Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Bipolar

I see that I haven’t updated my blog since mid-May. This is because I’ve been off having adventures in the dark recesses of my brain.

Where I’d left the long story of my mental health, is that I’d seen a psychiatrist, and he’d prescribed me a new antidepressant, Mirtazapine. For a good few weeks, Mirtazapine was a wonder drug. It saved my life. I stopped actively looking for ways to die and started settling down.

Unfortunately, that only lasted about 8 weeks, before the recovery started tailing off. I was completely unable to feel joy, but was more or less content with this. Who needs joy anyway?

The psychiatrist thought that ‘happy’ really ought to be on the agenda, so he increased my dose. It was not the miracle cure it had been before.

A couple of weeks after that, I started moving backwards again. Making plans, new plans, because I’d told people my old ones and I needed to work in secret. I started quietly saying goodbye and not committing to anything beyond the next few weeks. I started trying to work out how the practicalities would work after I was gone.

I stopped being able to love my children. I’d like to say that this frightened or upset me, but I didn’t have any reaction to it at all. I felt like an empty glass. Occasionally, some emotions would break through, but they’d usually be the tricky ones; rage and fear and hatred. I knew, on an abstract level, that all of this was a bit not good, but it had just become part and parcel of who I was.

I went back to the psychiatrist to explain this to him, and we decided to try a new combination of antidepressants, so he added Venlofaxine to the Mirtazapine.

I’m not sure I can adequately express the hell that was Venlofaxine.

The physical side effects were difficult. My nerves became super-sensitive and I’d have hours and hours of tingling and buzzing skin which drove me up the wall. Water started feeling hard and rough. My digestive system ground to a complete standstill, regardless of overdosing on several things to free it up again. My pupils were permanently dilated making me really light sensitive. I felt drugged and exhausted constantly.

All of this might have been worth working through if it weren’t for the effect that it had on my brain.

My GP has recently shared with me the fact that I’d said a couple of things back in March which crossed the fuzzy, grey line from neurosis to psychosis. She wasn’t sure, but this was why she wanted me to see a psychiatrist. I have no idea what these things might have been – at the time, I thought I was being perfectly logical. Up until August, I was quite prepared to say that I’d never experienced a psychotic thought.

In August, while on the Venlofaxine, the thoughts that were coming at me were so out and out mental that I’m pretty darn certain that at least some of them were psychotic.

One of the peculiarities of that time was the incongruity between what I was feeling and how I was thinking and acting. I described it to a friend as if I were at a great party, all dressed up and bouncing around the dance floor, grin on my face, pulling everyone in to dance, while tears were coursing down my face and shouting ‘I hate myself! I am totally evil! Hahahaha! Guess what, guys? I want to die! Isn’t that a hoot!’

I would spend hours silently curled up, trying desperately not to accidentally let this lunatic out.

I had to pay attention to every single thought and word in case it was not a normal one.

One evening I was hot and feeling claustrophobic, so I thought ‘I know, I’ll pop out for a walk up the road in the rain! That’ll work! There’s no point getting dressed for it or putting my shoes on. If anyone asks me, I’ll just pretend I can’t see them.’

And the sane side of me wearily going; ‘No, Pip, you can’t do that.’ That sane side put up one hell of a fight, and I stayed in.

I stopped being able to tell what was real and what was not. I was pretty convinced that everything that came out of my mouth was a lie. I had the strange sensation that I had actually already died, and that this reality was just hanging onto me for some reason. I was convinced that everyone else either couldn’t see me, or was disgusted by me hanging around. I deleted a number of my friends from Facebook, convinced that they hated me. As yet, I haven’t been courageous enough to ask for them back. How do you word that? ‘Hi, a couple of months ago I assumed I didn’t exist, and that you hated me because I was an angry ghost. Any chance you’ll be my friend again?’

I called the psychiatrist and asked if I could stop taking the Venlofaxine. I begged him while talking at 500 words a minute, and he eventually cut in and said it was a good idea.

A couple of days later, I made a tiny, but stupid mistake with something.

I went mad. Literally mad.

Those thoughts started flying at me. I was, of course, stupid and evil, or I wouldn’t have made such a mistake. I should go away. Just get in the car and keep driving until there was nothing, and then walk into the sea.

No, Pip, you must not do that.

Fine, then I’ll just stay in the graveyard behind the house. That’s where I’ll live now. I can at least stay here until my husband gets home, and then he can fix it and perhaps send the tent out to me.

No, Pip, you must not do that.

Fine, I’ll go home. I will. But I won’t talk to anyone. Oh hell, there’s Tom. Scream at Tom. Run away. Hope Claudia doesn’t see me. Upstairs, hide here. Be here. Hide, jump from the window, hide in the bed. Stupid, stupid, stupid…

And then there was a pair of scissors in my hand and I was using them to whip my arm. It wasn’t deep or dangerous (I’m very clever at hurting myself so it won’t show for too long), but it cut and it bled and eventually it the pain worked its way into my brain.

And then I was looking down at my bloody arm, and was I furious that I’d lost concentration and let the crazy out. I still can’t say precisely what happened. Only that I was tired beyond everything, and I lost concentration for just a minute but that minute was all that was needed.

When I went back to the psychiatrist the week after that, I started telling him about the visions and voices for the first time. The voices are a part of me. I mean that literally; I’m aware that the TV and the radio aren’t talking to me. I can’t stop them – the constant, draining ‘you’re rubbish, you’re pathetic, you should just go ahead and die…’ these are a constant soundtrack to my life, but I know that they’re me. Sometimes I can overrule them. I’ve had some, limited success with mindfulness and meditation. Other times not so much, and if I try to clear my head, it just fills instantly with louder, more vicious voices, grinding me down and down, making me more exhausted, and then I can’t fight them at all.

There have been a couple of occasions when the voices have sounded external, but on those occasions, they were soothing. I heard God talking from the corner cupboard once, telling me things were going to be OK. On another occasion, I was in a top bunk and became aware that my dead grandfather was on the bottom one, telling me it would all be fine. Obviously I lay as still as a rock on the top bunk, terrified to move just in case he was really there.

More often, the audio hallucinations are bangs, screams and crashes. The worst ones sound like a bookshelf has snapped and everything has fallen from it. Though I could live without the screams too. Generally speaking with these, I can wander round, establish that nobody is screaming and that nothing has fallen, and I put it down to being very tired and stressed. And I don’t report them to anyone.

The visions are also quite rare. They’re usually nasty images; me lying in a bath full of blood, opened up and drained. Me lying dead on the kitchen floor. Blood pulsing from my wrists to the floor. That sort of thing. Again, I’m usually quite able to tell that these things originate from inside me. I know they aren’t a prediction of the future or a set of instructions. I’m able to force myself to look and prove that they’re not really there (apart from one occasion when I was just too tired, so thought ‘fuck it, if that’s what my brain wants to see, that’s what I’m going to see…’)

The more usual visions are little aftershock things – just something I glimpse that make me jump and my heart race and my mouth dry. Little, everyday things that make me uncertain of what’s really there and leave me off-balance. I’m pretty sure everyone gets these from time to time, so I didn’t report them. It didn’t occur to me that I was getting rather a lot of them.

It simply didn’t occur to me that these were symptomatic of something other than chronic and severe depression, and that I needed to perhaps share them. When I finally did so, the psychiatrist calmly pointed out that just because I know they’re all coming from my brain, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be there.

There are other things too that point towards a bipolar diagnosis. I can’t take SSRIs and I now know people with bipolar regularly react to SSRIs. The writing that I do – some of that was great and lovely, but other parts of it were wildly out of control. I should not have been able to write two novels in 18 months while working full time and raising two children, while also writing hundreds and thousands of words of fanfic. That’s a few steps beyond ‘driven’.

All of this time, I was also sedated. I should have been calm and quiet. I still managed to not sleep for weeks on end, just waiting until I literally passed out.

So, we're tentatively stepping towards bipolar, and the end result is that I'm now on an anti-psychotic and mood stabilizer.

It is amazing. I did not realise how noisy my head was until that noise was suddenly stopped. I can now step outside and do some mindfulness, and I relax, as I’m meant to. I’m no longer fighting through this wall of nonsense to get anything done, or trying to physically keep a pace with the speed that my thoughts are hitting me, so I’m no longer as crushingly tired.

There’s still a way to go. This is the longest amount of writing I’ve done for a couple of months. I’m also aware that it’s turned wordy and epic. I can’t tell whether that’s a sign of the mania, or a sign that some of the creative side of me is coming back. These things are no longer straight forward to identify.

I love my children. I utterly love my children, and the relief there is overwhelming too.


I’ve had false dawns before with this thing (and I’m very aware of the rate of bipolar relapses), so I’m slightly wary of dancing about and declaring that I’m better. But right now, I’m happy to breathe deeply and feel that fresh air, and to listen to the nice, quiet sounds of the world. 

Pip xxx



Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Shelter

This is a short story I submitted to a competition. It didn't win, so I thought I'd publish it here.


Shelter

It had never been a house, this little building on the edge of the moor. It had only ever offered the most basic of comforts to the shepherds living out there in the bleakness. Four walls, a moss roof, a fireplace in the corner under a small hole. In its day, it must have been hot and smoky.

She might have preferred to stay outside in the fresh air back then.

Her eyes glint slightly - the first sign of life in hours - as she calculates how much of this building had made it to the present.

Approximately fifty-nine per cent. None of the roof has survived, and the wall opposite where she sits has been reduced to a scattering of stones, starting in a heap where the wall once proudly stood, growing sparser as the distance from the hut increases.

Her brain whirls through another calculation: the amount of roughly hewn stones across the bottom of the one complete wall, by the amount of rows reaching the six feet of its height. She compares this to the approximate amount of stones left in the pile at the foot of the non-wall. Someone has been stealing the stones.

This knowledge soothes her.

She huddles by the eastern wall where there is still some small protection from the cruel wind that cuts across the moor.

She licks her dry and broken lips and peeps out of the space left by two missing bricks in the wall beside her. She can see an orange cagoule a long way off, and the sight startles her. She cringes and cowers but makes herself check again. One walker. No. Two. Two people with their dog. From this distance, she decides they are a happy couple, sharing and respectful of one another. They dote on their dog as if it were a child, and she has a moment of jealousy.

Her heart settles back into its proper place, and she shuffles two tender buttocks closer to her corner.

The walls are made of sandstone; rough bricks of uneven sizes cut into basic blocks and stacked together. In places ancient and crumbling cement holds them together, but mostly the builder relied on the old dry-stone method. Her right temple is resting against one brick, and her right eye is so close that it can see the individual specks of sand that gather to form it.

Before – a long time ago, when she was still a child – she used to lick stones like this.

She would feel a million granules against the roughness of her tongue, things so small, too tiny for her fingers to make out, but solid and dense together. Strong.

She licks the wall now.

It tastes like childhood, and she is ashamed.

A gust of wind rushes in through the lost wall, swirls once around the building, grabbing, greedily searching through every nook, molesting her, rudely taking advantage of her stillness and fear.

She calculates its speed and force, and her pale fingers wrap her sweater more closely to her.

She looks out through the little gap. She thinks she can see him, perhaps, a long way from here. She thinks there is movement. She stiffens and then relaxes. It’s just a rabbit, perhaps, a long way away.

The wind whips her tangled, dirty hair across her face.

A long time ago, back when she was a child, her hair had been so golden it could fill the world with light. The sun shone through it and in it as she bounced on the little trampoline in the back garden. Splaying upwards and outwards as she filled the sky with love, laughing through red lips and white teeth, her hair following her body down, flopping over her chest, curling around her shoulders, down, down, then up, up and all the while laughing.  Her brother had aimed a water pistol at her and soaked her, and she’d held her hands up to cover her face and laughed through them, and as she drew her hands away, she saw the man through the window.

They’d known each other for years, that man and her, but as she slowly lowered her dripping hands it was they were meeting now in this little, terraced, new-build house for the very first time. He didn’t call to her. He didn’t wave. There was a slight nod of his head, and a small move of his muscles in his face, pulling his lips upwards. Then he turned away.

She’d frowned with the ludicrous humour of the summer day and started bouncing again. Bare feet hitting thick black canvass.

Her bare feet poke out beyond the hems of her tight jeans now. Her bony ankles are cold from where she stamped right through the brook and they got wet, and one aches from where she twisted it as she ran. In the corner opposite her, by the untidy pile of sandstone blocks, her wet trainers are neatly placed, side by side with the laces tucked inside. There are no socks. There wasn’t time.

In the new-build terrace there was a higgledy piggledy pile of shoes all jumbled together in the hallway. She remembers the feel of her father’s hand against the back of her legs on the day that he tripped over them. The pile had been there for a thousand years, but one day, that day, in that moment, they were her responsibility. In retrospect, the slap hadn’t hurt her much. There hadn’t even been a red mark when she’d checked in the bathroom after her shower.

She used to do things like that once; check for marks that were never there. These days, she wonders why she bothered checking.

She is dirty today. All of her is, of course, but her feet have a clean, dry dirt. The soil sticking to her soles smells the way it always has; rich and earthy. Bits of bracken cling to her clothes.  The soil, the bracken, the sandstone walls; all these things belong to the time before, and she feels the grim weight of shame.

She looks out again across the cold, barren moor.

The knowledge that he is on his way drips into her consciousness and becomes part of her world.

Her stomach twists in hunger. She moves her head stiffly to look around. There’s been no food in this building for decades now. Not even rats for the foxes or rubbish for the rats. The smoky fireplace might have been used once for heating soup or stew to keep the shepherd going through the cold of the winter.

Mother will start making soups next week. Always a slow cooker on the go, ready to ladle out something hot as first her brother, then she, then her father got home. Mother was very good at keeping her family warm. When the sun quickly dropped on the day of the barbeque, she reached to touch her daughter’s ankles and told her to find some socks. She’d laughed and not moved. The man had brashly stated that she could look after herself well enough now. She didn’t need to cover her pretty white ankles if she’d rather not.

Winter had come quickly this year. Almost overnight. Sometimes it seems like yesterday that they were laughing in the garden, cooking meat outside, bouncing into the air, shooting off water pistols. White smiles and flowing hair.

She realises now that she should have predicted the change. If she had dutifully taken readings of the wind speed and direction, and the temperature at various times of day, she could have plotted them on a chart with mean and meridian points, and a trend line striking through.

It might have made her more aware.

But it’s too late now. Now it’s darker, colder, the air is more present; something to feel and fight through. Coats should be thicker, food more plentiful and dished out regularly. But that is all for the time before. Now she is not a child she is alone, hungry and underdressed, setting all her hopes on the last fifty-nine per cent of this stony place.

She makes her fingers remember the warmth of her brown mug that she held to her chest, letting it thaw the freeze that she’d picked up on the bus trip across town. Her fingers fail her, and the coldness and the hunger stay. She estimates it will be about half an hour until she starts shaking uncontrollably.

She thinks she sees a movement outside, and she moves towards the tiny gap again, her eyes peering through.

It’s cloudy now, and the afternoon light has taken on a murky, thick quality. She can’t see as far away any more. She knows that there’s a brook, some half mile away, beyond which the dog-walkers were taking their stroll. She knows it’s there, but she can’t see it.

It feels as though the world is shrinking to a small circle with this little building and the beating, frightened heart in the centre of it.

There’s nobody out there that she can see now. Her eyes keep looking.

Sharp, blue eyes, clear as crystal. Eyes that will pick up the individual grains of sand in the walls, or the accident with the shoes before it happens, or the half smile of the man from forever through the kitchen window. Now there’s nothing but the moor.

She closes the sharp little eyes.

Odd thoughts come to her now. The smell of the polish on the piano as she practises.

Hiding in the cupboard during hide and seek, and finding a spider but not screaming.

The feel of the man’s body pressed up against hers, and the taste of his rough hands in her mouth.

Her eyes snap open again.

She moves now, sitting up and feeling the fight coming back from a long way down in her stomach, far beyond where the pain starts. She peers out of her tower again, looking off into the distance. She can see the path that she can take home. She will choose a better, more solid path on the homeward journey, which leads to the good stepping-stones over the brook.

Twelve minutes to the path. Seven minute to the brook.

At the other side the path forks, and along the left hand fork, if she walks quickly for twenty minutes, she will reach the outskirts of her village. She’ll be at the older side, with the hills and the cobbles and the pub, but she can walk under the lamplight to the street with the new build terrace. It’s a slightly longer route, but nobody will be expecting her that way.

She looks again to check that there is nobody there. She can’t even see a rabbit or a crow.

Alone in the small section of this world, she stands and prepares herself to leave. She pats the stone wall by her shoulder, and on impulse, she kisses it.

She takes one long breath and reaches for her shoes.

There is a rustling and she looks up. Her second shoe drops back to the ground and she presses her small body to the wall.

A savage half-smile gleams at her in the half-light.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Crochet


The week before I went back to work, I started getting a wee bit restless. I wouldn’t say that I was champing at the bit to get back. If anything, I was feeling somewhat tremulous, wondering what might have happened during the seven weeks that I’d been away. It was coming out in a distinct fidgety feeling. A sort of mind-itchiness.

The weather had turned colder again, and I’d run out of money to waste on gardening. I still have big plans; Claudia and I want to make a nature area in the old vegetable plot, where there will be a pond, a bug-hotel and a rockery. But at the moment, that’s all on hold while other things eat into our budget.

So I decided, pretty much in one split second, that I would learn how to crotchet.

The ‘how-to’ book arrived (The Happy Hooker from the Stitch-n-bitch series, fact fans), and after a little more waiting, I got hold of a hook, and I gave it a good old go. The book is very easy to follow, and great for beginners. My hands, however, took a bit of convincing.

I don’t recall learning to knit. I know I must have done at some point, because I can knit now and it’s not exactly instinctive behaviour, but I don’t remember lessons. I know my mum taught me. I vaguely remember knitting half a jumper, where I did all the knit rows and she did all the purls. I must have been taught purl at some point, but it’s all vague memories. I certainly don’t remember the tangles and tears and tantrums that there clearly must have been when I failed to learn a new skill immediately and without any practice at all.

So it was interesting to see how this all would work this time.

Here is my first ever crotcheted thing.





Check it out! I learned how to turn a corner and everything! Obviously I wasn’t meant to, and I’m still not entirely sure how I did it or how to replicate it when I want to, but still. OK.

The next thing was this…



This was a practise piece showing single, half-double and double stitch. There are supposed to be the same amount of stitches at the end as there were in the beginning. There are not.

As I vaguely predicted, I gave it all up as a bad job, and put it down for 48 hours.

It niggled away though, and I thought I’d have another go. I did another small square that would serve as a coaster. It’s OK.

Then I did this…



It’s mostly double stitch, though every fourth is single just to keep the texture a little interesting. I’m quite proud of it. I’ve suddenly got designs to crochet all my Christmas presents this year.

I’ve also made these little colourful coasters.



So it’s entirely possible that I’ve created yet another obsession.

But it’s given me something to relieve the tension with the return to work, which has been fine. It hasn’t been amazing and glorious, but it was never going to be. The medication is great, but it’s leaving me very drowsy. My usual bedtime of between 9 and 10 has moved to between 8 and 9, and I’m a touch moopish that my life is somewhat restricted at the moment. On the other hand, it’s probably going to get better as I’m more used to the drugs in my system. I’m going to keep on holding on for the next few weeks, and hopefully after that, it will all feel a bit easier and more natural.

In the meantime, I’ve got my hook and my wool, and that’ll do. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

What a difference a week makes...


Following my last post, I have seen psychiatrist. Without boring you to tears, he has changed my medication from a tri-cyclic to a tetra-cyclic (or NaSSA). The dose was a little wobbly at first, but we can adjust that over the next few weeks. I’ve had some frankly crazy dreams of craziness, but, generally speaking, things seem to be starting to get a little lighter.

One of the most difficult aspects of depression for me isn’t the constant crying, or even the horrible and negative thoughts, though neither of them are a joy; the hardest part for me is the complete inability to just ruddy do anything. The feeling I described in my last post, the pushing myself on and aching so badly, those feelings of complete and utter exhaustion are just awful. Things that should be easy, or at least manageable, take twice as long because I have to constantly stop to draw a breath or focus on what I should be doing. Cleaning the kitchen can feel soul-destroyingly impossible. I take half measures and do things badly or just good enough so that I crawl back to a sofa or bed to just rest.

It’s really crippling, because the next time it takes twice as long again, and the next time, and the next, and eventually it’s just too hard to even start. All of my reserves, every last one, are focused entirely on the immediate and the absolutely necessary.

When I was ill four years ago, I remember a chirpy Health Visitor asking ‘but you are managing to feed and bath your children, aren’t you?’ I replied yes, not wanting to admit the fault, but I couldn’t remember when they’d last been bathed. It had stopped being ‘a necessity.’ Food would be whatever I could hand to Claudia to keep her quiet during the day, and Tom would be sorted at nursery. Then my husband would come home from work and cook a meal that would be nutritious enough to balance it.

When the wellness started, these things got easier. I was even able to do them while doing a full week of work. It was gradual that time around, but eventually I stopped feeling quite so heavy. I could move my limbs without an effort, and things started to get done.

This time it seems to have been somewhat quicker. It’s only two days on the new medications, and I’m sensible enough to recognise that this might well be a false dawn, or worse, the start of a manic response to the medication, but thus far, early signs are good!

This morning it took a couple of hours to get out of bed, but when I did, I got dressed, brushed my teeth (two more things I’ve taken to seeing as non-necessity of late), and suggested to my daughter that we might do a bit of gardening.

I haven’t the first idea where that thought came from. I have noticed a couple of interesting looking things growing in the depths of the garden, surrounded by dandelions and ground eldar, and have occasionally wondered about digging the weeds from around them, all the while knowing that it would never happen. It was so far from ‘necessity’ that it wasn’t really worth thinking about. The weeds were welcome to the garden.

But this morning, this happened…




All the while Claudia was chattering at me, and we discussed worms and maybe having a pond, and how bamboo grew, and whether she’d like to have her own animal wildlife reserve when she’s older (she would, fact fans). At no point did I think; ‘please stop talking to me child! I just can’t cope with the extra thoughts in my head!’

We had a nice morning. By the way, if anyone can identify those plants, I’d be grateful to know what they are. I think my dad planted them last year, and they’ve re-seeded when we failed to harvest them last year.

I’ve also dug out a new flowerbed at the top of the garden. I’ve always wanted to have herbs in that area, and the rosemary I planted three years ago is going great guns, so I dug up the mammoth thistle that was guarding the entrance to the lawn, even down to the massive white tuber that was supporting it, and got rid of the damned thing once and for all.

This is what it looked like before (the soil to the right is where the demon thistle was)…



I moved some Lavender down into the place…


It doesn't look that impressive, I admit, but I think it's better than it was. It's certainly a start, and in my world, a start's quite an achievement. 

I had designs on digging out some of the bamboo that’s invaded from next door, but I stopped, partly because I’d been working for two hours without really noticing, and partly because I haven’t the first idea what to do with the bamboo. Here it is…



If anyone can advice me on getting rid of an overgrowth of bamboo from the middle of the lawn, I'd be happy to hear it. I don’t necessarily want to get rid of all of it, but it needs to be taken back a foot or two.

So, all in all, I’d suggest things are looking much brighter. It’s early days, but my goodness, the sudden possibilities are quite exciting! I don’t just mean with the garden (though I’m contemplating digging a pond), but with other things. I could clean the bathroom later. I need to reorganise the kitchen. I’d quite like to converse with my husband, and spend some time listening to him of an evening, rather than closing off and just battling anxiety until bedtime. Maybe, we might even have an evening out sometime! It’s been about three years since we last went for a walk to a pub, and at least two years since I’ve even wanted to try.

Obviously I've now retreated to be, because the two-hour digging session has wiped me out a bit, but hey, look! I've written a whole blog post!

Here’s hoping that this is the start of a nice little turn around. That would be both epic and awesome.

I know I’m not alone in suffering either, so I hope that anyone else who’s thinking ‘what’s the point?’ might find a way through it too. Early signs suggest that it might be worth it.

Pip xxx




Saturday, 30 March 2013

30/03/13


I received a message the other day from somebody thanking me for the unflinching way that I talk about my depression. It was a lovely note, but it confused me. I do flinch. I flinch all the time. There’s all this bubbling blackness inside that I’m too afraid to let anyone see.

I’m writing this a few minutes after coming out of a black puddle. I’m still in bed. I can’t be bothered to go to the loo, though I need to. My nose is still blocked. I’m basically a mess. So that’s the state of me while I try not to look away from it. I don’t know why I’m sharing this now, apart from, someone thinks I don’t flinch, so I’m going to try not to.

I wander into black puddles regularly at the moment. Spaces and times that consist of nothing but blackness. You can’t plan beyond it, or see outside of it. It’s a thick, dark air that’s uncomfortable to breathe, and it’s heavy and cold on your legs so it’s hard to move. It’s just despair, and it bloody hurts. This has been going on for several years now, and I’ve become pretty adept at holding on through them. Some of the puddles are pretty big. I can spend hours at a time just breathing, trying to hold on, minute by minute until it starts to lift a little bit. I used to be quite pleased about this. I realised that if I could get through one puddle, then I could do it. So each puddle became an exercise in getting to the other side without just drowning. I had before, so I could again. Each one is pretty horrible, but survivable.

So at some point, ‘surviving’ became the way I lived my life. I’ve had some OK times during those years. I had a run of about three months without a black puddle from October to January. Then that stopped.

What I hadn’t anticipated, when I got into my ‘surviving’ mentality, was that the puddles might get worse. They got worse. They’re a lot blacker, a lot more intense now, and harder to get through. It’s like I’m trying to walk through snow drifts and each time I think I’m through, I’m presented with another one, higher and colder and more ice-filled than the last. I keep falling down in them, and I keep having to heave myself up again with numb arms and aching legs.

I can sometimes predict them. This morning’s was caused by me having a nice afternoon out yesterday. It wasn’t a big piss up. It was a meal with a small group of people who I love very much. I had a vaium so that I could cope with the outing, and I’d napped ahead of time so that it wouldn’t exhaust me.

It would appear that didn’t work. I had a nice time. I felt no stress before, during or afterwards, but each pleasant, nice feeling is always, always paid for the next day. It doesn’t matter what it is; talking to someone new, doing a great piece of writing, spending some happy times with family. It doesn’t matter. It will be paid for.

When I’m in a puddle, I find myself exposed and raw. Everything that is said to me or around me feels like the worst insult. I’m awful. I’m a mess, I’m weak, I’m evil, I’m rubbish. I end up curled into a ball with my arms over my head, trying to shield myself from these constant kicks, but I can’t, because they’re not coming from outside me.

They feel like physical blows. Kicks to the stomach that make it hard to breathe. A few months ago, when I was still trying to get through work days, I started to hurt myself physically. Anything to distract from the pain that’s inside, that’s tearing me apart. Anything would feel better than that. Sometimes it took a lot for me to notice that genuine, physical pain that I was causing. The one that’s going through the normal nerve endings and pain receptors and has a beginning and an end. But usually, I could get my brain to look away from these massive internal beatings that I’m getting.

I know, and I always knew that it wasn’t a healthy way to deal with things. But it worked, damn it, and anything is better than the pain. I can’t explain how desperately I just want the other pain to stop.

I am trying so hard at the moment to not do that any more,but it's because I know that I shouldn't, and sometimes that makes no sense at all.

What’s frightening me most at the moment, is that I don’t know how long I can keep surviving these puddles or these snowdrifts. I am so desperately tired, and all I see in front of me is a life where every pleasure is paid for, and each time the payment is harder and tougher.

I’m a fighter. I’ve been fighting this off for years, but holy fuck I’m tired out now. I do not know how long I can keep fighting, and that thought terrifies me.

I’ve daydreamed about my death, just abstract feelings of ‘oh that would be such a relief…’ on and off for two years, but in the last few weeks those daydreams have started turning to wishes. They’re growing stronger and more detailed, and it causes me so much pain to fight against them now.

I have little, tiny sparks of logic which are keeping me going. One is that if the depression kills me, I will not be allowed a Catholic funeral, and my children won’t understand that.

It’s crazy; part of me can see it’s crazy, that I think my children would understand any part of it at all. I have focussed on my son as needing me to stay alive and help him, and I don’t know why I think my daughter would be fine without me. I know I could not possibly kill myself in the house where my husband and children have to live. That would be utterly, utterly wrong. These are all illogical thoughts, but they keep me going when the rest of my logic is so hopelessly twisted up, that I’m not going to knock them.

When I’m in a puddle, sobbing, with my arms up over my head, I literally think that it would be better for my children if they didn’t have to live with me like this. They could move on, and find a more stable, capable mother. Just staying alive like this must be damaging them so badly. I know, I know that this is wrong and it makes no sense, but when I’m down, in a puddle, being kicked, it’s very hard to see that. So I’ll take the ‘no Catholic funeral’, and ‘not in the house’ if these things will keep me alive.

It’s getting very cold and dark down here though, and I don’t know how long I can keep getting up again. I’m so, desperately tired. I don’t want to try anything new, or try to be vaguely happy, because the unhappy that follows it is not worth the price.

So there we are. That’s unflinching. That’s the absolute blackness of me at the moment. It’s not pretty, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who wants to look away.

I am getting help. I’m not prepared to stop trying yet, so I’m getting help. The reason for the lack of hope is that I’m on medication already. The stuff I’m currently taking has got me through a couple of big bouts of depression in the past. On top of that, I’ve had two lots of CBT, and I do mindfulness exercises, and I watch my diet, and I try to keep vaguely exercised when I can, and I go for walks and look at trees and stuff. Hell, I can’t even listen to music without assessing what mental effect it might have on me. Technically, I’m doing everything right. I’m doing everything I can to prevent this happening, and it’s still happening.

 I’ve been passed on from my GP to the psychiatric team in the area, and they’re going all out to sort something that might help. I’ve been given a small amount of Valium to help me get through the puddles for the next week. Just to ease that pain a bit. I’m seeing a psychiatrist next Friday who will do a full review of my medication, and we’ll start trying to find something that will work now my current medication has, well, it hasn’t failed, but I clearly need something else. I’m going to be hooked up with long term counselling.

So I’m tired. I’m in pain. I don’t know how long my strength will last, but I do, at the moment, have a tiny glimmer of hope that this blackness won’t last forever. I daren’t try to look into the future to far, or plan or dream just in case, but I will keep trying. One foot in front of the other until I get to a place with no more puddles.

I feel a lot better than I did when I started writing this. That particular puddle is behind me. I can go to the loo, and I might even go downstairs and get something to eat and drink. I do believe there are chocolate digestives in the fridge, and that might be worth getting up for. Breathing is easier now. Maybe I won’t be in another puddle for a week or two. That would be nice. There is quite a lot of the day when I feel more or less fine. Slightly anxious maybe, very tired, but not hopeless and in despair.

So these are the things I would like you to take away from this. Sometimes I’m OK. Sometimes I’m even optimistic or can make jokes and talk lightly. And I will keep fighting. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not going down without a bloody good fight.




Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Gren News

Gren 2, or to quietly announce it's title; 'Gren Peppard and the Queen of Hearts' is still in the process of whenever I can fit it in. Which unfortunately isn't that often at the moment.

I've given it about a months rest at the moment, and I'm hoping that when I go back to it I'll be able to insert a somewhat fresher feel to it. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but it still needs work. My main task is to focus on the different tones in both the Gren and Sam chapters, and to work on my descriptive passages.

I've also decided that I'm going to have another shot at getting an agent. I do want to have my work represented, and I desperately need the advice of people who know the industry. I learned a lot from writing and then selling The Lost Boy, but there are still some serious gaps in my knowledge. The bad news is that this will significantly delay publication. And on a personal level, it will also chip away at my confidence and energy as there's no way of doing this without facing a pile of rejections. So I'm stealing myself for that.

The other thing I'm going to do is to take a look at the work I've published on fanfiction.net, with a view to removing certain chunks of it. I'm hoping to still leave a satisfactory body of work there, but there are some pieces where I want to effectively plagiarise my own work, and I'd feel more comfortable if they weren't published elsewhere.

As a small taster, this is sort of what I mean. I wrote this about two years ago, and I quite like the imagery. I'm thinking of polishing it up and giving it to one of my characters. Certainly I think it will be a worth while exercise, just looking through to see what I've got.

He dipped his head slightly, so that his nose was just beneath the surface, his eyes almost level with the slick, dark surface of the pool. The water in front of him was glassy, and his aim was to leave it that way. He made his movements as fluid as possible, leaving the smallest of ripples arrowing behind him as he cut through the water.

The water felt clean against his skin, swirling around his arms and between his legs. He struck out further, bringing strength and speed to his stroke.

Forty laps. Then maybe he'd be able to sleep.

So, that's where we are and what I'm doing. I am sorry for the excessive silence there's been of late. There's been so much going on that trying to snatch a tiny thread of it to work something up to write here has been damned near impossible. My New Year's Resolution of 'focus more!' might well be starting up over two months late.

Love to you all,

Pip xxx



Monday, 22 October 2012

Where has Gren Peppard gone?


‘So’, I hear you cry, ‘what exactly is happening with the Gren Peppard sequel?’

Actually, I imagine that to most of you this is largely irrelevant in your daily lives, but I'm clothed in just enough self-obsession today to think you care and to want to soothe you.

I am still writing it. Honest.

In a nutshell, I had a very brief, fairly mild nervous breakdown in May. It really wasn't long lived in its immediate, intense phase, and I was just about able to go back to work after just four weeks. I could only work a couple of days a week for the six or seven weeks after that, and, though I'm doing significantly better than I was, I still need to take occasional day or week off work.

The breakdown was interesting for me (silver lining there), because I experienced a couple of new symptoms. I was quite desperately suicidal during that period. Not constantly, but certainly I'd have three or four sessions a week where I was struggling to hold on. Despite having a long, long history of depression, this is the first time I've been suicidal. 

I have regularly had periods where I didn't much care if I lived or died, and have occasionally been filled with enough self-hatred to want to punish myself, and I've even made vague plans to be filed for later. This, however, has been the first time when I've gone through that darkness of wanting to die so much that I wanted to stop waiting for it and to take matters into my own hands. It was pretty harsh to get through, but get through it I did.

When I was a child, I was of the opinion that suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do. I still have a fair amount of sympathy for people who share that opinion. However, in the past fifteen years or so, I've slowly found myself shifting my sympathy to those people who are so desperate as to take their own lives. Now my opinion has changed again. It’s subtle, so subtle I don’t think I can put it into words, but I've added something to the ‘desperation’. Managing to not kill yourself when you’re actively suicidal takes a massive chunk of energy. When you’re in the fog of Depression, that energy is pretty hard to come by, and it relies on you having just enough logic still intact to know that it’s worth fighting through. When it comes at you over and over for weeks on end, and you don’t know when that’s going to stop happening … well, I can understand how people get so worn down that they just give in.

I am very lucky. I have a supportive family, and a frankly exceptional husband (in this area – I’d still like him to learn how to clean the kitchen properly), so, with a lot of help, I got through it.

That’s the largest part of my excuse. The reason that draft one wasn't ready by the end of June was that I was occupied almost exclusively with trying not to kill myself for most of May. While I love writing and hope to please my readers, you’ll understand why Gren moved down in my priorities.

There are a couple of other things that also blighted me during that time. The first was that I suddenly lost the ability to write. I mean literally; my handwriting went from fairly bad to nonsensical, and my typing speed also diminished to almost nothing. My brain started to do strange things with the keyboard. My poor spelling has always been something of a problem, but I started to type whole words backwards, or get stuck jamming the same key over and over again unable to control my fingers. So, on the rare occasions when I could work out how I wanted a sentence to go, I was unable to get it onto the document. 

Again, I this wasn't all day every day, and I was often able to hold it together to write the odd status update and email. Creative writing was gone for most of the time though, and I couldn't touch Gren at all for about six weeks, and then had to limit it to an hour at a shot. To say this was frustrating is something of an understatement.

On the other hand, it wasn’t nearly so frustrating as the second blight: I couldn’t read.

I was able to work out what the words on the page said, so that’s something. I wasn’t, however, quite so able to work out what they meant. I’d spend ten seconds deciphering what a specific sentence was trying to say, and then, by the time I’d started the next one, I’d have forgotten the first. I’d battle through a paragraph over the course of forty minutes, and then I’d be so exhausted I’d have to sleep again.

Again, this wasn’t all day every day, but I focussed my energy on getting through what was necessary, and then I slept. Reading for pleasure was gone.

I’ll tell you what though; I suddenly have a massive amount of sympathy with Tom and his dyslexia. Reading is not fun. Reading, to him, is a series of mini mysteries that need to be decoded, and by the time he’s said the word correctly it has no connection with any other word. When I read a sentence back to him, it’s like he’s hearing it for the first time. I'm pleased that we continued to read to him at night, rather than forcing him to do it for himself.

For me the ability is slowly coming back, and like I say, the worst of this was over after the first four weeks. After a couple of months of occasionally dabbling in old, favourite, comfort reading, and after a number of frustrating false starts, I finally managed to read an entire novel without too many problems. It was Night Watch, by Sarah Waters, and it was precisely what I needed. It took me another month or so before I found Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell. OK, when I say ‘found’, I really mean ‘stole from my Mother in Law’, but still, I read the whole book. Both took longer than I usually take over a novel, but they made such a difference to me. The idea that I might not ever be able to read a book again had crossed my mind lots of times (I wasn't at my most logical), so these two were something of an elixir.

This weekend I demolished the whole of the Hunger Games trilogy. I wanted to jump up and down on my bed, flinging beloved books, old and new, into the air yelling ‘ I'm alive! I'm alive! I'm alive!’ at the end of them.

So, there you have all my excuses. 1: preoccupied by the trying to say alive thing. 2: literally couldn't do it – and this still creeps up occasionally, and I’ll still find that a two or three hour writing stint wipes me out for the rest of the day. 3: At my most desperate I went back through all the advice I've ever been given about writing, and finally stumbled across the one that’s as old as the hills; ‘read a lot’. I needed to start there.

The Gren Peppard sequel still underway, but it’s going to take a lot longer than I initially bargained for. I'm asking you to trust me when I say that because of the extra time, because of the things that I'm learning and re-learning now, it’s going to be a better book for it.

Pip xxx