On being sporty. I’m not, if you were wondering.

We started lined up against the wall, firing squad-style. Usually I watched my feet; then I gazed into the middle distance. I pretended to be interested in what was coming past in the road. (Once there was a lorry that burst a tyre on the bend.) There was always, you see, an element of hope; a hope that maybe this time it would be different. So I waited, while pretending not to care. But it always was the same and always shame rose in its familiar flood. It didn’t even take that long.

Do kids still pick their sports teams like that? Do the captains still take turns at choosing, still make no attempt to hide their disgust at being forced to take a share of the dregs? Is that still how it works?

Continue reading “On being sporty. I’m not, if you were wondering.”

How personal is too personal?

My most recent blog on this page was my most popular yet by a factor of four. The words went far beyond my usual networks and they went there fast.

The blog worked because it was honest, because it was personal, and because I am not alone in thinking what it said.

So there was a payback to my honesty, not just in reach but in connection. But I was still left with the unease that maybe I had been too personal, maybe I had revealed more than I was comfortable having out in a public space.

So how much is too much? Continue reading “How personal is too personal?”

Slim Hope of Perfection

In the year before I broke down I was thinner than I am now. Noticeably so, as far as I am concerned. I have clothes from that period that I don’t throw away. They hold in my mind all that I remember as good. I was thin (people commented on it). I was carefree, professionally successful, and impressing people with my achievements.

I was also suicidal, but denied that even to myself. I would joke that I’d wanted to walk under a bus to avoid having to go to work. I never noticed that that being true was a problem. I flipped between personality states: the depressed, crying myself to sleep every night, and the party animal, drinking champagne out of the bottle on the dance floor long after midnight and being first into work the next day. Continue reading “Slim Hope of Perfection”

What is worth learning anyway?

Look at my CV, and you’d think I’m well-educated. Despite a poor-performing school, I came away with a string of A*s at GCSE. I ticked off 5 As at A-level, a First in my undergraduate degree, a Distinction in my Masters, and then a doctorate. These are all things it was worth working for, and which it is worth having. Each progressively took me the step along the road to the next, and when I became seriously ill and my life fell apart, it was the benefits associated with the job I’d gained through all those qualifications that paid for the medical care that began my cure. (Now I can no longer get health insurance, it is the salary from that ‘high-flying’ job that allows me to pay my medical bills directly. The NHS does not cover long-term individual therapy; welcome to the prioritisation of the physically ill.)

Continue reading “What is worth learning anyway?”

Self-care: that’s for wimps, right?

Five years ago I was a stereotypical Alpha type. I worked 80-90 hour weeks in a very high stress job. On principle I worked with the people reputed to be the most demanding. I was the one who stayed up the latest, partied the hardest, drank the most, made sure everyone had a good time, was first into work the next morning.

On holidays I got up earlier than I did for work – 3 or 4 am – to climb (and sometimes ski) serious Alpine peaks. I was the sole woman on a 15-strong expedition to a technically difficult Himalayan summit. I frequently ran marathon distances off road at the weekend.

Continue reading “Self-care: that’s for wimps, right?”

#whatyoudontsee

Last week was Depression Awareness Week and the Blurt Foundation started #whatyoudontsee on Twitter. Sufferers of depression were invited to express what they feel and experience as a result of their illness. By the end of the week tweets were coming through at a rate of ten or more an hour, from all sorts of people, and from all over the world. They are still coming. (Go look.)

I’m comfortable that I know pretty well what so-called mental illness is like. I’ve had many odd internal experiences, have repeatedly lost the ability to look after myself and needed to put myself into others’ care, have felt the stigma and the shame and at times have perpetuated it as well.

Even with this knowledge I was overwhelmed by what people posted.

Continue reading “#whatyoudontsee”

The Problem of the Trite, of the Feminine, Self

There’s one issue I’m facing again and again as I try to become whatever sort of writer is the right writer for me to be: my first book is a coming of age novel, its central character is a young woman, and depression and recovery are writ large. Told that, people assume it is autobiographical, and I assume they will assume that and so I’m embarrassed to talk about its content at all. Here’s one for the record: it’s a novel – it’s a work of fiction.

This blog, on the other hand, is not fiction. Here I’ve been experimenting with different postures towards the writing world, sure, but I’ve been ‘honest at the time’ in the way I’ve tried each of them. The blog is autobiographical not primarily in the sense that it tells you what happened (though sometimes it does that too) but instead in its attempted true reflection of what I’m learning about myself, my writing, and where that writing might fit in. It’s an attempt to tie down my current thoughts, to translate fluctuating neural networks that are at times disabling onto the relative stability of the page. (Many of you have said that exploration has benefited you. Thank you for telling me that.)

So: blog autobiographical, if inevitably faultily so. Fiction not. Why does it matter?

Continue reading “The Problem of the Trite, of the Feminine, Self”