Changing My Mind

Yesterday I ran 18 miles without at any point believing I couldn’t do it, wanting to die, screaming at myself in my head for being so utterly fat, unfit, useless and stupid, hitting my legs in a bid to go faster, denying myself food and water as some sort of punishment for not running well enough.

This, my friends, is noteworthy, because all of that was normal to me every time I ran. Absolutely every time.

I kept running for all those years. Of course I did; I’m bloody-minded like that. But it always involved that constant self-inflected brutality, which is to say it wasn’t very nice.

I thought that was the only way running could be, and I couldn’t understand how other people could run so well with that going on; it didn’t occur to me that their minds were different. Continue reading “Changing My Mind”

Chance of Sunshine: 70%

Just less than a year ago I wrote that there were bright spells in my life and that I was slowly beginning to function more reliably again. That progress has continued. Here’s where we are today.

Most of all I am glad now that I am alive.

Stop there. Let’s say that again. I am glad that I am alive.

(Early on my therapist said his job was ‘to keep you alive until you can make the decision to do that yourself’. By that criterion his job is well done.)

But there is more: I also want to be happy. That’s a feeling that is entirely new to me; since my teens all I’ve wanted is to be numb or full of adrenalin. Now I want a calm, contented happiness.

It’s even been a while since my head told me that I wanted to die. Yes, I learned to stop listening to that voice a long time ago; that’s a necessity if you’re to survive the worst of depression. So I wasn’t listening, but until recently it carried on insisting, and that’s not a great voice to live with every day. Now it’s gone.

And there are other things.

Continue reading “Chance of Sunshine: 70%”

Life just isn’t fair

As a child I was told that if I worked hard enough I could do anything. That had its downsides; I grew to believe that not achieving perfection in everything meant I was lazy and I therefore began a pattern of destructively hard working. But it also meant that life was within my control. I didn’t blame anyone else when I faced lack of opportunity; nor did I blame others when things went wrong.

The problem, it turns out, is that even by working myself brutally hard, I am unable to have certain things. Those things currently include my health, the career I wanted and was doing well at, the lifestyle I previously had, and the belief that life is fair.

That’s right. I used to believe that life was basically fair. I had sympathy for people who were in a less good place than me, but I did believe that working hard would bring improvements in people’s lot. I also believed I deserved my success because I had worked for it.

I no longer fully believe that. Continue reading “Life just isn’t fair”

The Life-Changing Miracle of Publication

November 2014: Holland House Books offered me a contract for The Storyteller. June 2015: I accepted that contract. Seven months of indecision over an offer that should have been a dream come true. One simple reason: I didn’t believe in the novel or myself.

There were other, smaller, reasons as well that I could use as an excuse for procrastination. Aspects of the book were too personal to share openly. I worried I would hurt someone else. I couldn’t explain it at work. Perhaps I should be completely rewriting the text as the Penguin editor so charmingly suggested. Continue reading “The Life-Changing Miracle of Publication”

How not to write about mental health

Mental health is currently big in the news. With Mental Health Awareness Week just behind us that’s hardly a surprise. I’m in favour of reducing stigma and increasing awareness (you may have noticed); so it was odd to find myself bothered by an article I woke up to this morning.

It was in the BBC magazine, and was a feature on teenagers deliberately poisoning themselves. ‘Self poisoning’ is the term the article uses, which I imagine is what the psychiatrists write in their notes. It is decent news reporting. It is not actively sensationalist. It interviews sufferers, who themselves have been trained to talk about their behaviour in medical language. And it really upset me. Continue reading “How not to write about mental health”

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”