Over there, stands my angry angel

MY WORLD

Angry Angel is a track from the rather excellent album, I Megaphone, by Imogen Heap, which I’m listening to now. It’s an album which evokes fond memories for me, as it’s one of many I used to listen to with the love of my life which could have been. In fact, Danielle introduced me to Imogen Heap and therefore indirectly to a few other artists now in my music collection. I’ve found Amazon’s recommendation system based on previous purchases to be quite intuitive and often the artists it introduces me to are little-known and therefore available for little cost from Amazon resellers.

The lyric, “Over there, stands my angry angel…” is particularly evocative for its parallels, because the old me – the angry one – is somewhere else, and I lost my angel because I made her angry. Indeed, I’m writing less of this blog because I don’t have as much to complain about, now that life has dealt me some fairly good cards, even if life now is modest compared to what it once was and could have been. Most of my ire nowadays is inwardly directed because I detest the person who ruined so many other lives and simply left them behind and moved on: I hate my old self. Then again, I’ve rebuilt bridges with most of the people I alienated, proving nothing of me but demonstrating that there are some truly loving, patient, forgiving and understanding people who continue to play a part in my humbler, new life.

Sobriety breeds inward reflection and I can understand why many alcoholics don’t recover, for the temptation sometimes to drink and block it all out is sometimes almost overwhelming. But I resist. I have other means of self-medication now and I’m much more focussed on the one thing I’m recognised as being pretty good at: writing. I was no good at being a father, a husband, a fiance, nor of running a business or my life in fact. But by all accounts, I’m quite accomplished on the writing front. By my own admission, my writing has improved considerably since I sobered up. I don’t doll out hatred and vitriol in here so much as write the material which is more likely to advance me. My daily writing output besides this blog is around that of my inspirer, Paul Auster: between one and three pages. But that’s of final copy, which reads well and has every word serving a purpose whilst being relevant to its neighbours. The input which goes into producing those pages is often ten times the final product. I know, because I’m a writer and like actors, we rehearse: drafts. Even this blog is redrafted to an extent, even though it’s my throwaway writing. So even this will only ever be a partial representation of the notes which I write as I plod along, wherever I go with my notebook and pen. I’m on Volume Seven of the hand-written notes and besides it, I only retain Volumes Two and Six in physical form. The rest were left, lost, stored or stolen. So this blog is edited highlights. If anyone finds or retains those original note books, hold onto them: you never know. 

So my days have become more structured and the working day is usually pretty constructive. Like most writers, I don’t observe the Dolly Parton day and my working day typically starts at around noon, running until about 3am with breaks for food and TV. And the writing is of the kind which is more productive in a commercial sense than the blog. Since my last post, I have made amendments to The Paradoxicon for its serialisation in Schlock webzine, COGS has been published in print: “Morally troubling; brilliantly written…”; I have four short stories in progress and have made further inroads into my second novel. As a result, I’ve been quiet on the social front, the only welcome interruptions being in the fine form of one of my girls. Is it strange that one of my closest confidantes is a seventeen year old girl? To some it is but they don’t understand me like she does. She is beautiful in body and mind; she chooses to spend as much time with me as she does because we relate to one another and her company is never anything but an absolute pleasure. She’s here now in fact, watching TV while I get on with what I call work. She is truly adorable in every way and as her adopted dad, I am so proud of that little lady. If only her real dad were to look at her as I do, he might see the flower which she has blossomed into. He might feel better about himself.

Sometimes I can’t write in honest, transparent prose because some of the relationships I conduct are still frowned upon as being inappropriate by those who would judge and some of the latter read this blog. An actual judge – a County Court one – reads this blog, as does at least one barrister, a magistrate and the police. Often I write in code, to let others know what is going on in the lives of others who they may only have contact with via me; or I write about people who read this blog by making them characters in my stories. One such work in progress concerns a girl, imprisoned in a relationship when she longs for another and her jailer is someone whose anger I recognise because it’s the same as the irrational wrath I used to exhibit when I was drunk towards those who I now know I wronged. In the story, the protagonist longs to run away with her suitor and wishes she’d known him before it all went wrong for her. Alas for her, such an existence is made impossible by the object of her affection. He feels for her as she does for him but he may not allow his heart to over-rule his head because although he is transient, the place he’s in is too dangerous for her to be a part of. But he too wishes to be away from the situation, with someone else. Because the one who our heroine has reciprocated feelings for, carries a candle for another. There’s a twist of course but it’s one of the works in progress. I keep a note pad next to the bed.

When I’m asked what I do, I say that I’m a writer. It doesn’t make me a living and the royalties remain miniscule but my prolificacy is all promotion and marketing, in the hope that I get noticed and picked up. I’m qualified: I studied with The Writers Bureau and mentored for The Royal Society. I’m published online and in print. I am a writer and although my life is humble, I enjoy what I do. I write novels, short fiction in the horror and sci-fi genres; I write poems and recipes. The most recent of the latter was in response to a request made of me in my capacity where I wear a different hat: that of chef. A friend had cod fish cakes and asked for a recipe which was a departure from the usual accompaniments. So from my signature dishes, I suggested serving the fish cakes with baby new potatoes in butter, asparagus and a poached egg on top of the fish cakes, the whole dish drizzled with balsamic vinegar. By all accounts, it was delicious but then I knew that already as it’s one of my signatures.  

Although my working week is now better structured to be more productive, my weekends haven’t changed as there was no need to fix that which isn’t broken. Saturdays and Sundays are still spent reading – and researching – The Guardian and The Observer respectively and often I’ll pick up on things which will give me ideas for writing. Therefore, I have a pile of newspaper sections and clippings on my writing desk most of the time. My reading is usually to some background music and this weekend, I’ve dusted off some contemporary classic albums. I prefer the process of discovery in music but those old favourites still have a place. It feels almost ironic listening to such albums as Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette; Nevermind by Nirvana; Sugar’s Copper Blue and God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies, one of many great Canadian exports, along with Alanis, The Connells and Men Without Hats, among others on the music front. I also regressed back to the eighties and my punk era, with From the Cradle to the Grave and The Feeding of the 5000, by The Subhumans and Crass respectively.

I was a punk in the eighties and I still am, for punk is not just about the music: it’s a frame of mind; an ethos, just as anarchy, which much of punk is about, is a political – or anti-political – mindset. Regression to those days is something I’ve been doing with my doctor. Despite the previous intervention of various medical professions, the root of my depression and other mental health issues most likely came from a single, catalytic event, until recently unidentified. Strive though I did, I could not hit upon an event which changed everything. And there it was, staring me in the face all along. The kind of thing that hits you like a house of bricks which has been swinging above and in front of you all along. I used a literary device in The Paradoxicon, which caused face-palms among my readers when they spotted it, as it had been there right in front of them throughout the book. This was one of those moments: my fatal accident in December 1986.

Those who know me will know of the incident. Some knew me before it and still do. If they think back, they ought to arrive at the same conclusion as me and my doctor. Although I’ve always been a bit rebellious, prone to boredom and to kick off, I never really went off the rails. I went through the teenage phase, got into trouble, played truant from school, got bored; my – officially measured prior to grammar school – intelligence a poisoned chalice back then. But I was mentally as stable as my peers. I had a privileged upbringing on a country estate in the midst of a private woods; I had and still have, the best parents. What went wrong? My psychologist in London has always maintained that the gifted are more prone to mental issues and that I am a classic case in point. I would concur but also be more inclusive. My psychologist said in consultation that I had proverbially lifted the top of my head off and was so fascinated with finding out what made it work inside that I couldn’t stop questioning that which I strove to understand but never fully would. I needed to understand but I couldn’t: something else I covered in my book. The Paradoxicon is full of parallels and it was in December 1986 that the top of my head actually came off.

I’ve written a piece for The Guardian about this experience. The article is in the editing process at the moment but pretty soon, I should be a Guardian contributor, as well as a reader and member: I’m a writer. For those who don’t know of the experience, don’t try this for yourselves:

This happened in December 1986, when I was 16 years old. It was my last day in my first job, working for a charity in Tonbridge, where I lived. My boss had taken myself and two colleagues for leaving drinks at a pub opposite our office, on a busy A-road. The speed limit on the road is 30mph but this was often ignored by drivers.

Several drinks later, we decided to head back to the office. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny day and although I don’t recall events from this point, the human memory being selective, the sun was apparently dazzling our view of oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the road. What follows is from the several witnesses present.

In my inebriated state, I decided to make a run for it. According to the medics who would end up treating me, had it not been for the relaxing effect of alcohol on my muscles, my injuries would have been far worse. If I hadn’t been drinking though, perhaps I might not have managed to get hit by a car.

I ran straight into the path of car which was travelling at 60mph on the opposite side of the road. The initial impact shattered my left femur and the extent of that particular trauma was to become clear later. The impact of the collision forced me over the bonnet of the car and partially through the windscreen. I broke my left shoulder on the windscreen post. My momentum continued, over the car, into the air and back onto the side of the road I’d crossed from, breaking my right shoulder. I landed immediately in front of a second car travelling in the opposite direction. The driver braked but the car had already hit my freshly broken leg, so the braking of the vehicle effectively ground my leg into the asphalt. I was skewed around on the tarmac and one of the rear wheels of the second car ran over my head. Apparently there was a loud “pop” sound as my skull literally burst.

The driver of this second car was apparently hysterical, convinced that she’d killed me: she almost had. The police were on the scene by now and they had to smash the driver’s side window and prize her fingers from the steering wheel, before getting her out of the car so that they could move it and gain access to me.

I looked like roadkill: my left leg had suffered both a compound and green stick fracture. The femur was in five parts and the longest of those had been pushed up with such force that the bone was protruding from my buttock. My left knee  had been pushed halfway up to my hip. The fracture to my skull ran from just behind one ear and around the front of my head to the other ear. The top of my skull was flapping loose, like a hinged lid. That’s when I died.

I went into cardiac arrest, in the middle of the road. My company’s first aider was on the scene by now and administered CPR. As she did so, the ambulance arrived and between the paramedics and the first aider, I was pulled back to life.

I was taken to what was then Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells and rushed straight to resus. There I was placed in a medically induced coma.
Meanwhile my parents were at work. They arrived home to find a note from the police asking them to make contact. My parents called the police and two officers were dispatched to their house to break the news. The police offered to drive my parents to the hospital but my dad is somewhat set in his ways, doesn’t accept lifts and prefers to drive himself. In what was perhaps a sign of the times, the police offered to escort my parents to the hospital under blues and twos while he drove his own car. I can only imagine what that must have looked like, as my dad sped through town with a police escort. Circumstances aside, it must have been quite a hoot.

My parents walked straight past me at the hospital, my injuries having rendered me unrecognisable. A doctor took them to my bedside and explained what had happened. My leg had been re-set to the best of the trauma team’s ability but there was a chance it may need to be amputated. My head injury was of the greatest concern as until I was conscious, there was little way of knowing if there was damage to my brain. I was bloated, bruised, bleeding and broken. Fortunately I’d not sustained any internal injuries.

The accident had occurred on a Tuesday and I regained consciousness on the Saturday, five days later. The first thing I remember was being asked by a doctor to identify those gathered around my bed. I recognised my parents and a couple of friends: I could see and I had long-term memory. My head was heavily bandaged; my left leg and both arms were in traction. I had no recollection of the accident as it was explained to me what had happened. Apparently I’d received no fewer than eight blood transfusions and it had been touch and go for a while but I was now stable, albeit in a critical condition.

Losing the use of both arms can be somewhat inconvenient and I was unable to feed or clean myself, nor do very much else besides. I was almost totally reliant on others.

After a couple of weeks, I was stable enough to be transferred to a normal ward: an orthopaedic one. My leg was still in traction but my arms were free, albeit in plaster but I could do things for myself. Including smoke a cigarette. In bed. In hospital. Another sign of the times.

A specialist reconstructive team had been brought in from East Grinstead and concluded that my leg was viable. I then had a choice: remain in traction and therefore in hospital for up to eighteen months, or have an operation to pin my femur back together. I’d never had major surgery, nor a general anaesthetic, so the prospect of the operation was somewhat daunting. Faced with the alternative of a lengthy stay in hospital though, I opted for the surgery, which meant I would be out in around three months.

The surgery went well and I now have a metal plate running the full length of my left femur, with 14 nuts and bolts running through it. Almost 30 years later, I still have a scar which runs from my knee to my hip. My skull knitted itself back together and both shoulders healed well.

Three months later and I was out of hospital, on crutches and with my leg in plaster. I was later fitted with a caliper to enable me to walk whilst not putting weight through my leg and promote some degree of muscle retention as I would be non-load bearing for some time. Six months of physiotherapy followed and almost a year to the day after the accident, I was pretty much fully recovered.

By now I’d turned seventeen and I took driving lessons. I passed my driving test and was in the market for a car. Scanning the private ads in the local press, I spotted what appeared to be a bargain: a Ford Escort at what seemed to be a very good price. I went to view the car with a mechanic friend: it all checked out. I asked the seller why the car was so cheap. He replied that it had been off of the road for over a year, as his wife had had an unfortunate incident in it and hadn’t driven the car since. The owner reassured me: I knew where he lived, I had his phone number and if there were any issues with the car, I could contact him within a reasonable time and he would reimburse me. I thought nothing of it, bought the car and drove away.

A few weeks later, on a sunny Sunday, I decided to give my car a full valet, inside and out. I washed, dried and waxed the outside, vacuumed and dusted the interior. It was as I was dusting the dash board that I happened to lean over the steering wheel and noticed what seemed to be nail marks carved into the reverse of it. Then it hit me, as the car had before.

I called John, the seller and asked him if the unfortunate incident he described his wife having happened on Pembury Road in Tonbridge in December 1986. He replied in the affirmative.

I asked him to let his wife know that the boy she collided with was okay and that it was an accident not of her making.

It doesn’t excuse my behaviour but in recognising that perhaps my accident was life-changing, I may find closure to an extent. We’re talking almost thirty years ago and I recall the cognitive assessments which were conducted at my bedside: I recognised the people around me. That was it: case – and head – closed; stitched up. Neurobiology has come a long way but has a great distance still to travel if we are ever to truly understand what goes on under the lid.

I didn’t keep a diary back then and I was advised against keeping this blog latterly, but it’s been recording my thoughts in this very public document which has helped me to understand myself. I’ve read back on posts from over a year ago and seen myself change. I imported my old blog from the turn of the century into this one and was reminded of myself in my late twenties and early thirties. In some respects, I’ve changed. In others, I never did, in recorded history. I’m glad I left this indelible mark. This blog is being included in a future exhibition by The RSA: I hope it helps that I wore my heart on my sleeve. I did that throughout the writing of my book: having re-read it several times as I revised it for serialisation, even the author was punched in the face by some of the subtleties and parallels included – frankly – so brilliantly. My readers agree and if The Paradoxicon is my legacy, I’m proud of what I produced, for in that book,  I have said all that I’m likely to ever need to say: it just needs working out.

In reality, I died when I was sixteen. Perhaps that’s why so many of my friends are of around that age? I never grew up but they will and then I’ll lose them. Like depression, life is a self-perpetuating thing. It’s the big red button question: would I press it to switch it all off? No.

I wish I could somehow confront the one over there: the angry angel. But love and hate are the same thing, albeit personified in different people and I’m finding it hard to face both, when they hate me but their love for me keeps me alive. On recent social interactions, it is evident that I still exude charm. I’m open and honest with all that I meet, trying to move them on for their own safety but still they come. What have I got that is so irresistible? Whatever it is, I’m me: always was; still am and always will be.

My poem about passing on – “On The Platform” – was half-read at a funeral of a friend’s mother: my friend only made it half way through my verse because I invoked emotion in him: job done as a writer but perhaps not in application.

At almost midnight, the working day as I observe it reaches a break point, although the note pad will always be with me. Music has also accompanied me through this little journey so far: after several technical interventions because the music didn’t sound quite right, the solution to the problem as interpreted by my over-sensitive ears was in fact a problem with those very same ears, having become used to music reproduced through inferior means of delivery. The hi-fi separates and speakers have literally and physically sunken into their new home: the kit is seriously heavy in weight. Like me, the sound system has settled into a new home and the output is smooth and rich, even at lower volumes.

Presently, I shall knock off. I miss the luxuries once afforded me by cable and satellite TV but Freeview is fairly expansive in this country, and sating of most appetites, including my own curious one with the inclusion of another Canadian import in the schedule of the Quest channel: How It’s Made: I like finding out about things.

We’re cool in Britannia and so am I. We could be better, as another writer for The Guardian pointed out when he were allowed by the only newspaper which is truly independent to have a voice and make a valid point of the opposition in Parliament: in my opinion, this is brilliant because of its potential for realisation. If only we thought more; wrote more; questioned more; did more:  Imaginative ideas that could help save the Labour party, by Charles Leadbeater. Great writers think.

As the closing credits of this post roll, I’m listening to the soundtrack to Electric Dreams. The eighties: great music, movies and a defining decade of life, as some of us know it; some of us never want to leave because we never grew up.  

Sometimes I have to question something before I write it but invariably I write it anyway. So like the Guardian reader and writer that I am, I shall quote an anonymous source in no context and leave great minds to work it out: “Sweetheart, I love you…”

I’ve changed. Some voiced concerns to me that sobriety would change me: it has, for the better. I don’t think anyone misses the angry one, least of all me. I still take risks; I’m still considered to be funny and there’s no questioning my intelligence but most of the anger has gone. I’m still the character but a nicer one than I was. The regrets and the self-hatred are a life-long burden which I must carry.

What went wrong was me. I took too many wrong turns at the junctions given to me.

I still struggle and over there, stands my angry angel.

I just didn’t think,
I’d had too much to drink.

A Writer’s Life For You

06.05.15 (Day 500 / 57)

13.42

500 days of writing the blog. Readers have always been welcomed to my world and if you’re reading this, I’m grateful for your continued interest.

I can’t speak for too many of my peers but when I describe a day in the life of this particular writer, I am also describing that of many others, at least insofar as few days are the same and no day in writing is like a typical, conventional working day. But to us it’s work and this is one of us, on one day.

Normally, I’ll get up at around eleven in the morning: I said we don’t work normal hours. The nights are usually very late, or early morning affairs for various reasons, chief among which is that I’m at my most creative, imaginative and creative when I’m relaxed and chilled out. More of that later, in this post and later today.

The first order of the day is to get to the local shops for whatever provisions I need for the rest of the day: booze, tobacco, food. With everything in, I’m secure in the knowledge that I have all I’m likely to need around me and that I won’t have to go out again.

Then coffee: a 34 fl.oz keg of strong coffee with twelve sugars and lots of Coffee Mate. The keg keeps the coffee warm for around ten hours, which is the length of my average working day. Sometimes I’ll get distracted and only commit a couple of hours to writing. Other times, I’ll be on a roll and can write for sixteen hours straight. I’ll grab some brunch, which is usually a pain au chocolate or a bacon croissant – with the bacon cooked in the microwave of course – and have that with coffee at my writing desk while I go over the notes I’ve made the previous day. The notes can be to-do lists, ideas for short stories, rough hand-written drafts of stories, or the same for the next novel. Then I’ll get to work and that’s where no two days are the same. I’d be a pretty boring and repetitive writer if I churned out the same material every day.

I’ll almost always be playing music in the background. Favourites at the moment are Bran Van 3000, Emiliana Torrini, Imogen Heap, Cradle of Filth and Sophie Auster. It’s background music but music can influence me and give me ideas. Obviously the kind of music can influence the type of writing I produce.

There’ll be interruptions throughout the day, with people wanting to see me, so I might take the odd break and descend to the bar but the working day is sometimes one which knows no bounds, so I often have to decline all but that fold-up daughter, who just folds up in a corner and doesn’t need me for anything other than company while she waits for her parents to get home. She often can’t go home before they’re back, so she comes to her adopted dad. She has her uses, chief amongst which is reading my output and giving me feedback.

I only wish others were as understanding as the little fold-up one. She can see that I’m busy when she’s here, so she just lets me get on with things. Others are persistent, insistent and pressurising. Often I can’t make plans and prefer to do things on a whim. The constant interruptions throw me off course and cause me to lose time and sometimes, patience. If I say that my presence somewhere depends on the outcome of an event, I clearly need to wait to see what the outcome of that event is before I can commit. Unfortunately, not everyone is as fond of my fold-up sidekick as me, so we can’t go together to some of the places I’m invited to and I feel a responsibility towards her over others who have others themselves where she has few. 

I’m usually working on more than one project; normally the work-in-progress novel and at least one short story for a magazine. Often I’ll fill in gaps and get the creative process started by writing a blog post, which is pretty evident here. Like my literary hero, Paul Auster, I’m happy if at the end of a working day I’ve produced one page of finished copy. Two pages is a bonus and three, rare. What ends up as one or two pages might be a chapter of the book or a short story. Before reaching the finished stage, either would be far longer and will have been edited down. I might go through three or four draft versions of something before I’m happy with it, so one page at the end of a day may have involved writing four times the end result. A typical page is about 500 words, so on some days, I’ll write perhaps 2000 words: a fairly typical output for a writer.

Constant top-ups of coffee, lunch, dinner, 40-50 cigarettes, alcohol and other substances fuel the day and as well as the actual writing, the work includes self-promotion, book promotion, social networking and research. Research can be via books or the internet, as I look into myriad subjects to be come learned enough in them to be able to write about them with a degree of authority. At the moment, I’m researching epoch events: scenarios which could be mass extinction scenarios. Of course, writing is mainly fiction in my case but there needs to be a basis in fact. Arguments have to be authoritative. An author needs to understand their material.

When not working, leisure activities can contribute to the writing process: I have many clippings from newspapers and magazines which have given me the basis for material. Similarly, I may watch a movie or a TV programme which gives me an idea. I always have a note pad by my side and the notes I make are filed with the media clippings for future reference. These are what I will go through at the start of a day, look through them again and decide if they have merit. I’ll start with the bare bones of a story and put flesh on those bones to produce the finished product.

At around 3am, I’ll crash out, ready to start all over again the next day.

So writing really can be a full time job if it’s one’s chosen path and it’s the path I’ve chosen. There are few if any rewards at the start but we have to just keep plugging at it, writing as much as possible and getting ourselves out there and eventually to market if we’re to be successful. And for me, it’s all I’m realistically able to do. And I’m doing it in the hope that one day my kids will be proud.

Welcome to my world.

Incidentally, I may have mentioned that I need to sell books. To that end I’m doing as much promotion of The Paradoxicon as I can. It now has its own Facebook page and can be bought on Amazon via the Facebook page or my website. Both need visitors, likes and shares, so go here:

www.facebook.com/theparadoxicon

The Cult Noise of Depression

Mostly copied from CultNoise, with a few amendments. The point is, these are the important things to know…

Yesterday was the start of Depression Awareness Week 2015. The aim is to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding depression, as well as other mental health issues. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime – so why aren’t we talking about it yet?
To mark the occasion, we have compiled a list of the top twenty things people with depression want you to know, all drawn from our writer’s personal experience.

Stop handling me 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 – especially not this week.

Talk to those of us who know.

Thank you 🙂

Les Miserables, La Folie

If a picture paints a thousand words, music can write a million and sometimes save a life.

I have kids in my life besides my own but I can’t see mine. I can’t see some of my adopted kids either but I can get messages to them.

This one goes out to one of the ones I love the most and she knows:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I prayed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
And they turn your dreams to shame

Still I dream he’d come to me
And we would live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

Dreams can come true my little fighter. Just keep fighting and I’m right here beside you to help and carry you. If you go, my life will be little more than the black hole you leave. You know I care and we’ve come this far. Let’s keep going and not give up.

Let’s run.

Why?

Because one day we won’t be able to.

Keep your head up kid. I know you can swim, you just gotta keep moving your legs.

And these are for you. It’s music. The first is yours and the other two are more about me but specifically what I am to you…

Bird of paradise – http://youtu.be/RBXTNAdvGKI

Manchild – http://youtu.be/OJ9VBMBS3qE

Highwayman – http://youtu.be/aFkcAH-m9W0

xxxx

Readers Write; Writers Read

I’ve been trawling The Way Back Machine internet archive and found more of my old stories. I’ll post them here and in the other usual repositories: Booksie and ABCTales, where my work is being read quite a lot and I’m receiving positive comments and the occasional critique from peers. I’ve collected them here so that they’re all in one place and so that I can blow my own trumpet:

On Comfort Banket:

“I’m glad that this ended as a message of reassurance as the story truly is a parent’s nightmare. Very well constructed, you create ebbs and flows of tension.”

“Hi Steve…

“I just read Comfort Blanket…Sad and creepy and uplifting all at the
same time. Neat trick!”

Serena

“Steve, that is a truly creepy tale! Really enjoyed it, although I suspect that it will stick with me for some time. Keep up the good work. Glad that you like it here, because this is a great group of people.”

Susan

“Hi Steve Just read “Comfort Blanket” – very sad and disquieting, but somehow hopeful. Well done.”

Mark

“My kids are my soft spot.

“Very nicely done. Brought a few tears to my eyes.

“Thanks,”

Brian Knight

“Excellent, haunting, melancholy story, Steve…you ended it perfectly, too!”

Theresa

“The story works for me, Steve. Neat, descriptive, poignant – the sort of thing Trevor Denyer of Roadworks might well be interested in should you care to submit it to him. Check out the website at http://www.roadworksweb.free-online.co.uk if you’re not already familiar with this UK print magazine.”

PJL (Paul Lockey)

“Hey Steven,

“About Comfort Blanket, I’d like you to consider sending it to my buddy & fiction editor of Deviant Minds, James Newman ( dmihatmttl@hotmail.com ). Please send it as a word or rtf. file, and let him know I asked you to send it. James makes all final decisions on fiction subs, but I really think Comfort Blanket is Deviant Minds material. I wish I had written it. DAMN good work!!!”

Brian Knight

On Bus Stop:

“This has such a comforting tone to it, death as nothing frightening but going home.  I wouldn’t say it was horror, perhaps the tag fantasy fits better.”

“quietly affecting, i thought the long sentences worked well and fitted in and complimented the tone apart from maybe ‘Had she not been there, he would have walked straight past the bus stop, as the sign to indicate its existence was mostly obscured by overgrown foliage.’ lovely moments, moments of dialogue and images, mist draped over the hill, clean white bus, thoughtful meta/magi-realism”

“The story was amazing, atmospheric (due to the weather) and had amazing
impact. I liked the way you introduced the main character quickly causing
the story to become more personal at the very beginning. I also liked the
addition of Tayna and the way she said that it was hard for her to leave.
We just thought that she was leaving town until we knew what the story was
really about. My favourite part of the story was when the two characters we
offered a lift. You spoke of immense heat which made us think of the devil
(was that intended?) I also thought you used a good amount of description
and the language was relatively unemotional evoking emotion in the reader.
You told us the story in a matter of fact way which caused impact at the
end.”

Love Emma.

“Totally unexpected, bud. I think I may have sustained a black-eye from that one! Excellent.”

Joe

On Old Wives’ Tale:

“Great read and well written. Look forward to reading more of your work.”

On A Message:

“Ha!

“love it.  Unsure about the culmination/denouement.  I do think that the care and skill on show up to the end (apart from the clumsy repetition of ‘in front of him’ right at the start) deserved a stronger finish.  Very good though.  Tangible facts and palpable detail are what make unbelievable stories believable.  I believed in this story.  Another good one Steve.”

“The sciency bit sounds very plausable, consummerism in space I bet it’s out there.”

On Bucket and Ball:

“These short pieces are really very good.  This one in particular is very affecting.  Super interesting and a great twist.  Congratulations.”

“^ ditto this was intriguing throughout held my attention and an affecting ending. it seems a good skill to be able to drizzle/release bits of information over such a short span, possible scammers, pictures of them holding beach balls etc. the letters at the end was a good way of wrapping the story up and relating so emotively. very well crafted”

“This is quite lovely.  It taps into the cold and cryptic aspects of cyberspace while at the same time being very warm and human.  Great stuff.”

On Falling:

“Intriguing, I think I need more explanation”

On The Kangaroo Court Ship:

“Shades of Khmer Rouge.  I like the way you involve the reader, we’re on JP’s side and want him te find some resolution.”

On The Paradox of Shadows:

“Very spooky!  Lovely Blair Witch feel to this.”

“I love the writing and the abstraction of the content. I am still confused, are this shadows and beings (etc..) a metaphor for the evil we all face in life? Does it somehow tend to be personified in paranormal events when people go to Roydon? If so, they try to run from it, which is something they always had and did not know it, splitting the very congruence of their spirit, thus killing them?
Dude I think i could learn from you.”

On The Paradox of Reflection:

“Love that you took us on a lucid dream, great sense of paranoia.”

“Spooky for sure… Great work… And the reference to those creatures as that… Well great job really creepy stuff”

“Hey,nice short story.But I suggest you make a novel of horror story.”

“Hey fella.

“Fantastic subject to use, something which is familiar and also alien to us all. Beautifully creepy subtext and the paragraph about mirror’s being genuinely creepy.

“Very satisfying short story.”

All of my old writing can be found on my archived Electric Nightmares site.

FAQ It

What’s it all About? To Cost?

We’re asked lots of questions. One of them isn’t, “What are you doing in our home?” We were invited. Some of our staff have had problems in the past but we believe that baggage should be left at the door and that everyone deserves another chance. Our ethos is trust. All of our staff are vetted, checked and certified (with Food Hygeine Standards certificates).

At Restaurant at Home, we recognise that food is subjective. What one diner likes, the next may not. Most of our customers supply their own food for us to prepare, cook and serve. That way there’s no confusion over exactly what it is we’re cooking. We can supply the food of course, or we can be creative with whatever is available. We can go shopping for you if you like, deliver prepared meals, or just provide service. Generally though, we cook what we’re given and asked to prepare.

We’re certainly not about leaving customers with a bitter taste in their mouths, either with our cooking or our charges. That’s why we operate a pricing policy based on trust: you pay what you think we’re worth.

There are exceptions and some customers want a price fixed in advance: that’s fine. An hourly rate or a total cost, no problem. But the hospitality trade is built on tips, so we simply ask that our customers pay our staff what they feel our cooking and service is worth.

If we quote an hourly rate, we’ll give an indication of the amount of time it will take us to prepare your meal, serve it and clean down afterwards. Otherwise you might be wondering what we’re doing in your kitchen for all those hours you’re paying us. That would spoil your enjoyment of what should be a restaurant experience in your own home. We want everyone to be relaxed. You place your trust in us by inviting us into your home. We trust you to treat us fairly. We’re confident that our cooking and service will speak for themselves.

So if we serve up something you don’t like (which we won’t), pay us at least a complement to tell us where we didn’t get it quite right. That hasn’t happened yet. If you’re feeling generous though, feel free to share that generosity. Tell us what you want and what you have and we will deliver.

We’re your Restaurant at Home and at your service.

Here’s One I Made Earlier

http://www.booksie.com/stevelaker

All of the short fiction and the first three chapters of one of the novels, self-published for peers to critique. Some are works in progress and in need of improvement; all are on the blog but here they’re all grouped together.