A week in solitary refinement

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Pink heart

After a week spent at my parents’ house with my kids, I’ve now had another week to settle back in at home. Although I was in good company while I was away, it was nice to return to my comfort zone. Pleasant company aside, all I longed for was solitude. It’s one of many parts which have never fitted together in the puzzle which is my particular brand of depression.

Although I can be quite extrovert in the right company, I’m a reclusive person by nature. All of my other traits are equally observable in either situation: Opinionated, offensive to some; not giving a shit. I can be challenging company and I travel with my own atmosphere: That’s why my comfort zone is my studio, where I can be reclusive.

Depression is not inherited but I know that my parents (and others) find it frustrating when they don’t understand something, just as I do. My diagnosis was hastened by alcoholism and I continue to fight the fire with gasoline, but depression can strike anyone and it’s a slow stalker; only letting you know that it’s there once it’s enveloped you.

And it is frustrating: Having an IQ of 147, a grasp of quantum mechanics and entanglement which pretty much explains everything, yet not being able to understand what goes on in my head.

I also know that I’m unlikely to ever be cured of my illness. There’s not a day which passes when I don’t miss my children and rue everything which led to my breakdown. And yet, it was down to me and it’s me who serves the life sentence.

This isn’t self-pity. If anyone were to check social media for the last time I posted a needy “me” comment, they’d have to look for a very long time, because I never do. Why burden others with something which I myself find perplexing? And so I remain reclusive.

All of which and more, I need to convey to a judge and a panel at tribunal in order to be re-awarded the increased benefits I once received. It’s difficult to explain how a mental illness can affect one’s physical abilities but at my last tribunal, I was fortunate enough to have a judge who was more insightful than most of the people I’ve had to deal with in benefits land.

It’s in that hearing that I’ll finally have an opportunity to pour out my heart. Everyone knows what I put everyone else through when I had my breakdown. Now that’s in the past, I wonder if anyone, one day, might think to consider what I went through and what I continue to go through every day. No wonder I keep myself distracted by writing.

Writing this blog is always an outlet and my writing in general is a therapeutic coping mechanism. As I’ve continued to read the regular column in The Guardian, where better-known writers describe their working days, I find more and more kindred spirits. Many writers have mental health issues and some use their work to express what they are unable to to others, and even themselves.

I realise how suited I am to this job for many reasons. With no-one to talk to (and I don’t want to) – like my peers – it’s sometimes a matter of writing a story which gets it all out. Most of those stories are never seen but this old typewriter knows it all. And it’ll be here when I’m gone, like those diaries in The Unfinished Literary Agency, found outside the abandoned building. Like some of those other writers, I’m happiest when it’s dark outside and my studio is lit only by the desk lamp over the laptop: I’m cocooned then.

Some of those stories end up getting a second airing and occasionally become something else. Like most of my writing though, it’s the deep thought between the lines which can make the stories so affecting.

A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie sat in my virtual filing cabinet for 18 months: Praised by the editor of Writing Magazine when it won first prize in a “Life-changing” story competition, it languished. Because like most writing, there was room for improvement. I edited that story quite heavily and made it appropriate to a greater readership, with more inclusive circumstances in the story.

Those circumstances are a family break-up and the loss of a family friend; things which many people can relate to. Although it’s a children’s story first and foremost, it’s still pretty deep, as my beta readers would testify. Although my own daughter is only nine, when she offered to illustrate it for me, I was amazed at how much of the sub-text she seemed to have understood and which is portrayed in her pictures. The book is available on Amazon for Kindle (here) and I hope to attract the attention of a mainstream publisher. It’s a story which needed to be told and which I hope many will read and be affected by.

When I write stories for children – including the ones I now write specifically to keep up with my own – I don’t dumb them down too much. As I found with all of the teenagers I met when I was homeless, society does young people a disservice when it comes to understanding. I try to be more respectful.

A week of solitude and thought has given me many more ideas for writing, both current and future. My short fiction output has reduced, as I predicted it would. I’ll still do the marketing and PR work, but I’m at a stage where I’m having to look at writing from a more commercial angle. With a couple of paying gigs in the pipeline, as well as the Cyrus Song book going well, it’s good to be back.

Horror, science fiction and fantasy: That’s my life.

Given my solitary and reclusive nature, a busy writer is a good thing for me to be.

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