Why do rainbows look sad?

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Zippy and George

Despite life in general being pretty good, depression is always just around the corner, waiting to piss on my bonfire. No matter how well things can seem on the outside, those suffering from anxiety and depression are always expecting bad news in the post. We know it’s coming, even if it isn’t. A rainbow is a beautiful thing, but it still looks like a sad face. Such is life.

On the flip side, there are of course situations which look worse than they are. I’m not a pessimist. I realise that being an optimist or a pessimist makes no difference to the outcome, but the optimist has a better time leading up to it. So despite suffering chronic (as in, life-affecting) depression, I do tend to look on the bright side. But the dark dog is always skulking in the woods somewhere: One of many ways I describe the perpetual anxiety I have. It’s subjective, it’s as unique as the individual, and others would describe it all differently. We’d all describe it as “a bit shit” but I try as a writer to convey more than that generalisation (true though it is).

Of course, it’s always nice and life-affirming, when something which initially doesn’t look good, turns out to be okay: A bit like someone offering a plate of Russian Roulette sandwiches, where all look the same, but some are filled with Nutella and others with shit. That’s kind of what happened this week, when a lady I know from the council knocked on my door. She’s a very nice lady and part of the team who housed me at my studio when I became vulnerable. My landlord is that rare angel who works with the local authority to offer homes to benefits tenants. As I’ve said before, my studio as a flat is pretty “unusual”, being very small (a bedsit with a separate small kitchen) and with an off-suite toilet and shower room (for my exclusive use). But as an office, it’s feckin’ ace. And seeing as my work is also my life, that’s how come this small living space / cool workspace became known as Le Studio Chez Moi: It fits me and vice versa. The point is, it’s not the kind of place which private renters will be falling over themselves to occupy, even though it’s in a quiet location in a peaceful village. So my landlord rents out the lower end of their portfolio to people like me, who are grateful of somewhere to live. Something I’ve always lacked though, through many years of renting, is a sense of permanence. This is not to be confused with a sense of entitlement, which is something I lack. But for my own personal well being, a permanent home has always been my wish.

When I moved to the studio 15 months ago, I was put on a one year tenancy agreement and the council raised a bond to cover my deposit. At the time, I was told that my landlord may grant a longer tenancy at the end of a first year, depending on how that year went. I’m a good tenant and the first year was without incident. So when that lady from the council turned up at my door, brandishing a manilla C5 window envelope with my name and address peering out, my heart sank (what was I saying about being an optimist or a pessimist?). As it turned out, my deposit bond has been renewed and I’ve been granted a rolling tenancy: It’s the nearest I will ever get to having a permanent home. Council tenancies for life are a thing of the past, but what I have now is the nearest modern equivalent. So that envelope, that potential shit sandwich, turned out to be one filled with chocolate spread, which was nice.

I’ve said before that I don’t want to politicise this blog, and that’s still true. But beliefs are part of what makes the person, so I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a Labour voter. My day-to-day observations on politics and everything else in the world are on my public Facebook timeline, but I will say a little about recent political events:

I voted Labour and I’m pleased that at least the Tories didn’t get an overall majority. The next few weeks will see more disruption, with coalitions and co-operatives formed. It’s all too complicated to call at the moment but in modernising politics, coalitions will play a part. I don’t see Labour forming a coalition (although I think they should with the Liberal Democrats) but Nicola Sturgeon has said that the SNP will work with any progressive parliamentary party. Progressive is what politics is finally becoming, and that’s a good thing.

Even unilaterally, Labour have a voice in parliament now, which will throw a spanner in the works of Kim-Jong May. The Imperial Dictator called the general election egotistically. She assumed (wrongly) that she would win a landslide majority, giving her the green light to steamroller through her hard Brexit, unchallenged. Under this “no plan” of hers, she was seeking to make the UK an annexe of Trump’s US, with cheap labour (no minimum wage), which could be exploited by employers who’d get tax breaks for investing in UK PLC. Either that, or she called the general election because she was shit scared of Brexit. Both have been equally divisive. Whatever happens next, in the short term at least, I predict increased civil unrest, as the far-right get more marginalised. And May has shot herself in the foot, just like her predecessor.

Social media is a minefield in times like these, with fake news spread by the ignorant. Some of the levels of ignorance I’ve seen have been frankly mind-boggling. I’m talking about those who thought Brexit meant “Immigrants out!” and “Muslims out!”: Fascists, who are probably low-earners and who should naturally vote Labour, but who vote Tory because they think Kim-Jong May will goose step all “Immigrants” out of the country, like some pied piper of the apocolypse. It’s hilarious that most of these people wouldn’t even be allowed entry into some “Pure Aryan race”, when one of the prerequisites for such a twisted fantasy would surely be a high level of intelligence. These are the people who wake up in the morning, see a couple of milk bottles on the doorstep and wonder how they got there. Now there’s a pint I’d like to spill.

So, two weeks ago on Facebook, I predicted a hung parliament. Just over a week ago on this blog, I noted that I sensed an uprising and a lifting of the veil: I stand by that and I’ll watch what happens next with great interest.

Away from political punditry, my next novel is almost complete. In terms of publishing, that means I’m about half way through the whole process. Cyrus Song itself is 90% complete: I wrote the ending a long time ago, and the narrative is now approaching that finale. If I pull off the two “Easter Eggs” I’m planning with the word and page counts, there’s about 10,000 words to go. And that’s a book, written. In first draft. At the end of this month, the manuscript goes out to beta readers, all of whom have signed non-disclosure agreements. I’m hoping I’ll get their feedback by the end of July and in the interim, I’ll be poring over my own copy of the manuscript and tidying it up for the second draft. Then there’s editing and checking spelling, punctuation, grammar, tenses, perspectives, continuity etc. After that, the actual book can be compiled and indexed, then there’s acknowledgements, references and a load of other stuff to write before it’s finally ready for publishing. Barring events which even the finest heirophants couldn’t predict, Christmas is probably now at the far end of my publication window. At the moment, I’m aiming for October. 

So it’s all good. But up above the streets and houses, a rainbow still looks like a sad face.

A writer in a residence

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Writer not in residence

Without wishing to tempt fate, or count the eggs which the horse laid before it bolted and I found out where the stable door was, I may have cause to relax just a little bit. All the clues point to my landlady giving me a rolling tenancy, without actually telling me.

Apparently this is par for the course, according to the other two benefits tenants who live in this little hut perched atop a coffee shop. Like me, they came here on an initial one year tenancy and it was never renewed. Which may not seem like great comfort but it’s the most secure I’ve been in a long time.

Three years of varying degrees of homelessness meant that I became quite knowledgeable in a few areas, including squatters’ rights and latterly, those of tenants. We squatted only in abandoned commercial premises and never forced entry. Since then, I’ve had a tenancy agreement and the limited rights which one of those represents. Even without a tenancy agreement, a sitting tenant is entitled to two months’ notice to vacate a property, under the terms of a Section 21 eviction notice, and the latter is a legal requirement of the property owner.

I’ve been at my studio for almost a year now and a Section 21 notice to evict me at the end of my current one year tenancy would therefore have been required almost two months ago. There wasn’t one, and I’ve received a notice from the council about ongoing housing benefit payments being made directly to my landlady. So apart from an actual tenancy agreement, I feel quite secure. In law, I retain the right to two months’ notice, and a tenancy agreement doesn’t give any extra rights. But the key was in speaking to my neighbours, neither of whom have a paper contract but who have both been here for several years on rolling tenancies. Given that the council have confirmed they’ll continue to pay my rent, I have to assume that I have a rolling contract too.

Renting is never secure, as it will always lack the permanence I crave, but this is the next best thing: A rolling tenancy with a council landlady.

The studio is small: It’s a living room barely twelve feet square, with a small kitchen. The toilet and shower are off-suite but for my exclusive use. As I’ve said before, as a flat, it’s not the best; As an office, it’s fantastic. And seeing as writing is my life, I treat the studio as an office which I also relax and sleep in. I’m unlikely to ever make a living from my writing and I’m too ill to work, but writing gives me purpose and it’s therapy. I call it my job, because it’s what gives me and others satisfaction. Whatever it is, when anyone asks me what I do, I am qualified to answer that I’m a writer. It took a long time to be able to say that with confidence. My landlady simply squeezed an extra flat in where others might not; The kind of place which might only be taken by the needy and unfussy. Well, there was a place with a me-shaped hole in it.

And despite its shortcomings, I love my little studio. The flat and the strange little building it’s in with three others is quirky. The end wall on the outside is apparently a rare example of a mill wall, where sacks of flour made from corn were thrown from a first floor door, opening onto thin air, so that they could be dropped into waiting horse carts in the yard below. The door is still there, fifteen feet up, and the wall itself is Grade I listed. The flats sit on top of a coffee shop in the village high street, which is quite a poetic thing for a writer. It’s quiet. It’s very quiet around here, in the studio, in the mews, which is in the yard, tucked behind the village centre. It’s ideal for me. It’s small, but I don’t need any more. I’m paid a basic state income on account of my depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, OCD and many times PTSD. That security has allowed me to improve myself and give something back.

Of course, that’s part of the whole Universal Basic Income (UBI) model, now being trialled in Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the Netherlands, among others. While it may be some way off in the UK as a whole, it’s something being studied and which I’m a great advocate of, not just because it would suit me, but many others and much more as well. The argument for a UBI is gaining traction, thanks in part to such visionary advocates as Elon Musk, and the author, Rutger Bregman, whose latest book was the subject of a feature in this weekend’s Observer:

As liberal democracy seems to be crumbling under the weight of widespread despondency, some hardline opinions are in danger of becoming received wisdoms. In the global market, we are told, we must work harder and improve productivity. The welfare state has become too large and we need to cut back on benefits. Immigration is out of control and borders need to be strengthened.

The choice seems to be either to accept this new paradigm or risk the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders gaining power. The centre ground is being dragged to the left and right, and collapsing down the middle. Meanwhile progressive politics has returned to its comfort zone, busily opposing everything and offering almost nothing. Where is the vision, the ambition, the belief?

Yet into this bleak picture drops a book and an author bristling with hope, optimism and answers. Rutger Bregman is a 28-year-old Dutchman whose book, Utopia for Realists, has taken Holland by storm and could yet revitalise progressive thought around the globe…

“I’ve heard for years that my ideas are unrealistic. You want to stick to the status quo? How’s that working out?”
Rutger Bregman

The full article is here.

It’s a facsimile of this model which has allowed me to publish three books, which are now being enjoyed by others, because they’ve told me so. And although I lack some written proof regarding my tenancy, other correspondence and all of the available evidence allows me to conclude that in this instance, no news really is good news. I’m a writer in residence, with the current residence being the most secure that someone in my situation can expect, and the most security I’ve had for the last six years, following that knifepoint robbery in Lewisham which triggered everything which lay beneath, prompting my fall into the gutter and subsequent recovery.

With three books published, I’m now able to relax and concentrate on the next ones: a sci-fi space opera, and a second volume of short stories. I’ve already finished the first for the latter, and I’ve gone back to my slush pile, which contains many unfinished works.

The bubble could burst at any moment. This won’t cure my anxiety, but tonight, I may allow myself a small celebration, with a pizza. Because it was a man from Iceland who used to say, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

Re-record, not fade away…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Video podcasts of my bedtime stories will be coming soon

A couple of years ago, I posted an article based on one by CultNoise, about depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. Mental illness is largely incurable, and can often mutate and metamorphose in the sufferer. Mine has. But like many others, I embrace mine, because it’s made me the unique individual I am and allowed me to write.

Most mental health conditions are measured on spectra, so a person with more than one condition (most people with mental health issues) will often have multiple diagnoses placing them in various positions within a spectrum. With so many mental health conditions and such wide spectra, it’s not difficult to see how each mental health “patient” is unique.

For my own particular cocktail, I have chronic depression and anxiety (with “Chronic” defined as life-affecting), with borderline multiple personality disorder. I also have psychopathic tendencies. This doesn’t mean I’m a psychopathic murderer; It means that I am psychopathic about some of the things I do, to the exclusion of all else.

There are eminent surgeons who are clinical psychopaths. What this means in the context of their jobs, is that they are able to perform sometimes highly risky procedures, where there is a real danger of permanent trauma, or even the death of a patient. But the psychopath mind is such that it can concentrate fully on something like neurosurgery, perhaps to remove a tumour in order to save a life, when there may be a real risk of damaging a nearby nerve and causing total paralysis. I’m no brain surgeon but I’ve taken it as a compliment when I’ve been called a psychopath writer.

Two years after writing that article, many things have changed. My mental health issues have at once become worse as my anxiety in particular has increased, but also more interesting. But still, I’m unique, like everyone else who has a mental illness. The point of that article was to raise awareness of something which anything up to 1 in 4 of us will be affected by at some point. For some, it will be temporary: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following a bereavement is usually temporary and treatable in isolation. I have PTSD diagnoses piled on top of each other (a knifepoint robbery; the breakdown of my marriage and estrangement from my children for a while; Homelessness, and the many traumas one encounters in that situation…). So for others, it’s a life sentence. And although we’re all different, we do understand that we’re difficult to deal with at times. We don’t understand ourselves. So even though my conditions have evolved, nothing has changed, and this could have been written by anyone with a mental health issue:

I don’t need to be handled with kid gloves.

I’ve got mental health issues, but this doesn’t mean that I’m ‘broken’. Do not talk to me like a cat you just saved from a tree; especially when you never cared before. My pet peeve is the head tilt with “So how are you feeling?” from people who previously would never have spoken two words to you and now feels the need to partake in charity. I would be grateful if this was at all sincere, like with loved ones. There’s always one loved one who tries to wrap you in cotton wool and is terrified to even go to the shop, for fear of leaving you alone. Please do not stop your life for me.

You can tell me your problems, I can handle it.

If you are my friend or significant other, please share your feelings and worries. Just because I am dealing with my own problems does not mean that I cannot listen to yours. I can handle it. In truth – focussing on someone else’s problems makes me forget about mine for a while. Also, it feels like I’m being a good friend Normality is key.

I don’t mean to hurt you.

For friends and family of those suffering from depression, life can be just as hard. Watching someone you love struggle and cry, in some cases self-harm and attempt suicide, is hard to understand and accept. We know that and feel very guilty. Unfortunately, depression can be a very selfish illness. Sometimes we can be unintentionally harsh and mean, but most of the time we don’t mean the things we say. It’s out of hurt. The best defence is a good offence and all that. Often we can push people away to ‘protect’ them from us and it just results in hurting them even more. If we take it as far as to try and hurt ourselves to stop the suffering, it is no reflection on them. At that time all you think about is the all-consuming beast that is depression. Without a doubt, it is a challenge to love and care for someone with depression.

‘Am I wearing a sign?’

Paranoia often comes hand in hand with depression, along with the fear that people are judging you or talking about you. It often feels like you are wearing a large neon sign that says ‘I HAVE DEPRESSION’. The thing is – it isn’t noticeable. Depression isn’t like a broken arm or leg – you can’t see it. Somehow, because it feels like such an overwhelming factor in your life, you think others can see or sense it too. People do not have spidey senses. Those with depression look just like everyone else. We are sneaky individuals.

Sometimes it can feel like I am two different people.

When we get really low, it can feel like we are two different people: one is the true us and the other is an emotional, grumpy wreck. Rather than feeling like we are both people, it’s important to remember that the ‘other’ you isn’t you: it’s depression. It can be helpful to disassociate yourself from the ‘other’ you. Winston Churchill referred to his depression as ‘the black dog’. My depression is my shadow: darker in the sunshine. Whatever you call it, remember that it isn’t you! Also, it’s important for us to have others recognise that there is a difference too. I am not my depression.

If I don’t take my tablets, do not yell at me.

Some people take antidepressants to help manage depression. It is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is each person’s personal preference. It is not uncommon for people who are on them to suddenly stop taking them. Admitting there is a problem can be hard. Sometimes they are helpful, despite the side effects, but sometimes they just make us feel worse. The thought of having to take pills to make yourself ‘normal’ can sometimes be distressing. However, the sudden withdrawal can cause a slight meltdown. The worst thing you can do is to yell at someone to take them. That is no use. Imagine you had to take tablets to be happy every day, because your brain didn’t make the right chemicals. It can be upsetting. Logically explaining and understanding the frustration is much more helpful.  And hey, sometimes we just plain forget.

Depression and being sad is not the same thing.

Being sad is a normal human emotion. It is reactive. If something bad happens to you then you become sad and then it relents. There is some opportunity to ‘cheer you up’. It is not constant, but depression is. With depression, someone could offer you a trip to Disneyland on the back of a unicorn and you would not even crack a smirk. It is relentless and life-altering. It can change your personality, interests and goals in life. It can last for weeks, months or even years. If we compare depression to cancer (which a lot of people do not like) then sadness is a benign tumour. It is horrible but treatable. It is not life threatening or cancerous. Depression is a malignant tumour. The cells grow out of control, become cancerous and potentially life threatening – they spread throughout your body.

I know you are trying to help, but don’t try to give me medical advice. I know more about my diagnosis than you do.

This includes: “have you tried exercise?”, “maybe it’s your diet?” and “it must be hormones”. Honourable mentions go out to: “are you sure you need medication?” and “have you tried reading the Bible?”. If you have had depression for a long time, you will have heard some of these at least once. It’s nice that people are trying to be ‘helpful’ but if you have had it long enough then you will know everything about the medication, diagnosis, causes and treatments. Each person is different and knows what is best for them. What works for one person may not work for another. For those who are new to it all and do not know what to expect, the best advice comes from actual medical professionals and those who have been dealing with it for a while. They can tell you the various routes you can try but, in the end, only you know what is best for you.

This is not a choice.

Why would anyone choose to be depressed? It can mess up your relationships, work, studying and family. Nobody wants to have low moods all the time or to be such a challenge. People do not choose to have flu or polio; it is not within your control. There are ways to lessen the chances and practice good mental health, but no one can 100% say it will never happen to them. We have not “brought this on ourselves” by life choices and we are not weak.

It can also be physically painful.

This is something that many people do not understand. Sometimes depression can be physically painful or uncomfortable. Most of the time I liken it to a lead weight in my chest or like someone has punched a hole straight through me. Chest pain, headaches, back pain and muscle aches are common problems associated with depression. Sufferers can also experience fatigue, loss of appetite and sleep problems. Sometimes medicines which help with depression can change the chemicals involved in nerve cell communication. This can make them more effective, and potentially become more sensitive to physical pain. Depression can also slow down the digestive system, resulting in stomach problems.

Having depression does not make me ‘depressing’.

I’m a nice person, really. Most people who know me would describe me as such. However, sometimes people don’t want to invite you to places or hang out with you because they assume you will be in need, of company; of attention. We do notice how others react to us. I am not going to go to your house and cry into a wine glass, while I tell you how difficult it is to be me. To be honest, most of the time we are feeling super-down we don’t actually want to socialise anyway. There is no point in going out just to be ‘depressing’. We can be fun and interesting even with the depression, just some days are worse than others. On most occasions, people would not even know we suffer from depression because we are as sociable and upbeat as everyone else. The thing is, people do not know what is going on inside your head. The strongest looking people can be the ones fighting the hardest battles.

I don’t want to be a burden.

When you have depression you often have to rely on at least one other person to keep your head above water. Knowing how difficult it can be to accompany us on this roller coaster of emotion, we often feel guilty about it. We don’t want to put anybody out or to be a burden, especially on our loved ones. You have to remember that they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be. If they care enough about you, then they will never consider you to be a burden. You have to ask for help when you need it.

Sometimes I just don’t want to socialise. It’s not personal.

On bad days, we may not want to see anyone or socialise. Sometimes the pressure of trying not to be ‘depressing’ in a social situation is too much and so avoiding it seems like a better choice. We just want to be free to feel our feelings. Support and friendship is always appreciated, but sometimes we just need some space. It isn’t personal. Knowing you have got friends or family willing to be there if you change your mind makes the difference. Just don’t push us to socialise when we are not willing because then it could spell disaster or even cause us to feel worse than before. Trust that we know what our head needs.

This isn’t a ‘trend’ or ‘cool’. If you had it, you would understand.

Films and TV shows paint depressed people as being cool, edgy and moody. This is so far from the reality. Depression isn’t sexy. Crying for hours on end, unable to get out of bed and sleeping all day is not sexy. Trying to ‘fix’ a damaged person is not some sort of Xbox achievement, so don’t enter into a relationship with a depressed person unless you actually care for them. Actually typing ‘depression is sexy’ into Google brought up disgusting pages from uneducated idiots, who quite frankly need high fived… in the face, with a chair. To say that people who are fighting it are sexy, because they are strong, badass individuals, is much more acceptable. It seems, at the moment, that depression is the new black. It’s not a badge of honour or pride; it’s a poisoned chalice. Self-harm is not trendy or to be used as a way to keep your favourite band member from leaving. Children need educated to know that these are serious issues and that this type of publicity is irreparably damaging to mental health advocates. We are trying to end a stigma, not make it trend on Twitter.

On occasions, our thoughts scare the shit out of people.

General melancholy becomes quite normal as do the weird-ass things you sometimes say. Some people may not see it that way. Telling close friends, very matter-of-factly, the ways you tried to commit suicide may become quite normal to you, but not necessarily to them. We can scare the shit out of others, but we don’t mean to. This is our normality. Being depressed tends to mean you think more about life and the meaning of things.
To be honest, once you hit that low, you stop caring about what other people think of your opinions and ‘crazy thoughts’. We may also act a bit differently and spontaneously. For example, I once sunbathed in the rain. These aren’t cries for attention – the way your brain functions just becomes a little different… and weird to some.

I am very unpredictable.

One second I can be okay, the next I will be crying. No, I don’t know what is wrong. Nothing happened. Story of my life. Things are never fantastic, but they aren’t always horrible either. They are just… Depressed people don’t become insanely happy: that is manic depression/bipolar disorder – a different kettle of fish. Those of us in that kettle have a whole load of other things we’d like people to know and we are even more difficult to deal with simply because we are so complex. It’s often like someone just flicks a switch and we suddenly become inconsolably upset. There is not always even an explanation for it or, if there is, it’s something small. The smallest tasks can sometimes feel like a mountain to climb. Don’t be surprised if we cry over spilling a cup of tea or losing our keys. It happens!

Small achievements to you are massive to me.

Reaching little goals that we set ourselves are a massive deal. Most people aim to get good grades or get the promotion of their dreams – sometimes just being able to get out of bed is an achievement. So do not knock us down when we achieve them, instead be proud of us! They may seem minuscule to you, but to us, they are each a step closer to recovery and seem as difficult as any task that you attempt. Some day we can aim for bigger things, but today is just about getting healthy.

I can be really challenging, but if you put the effort in, I will be the most loyal friend.

Without doubt, being friends with someone with depression is hard work. It can be exhausting, frustrating and upsetting. When you suffer from depression, you truly see who your real friends are. Many friends will desert you, but you discover that they were never really friends at all. As hard as it can be, we treasure the ones that stay more than anything. And we are guilty of not showing our gratitude to them. We do not take you for granted. Things may be tough, but we are eternally grateful for your love and support. That makes us some of the most loyal friends to have, next to Labradors. The effort is never forgotten and helps to create a bond that few other friendships have. You both also know, that no matter what shit either of you go through, that you will be there for one another. You aren’t fighting alone.

When I speak about it, it’s not for attention, it’s to raise awareness and end stigma.

When people, such as me, speak out about their experience of mental health issues, they are often met with hostility and judgement. People think it is being done for attention. Therein lies the problem. There are so many stigmas about the issues and the things that I have mentioned that people associate many mental health advocates as attention seekers. Really, all we want to do is talk about the issue.

We share our experience so that others know that they are not alone.

Talking openly about the issue will make it less of a taboo.

Do not be ashamed to talk about mental health. Talk to those of us who know.

And like many others, if someone offered to take my mental health problems away, to “cure” me, I wouldn’t let them.

Thank you.

It’s just because…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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I don’t know why. I don’t know why I’m sitting here now, listening to Suzanne Vega and drowning in my face. This doesn’t happen to me. I actually think it’s because so much that’s good has gone on recently in my universe. I don’t mean my own success in publishing books, but family things. Things which I wish I could write about, but then I’d be judged for being somehow sanctimonious. Truth is, everyone who’s still in my life agrees that my breakdown was somehow for the best. Freedom of information only goes so far and anyone who still doubts me would see I’m telling the truth. If they bothered to ask. Ask my family and friends. It’s paranoia. That’s all it is, and that’s one other little cunt I need to kick, punch or headbang into submission. I suppose I just want to kick some heads, or content myself with words.

Never mind that I donate any royalties to causes more worthy than me. Nor that I will never stop helping troubled teenagers while those who think too fucking wrongly think there’s something “wrong” going on (in your fucking head, cunt. Come and swap places). No matter that I’m supporting someone who’s got a bit lost and found themselves almost where I was three years ago. No, fuck all that. I’m a cunt. If I’m a cunt in your mind, then I’d like to remain as such. Because ignorance doesn’t recognise ability. As for my mind, you are gone: You are dead and you never even existed. Who? I forget.

And although I brush it all off, like so many other things, the constant feeling of being watched never leaves the paranoid android. I have plenty to say to those who abandoned me for dead three years ago, if only to say I don’t blame them. In any case, sometimes the quiet suffering prompts something. So I took to Facebook with a late night introspective:

Like many others, I’m okay. I don’t expect to be asked how I’m doing, because I know that most people fear the reply. Truth is, I’d rather I wasn’t asked. Same goes for many others.

We know we’re impossible to understand. I’ve got an IQ of 147 (I’ve had it measured at UCL) and I don’t understand it. I’m a writer, and yet I still can’t convey it truthfully, despite my many words.

We have good and bad days. We never know which will be next, or when one will turn from good to bad in what could be the last blink or beat.

If there’s one thing which can truly break a human heart, it is the human brain.

I don’t expect anything from this. I’m posting in the dark hours so that few will see it. I’m just like the rest who are governed by their minds’ inability to shut the fuck up.

We don’t know what we want. We don’t know how to tell others how to deal with us. We treat people like we don’t care, when we crave contact. But we don’t know what with. We only want contact on our own terms, when it suits us. We are fucking impossible. No-one can answer our questions and we know that we’re frightening.

Don’t pity me. I just hope that my ability with words has enabled some to read this far and think a little deeper. Those of us with depression do that all that time and we need a conversation. Why the fuck would anyone sane want to try to have a conversation with a mental? Why would you try to engage with someone who just kicks you away?

No, we don’t know either.

But this is how it feels, right now, and all the time, before we finally decide to break. The headline picture speaks many words: Not as many as I wish I could write, but it goes some way.

I don’t know why I decided to just cut and paste this, but I did. Like the rest of this blog, it was done for one reason I suppose: So that it’s indelible and so that I can tell people, “Just read my fucking blog.”

Just, because. I don’t know.

August overture

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

black-heart

Words can mean more than one thing. And a good writer can use this to create parallels, analogies and metaphors. Mixed up, words mean a lot more: A story is far greater than its component parts.

august
ɔːˈɡʌst/
adjective
adjective: august
respected and impressive.
“she was in august company”

o·ver·ture
ˈōvərCHər,ˈōvərˌCHo͝or/
noun
noun: overture; plural noun: overtures
an introduction to something more substantial.
“the talks were no more than an overture to a long debate”

I often think about my shit and contemplate the two main ways of dealing with it: Package it up as entertainment in fiction, or just smear it on the walls as fact. In much of my writing, I combine the two.

Sometimes it’s easier to start with a clean sheet. Like I did so many times at school, at work and with life. I’m at the beginning of what I know will be a transitory period, partly through my own making but also with a situation I’ve only partially engineered.

I have a literary voice in my head which speaks to me: Paul Auster. Like the music of David Bowie, Auster is in amongst the background noise of my life. It’s The Music of Chance (a book and film by Auster).

My authorial muse is content if he produces a single page of decent prose in a day. Two is a bonus and three is a very rare thing. And so it is for me, once the freelance work is written and invoiced.

This week has merely been a continuation of last, but also an escalation. I have continued to welcome guests into my home but I have had to question motives; Not just those of some visitors but also my own.

Now that I run my life as I would a business, I’m tending to analyse things even more than I traditionally have. For example, if the acquiring of something requires any more than monetary input from yours truly, is that extra investment worth it? It can be applied to many scenarios and those involving sex and drugs are the ones which fuel the writer.

The greater fuel though comes from the protagonist or antagonist, depending on the viewpoint the story is told from. Lots of scenarios have played out in my head over the last few days. Just like a story, my internal machinations are in conflict. I don’t know which story to write.

“He knew exactly how to deal with what was going on. It involved becoming more like the person she thought he was. But in doing so, he was not what he wanted to be to her. On the other hand, it was a longer conflict and this would just be collateral damage.”

Or; Or, but also.

“She knew exactly how to deal with what was going on. It involved becoming more like the person he thought she was. But in doing so, she was not what she wanted to be to him. On the other hand, it was a longer conflict and this would just be collateral damage.”

At the moment, it’s just at the beginning. The story has a soundtrack: Songs which could be by anyone, but which could be overlaid on specific memories to make a sum greater than the parts.

The story could end at any moment, in any way I please. It’s how I remain in control.

“Everything can change, suddenly and forever.” As writers, we have the tools.

It is said that some stories write themselves: “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” (Paul Auster).

Like life, really: Whichever way it turns out, someone will get hurt.

At the moment, it’s just a page or two of prose.

Home is where the Pink Hearts are

THE WRITER’S LIFE

pink-heart-hands

It’s all come flooding back this week; Everything’s come home to roost. My studio might as well have been the old squat on a couple of occasions: Not because it was untidy; I’m so house proud and OCD that I even kept the squat clean and tidy when I was living there.

The police were round, a bit like they used to visit the squat. Back then, when it was a gathering ground for teenagers, the police would occasionally pop in to see who was there. If anyone had gone AWOL from school, the police would go to the squat. On the occasions when one of the young adults was reported missing, the police would check at the squat and ask me to keep my ears open. There were no drugs or underage sex at the squat and we enjoyed a community spirit with the law. The nick was quite literally next door.

This time, one of the Pink Hearts – the family which formed in that squat, mostly teenagers to whom I owe my life – had got into a spot of bother and needed somewhere to stay the night. For whatever reason, I’m the person this young lady felt safe with, so she asked the police to bring her to my place. So at three o’clock on Thursday morning, I had a Battenberg cake drop off a passenger in the mill yard outside my studio. One of the other Pink Hearts had to crash the night when her lift home forgot her.

And what do I get up to when these teenage girls stay for the night? Sit with them, talk, smoke weed and binge on DVDs. I don’t see them like others might. I see suffragettes. I see friends. I see family. Those “kids” who used to congregate at the squat, saved my life. They made me realise that life’s worth living, even when you have fuck all. My role there became an advisory one and a few of those young adults came under my wing. We remain close and the ethos of the Pink Hearts family lives on always.

There’s another Pink Heart adult: The mum of one of the girls and now my right-hand. When you’re left-handed, it’s handy (sorry) to have a right-hand and a same-age sounding board as we deal with some of the younger ones in the family.

All the signs are that this week will be similar to last. But where once I resisted company, any company is improved if there’s a supply of weed. And so has my life been by cannabis, helping me to overcome the worst of my anxiety.

It should be no surprise that I smoke weed. After all, Bob Marley’s son is named Ziggy, after Ziggy Stardust. I’m a Bowie fan with my musical roots in the birthplace of Ska: Kingston, Jamaica. I like reggae. This is what I am, but I’m only now putting the whole puzzle together. Part of me simply refused to grow up.

I’ve been less than prolific on the writing front. I’ve fitted freelance work around everything else and my personal output is concentrated on pre-publication projects: The Perpetuity of Memory mainly, as it’s still due out next month. It’s difficult to work when there are two teenage girls around. Not because I might be expected to be distracted by such a presence; I’m not like that. No, because at least one of them talks a lot and they’re both pleasant company. Although there were times when I might once have screamed, now I just look at them and I have to smile. Because in those young people, I see myself at that age; Because those girls and their friends gave me a reason to live; and because when they’re around, I don’t want to stop the world and get off any more.

I spent a long time finding out what I wanted to do with my life. An autobiography-ette; Born 1970, not dead yet:

I “grew up”, got married, had kids. I was sales director for a group of companies. I earned £75k a year and I had a decent car. Then I ran my own company, banked about £10k a month and got drunk. Then my marriage failed and I lost my home and family. I got a flat in Bexley. I had a swimming pool. I’d got into poker when I was still married. There was a massive live poker scene around Bexley. Eventually, I was running the company in the morning, then going to The Empire on Leicester Square to play poker through the night. The whole thing was fuelled by Coke up my nose. Cocaine and drink took over. I gradually lost everything and had to hand over my poker bankroll (£6000) to save my legs.

The rest was a downward spiral into the gutter. And that’s where all those young adults met me.

And now I’m poor but I’m doing what I love: I’m a writer.

But just as I can’t forget how my life fell apart, neither can I forget those kids; the Pink Hearts: Never a gang, always family.

Those kids were born between AIDS and 9/11: That’s quite a thought to take on board. Many of them have had troubled lives and some have mental health issues: That’s the other tie which binds us as a family. Like me, some have made attempts to take their own lives. Now that I know them, I’m glad I failed. And hopefully, I might have played some small part in getting them through some issues.

There are times when I remember life on the streets quite fondly: I’m perhaps part-tramp. Because yes, I was a “tramp” once. But just as blacks and gays reclaimed words, so tramps can be proud. Call me a tramp as an insult and I’ll wish I could show you how it’s a term which makes me proud to be a part of a humanist crowd. Most wouldn’t make it through.

I’ve come to terms with my mental illness(es). And I wonder, which was it? Did the entire world change, or did I realise I had a psychological condition? This is my internal dialogue as I come to terms with things and try to finally relax in amongst everything that’s grown around me.

“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.”

Sade Andria Zabala

The taxonomy of ghosts

THE WRITER’S LIFE

ghostwriter

From a CulturedVultures article: Ghostwriters: The Horror Story of the Publishing World?

Three areas of my life clashed today. I was researching a freelance article I was writing for a stage school and waiting for the client to answer a question. Having the patience of an impala (they’re very impatient), I wandered off mentally and read about something else. Given that I subscribe to the idea of some sort of afterlife based on quantum science, it was appropriate that my random Wikipedia article was about ghosts.

Random Wiki entries can be a great source of ideas for stories and at the very least, I always learn something new. I’m still writing “Cardboard Sky” in the background to all the freelance work and the Wikipedia article included types of ghosts. My latest story is taking so long to write because I’m busy with the freelance writing and I’m editing my anthology. But also because I created a rod for my back with Echo Beach being so well-received. So Cardboard Sky is definitely going to be a good story and if I get it finished in time, the 25th and final tale in The Perpetuity of Memory.

Cardboard Sky is quite a complex story, so it’s been tricky making it work without it being too challenging. As with all my stories, I want to affect the reader and make them think, but not confuse them, other than with an invitation to speculate. The story concerns a man who dies, which isn’t a spoiler, rather than one of the anchors of the story. It’s then partly told from the perspective of the ghost he becomes. One of the other anchors is a boy called George, whom our character is curious about. The magic of fiction is that this character is attending a sort of ghost school, and it was the three-way clash which made me decide to put him in a stage school, so that he can learn which role of ghost acting will suit his haunting the best. With everything else I have on my desk, Cardboard Sky is still a couple of weeks away, so have an excerpt:

First contact was somewhat fraught: We’d reached a stage at school where we needed to choose specialist subjects. We’d grasped all the foundation modules, like An Introduction to Life, Key Stage 3; Elemental Dimensions (there are four); and A foundation Course in Invisibility (“Is there anyone else in here?”). I’d read many books, including “Jamie’s How to Not Eat”, “Mr Vertigo”, by Paul Auster; and “Tales of Ordinary Madness”, by Charles Bukowski. The latter two I was familiar with from what seemed to be Life, Key Stage 2. Which made me wonder: What was Stage 1? In any case, after the foundation modules, we had to pick two more specialist ones.

Having always been a frustrated actor, I’d chosen two modules from the Performing Arts section. When it came to actually getting a job, the audition lists were many and lengthy. For my debut role, I needed to decide on my character type. Although I was growing desperate for work by then, I didn’t want to end up being type-cast. Which provided a quandary in itself: To avoid being ever associated with one kind of role, I had to be not very good in my first performance, which in itself might lose me my big break. I read through the various roll calls for the spirited, trying to find a type to fit my style:

The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mother outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. I hadn’t even been aware of my own moment of actually dying, so I figured I’d missed the train on that one.

The Reluctant Dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In movies, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home. I might have been somewhat reluctant to be dead but I had at least accepted that I was dead. So this wasn’t for me.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Key Stage 4? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they fear leaving what is familiar to them. Neither really applied to me.

In the “Unfinished Business” category there were a number of roles, mainly altruistic: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. All of my business was completed. At the other end of the spectrum was the “Vengeful ghost”: Perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer. Although the concept had some appeal, as far as I knew, I hadn’t been murdered. And I had no bones to pick with George.

Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time. Apart from anything else, I didn’t know my final hours.

Finally, the “Intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George, so this seemed like the gig for me.

Like Wikipedia, I’m educational. If no-one likes the story (and I doubt that), at least they’ve learned something about the various kinds of ghosts.

So today’s clash was a pleasant one, of three things I enjoy, and furthering each: Freelance writing, fiction writing and learning through research. When most days are ruled by the ever-competing unholy trinity of anxiety, depression and insomnia, it’s nice to get a break. It’s on days like this that I remember why I made my mental health issues my friends: I’m stuck with them anyway and when I get days like this, the manic side of me drowns out the depression.

It’s that big red button again and the question of whether I’d press it (No). If my mental illness is what gives me this thirst for knowledge and the ability to write creatively, I don’t want to switch it off, even though some times are bad. I just hope I can remind myself of that every time things take a dip. And yes, smoking weed helps: It helps my anxiety but it also makes me more curious and creative. The high IQ can be a poisoned chalice but it was a contributing factor to what goes on in my head nowadays.

I’m a writer and a ghostwriter. In either role, I can be anyone I want. I can be any kind of ghost.