For The Joy Of It

For a long time I have been saying that I want to write. And for a long time, I haven’t. There are all sorts of reasons for that but mainly I never had the time. Which actually means I never made the time. I never made the time because sitting down to write felt like such an indulgence; there were always other things that I ‘should’ be doing. I never made the time because I was convinced I wasn’t actually any good at writing and so what was the point. I never made the time because I was scared: here was a thing I wanted, badly, to do well at. A thing I would love to make at least part of a career out of. But what if I tried and failed? By never actually doing it I could hold onto the daydream, writing odd snippets here and there, but never risking the possibility of discovering it was never meant to be.

You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now: dreams are worth the risk, and sometimes we should try just for the joy of it.

So I have started writing. Not quite daily at this point but more than ever before. I found the key was to let go a little of my fears and doubts; actually, not to do it in the hope that it would come to anything. Not to do it for anything or anyone. Just to write for me. Because I love it. I love the feeling of creating something that wasn’t in the world before. And when I approached it like that I found that the seeds of things that had been rattling round in my head started to grow. I wrote so many poems I stopped counting. And, even more joyfully, I started to write the story that has been in my mind for more years than I care to count.

I had an outline, written and rewritten over several years, and I had an opening to the story, which I wrote about a year ago, but nothing more. Because I stopped. I even liked what I had written, although it needed some editing, but in spite of my outline I just didn’t feel I knew what the story was, so I abandoned it. It was actually my students, and a couple of lovely friends, who encouraged me to pick it back up.

I run a creative writing class at the secondary school where I work (I know, a writer who doesn’t write teaching other people how to write…the irony is not lost on me) and for some time now my students have been asking to read something I had written. So one day I decided to be brave (and yes, it did take a lot of courage to do this – teens are nothing if not direct and, sometimes, brutal with their feedback) and share that opening chapter with them. I did it as part of a session on how to constructively critique other people’s work.

Firstly, I read some of their pieces and, as I always do, gave them feedback, this time trying to demonstrate my thought process: What did I really like and why? Tell them. What did I think had potential and how could it be developed? Tell them and make suggestions. What didn’t feel right in their narrative, why and what might make it feel better? Tell them but also enquire about their choices (as this might change the reading of it), explain why it didn’t feel quite right for me and work in partnership to see how it could be developed. It’s a lovely, collaborative process and the young writers I work with are so full of enthusiasm for writing, and so want to improve, that they are genuinely open to it and take on board feedback with interest and commitment to developing themselves, and their skills as writers. It’s inspirational to watch.

Next came the part where I had to be brave. Enthusiastic though they were to receive their own constructive criticism, they are often reluctant to give it to each other, usually deferring to me to do that part, purely because their class mates are also their friends and they were afraid of hurting one another’s feelings. Hence why I offered my work up as a guinea pig. I did tell a little white lie and assured them I was very used to receiving feedback of all kinds, positive and negative (not the case because I rarely share my writing other than what I post on here) and told them they should be very honest. I promised them my feelings would not be hurt if they didn’t like it (mostly true) and that their honest opinion was more important to me as a writer than any false praise they might want to give me. That was the truth. With a deep (internal) breath I gave them my opening chapter and pretended not to wait on tenter hooks as they read it.

The first person to finish looked at me and said possibly the best thing I could have been told: “It sounds like you, Miss.”

Now something sounding like me is not necessarily praiseworthy but what that meant to me was that she felt it was authentic. And that IS praiseworthy. Some of my fear fell away. Even if they didn’t like it, whatever I had written was true enough to myself that this student recognised me in it. I hadn’t even known that was important to me until that moment. As others finished reading they said they agreed, one commented that it “read like the colour red” – she couldn’t quite explain what she meant but it felt like a compliment! In fact the compliments came rolling in along with requests for the next chapter, please, and I had to steer them back to our critiquing framework. Flattering though the positive feedback was, I wanted their honest and thought out opinions. I wanted their ideas for improvement. And I got them. Tentatively, at first, but eventually with growing confidence they pointed out turns of phrase that resonated with them and ones that didn’t; they suggested alterations to vocabulary choices; they discussed certain sentence structures and whether they flowed as well as they could; they generally proved themselves to be the perfect first readers of my long locked away opening pages. (Well, not quite the first: my mum read them too.)

I made the alterations they suggested and since then not only have I shown those pages to two other people (both adults this time and one of whom, it turns out, is writing a book of his own – we did a pages swap!) but I also picked the story back up with gusto. I now have nearly ten thousand words of the story that has been tucked away for so long. On top of that, I also got up the courage to submit four of my poems to a publishing house, for consideration for an anthology. I have no idea if anything will come of that but it doesn’t matter, because I did it. I wrote the poems for me and I took the chance to share them. That is enough.

I am under no illusions that I will be the next J.K.Rowling. I have no idea whether any of my work will ever be published. But it turns out that it’s not the publishing that makes you a writer. It’s the writing. Just for the joy of it.

Any writers out there: what’s your work in progress? What stops you writing and how do you get over it?

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There is Help and Hope

I have started writing this post several times and don’t quite know how to say what I want to say. I have heard and seen too many stories of people struggling with their mental health and not being able to find a way out; too many stories of people for whom the only escape they could see was through taking their own life. My heart breaks and bleeds for these people and their families and friends. I want to help. I’m not sure how. So for now I just want to say if you are suffering you need not suffer alone. If you are hurting there are people who want to try and help you heal. If you are struggling to see any light in the dark, please, please, call out and let someone – anyone, friend or family or stranger or professional – try to help light your way. Even if you feel totally alone, know that there are people who care.

Please don’t suffer in silence. Let in help. Let in hope.

If you’re unsure how or who to ask for help the resources and websites below might be a good place to start. Take care of yourselves and each other, lovely people. 💛

The Blurt Foundation – https://www.blurtitout.org

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

It’s #TimeToTalk Continuing The Conversation

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This is the final post in my 24-posts-in-24-hours series for #TimeToTalk day. Thank you so much to all of you who have popped by to read, like, share and comment; it means a lot to see so many people engaging with this important issue.

#TimeToTalk day is a great opportunity to open up conversations, to draw attention to mental health, and to break down some of the stigma that makes it so difficult to talk honestly. Chances are we will all be affected by mental health issues at some point in our lives, whether they be our own mental health struggles or those of the people close to us, so these are important conversations and ones that could make all the difference to so many people.

It is vital that we make space for open dialogue, not just on #TimeToTalk day but every day. Remember: it’s the little things that can make all the difference; it’s always the right time to start a conversation; no-one is defined by their mental health, but it can have a huge impact on how they live and feel day-to-day; there is always light to be found, even if we can’t find it right now; no-one needs a reason to feel what they feel; we are all beautiful chaos; it’s ok not to be ok; if we speak openly and listen authentically, we can change the world.

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I urge you to continue this conversation beyond today, beyond reading and liking and sharing. I ask you to reach out to the people around you, whether to seek help or offer it. These conversations change lives. And we could all do with knowing we are not alone.

I’d like to leave you with another TED talk, which I found moving and comforting, as it seems, to me, to be a perfect example of the love that lies at the heart of humanity.

What a beautiful thought: “when they could have asked for anything, they all asked for health, happiness, and love”. Let’s do our utmost to give these things to each other. Let’s remember that it’s always #TimeToTalk.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Resources – Pacifica

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Pacifica was introduced to me by a friend and it’s a great tool for tracking and monitoring mood and mental health. You can set goals for health, track whether there are any patterns or triggers for fluctuations in your mood, and collect images and thoughts of positive things from throughout your day. There are also built in meditations and reflections for your to access and, on of my favourite parts, community forums where people are engaging in conversations, all over the world, about mental health. There is so much support out there and people are sharing not only personal experiences but are sharing all sorts of interests and passions.

Pacifica can be accessed through an app or web browser and the basic package is free to use but you can also pay to access more content. It might not be for everyone but it’s certainly worth a try and tracking ups and downs can be useful if you are working out the best way to manage your mental health. I encourage you to give it a go.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk

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Hello there, friend. It’s time to talk.

Every year, on the first Thursday in February, Time To Change heads up #timetotalk day. Time To Change is an organisation dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination around mental health, and the #timetotalk campaign is all about opening up conversations, giving people the opportunity to speak openly about their experiences of mental health and mental illness.

It is a much needed campaign. It is very important. Those conversations can be life changing.

Living with any kind of mental health problem is difficult. It can be frightening, isolating, and have a detrimental impact on your day to day life. If you had a physical illness that impacted you in this way, chances are you’d be likely to speak to someone about it. Chances are they would respond with sympathy and support. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of mental health issues. As if dealing with the issue itself was not difficult enough, trying to talk about it can be met with discomfort, dismissiveness, misunderstanding, and in some cases, even hurtful comments.

As a society, we simply have not been conditioned to be as understanding of mental health issues and we have of physical ones. We also have not been equipped with the language to express exactly what it is we are dealing with.

Mental health is a very personal thing. We maintain our mental health in different ways, and we suffer with mental ill-health in different ways as well. No two people will have exactly the same experience – yet another reason why it is so important that we listen, properly listen, when people take the opportunity to share their experiences or concerns. It’s also why we need to provide the opportunities for these conversations to happen.

Three years ago, to mark #timetotalk day, I shared 24 posts in 24 hours, all around mental health. To date, they are still some of the most popular posts on this blog and the response and engagement was so positive. This year, I’ve decided to do the same again. Some of the posts will include recommended books, apps and other resources; some will be musings or questions for consideration; some will be bits of my own creative writing inspired by or reflecting on my experiences. Some will be short, some will be long, I can’t promise as to the timing of them all as I’m in work all day so am trying to schedule as many before hand but I want to write some on the day itself so there may be an influx post working hours! Whenever they appear though, there will be 24 in all, posted before midnight.

My own mental health journey has been convoluted, with many tips and downs, denials and difficult admissions. Now, more than ever, I feel how important it is to be able to talk openly about these experiences, without fear of judgement. I know that some of the most helpful experiences I have had have been hearing about other people’s experiences because, if nothing else, they made me feel I was not alone.

So I’m inviting you to join me, not just for 24 posts in 24 hours, not just for this #timetotalk day, but in working to change start, carry on, and share the conversation, and create more open dialogue and positive understanding of mental health.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

Off On the Right Foot

 
I find this poem, by Erin Hanson of The Poetic Underground, incredibly poignant. It especially strikes me as relevant with the UK elections looming just around the corner. I see and hear so much that focuses on the individual; politicians are selling policies on the basis of how it will affect you the individual, rather than us as a community/society. When did we become so inward looking? Where is our desire to live and grow together, to contribute to the bigger picture?

So often we strive to be the highest bough of the tallest tree. We are getting a little top heavy. Where are our roots?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for the sky but why can’t we do it together? We need a stronger base if we are to soar rather than topple.

It’s not about you or me; forget the ‘I’, it’s time we recognised the importance of community.

Off On the Right Foot… Almost

You can tell it’s nearly half term. After a marathon if blog posts last Thursday for #TimeToTalk day I clearly completely ran out of steam! Didn’t even post my regular Monday inspiration. – *gives self a slap on the wrist*.

It’s all very busy and I – and everyone else I’m sure – find myself very tired and in need of recharging. So my life pretty much looks like this:

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Image found here.

Anyone else feeling that?

Anyways I want to say a massive thank you for all the support you lovely folk showed on Time To Talk day. It was great to se so many people liking and sharing my posts and starting some conversations around mental health. It was also lovely to hear from some of you in the comments, I like hearing from like minded folk. 😊

I hope your week got off to a good start. I will be back soon with more blogging goodness.