a little in recent years (partly due to my writing, I am proud to say) and also since the girls have been at secondary school they have not wanted to miss school, so we have not taken term-time holidays in the last couple of years.  And now the law has changed, and we have been told that head teachers can no longer give permission for term time holidays.

Anyway, a long time ago Paul and I promised the boys a trip to Legoland and a night at the Legoland hotel.  When I checked the prices I baulked - but the little one kept reminding me of my promise. he may be only six, but he's not silly.  So eventually I took the plunge and booked it for Thursday and Friday of last week, although the cost was prohibitive - several hundred pounds for one night in the hotel and two days in the park.  I booked a term time break, because otherwise the cost would have literally doubled, which would have put the excursion completely out of our reach.

We didn't take the girls.  They don't like to miss school, as I said, and they are a bit old for Legoland anyhow.  They didn't mind not coming along - it was their idea.  We took them to school on Thursday morning, and arranged for them to stay with friends that evening and go to school with them the next day.  On Friday evening they had dinner with friends and went to choir practice - we picked them up from there. 

At first I thought I would fib to the schools and say the boys were poorly for a couple of days.  I knew I would not get permission to take them out of school, so what was the point of asking, I reasoned?  But then I thought again - I don't want to set a bad example to the children (to teach them to lie).  And I didn't want them to have to worry about letting something slip to their friends.  So I did ask the schools for permission - and they said no, as expected, even though I said it was an educational excursion (which it was in a way, the younger one is currently studying Lego as a topic at his Infant School!)

It was a great trip, although I was worried about the girls, who both managed to develop colds in the day before we left.  They were fine though, of course; we were in constant contact by phone and text and they had a nice time with their friends. 

The point that I am trying to make here is that self-esteem is so important in this life.  How we think of ourselves is central to how we feel about life - and to how other people feel about us.  The concept of  a strong 'sense of self' might seem airy-fairy and something to be scoffed at by those who have never had mental health problems - but those who have suffered in this way will understand exactly how important it is.  In those who have had serious mental breakdowns, especially those who have ended up with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, re-building a sense of self (or perhaps even building one from scratch) is crucial to achieving a full recovery.

The reason I have told the Legoland story here is that it illustrates the need I so often feel to justify myself and my actions.  Paul doesn't worry about this sort of thing like I do.  He makes a decision and sticks to it according to what he feels is right, and he doesn't think about anyone else's actions or reactions when he is making that decision.  I, on the other hand, waste a good deal of time and effort in worrying about what other people think of me. 

I know am a good parent - so why do I always feel the need to prove it?  I know it's because of how I grew up, because I had so little support or security.  I am still looking for love and approval from the people around me.  But that's ridiculous.  All that was wrong in my life is history - it is donkey's years ago now.  I am forty-five years old!  It is time I held my head up high, stopped worrying about what people think of me, and just got on with my life. 

So that's the plan. 

Oh, and by the way - my ebook is on sale at the moment through Amazon UK, for just 99p.  You can click on the link at the top of this page to buy a copy - pass the word on to anyone you think might be interested.   I can only do a promotion like this once every few months - I will do one in the USA soon too, probably next week. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Work and Play - keeping a balance

Does anyone ever get the balance right in life, I wonder?  Human beings need to work, in my opinion, because otherwise our lives would have little shape and we wouldn't appreciate the times we get to play so much.  The wok, of course, doesn't have to be paid.  I was perfectly happy for many years bringing up the children and looking after our home, which took a good deal of effort but was very worthwhile and made me feel fulfilled although it didn't result in a wage. 

Now, however, I am working in the hope that I will achieve a decent income, and that is where things have started to get a little askew.  Leaving aside the fact that writing is an art and should be done for the love of it alone - which may be true, but is not practical - payment for an activity is a way of recognising its worth.

But, if you are self-employed, the pressure is on - to work as hard as possible, to achieve as much as possible, in the shortest space of time possible.  Unless, of course, you are one of those very well-balanced people - like my husband - who refuse to be rushed. 

Yesterday, I went for a walk with friends.  One of them is about to start her second year at University, and knows she will have little time to socialise once the new term begins.  The other is someone I see most days, but rarely find the time to chat to properly, since I have started writing every day.  So I knew I should spend time with them - and I enjoyed it - but throughout the morning I kept harking back to the writing I 'should' be doing at home.  Feeling guilty.

By the time I did get home, I was not really in the mood for writing, probably because I had spent the morning winding myself up about not doing it.  I did manage a couple of thousand words eventually though, and I have knuckled down to it properly this morning, so I have probably caught up on the time I missed yesterday. 

What this episode brought home to me, though, is that we have to enjoy life.  Life is a treat, friends are a boon. And every minute that passes, won't happen again.  We need to make the most of it all.

Balance is an essential part of good mental health - I'm sure of it. Although maybe I'm just trying to justify the fact that I'm about to take some time off for a walk, on this lovely sunny afternoon.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Back to Work!

The kids have all returned to school this week - one on Monday (poor boy) the other three on Wednesday.  So I have been able to get on with my writing, and so far it is going well.  My recovery book is nearing completion - although reading back on this blog I see that I have been claiming that for ages, most recently in June when my word count was up at 40,000 and I was steaming ahead.  I honestly thought then the book would be finished by the end of the summer term.  Now I am at about 55k words, and aiming for World Mental Health Day, which is on the 10th October.  That may turn out to be a bit optimistic, but has certainly put the wind into my sails, or the fire under my backside, or (insert cliché of choice).

World Mental Health Day this year is themed around the subject 'Living with Schizophrenia' so I thought that might help garner some publicity.  (It's awkward sometimes, the business of selling books.  Being commercial about it seems a bit crass, but it is the only way I can afford to carry out writing, and writing is my raison d'etre - without it I would be lost). 

I want my new book to be clear about the fact that recovery is possible and real.  I am writing it as a memoir again - pure narrative - but with an additional text book-ish section at the end that lays out what I think are the various factors that aid recovery and how people can work towards their own wellness. 

So, all I have to do now is sit down every day and concentrate.  The worst bit is just before I get started in the morning.  Not always, but sometimes, I begin to doubt that there is any need in the world for a book like this, that it's utter rubbish and so on.  But I find that once I get started writing the negativity disappears, the words begin to flow and I start to enjoy myself - and enjoying myself is the real motivation for writing. 

After about an hour I find that the ideas start to come faster than I can get them on the screen and then I just write in note form, to get them down.  Then I'll take a break and go back to it, working more slowly and carefully, until I get tired or over-stimulated and start to speed up again.  The next day I go back, checking the narrative and re-writing it, and padding out any notes again.  There's a lot of work to do here - a good part of the book is still in note form.

The trouble with the book at the moment is that the temptation is usually to tell the story rather than show it - but I want this book to be readable, as the last one was.  It may lack the drama of the last book but that does not mean it has to be uninteresting.  So I am trying to string it out, to tell it in an engaging way.  It would be a lot more interesting, I think, if I allowed myself to write about my children.  They are such fun, so engaging; their characters are so mesmerising and their achievements so impressive.  They are also so funny at times... 

But despite the fact that family life is the reason for a lot of my current happiness, I know that it's not the answer for everyone.  And there is always the danger that pages of ravings about my wonderful children would not be that fascinating to a reader who has no connection to them.  Also, of course, my children would be mortified if I wrote about them.  So I'm writing about the dogs instead.  Yes, really.  And of course, about all the mental health stuff I have been doing over the last few years - and various events in my own life.  My personal journey.  I hope it doesn't sound too boring.  It's honestly not.  

At least, I hope not.  I hope some of you reading this will buy the book and decide for yourselves whether it is interesting or useful in any way.  I'm really excited that the day of publication is drawing near! 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Schizophrenia - Stuck with it?

Well, it is still the summer holidays but the weather has changed dramatically - it is damp and drizzly to say the least.  I took the kids to the beach today and we got caught in a bit of a downpour.  Luckily we had a beach hut to shelter us, but even so it was a wet experience. 

Since the weather has not been good we have been at home more over the last few days, so I have tidied up the house a bit and bought some school uniform, new shoes and so on for the kids.  It's probably better this way - the poor weather gives us a chance to drag ourselves away from the beach, wind down from the holidays and gear ourselves up for the new start of term.  I am looking forward to re-engaging with the world as an adult - to getting on with my writing and back to the conversations on Twitter and Facebook which help me publicise my work but also help to connect me to the wider world.  In fact, I logged into Twitter yesterday, although once I was there I wasn't sure what else to say, apart from 'Hi, I'm back'.  Which one lady, very sweetly, favourited. 

So here I am on my blog.  This time I do know what I want to say.  I want to write a bit about the diagnosis of schizophrenia.  I've written about it before, several times, but I need to write more, because there's a feeling of injustice and frustration that's been building in me recently.  I sense that the diagnosis is not going to go away - not for me, not for any of us who have been lumbered with it.  It's a disaster, the diagnosis. 

World Mental Health Day this year is about 'Living with Schizophrenia' - and as soon as I knew that, I knew it would not help.  It is the word itself that is the problem.  The word stigmatises people and takes away any hope of normality from them.  Nobody sees any further.  The campaigns are all a waste of time and money - they fiddle around the edges and refuse to acknowledge the problem.  In the public consciousness, the word 'schizophrenic' equals 'dangerous lunatic'.  That is how it is, and the only way to change that is by changing the word.

I'm not exaggerating.  The other day I had a phone call from an organisation who were carrying out a survey on behalf of Public Health England.  They wanted to monitor the activity levels in our household and I was able to answer all the questions in a way that made me sound like a pretty good mother - yes, we swim in the sea, cycle, run, etc, almost every day.  I did admit that it is because it is the summer and we live near the beach plus I am currently on a health drive - we have not always been this 'good' historically. 

Anyway, by the end of the interview I was feeling quite good about myself.  But then the lad on the other end of the phone asked, 'Do you have any disability or long term illness?'  or words to that effect.  And I said no.  Because I don't - I am well.  But it left a bit of a bad taste, because in a way I was lying - officially I do have a long term illness, a disability even.  Or I am supposed to have.  Or something.  But I knew that I couldn't tell that boy on the phone that I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia - because it would impact on everything I had just told him.  He would assume that I was batty, and everything I had just told him would consequently be open to doubt.  Plus, I am not actually disabled or ill.  I know that, even if it is not publicly recognised by mental health professionals.  I am okay.  I just am!

But as soon as I say, 'I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia' people regard me differently.  Even friends.  People who might once have laughed at a remark I made, now sometimes wonder if I am in fact a little mad when I make the same remark.  It's not their fault.  It's the word, and the connotations it has.  It's also the fact that we respect physicians, and believe the truth of what they tell us. 

Look at like this for a minute.  Forget the 'mental' illness and just think illness.  I was ill, severely ill, three times in my life.  I was in hospital for several months each time and took a long while to convalesce after.  But now I have been well for fourteen years.  I don't need drugs, I am capable and active.  I function absolutely normally in every part of my life.  Ergo, I am better. 

Now, if I'd had cancer, no-one would say to me, 'You're not better.  You will never be better.  You are a cancer'.  But with 'schizophrenia' they do.  Even though there is no test for the presence or absence of this 'disease'.  How can that be right? 

I know I have banged on about all this before, and I know it's not going to change anything.  I'm just getting really frustrated about it all and it helps to sound off.  I caught myself wishing recently that I had never written my memoir, or that I had written it as fiction, or under a pseudonym.  But when I think back I remember why I did it the way I did - I needed to be open about the whole thing.  And that did me good; I don't regret it for that reason.  But where it went wrong was that I thought by being open I could help others, that I could have some impact on how mental health is regarded.  That I could explain how wrong a diagnosis of schizophrenia is, how cruel, and that people would listen and understand and change it as a result.

When I think back, that attitude seems so naïve.  For several years I tried - I spoke to the Schizophrenia Commission and to various other organisations through Rethink, I went up to Newcastle University and spoke to students there, did the same locally through links I established at Bournemouth University.  For all that time I thought that eventually someone would understand the things I was trying to explain - how a diagnosis of schizophrenia damages the individual, destroys his or her potential.  Sucks the self-belief out of them.  How that diagnosis will affect the person all through their life, stop them recovering, stop them trying to recover.  Make them hopeless.

I have explored all sorts of avenues through this over the years.  Anti-medication, anti-psychiatry.  I have met many fascinating people and interacted with many more over the internet.  But it's not all black and white and it never will be.  Many people in the mental health business genuinely want to help others, but are hampered by the system.  Still, we need some sort of system, some sort of help for the emotionally distressed.  I can come up with various theories as to how this should be done - I would suggest lifting them out of penury for a start, giving them some sort of security, some self-belief, a job...  Never hospitalising, never forcibly medicating... 

There's more, but what would be the point?  I can't change anything.  It's about human beings and their interactions, ultimately.  About what they should or shouldn't be allowed to do to one another, what is humane and what is not.  What is helpful, what is kind and decent behaviour.  In the name of trying to understand and improve the system I have joined Facebook groups, engaged in conversations through Twitter, been to mental health conferences.  Listened to debate, taken part in some of it. 

And here's my conclusion.  The quickest, easiest change to the system would be to stop labelling people with schizophrenia.  It would give many people hope where there was none.  I have occasionally met people who welcome a diagnosis of schizophrenia - usually carers, for whom this diagnosis opens the doors to the treatment and resources they feel their loved one deserves.  Those that they are trying to help though, would be more likely to help themselves if they were not labelled in this way.  I have only met one boy (he was in his late twenties, but still very much a boy) who welcomed the diagnosis for himself.  He said that he was 'proud to be a schizophrenic'.  I was appalled at the time, but when I thought about it later, I realised what he meant - the label absolved him of responsibility and emphasised the seriousness of his illness.  It signalled to those around him that there was no point in them trying to help, that he was beyond help and that therefore they should leave him alone.  He was not ready to get better, basically - but if he ever reaches the point where he is - when he wants to be part of society again - he will find himself hampered beyond belief by that label.  I know - I was the same.

It's just cruel.  It is.  This was recognised with manic depression - no-one wanted to be 'manic', the label was unpleasant and demeaning, so it was renamed bipolar disorder - which caught on quickly once it was 'endorsed' by various celebrities.

Too many people still think 'Schizophrenia' means something - that it is a necessary, helpful, medical term.  It really isn't.  And I won't go through it all now - I'm tired and I have a houseful of children at the moment, who require supervision (that's why the arguments in this post are so fragmented.  I keep having to leave the computer and tell them to stop chucking water bombs or to turn down the volume on the TV or refrain from squirting each other with the hosepipe.  There are too many of them to sit quietly and play constructively and anyway I suppose I should be glad that they are being active - I am just a little worried that it may all end in tears.  Probably the tears of my youngest child).  I will just say again that there is no test for schizophrenia, no proof of its presence or absence.  It is a notion and a nebulous one at that.  The medications for bipolar and schizophrenia are the same, many of the symptoms are the same.  Other conditions - or 'diseases' are also pretty much indistinguishable from these two. 

I am starting to see that I can't change any of that - that it may never change.  It makes me feel helpless and angry, but I know that all I can do is ignore it. 

I know I am not a schizophrenic.  I just do.  It took me ages to reject the diagnosis, but it is the only way I could survive.  Nothing else makes sense.  One day I will probably fork out a couple of hundred quid to have a professional - a private psychiatrist - agree that I am not mad, because none of the NHS ones will stick their necks out to do so, and I need that affirmation.  I shouldn't, but I do.  Being told you're mad is not good for your mental health.

Finally - anyone reading this who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, please ignore your diagnosis.  At least two members of my family have done this.  Years ago they were told they had schizophrenia but they dismissed the notion and got on with their existence.  Now their lives are not damaged in the same way as mine.  They can be eccentric, maverick, alcoholic.  They can be as chaotic as they wish - but they are not seen by others as 'mad'.  (Nor should they be, they are human beings, and have a right to live their lives as they wish, as all people do).  I am a good mother, a teetotaller, honest, hard-working etc, etc.  I go out of my way to be 'normal' but the harder I try the more futile my efforts become.   And all because I bowed to what I thought was valid medical knowledge from mental health professionals and accepted their hateful pronouncement on the validity of my self.

Bah!  Grrr!  And other pointless protests! 

Anyway - on the bright side, I have nearly finished the recovery book (yes, I know, I have been saying that for years). It has just occurred to me that I if I really pull my finger out I could launch it in time for World Mental Health Day, which could be useful. 

Because in real life the issue is not so much 'Living with Schizophrenia' as 'Living with the Consequences of a Diagnosis of Schizophrenia'.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Summer Holidays

Just thought I should post on here, as I haven't in ages.  I haven't much to say though.  Life is quiet at the mo.  I love the summer holidays, and the opportunities it brings to take everything more slowly, to spend quality time with my family.  Anxiety and negativity take a backseat.  All is good.

I am still managing to write a little, here and there, and I know I will get back to that properly in September.  There's plenty of time.  I got frazzled a couple of months ago, trying to do everything all at once.  Now I've taken a step back - I've learned that life can't be, and shouldn't be, hurried.

So that's me.  Still here.  Still happy to be here.

More anon. X.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

V short post

My memoir (with new cover art) will be on sale in the USA for a week from tomorrow.  Starting at 99 cents.  Click the link at the top of this page to see it and read the reviews on Amazon.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

All About ME!

I am trying my best not to be completely self-obsessed at the moment - which is obviously why I have titled this post 'All about me'.  Hmm.  Let me explain.

My mind is skittering about all over the place at the moment - my book really is selling amazingly well.  Yesterday I sold seventy books in the UK - SEVENTY PEOPLE paid money to read my writing.  In one day!  There have been days when the book has only sold one or two copies over the last year or so, and even on those days I often marvel that real, solid people out there in the world want to buy my work.

So I am in danger of becoming carried away with myself at the moment.  I have been checking the Amazon rankings obsessively and this morning was delighted to discover that I was at #673 overall for Kindle books.  Which has since risen to #563 and then dropped a little to #590. I told you I was checking obsessively.  I have also been doing my sums, extrapolating from these figures, wondering out loud how high the book will climb, how many copies it will sell over the course of the week's promotional period on Amazon and so on, until finally, late last night Paul had to tell me quite firmly to stop counting my chickens before they hatched.  Which was fair comment.

Anyway, I just checked these blog stats and quite a few people have looked at this blog already today, which again is unusual.  And considering that I have not written on here a great deal recently and when I have it has mostly been all about myself and what I am or am not currently writing or idly thinking about for no particular reason, I thought perhaps I should up my game.

Or if not up my game (because my mind is skittering about from the excitement of the success of my book's new cover and it would be hard in those circumstances to write anything very riveting) at least I should say hello to any new blog readers out there.  Hello.

And then I thought I should perhaps tell them (you?) a little about me.  Hence the blog post title.  All about me.  Because I am trying not to let it be all about me.  And really I know that it isn't.  Other writers sell books.  Other people get readers on their blogs.  And a lot of people do those things much better than me, and in much higher numbers.  So really, I am getting over myself already.  See?

I was thinking last night about the blog post I wrote on here yesterday.  At the end there were some ramblings about how my self-esteem is linked to the success or otherwise of my book (only I didn't say self-esteem, I called it my mental well-being or something).  Well, as Paul also pointed out last night, it's perfectly normal for a writer to be excited when they start seeing their book sell in increased numbers.  He's also excited, on my behalf.  I do have to keep reminding myself sometimes that I am actually normal, and stop seeing things in terms of being mentally healthy or not.  Luckily I have Paul, who always tells me that I am normal.  I love that man.

Having said that (established my normality) I am now going to reveal that I booked an appointment with a therapist yesterday.  I found this lady online; she is a local practitioner, highly qualified, with a specialisation in verbal communication.  It also said on the website that she runs groups, which I thought would be ideal for me, because my main issue is still social anxiety.  It has been at the root of all my problems and turns out to be perhaps my only real issue now.  It may sound innocuous, but it isn't.  I worry myself sick sometimes with thoughts of what others might or might not think of me and I am at my worst in social group situations.

For example, I went out with a group of Mums for a meal the other week and hardly slept for literally days afterwards because I was so convinced I had made an idiot of myself.  My latest strategy is to be honest about my shortcomings - which translated on this particular occasion to telling everyone that I was wearing glasses because I am worried that I stare at people and so if I had my glasses on I could take them off and then I wouldn't have to worry about staring because I couldn't see anybody anyway. 

I can't remember if I dropped this bombshell while I was wearing my glasses or not. 

It all seems quite funny now (although I am still embarrassed about it).  A few days ago I confided in a friend about how I was feeling and she said she hadn't thought anything of it at all, except maybe that it was funny (in an amusing way). 

But I don't want to be the sort of person who is always confiding in friends about their ridiculous fears and worries, hoping on some unconscious level to be reassured and boosted up by their response.  I want to be strong and - well, normal.  Which I am, except in social situations.  No, I really am normal.  What I want is to be relaxed.  And confident.  All the time.  If that's not asking too much.

Anyway, I am sure the therapist can help.  Or if not, then somehow I will resolve the problem anyhow eventually.  It's not a major issue really.  I am already so much more capable than I used to be in so many ways.  I couldn't even talk to people once - any people.  I was so painfully shy.  And now in the last couple of years I have spoken at mental health conferences, lectured to University students... all that sort of stuff.  I know I can do things that I would once never have dreamed possible.  So I know I will be able to do even more in the future. 

Oh yes, sorry. New readers of this blog.  If you are still here, that is.  About me.  Well, I am normal (we have established that.  Or haven't we?!) but I was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young person and that still affects my perception of myself.  I feel quite strongly that this label is wrong - not for me in particular, but for everyone who is afflicted with it.  Because anyone can suffer emotional distress for a variety of reasons (there always are reasons) and anyone can break down - and anyone can also recover.  But the label of schizophrenia doesn't allow for recovery - even if, like me, you haven't had to take medication for twelve years and you have no symptoms of mental ill-health (social anxiety is not schizophrenia).

Which means that those people who do recover - which is more than you would think - stay very quiet about the fact that they were ever diagnosed.  Which gives the others with the same label - and people are still being given this label today - very little hope for their own futures. 

People keep quiet about the label for a very good reason.  I don't blame them at all.  I did it myself for many years.  Because once people hear that word - schizophrenia - they look at you in a different light.  They can't help it.  Surprisingly, even medically qualified people do this, because they think you must have done something to deserve a diagnosis like that - it wouldn't be applied casually.  They see you as an unknown quantity, a risk of some kind to yourself or others, perhaps now or perhaps at some unspecified time in the future. 

And the sad thing is that you can't help wondering whether, at some level, they may be right.  Even though actually, the sensible, practical, normal part of you knows that there is no scientific test for schizophrenia, no proof at all of its existence or otherwise.  And, further than that, you have learned the hard way that the whole concept of psychiatry is based on lies and assumptions and just plain old-fashioned guesswork.  Even though you know that you know yourself, and you know you are okay, and a good wife and a good mother of four amazing children and happy and useful and capable and not at all mad, some little germ of uncertainty exists in the back of your mind which makes you fear that the mental health professionals might turn out to have had a point after all and did actually possess a crystal ball that could see into your future, and therefore that maybe, actually, even after all this time it may transpire that you are in fact that walking time bomb, a 'Schizophrenic'. 

Well, that's probably enough for now.  I am, as you might be able to tell, angry - no, annoyed - no, disappointed at the shortcomings of the psychiatric system in this country.  And after writing that little rant I just realised why the Royal College of Psychiatrists turned down my application to be a member of their service user forum earlier this year. 

Even though I didn't put any of that stuff on the application form. 

After all, I'm not mad.   

Monday, 30 June 2014

Kindle book selling like Hot Cakes!

I am so excited - my Kindle book is flying off the virtual shelves. (Or should that be, 'virtually flying off the shelves'?  Whatever).

I have the book on promotion for the next week.  I only sell ebooks through Amazon, for various reasons.  I know some other self-published authors don't like Amazon and feel they have an unfair monopoly, but I love them.  They pay excellent royalties, they help with promotion and quite simply they sell more of my books.

Anyway, every three months, if you publish through Amazon, you can promote your book for a total of seven days on a Kindle Countdown.  Basically, you sell it for less intitially, and then the price rises incrementally.  I have discovered that for me, the best method is to use all seven days at once.  So yesterday my book cost 99p to download.  It will stay at that price for the next couple of days, then rise to £1.99. And then, after the week is up, it will go back to the full Kindle price of about £3.00. 

This might be getting a bit long-winded, but bear with me.  Basically, I have done these promotions before, with varying success.  The first time boosted sales a fair amount; the next occasion, less so.  Then at the beginning of April this year after a Kindle Countdown promotion, sales took off again.  This was unexpected and led me to wonder whether it was due to the promotion, or whether something else had happened that I was unaware of - for example somebody had recommended my book to a professional network or a group of carers somewhere. 

Anyway, whatever the cause of the sales spike, I was chuffed.  And this time I was prompted to invest a little in the book.  I have been reading a lot about self-publishing and everything I have read tells me that you need a professional cover as well as good content in a book.  So I shelled out for the new cover.

And I am delighted to report that it really does seem to have made a difference!  Last time I checked (and I keep having to stop myself checking) I was at 1,385 in the overall Kindle rankings, which is about as high as I have ever been, since the glory days of 2012 when I first began to publicise the book.

I know that this is a mental health blog, and so going on about book rankings might not seem appropriate or relevant.  But I know an awful lot of people who are as desperate to tell their story as I once was, and so I do try now and again to give them some tips on how to do so.

I once had a comment on a piece I wrote for the Mad in America website, from a chap who said that people like me should not make money from their stories, but should give them away for free, for the good of others.  I am sensitive to criticism and I understood where he was coming from, but I don't agree.  I have given away thousands of copies of my book as free downloads, and I have also given away most of the paper copies I have ordered to sell (to Paul's frustration, I would rather give a book to someone than sell it to them). 

I wrote my memoir primarily to help others to see that there was a way out of the maze of mental illness and its aftermath.  It was almost an act of deliberate self-sacrifice, one that I felt prompted to do, and I was surprised by the fact that actually I found it a cathartic and freeing experience, not least because it enabled me to finally give up collecting disability benefit and consider myself to be a person who was capable of worthwhile work.  Three years on, I am a writer.  It means the world to me.  And I cannot continue to write unless I earn money from my profession. 

I have not earned a lot from my book.  I have never paid tax, in the last three years that I have been self-employed, because I don't earn anywhere near enough to qualify to do so.  But I do earn something; more than most self-published authors and indeed more than many writers in general.  Taking into account that I have four kids, and have to do a lot for them and around the house and so if I went out to work I could only work part-time and also that I would probably only get a menial job despite the fact that I have a law degree, due to the diagnosis and the fact that I have never worked in a professional position - bearing all that in mind, I am quite happy with what the book brings in.  (Whew, that was one long sentence.  Call me brain-dead, but I couldn't work out how to cut it into shorter ones).

I do need to ramp things up with my career now.  Well, not need to - I am pretty content with my life as it is in lots of ways - but I do want to, partly because I need affirmation that I really can write and that comes partly from being well recompensed for it and partly because the kids are growing and we have a mortgage to pay and all that stuff.  Paul has carried all six of us financially for many years now, and I think it would be nice if he could have a bit of a rest at some point.

I mentioned that I need affirmation.  I have noticed that the state of my mental health sometimes seems to be alarmingly linked to the success or otherwise of my book.  When it is doing well, I feel happy - not just because I am earning money, which enables me to stay at home and be a writer, but because I feel validated - I have done something worthy and I know that because I am achieving recognition for it.  Conversely, when the book is not doing so well I find myself becoming morose - as I felt just a few days ago before the new cover had begun to make a difference to sales.  (I was telling myself that I had wasted my money and time on what basically amounted to an exercise in vanity).

I know that the answer to my insecurity issues is not to become a success.  I need to be strong mentally regardless of what happens in my life externally.  I shouldn't need validation from others in any form in order to believe in myself.  But it is a real issue and one that helps to motivate me to keep writing - which is a good thing because if I don't write I really do become a mental wreck quite rapidly.  

I am working on the mental strength thing.  I am tacking my issues of social anxiety, although sometimes I feel that I take five steps back for every step forward.  I keep trying to be a new, improved version of myself.  But meanwhile, I am a writer, and that is something to be proud of.  And I am.   

Thursday, 26 June 2014

New Book Cover up on Kindle!

Well, I didn't think that would happen so fast.  Barely a week after making enquiries about a new cover for my book, the Kindle version is up and running.  Here it is:

The paperback will take a little longer - it's going to have a new wraparound jacket, with the same design as the Kindle one, but because it has to include a bar code, blurb, reviews and so on it is a bit more fiddly. 

I am so pleased with it all.  The incredible thing is that the image on the new cover - of a mother and daughter balancing on a train track, holding hands - actually looks very much how my mother and I would have looked forty years ago.  The cover designer - Briony from Goldust, highly recommended - read the book and said the cover symbolised my mother and I, and that the idea was to have a bright image, but with a hint of something sinister (the possibility of an approaching train symbolising the threat of mental illness in my case, the ravages of alcoholism in my mother's...)

She sent me several possible cover designs, but that one really stood out.  In fact, I felt close to tears when I saw it.  I really do think it's fantastic. Feedback from anyone out there would be really appreciated. 

It is such a relief to get my face off the front cover.  I am going to have a new author photo, but just a small, normal one on the back cover of the book.  Also professionally done!  I am splashing out, because I feel that although the book has done really well (especially for a self-published work) it still has the potential to reach a wider audience.  It deserves to look more professional - it has done me proud, garnered lovely reviews and given me the confidence to believe that I really can write. 

Hopefully I will not always be a one-book woman.  I am moving on - slowly - but that book gives me enough income to be able to stay at home and call myself a writer.  I do write every day now, but I won't go on about that in this post because I have written a lot recently about my various endeavours. 

The recovery book should come out soon (she says).  I was aiming for the end of the summer term - the middle of July - but I may have to adjust my sights.  It will definitely, one hundred per cent, be done by the end of this year though.  Even if I am not entirely happy with it, which I may never be, I am going to publish, so that I can move on with my other writing.  Hopefully it will help someone, somewhere, on their path to recovery. 

And I already have a cover designer lined up - so the new book will look as professional from the start as 'Surviving' does now.  Hurrah! 

Monday, 16 June 2014

New Book Cover, Raymond Briggs and Sunshine

Well.  Quite a lot has happened recently, or is about to happen...

I decided to splash out on a new cover for my memoir.  I know I need to move on with my writing, and I have in a way - I have quite a few books out on Kindle now.  But most of them are not all that good, if I say so myself.  None of them are full length, for a start.  I have published two 'How to' books, a set of three chick-lit novellas, a short children's book, a poetry pamphlet...  I think I have at least four pen names.  I've kind of lost track.  That's the thing about self-publishing - you can be as diverse as you wish.  No chance of pigeon-holing me.

Anyway, the memoir is still the only book that really sells, partly because of the fact that it's a better book than the others, also because I have taken the time to publicise it, and probably for various other reasons I haven't got time to analyse just now.  (There's a chicken pie and some oven chips cooking and there is going to be a disappointed family if that lot burn). 

Having second thoughts, I just dashed to the kitchen to turn the oven off.  I know what I'm like once I start blogging (or any sort of writing).  It was only a matter of time before the smoke alarm went off. 

I am writing outside in the summerhouse.  This is only comfortable for a couple of months of the year, so I am making the most of it.  The boys are in the conservatory.  The older one is teaching the younger to play chess.  This would be one of those proud mother moments, except that every fifteen minutes or so there is a minor argument and some tears, followed by one or both boys stomping off angrily, before they reconcile their differences and move on with the game.  I can see and hear the whole thing from my window out here.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  The memoir really provides me with my only writerly income, so I need to maximise that.  Plus, I think it has a really important message, and I think there is still potential to reach a wider audience and that would be a good thing.  So a few days ago I found a locally based firm that design book covers, and got in touch.  After looking at the website I was convinced that I would not be able to afford their services, because they have produced books for every major publisher I can think of, and the BBC and the British Library and...  Anyhow, as it turned out, the designer was taken by an urge to help me and offered me a special price.  I am not sure that I feel entirely comfortable about that - but then I hope that she will also design future book covers for me, and I am sure she won't be doing me favours for ever.  Hopefully, this is just the start of a mutually profitable enterprise. 

I can't wait to see her initial designs!  SO exciting!  And on the same day I engaged the cover designer, I plucked up my courage to contact Raymond Briggs (of The Snowman et al) and asked whether I could use his kind quotes about my book (I sent him a copy back in 2012 and he sent me a lovely letter in reply).  Mr Briggs replied very promptly and said yes, I could quote him.  So we are going to put some of his lovely comments on the new front cover. 

I am en route to finishing my recovery book (I know, I have been saying that for years, but I am at forty thousand words now and working steadily).  Hopefully, it will come out not long after I re-launch the memoir with its new cover.  The idea is that both cover designs will then tie in.

I don't really know why I am blogging about all this.  It is a big step forward for me though.  I have known for a long time that it is really important for self-published books to look professional, and I have been promising myself for a while that I would invest in my own.  I just needed to have a product worth investing in.  And since I haven't come up with a new one yet, I have decided to re-issue the memoir, see how it does, and then make sure any subsequent books I publish are properly presented.

I am lucky that I don't need an editor (or I don't think I do).  I can write comprehensibly and reasonably accurately without one (although it's handy that Kindle allows you to change the e-book manuscript without charging for the service.  I have had to go in and correct typos more times than I would have thought possible).  But a book, self-published or not, should at least look like a book - and lovely as the photo on the front of mine is, it does not make up for the fact that everything about the cover looks really unprofessional. 

Finally: after what felt like weeks of constant sunshine here in the South of England, the sky has finally clouded over.  I'm not sorry.  I miss the sunshine and the heat, but it made me feel as though I should be hot-footing it to the beach every instant.  I did write every day, but it was a struggle.  I took the boys swimming daily last week after school (making me very unpopular with the rest of the family who came home at six pm to find that dinner was not on the table ready and waiting as they are accustomed to finding it).  Now at least, I can get on with my writing during school hours (and even sneak a little extra time after school today).   Hope the summer hols are sunny though.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Sunny Sunday

I got all excited this morning when I woke up to sunshine.  I was itching to get down to the beach and soak up some rays.  With one or both of the dogs (only one at a time probably, as the puppy is in season and needs extra supervision at the moment.  Too much information?  Sorry).

Where was I?  Oh yes, I was itching to get up and get going.  Well, that was an hour or two ago, and here I am settling down to type a quick blog entry, still in pyjamas.  Meanwhile, I have cooked bacon sandwiches for myself and my lovely little six year old (it wasn't deliberate favouritism, the others had already eaten breakfast). 

Then I consumed two cups of tea.  Next had a short go at Twitter (got excited again when I saw that Gwyneth Paltrow is now one of my followers, excitement quickly subsided when I realised it was a spoof Gwynnie.  The spoof Gwynnie has sixteen thousand followers though!  That is amazing...)

I like Twitter.  Partly I like it because most people I know are completely flummoxed if I mention that I use it.  They have no idea what it is or how it works, or why on earth anybody would be interested in it.  Which shows that there is an alternative reality out there, peopled by people like me.  Although in theory I only use Twitter for promoting my book or this blog, in practice I really like connecting with people.  And there is all sorts of fascinating  information out there, if you click on the right links or follow the right people.  I am by no means an expert, and sometimes I don't use the site for weeks on end, but I can't imagine my world without Twitter now.

So, as I was leaving Twitter, I checked this blog quickly, and saw that there was a comment from someone asking if I was okay, because I haven't posted for a while. Which was really sweet, so I felt compelled to reply, and then to turn on my proper computer and write this blog post.

So, what should I write about?  Well, I am okay, having had no repeat episodes of what I wrote about last time, which I have come to the conclusion was probably acute indigestion.  Still embarrassed by the panic...  I have been a bit edgy since then, had a couple of wakeful or disturbed nights, so I guess there is an underlying anxiety issue.  Which I am also a bit embarrassed, and a bit confused by, because I tend to think I am fine nowadays.  But I suppose it is possible to suffer from anxiety and still be fine.  It will pass.

It has been half term this week, which probably explains my absence from this blog (although I don't update it as often as I used to anyway).  I have really enjoyed the break, because of the opportunity to spend time with the children.  They are all growing up fast, but for now even the older ones spend the vast majority of their time at home when school is out, and I want to make the most of that.  And although I have been busy doing stuff that doesn't always involve them - I had a massive clear out and took so much stuff to charity shops that it gave me backache - they are here and so we necessarily interact. 

Our two boys love their computer games - they mostly play Lego Marvel on the X-Box.  They play together, which is good, but I have limited their time to half an hour a day for as long as I remember, because I don't want these games to take over their lives.  It often goes over the half an hour, if I am honest, but I always call time at an hour, maximum.  Anyway, in the last few weeks, although the weather has not been great, I have been weaning them off the computer games, taking them out of the house as much as I can and encouraging them to play outside when we are at home.  As a result we have had lots of water fights and nerf gun play going on, as well as old favourites like Twister and lots of noisy games on the trampoline.

And now that their sisters are home they have all been playing together, which I love to see.  Usually the girls spend so much of the day at school, and weekends doing various activities, that their brothers don't get to be with them very often.  And when they are, they just suck up the attention from their big sisters. 

I relish every moment of watching my kids grow up, and feel at my happiest when I am with them.  So I have been ramping up the reading with the youngest (he was reading bits of The Times out loud to me this morning - obviously only the suitable bits, and I helped him with the long words).  I have been practising verbal reasoning with my older boy (I have had some ten minute test books for years, and recently discovered that he absolutely loves doing them).  And as for the girls - well, I just feel lucky to sometimes be included in their talk and laughter and plans and even in their revision (although I must say, participating in their revision is not my favourite bit.  Thank goodness exams will all be over by the end of next week).

I am aware that my smug Mummy factor is far too high, which is why I don't write about the kids on this blog very much.  I am so proud of them all, I just can't write about them impartially and I fear that must be annoying to read.  To be honest, I am not a brilliant Mummy all of the time - for example, I spent a lot more time with the girls when they were little than I do with the boys, because now I am distracted by my writing.  I want to get my writing career off the ground so that the girls see work as something to aspire to.  When they were tiny they both used to say that when they grew up they wanted to be a mummy like me, and although I think that is a wonderful aspiration (and is certainly the part of my life that has given me the greatest happiness) I think it would also be nice for them to play a part in the wider world!  And of course, I think it is good for the boys too, to know that Mummy is not just there to cater exclusively to their needs.  But they do need me to be around. 

I do my best for the kids, I think about them and their welfare constantly.  That is probably partly why I get anxious - because we can't control the future, we can't guarantee that our kids will always be safe and happy.  We can do our best for them though, which means above all spending time with them.  And luckily, it turns out that spending time with one's children is the best, most enjoyable way to spend one's time.  Luckily too, I have Paul to help when I need a break.  (And if any of you are wondering what happened to the poor dogs' walks that I woke up eager to do and then forgot about, he has walked them both, individually, in the past couple of hours while I have been reading the paper and tweeting and blogging.  He's a good man, my husband). 

Anyway, I am going to get up now and get dressed and get on with the day.  I am going to take my elder son to the museum for a couple of hours, something that I have been promising to do with him for ages, and that he is really looking forward to.  Sweet boy that he is, a trip to the museum with a parent all to himself really is the thing he wants most to do in the world. 

Lucky me! 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Heart Attack/Panic Attack/Indigestion?!

Sometimes I wonder whether I should post things on this blog.  I am aware that it is open to the public, so obviously I don't put my private thoughts on it (although I used to at the start when I was writing it anonymously).  So I have thought hard about what I am about to write, because it is quite personal and quite embarrassing.  But I have decided that it is relevant.

After my last blog post, I wrote for an hour or two.  I then had a sandwich and some sunflower seeds for my lunch.  After that I sat down in the conservatory with a cup of tea.  I texted Paul to tell him that I was relaxing and that I had decided I should do so more often.  (I had already text him earlier to say that I had deleted the completely rubbish romance novel that I had been trying to write and he had replied saying he thought that was a good idea). 

All this preamble is leading up the point that I was not consciously stressed at that point...  Anyway, before I'd had a chance to drink much of my tea, I started to feel pain in my chest.  It got worse.  I retreated from the conservatory into the front room where it was cooler, because I had broken out into a cold sweat and was having trouble breathing.  The pain continued and I started to worry.  I lay down on the sofa (sometimes I get indigestion and lying flat helps).  I got up, because it didn't help.  I tried to stay calm and keep breathing slowly and deeply.  No help, and now I was feeling dizzy and a little sick... 

After a few minutes of this, I called Paul at his work.  I had considered calling the ambulance, but at the back of my mind the thought of my diagnosis always niggles, and I was frightened that if the pain subsided soon, as seemed likely, I would be sitting in A and E for several hours, earmarked as, at the least, an hysteric and at the worst a schizophrenic.  I have had bad experiences in hospitals over the years, of trying to reassure doctors that I am fine mentally and them remaining convinced that I am not, so I do my best to avoid the places.  

I do get a lot of physical aches and pains, and I have had IBS for years.  The IBS has abated considerably recently, if not stopped - I have been implementing a strategy of mind over matter with it, and I seemed to have won.  I know that my mind is capable of conjuring up all sorts of physical manifestations of worry, and although I worry a lot less than I used to, anxiety does creep back in at times.  I have been very busy recently, on Twitter and Facebook publicising my work, writing, doing the usual stuff and home and with the kids.

The chest pain still did not make sense.  It was agony, and it continued.  Paul came home and insisted that I call the GP, which I did, and they asked me first to go to A and E, but when I said I didn't want to do that, they said I could see a doctor at the surgery.  She listened to my heart and said it sounded fine, but booked me in to have an ECG on Monday.  She said she thought that it was likely to have been indigestion, or a 'bronchial spasm' or windpipe spasm.  Or a panic attack.

The doctor said we might never know what it had been, but she gave me a prescription for an indigestion medicine and told me to take one pill a day for a week, to prevent the return of symptoms.  (I haven't taken them.  If it was indigestion I can live with it.  Well, I couldn't and wouldn't want to live with that pain if it happened again, but if it was indigestion I would have to be on pills for the rest of my life, to prevent it ever happening again.  Which isn't practical, and as we know, all medications have side effects, and also they don't always work.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't indigestion, but I have been eating more slowly and carefully since, just in case).

I didn't really think that it was a panic attack either, because as I told the doctor I have had plenty of those in my time, and that was not how they manifested.  But if it was either indigestion or panic, that's not good because presumably it means it could happen again at any time, which is a scary thought.  Although obviously it would be better than heart trouble, which really would be awful.

I didn't have the ECG yesterday in the end, because something came up, but I am booked again for tomorrow.  I am really embarrassed about having to go for it, because I feel like an idiot.  I am actually physically really strong, I have done loads over the last few days, and if I had a heart problem I don't think this would have been possible! 

But I know I should have the ECG, for various reasons, so I will.  I will post about it here if anything shows up on it - no news will be good news.  Almost certainly, no news is what it will be. 

I am a hypochondriac, I know it.  Usually I deal with it these days by ignoring any and all symptoms of physical ill health, and they go away.  This time though, I couldn't.  And it is interesting timing, because last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and I had been on Twitter talking about anxiety, which was the subject for this year.  I had been saying that I used to suffer from anxiety, but was much better now...  And then this happened, and showed me that actually I am not much better, or not always.

I did have an episode like this once before, about five years ago, and at the time I didn't go to the doctor.  Paul was at home with me when it happened, and although he wanted me to get checked out, I had my usual doubts, so I didn't bother.  And it has been fine since then.  Until now.  Whether it was anxiety, or indigestion, or a combination of both, I have been wondering what I can do to prevent a recurrence. 

I probably should give up gluten again.  There have been a lot of books published recently on the subject of 'grain brain' and how bad certain foods are for us.  I followed a gluten-free diet for a year or so, and should really go back to it.  But I found it difficult, and restrictive...

I probably should just stop worrying and generally take things easier.  Keep a balance between work, rest and play.  Enjoy life.  I suppose whatever it was that caused the chest pain etc, it was a warning that something in my life is out of synch, and I should be grateful that it was just a warning and nothing more serious. 

On a completely different subject - I watched The Book Thief last night at the cinema.  It was a real tear jerker.  Not as good as the book, but then of course films so rarely are.  People should read more books. 

I should read more books.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Time for a Rethink

It's a lovely day today.  I walked the dogs early, and then reluctantly sat down to get on with the business of writing.  It is a wrench, when the sun is shining so warmly outside.  The beach is calling me...

As I have written recently on this blog, I have been beavering away this year, writing like a woman possessed, but I have not come up with anything of note.  I am pretty sure this is because I switched from the idea of writing as a creative outlet, as art, to the idea that I need to earn a living and that writing is a good way for me to make this happen. 

So, in the last few months I have produced and published several chick-lit novellas and a children's book.  None of them very good.  They might have been better - I had some moments of insight, when I could see exactly what I needed to do to improve them, but I wasn't connected enough with them to bother.  I didn't want to invest any more time in them.  Surprisingly, I have actually sold a few of these books despite my own lack of interest in them.  Which shows (she suggests hopefully) that I do have some talent, if even the work I know is nowhere near my best can attract some readers.

Recently, I have been working on a full-length romance (if you have read this before on here, bear with me.  I do have a point to make).  I was not proud of this work at all - even less than the others - because I decided to write it for purely commercial reasons.  It was trash.  It went from being Mills and Boon to being Jilly Cooper, and then descended even further into something that I can only imagine was on a par with Fifty Shades (I haven't read those books but I have read plenty of reviews of them, none of them flattering).

No matter how I tried to convince myself that writing this rubbish was fine, because it's not my fault if people want to read it, and after all I need to make a living, my conscience did not rest easy.  For the purposes of research, I skimmed through some other books in a similar vein (there is plenty of this stuff free on Kindle) and I knew I was lowering myself by reading it, never mind by trying to emulate it.

I mean, perhaps I am wrong here.  Plenty of women (and a few men) write these sort of books, and plenty read them, and who I am I to judge?  It is probably fine for those people - but to me it just did not feel right.  So several times I deleted all the rude bits from my book, only to reinstate them because there was no story left without them (no story to speak of with them either).  I kept going round in circles, but I was determined to finish it.  I hate leaving things half-done, it feels like failure.

But anyway, this morning I have finally given up the ghost.  This is not the sort of book I want to write.  Even if it earned me a million pounds (and to be honest, it was so completely uninteresting that it might never have earned me a penny) I would not feel happy with myself about it.  So I deleted the thirty thousand words that I had hammered out over the last goodness-knows-how-long - two months?  Six weeks?  Four?  It's easy to write fast when you are writing trash...  It's gone. 

Well, it's in my recycle bin, I suppose, but it's not coming out.  I feel relieved to have given up on that particular money-making idea.  Life is about more than money - I have worked hard over the last fifteen years or so to find peace of mind, and I am not going to jeopardise that now.  I want to produce books that I can be proud of, that my children will be impressed with perhaps, hopefully, one day. 

So, it's back to the drawing board.  I think I am going to concentrate on finishing my 'recovery book' again, first of all.  I have a new story to put into it now, one that illustrates again the importance of remaining true to one's own self! 

But before I get started, I'm going to head up to the shops.  I have a random list of stuff to buy for the family, including new toothbrushes, wellington boots and cling film.  I may be some time... 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is mental health awareness week, and the theme is anxiety.  This is something I have had a lot of personal experience of - in fact, sometimes it seems as though most of my life has been ruled by anxiety.  It is the most innocuous sounding condition, something you might be forgiven for thinking is not really a condition at all, but rather a fact of life. 

That is how I used to see anxiety, even when I was pretty much crippled by it.  I thought it was just a horrible, but necessary, fact of my life.  I told myself that I was just a shy, nervous sort of a person.  I thought it was normal to worry about every possible eventuality, every single day.  It felt like a kind of preparation, just in case the worst happened.

And the worst did happen, several times.  That sounds rather dramatic, but it's not an exaggeration - I have had some really difficult times in my life.  But a lot of them were, strangely enough, due to the anxiety - the three nervous breakdowns which resulted in being sectioned and in traumatic forcible treatment being a major case in point. 

If only I had realised that I didn't have to live with that degree of panic and of fear. If only I had known it was faulty thinking, and that I could be taught to recognise that fact and to reason correctly instead.

I got it all so wrong.  I thought that I had an over-active imagination and that was why I couldn't even go for a walk without seeing an attacker around every corner.  I thought I was highly strung.  I cursed myself for my problems with blushing, told myself I was a fool.

Anyway, it's all over now, and I don't make a habit of wallowing in it, and that's not what this post is about.  I really try not to live in the past.  But I've been on Twitter quite a lot over the last few days - partly, if I am honest, to publicise my book.  I am so pleased and proud that it is doing well again, I know it is a good and useful piece of work and an enjoyable read and I want it to continue to sell.

The by-product of being on Twitter so much is that I have had a lot of laughs, some interesting conversations and 'met' (in a virtual sense) some fascinating and lovely people.  And since my interest, and special subject, is mental health, a lot of those people are currently suffering. 

I want those people to know, beyond doubt, that there is a way through.  That they can, and will, heal fully from emotional distress, and come out the other side, stronger as a result.  It may take time, but it will happen.

I remember all the times that I felt so alone, and so misunderstood.  The internet is a great force for good in that way - especially for people suffering from mental health problems, who can now seek and find support so easily.  I often marvel at how things have changed.

We have to continue that change.  We have to keep pushing on, pushing through our difficulties and helping others to do the same.  We have to keep supporting each other.

Since I have been anxiety-free (most of the time, at least) my life has been a thousand times better.  I could not have conceived that I would change to the degree that I have.  CBT helped me, and I am sure it will help others too.  It seems like such a simple thing now, although I know it took many years for me to reach this point.  I hope it won't take as long for others.  I was a tough case!  (I was also helped to recovery by various other factors, but the CBT really did target and dramatically reduce the anxiety).

So I want to say to all those people I have recently met through Twitter - hold on, keep strong, you will get better.  Anxiety can be tackled and it can be beaten.  I promise. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dog Bites Woman

I was not a happy bunny this afternoon.  Every weekend I go to visit my Mum and take her dog for a walk.  I think of it as my good deed, although really it is kind of my obligation.  My duty.  Because she's my Mum and she needs looking after.  And he's her dog and he needs walking.  She can't walk him herself because a) she has a lung condition and b) he is a monster. 

Tyke (appropriately named) is highly embarrassing to walk.  He is very aggressive towards other dogs, and goes crazy pulling at the lead and barking if he sees one.  His intent is quite clear - to duel to the death.  So I have to keep well clear of other dogs on walks.  He also goes bananas if he sees a motorbike (go figure).  So I have to keep a tight grip on his lead at all times.

But he has been much more manageable recently.  My Mum has a couple of regular dog walkers, who I found for her through a charity called the Cinammon Trust, and a couple of months ago one of these ladies bought him a harness.  The harness makes him much easier to control, which is puzzling as prior to that he used to be on a choke chain.  I don't like choke chains, but honestly, with this dog there was no choice.  Anyway, the harness was more humane and also stopped him pulling so much, which was great.

Was.  Today I went over to walk him as usual.  I got to the park safely.  There was another dog on the field there, a large puppy (maybe a boxer cross) which was also on a lead and harness.  So I thought that would be fine.  But then the young couple walking him suddenly took off their puppy's harness and the puppy bounded over to us.  He wanted to play.

I shouted at his owners to get him away, but they couldn't catch him.  Tyke was going mad, barking and twisting, trying to reach the puppy.  I was holding his lead tight, shouting at the puppy, trying to get it away from him.  But it kept coming in close.  Soon, the pair of them were tangled around my legs.  Which is when I got bitten, on my calf.

And then Tyke slipped his harness.  I was aghast.  The dogs were locked together by now, fighting and biting.  I couldn't get hold of them (to be honest, I was too freaked out by the bite I had just received to try).  Luckily, the male owner of the puppy managed to get hold of Tyke and the girl got their dog and took him a distance away.  And put his harness, rather belatedly, back on.

I was totally freaked out.  I couldn't believe the other owner was being so nice about the whole thing.  He helped me put Tyke's harness back on, and he was talking to him really nicely.  I was so angry with Tyke, but he wasn't at all.  I mean, my dog - my Mum's dog - must have really hurt theirs.  I saw his teeth in its neck.   And yet the guy was really kind, even a bit apologetic.  It was incredible. 

I took Tyke straight back home, terrified that he would slip the harness again en route.  I got to my Mum's safely, and to my shame I started to cry.  It was all just so awful - I felt so powerless, and I was horrified to think of what could have happened.  I was also upset because I thought I would have to go off and have a tetanus jab, and I had promised the kids that I would go home and watch a film with them and Paul (this is a weekend ritual, we watch a family film together on Saturday nights, or Sunday if it gets too late on Saturday).  I didn't fancy spending hours in A and E.

Anyway, it turned out okay.  I called 111 and the 'clinician' told me I would be okay for 48 hours, so just to call my GP in the morning to find out about a tetanus jab.  My Mum was really apologetic, but I reassured her that it was not her fault (but had to say that I doubted I would ever want to walk her dog again).  Then I went home, and we watched the film (Harry Hill the Movie) while eating pizza and coleslaw, with strawberries and marshmallows dipped in chocolate for pudding (how could that fail to cheer anybody up?)  

I think I was so upset because that exact scenario has happened to me before.  I was about twelve years old.  I was walking one of our two Alsatians when he attacked another dog - a small terrier - and killed it there and then on the street.  Its owner was shouting at me, so I ran and hid. I knew my dog would be destroyed for what he had done.  And he was - and not just him, his sister, who had not done anything wrong, but who my Dad decided with his twisted logic, would pine without her brother.  They were put down together.  I felt responsible, because I had been walking the dog when it happened.  And nobody ever told me it was not my fault.

Okay, not the exact scenario.  Luckily, the puppy survived Tyke's assault today, and the owners were incredibly kind.  They were foreign, and I did say to my Mum later that I couldn't imagine an English couple being so kind and understanding.  I think Tyke would have had a destruction order slapped on him in slightly different circumstances, and although I hate to say it, that might have been an appropriate course of action.

I love dogs.  I like Tyke, believe it or not (I wouldn't walk him otherwise).  But what if a child had become entangled between the two dogs, instead of just my legs?  What if it had been a smaller, weaker puppy, who had come up innocently, to play? 

It's a scary thought.  I am still shaken by the incident.  But I suppose, now that I have calmed down, I should accept that it's not my responsibility - just as the death of that other dog (of three dogs, in the end) was not my fault when I was twelve years old.  I would not send out a twelve year old girl to walk an Alsatian.  Would you?

Anyhow, my Mum has promised to warn the other dog walkers what happened today.  Hopefully, they will make sure the harness is tighter in future, and that they keep their distance from other dogs.  With any luck, it won't happen again.  And if it does - well, I certainly won't be there to see it.

Because that is the end of that particular good deed.  I will still go and visit my Mum every weekend, but I will not walk her dog again.  Poor dog.  It is a Jack Russell cross, and I am not sure that they make good pets for old people.  I think they need really long countryside walks.  Off the lead.  My sister looked after him for a while, when Mum was too ill to have him, and he seemed to be fine with her, because she does live out in the country and she did walk him a lot.  She can't have him permanently though.  So we will just have to muddle through as best we can, because he's Mum's pet and she loves him. 

That's life.  Ups and downs.  C'est la vie.