Posted on February 16, 2019
I’m struggling creatively. I’ve actually been quite productive recently (in the creative sense) but my creative confidence has been really shaken by this recent episode of depression. I tried not to think about it but I had (and still have to some extent) this deep fear and this deep dread that I’ll never write songs again, not in the way I wrote them before. I have this fear that it will never be easy again, never be truly fun and that’s left me feeling very insecure and vulnerable. So I could use some encouraging words…
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Write like it matters, and it will.” – Libba Bray
“Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure.” – Baruch Spinoza
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” – Anne Lamott
“Art is just another form of screaming.” – Unknown
“Write to write. Write because you need to write. Write to settle the rage within you. Write with an internal purpose. Write about something or someone that means so much to you, that you don’t care what others think.” – Nick Miller
“You don’t have to be the best guitar player, or have the best voice, or even be the best looking person – writing a song that moves people is worth more than all the other nonsense (just look at Bob Dylan: he’s got almost no vocal range at all, but his songs are deeply moving and iconic). If I had to offer one piece of advice: write a song that moves people, and write it from within yourself. Your personal narrative is more engaging and moving than anything else you can imagine in your mind.” – Ryan Ross
“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” – Ray Bradbury
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
“There’s a phrase, ‘sitzfleisch,’ which means just plain sitting on your ass and getting it done. Just showing up for work. My uncle Raphael was a painter, and he used to say, ‘If the muse is late for work, start without her.’ You have to be there. You have to be there, and do it, and grind it out, even when it is grinding and you know you’re probably going to rewrite all this tomorrow.” – Peter S. Beagle
“In a time of destruction, create something.” – Maxine Hong Kingston
“Write because you want to communicate with yourself. Write because you want to communicate with someone else. Write because life is weird and tragic and amazing. Write because talking is difficult. Write because it polishes the heart. Write because you can. Write because you can’t. write because there is a blackbird outside of my window right now and oh my god isn’t that the best start to the day? Write because you’re trying to figure yourself out. Write because you might now ever figure yourself out. Write because there still aren’t enough love poems in the world.” – Dalton Day
“You have to believe. Otherwise, it will never happen.” – Neil Gaiman
“Just speak your truth; it’s an important cornerstone of how your life ends up sort of unfolding in front of you. Even if it’s painful, if it’s honest, it’s going to bring you to the place you deserve to be.” – Sara Bareilles
“To the storytellers: type, scribble, scrawl, write, scream your story into existence, and whatever you do, don’t look back.” – Jonathan Stutzman
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – Somerset Maugham
“Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic.” – Cheryl Strayed
“Write it badly. Write it badly, write it badly, write it badly, write it badly. Stop what you’re doing, open a Word document, put a pencil on some paper, just get the idea out of your head. Let it be good later. Write it down now. Otherwise it will die in there.” – Brandon Sanderson
“We have to create; it is the only thing louder than destruction.” – Andrea Gibson
“Today, just like yesterday, I woke up, picked up my pen and notebook and kept on writing.” – Laura Jane Grace
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” – Madeleine L’Engle
“By all means break the rules and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well.” – Robert Bringhurst
“Write about what you need to write about even it’s just love poems. The world could always use at least six more love poems. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.” – Trista Mateer
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” – Zig Ziglar
“Write down everything, even if it’s painful. Especially if it’s painful.” – William Babin
“There are poets who sing you to sleep and poets who ready you for war and I want to be both.” – Ashe Vernon
Again, if you guys have any quotes that inspire you, please let me know. I’m always looking to add to my collection.
Posted on February 9, 2019
Since I’ve already posted this week (tips for talking about mental health), I wasn’t sure whether or not to post again today, whether I wanted to write something else as well as that. But last night, I went to the opening night of Waitress the Musical in London. The music was written by Sara Bareilles (who I LOVE) and the songs I’d heard from it (she released some of them as an album) were absolutely gorgeous. So I was very excited to go.
The show was amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking, and exactly what I needed. It’s not the story of the chosen one facing ridiculous obstacles; it’s about a woman who found herself very unhappy and how she tries to find happiness. Jenna, a baker at heart, discovers that she’s pregnant and starts making plans to run away but of course it isn’t that straight forward. I won’t give anything else away because if you can see it, you really should. Plus they make the theatre smell like a kitchen full of freshly baked pies. It was lovely.
It was a great evening but what made it all the more special was that Sara herself was there, introducing the show and then bidding the audience goodnight. I haven’t seen her since her two London shows in 2014 and I’ve really missed her. She’s funny and warm and genuine and she even sang us a little of her latest single. It was so nice to see her again.
I went to both London shows in 2014 and at the first, I left her a letter. I was really struggling with depression and social anxiety and I just wanted to thank her for all her music had done for me, how much it was helping me with all I was dealing with. And during the second show, she dedicated her song ‘Uncharted’ to me. It’s my favourite song of hers and it was such a special moment. That show was just a beacon of joy and having that through the difficult stuff that followed is something that means so much to me. I’m more grateful than I’ll ever be able to express.
I’ve been listening to Sara’s music since I was thirteen and I’m now twenty four. A lot has happened in that time: I got through sixth form, took a lonely year out, decided that I wanted to be a songwriter, worked through my degree, moving out of my childhood home, plus all my mental health stuff. I’ve had her music through all of that and it’s helped me process it and get through it.
When my depression is at its worst, I can’t listen to music. I find it hard to put into words because it’s so deeply rooted in feeling but it’s suffocating and miserable and painful. It takes me a long time to recover from that state and coming out of it leaves me feeling fragile and raw. It’s like I’m made of glass and anything too loud will shatter me. It causes me a lot of distress. I can’t listen to music straight away – it’s just too much, in terms of both emotion and sensory information – but I can listen to Sara Bareilles songs. They’re gentle and genuine and they strengthen my soul. I’ve had her music in the best of it all and the worst of it all and that means the world to me.
I also really connected to and loved her book, Sounds Like Me. I read it in one sitting and just fell in love with this new form of her writing. Again, her writing was so gentle and I loved getting even more of the stories behind the songs. If you want to understand me, read the chapter ‘Red.’ Reading the book, I felt connected to her and that was very strengthening.
She’s also one of the reasons I got into songwriting. Her lyrics are beautiful and honest and heartbreaking and I learn something from every song. If I could write songs half as well as her, I’d be ecstatically happy. And when it comes to pursuing music as a career, her choices as a creative have really inspired me: to be authentically me, to try out everything I can, to be brave, to stick to who I want to be and to what I want to create. When you’ve got people trying to mould you or redirect you at every turn, that’s magic.
Sara Bareilles and her music will always be so special to me. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank her.
Posted on February 7, 2019
Today is Time To Talk Day 2019, a day dedicated to talking about mental health and breaking down some of the stigma associated with mental illness. It’s always ‘time to talk day’ on this blog so to do something special, I thought a post about talking about mental health might be appropriate. It’s true that the more you talk about this stuff, the easier it gets but starting is hard and we all need help sometimes. So with that in mind, here are some tips for talking about mental health stuff:
You are telling someone about your mental health:
- Start with writing – Talking is hard. If it’s going to make the process easier, it’s absolutely okay to start with writing, whether that’s writing it all down in a letter or email or simply ask to have a conversation about a particular topic by text. I used a Facebook message to let all of my friends know that I’d been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder; it was the most efficient way of getting all the necessary information to all of my important people.
- Bring helpful information – You don’t have to remember all of the information and sometimes it can help both of you to have something concrete to refer to.
- Know that you can stop if you need to – You don’t have to reveal everything. The basic facts can be enough. This is your story and you can share as much or as little as you want. Talking about mental health and sharing your experiences can be helpful but that doesn’t mean you have do it if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
- Remember that some people won’t understand – Unfortunately, not everyone will understand or react helpfully. Chances are you’ll come across someone who will say something hurtful and it will be devastating. It will. There’s no way around that. Allow yourself to feel it and then let it go. There are more good people than bad.
Someone is telling you about their mental health:
- Hear them out – Try not to interrupt, even if it’s to reassure them. It may have taken a lot to get to this point.
- Appreciate the courage/effort it took – They’ve probably been thinking about this conversation for a long time and worrying about how it will go but they did it because they care about you and want you to know what’s going on with them. They worked through all that anxiety for you and that’s a really big deal.
- Don’t dismiss or minimise – It’s natural to want to brush off scary things and make them smaller and therefore less scary but that invalidation can be devastating, especially if this is something that they are currently really struggling with. If you’re at a loss of what to say, try “Thank you for telling me all of this” or “That must be really difficult” or “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
- Let them know that you will be there for them going forward – Make sure they know; don’t let it just be implied. Tell them and then check up with them. It doesn’t all have to be about mental health: it can be staying in semi regular text contact, a silly card because it reminded you of them, or just trying to catch up a bit more often.
I hope this has been helpful or at least not boring. I wishing you all a lovely Time To Talk Day and I’ll see you in the next blog post.
Posted on February 2, 2019
I don’t know about you but I’ve had a pretty intense few weeks. It’s stressful and exhausting and I’m looking forward to a few days on my sofa with some good TV and my animals. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share some YouTube videos that make me smile, even when I’m having a really bad day.
1. An arctic fox laughing…
2. Simon The Cat Refuses To Dog…
3. Because everyone needs to see a husky having a tantrum…
4. Dog vs Strawberry…
5. Because we all secretly want a munchkin cat…
So I hope these brought a smile to your face. Do you have any favourite YouTube videos? If you’re having a tough time at the moment, I’m thinking of you and sending you good vibes. I know it might feel unbearable but I hope you try to bear it for a little longer. Things change, little bit by little bit.
Posted on January 26, 2019
In a recent therapy session, my therapist and I were talking about this latest depressive episode and what I’ve learned from it. Because I’ve learned A LOT. I’m not ‘un-depressed’ yet but coming out of it a bit has given me a new perspective on it, on my depression and how it affects me. Hopefully that perspective will be helpful to me in the future. Because depression can creep in very slowly, you don’t always notice the signs but in hindsight, there are a handful of things that should be red flags in my mind. Maybe being aware of these things can help me prevent the depression getting as bad as it did this time.
- Unable to write songs – I don’t mean a bit stuck. I mean a continued inability to reach the level of functioning necessary to write songs. Songwriters, do you know what I mean? I know exactly the feeling I mean when I write this and although it does sometimes come out of nowhere, it is the biggest sign that depression is creeping in again. It’s very distressing to be unable to do the thing I love the most.
- Losing my excitement – This was something I didn’t realise was gone until it returned. I’d get excited about things in theory but I assumed the dampened emotional response was just part of the depression numbness. But since I’ve started to feel better, my excitement has resurfaced about as dramatically as a volcano. It’s fun but a bit disconcerting. So, in future, if my excitement seems to have gone AWOL, I know that it’s a potential sign of depression.
- Overwhelming anxiety about the future – I am always anxious about the future so this is a tricky one but when it becomes overwhelming and it feels like more than I can cope with, than I could ever cope with, and it goes on for an extended period of time, it’s a symptom of my depression.
- Feeling hopeless – Similar to the previous one, feeling overwhelmed by hopelessness is a real sign of a depressive episode. It feels like everything inside me has stilled, like there’s a new, sharp clarity to everything. Everything becomes very simple and really pointless. We all feel hopeless now and then but when this feeling doesn’t pass, I know I’m in a depressive episode.
- Increased suicidal thoughts – This one is the final straw, the most telling sign. I’ve always felt very strongly against suicide so when these thoughts start to filter into my everyday thinking, I know I’m in trouble.
There are symptoms common in everyone – like low mood, fatigue, low self-esteem, and so on – but these are my personal warning signs. Do you know what yours are? Are they similar or different?
Posted on January 19, 2019
Just over two months ago, I finally stopped taking Amitriptyline and started taking the new medication I’d been prescribed, Clomipramine. I’d had the prescription for over a month but I just hadn’t felt able to start taking it: I felt so drained and so worn down by what felt like an endless train of medications that made me feel worse instead of better. And on the off chance that it worked, I didn’t feel ready to feel ‘better.’ It’s hard to explain but it felt like I’d physically feel better – chemically happier – but still have all these ‘depressed’ thoughts, a juxtaposition that I did not feel strong enough to cope with.
But on this particular night, I felt a little more steady and so I took advantage of that: I stopped taking the Amitriptyline and started the Clomipramine. I felt different almost straight away; it took less than a week. I felt physically lighter, like a fog had lifted, a fog that I hadn’t felt settle. It was disconcerting – I felt a little bit like I might just float away – but it felt good too. It felt cathartic.
Suddenly, I was excited again. I was excited about pretty much everything, from swimming and playing with the cats to bigger things like future writing sessions and far away holidays. I hadn’t realised that that was something that had disappeared. I’d been excited about things in theory, in the way I thought about things – I could recognise that something was exciting. But I wasn’t actually feeling it. So to have it back was exciting in itself. It was amazing and I savour the feeling every single time it appears.
The most exciting thing is that my creative brain woke up and started firing again. It’s like my depression completely suppressed my creative brain and so I was physically unable to write songs, to function at the cognitive level necessary to write songs. I wrote about this in a post a few weeks ago. I’ve got several writing sessions coming up which I’m really, really excited about so I’ll keep you guys updated as to how they go.
I’ve also been taking Pregabalin – for several months now – to manage my anxiety. It has reduced my anxiety to a degree but I’m still dealing with A LOT of anxiety, so I need to talk to my psychiatrist. But it has helped. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been side effect free: I’ve been experiencing muscle twitches, mostly in my legs but sometimes in other parts of my body too. And it’s gotten worse as I’ve increased the dosage. That can feel quite scary, to not be in control of your body… I’m in the process of trying a new anti-anxiety, Flupentixol. It doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect so far but I’m trying not to lose hope.
The excitement and the giddiness have faded a bit since the initial boost. I’ve had a pretty bad week: my depression got overwhelming for a moment there. I’m coming out of it but it was pretty scary and I still feel quite shaken by it.
So that’s an update on the medication front. As per usual, it’s been a bumpy road but things are better than they were and for that, I’m really grateful.
Posted on January 12, 2019
I first found myself unable to speak when I went to see the doctor for my anxiety and depression, although I didn’t know that that was what it was at the time. I’d been referred to the ‘Wellbeing Service’ by my GP (who I’d been seeing since childhood). I have always struggled with anxiety and so my Mum – my hero – came with me to provide support and any extra relevant information I might forget in the moment.
But the anxiety built and built. I walked into the room and sat down and in that moment, I stopped being able to function. I felt like I had this massive weight on my shoulders, so heavy that I physically couldn’t lift my head. I stared into my lap, unable to move. I couldn’t even move my eyes. And even if I could have, sustained eye contact felt impossible. That’s something I still struggle with (there’s a blog post about that here). The meeting of eyes feels so incredibly personal, like they’ll see all of me or I’ll see all of them.
And I couldn’t speak. I knew what I wanted to say – I could just about hear my own voice in my head above all the anxiety – but I couldn’t physically say them. My throat felt painfully tight and my tongue refused to cooperate. I was trying to speak, trying to function, but I just couldn’t.
I was told that, if I wouldn’t talk, they couldn’t help me. That still upsets me all these years later because, to me, it seems so obvious that I was struggling with real, difficult anxiety. We walked out and suddenly the words exploded out of me and I was standing in the street outside, screaming and swearing and sobbing. I felt so abandoned.
From there, I went to a series of doctors and therapists but was unable to speak. My Mum spoke for me: we would discuss it all in detail before the appointments so she knew what I would say if I could. It was difficult and traumatic and I felt like I was getting sucked further inside myself with every experience of being unable to talk.
Eventually I ended up seeing an EMDR therapist called Mark. We sat on chairs in the middle of a big empty room that had a glorious view of London at night. Sometimes we sat on the floor and played dominoes. I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t look at him but after a while, we started using a white board and pen. Writing has always come to me more naturally than speaking. So he asked questions and I replied, filling the board with scribbles.
But in the end it wasn’t to be. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing, maybe it wasn’t the right time. We’ll never know. I ended up taking a break from all types of therapy. I just needed some space. And then, in the summer of 2014, I went to see a psychiatrist and I knew things had to be different. I couldn’t do it again. I needed to talk.
I don’t want to give the impression that selective mutism is a choice. It’s not. I didn’t simply decide to start speaking again in these highly stressful situations; it’s so much bigger than that. There was a shift inside me, an unconscious realisation that talking was the only way to create change. One of my parents describes it as “a leap for survival” and she’s not wrong. It was about survival, although I wasn’t conscious of that at the time. At the time, it was just another step in a long line of steps.
What I’ve learned throughout all of this is that everything changes. It’s like shaking a box full of puzzle pieces, trying to get all the pieces to land in their respective places. With every shake, it lands in a different arrangement and life looks different. Different things are possible. Sometimes it’s even enough to see what the picture is.
Somehow I was able to talk. I couldn’t tell you how. My psychiatrist has told me since that he didn’t initially believe that I struggled with social anxiety, and anxiety in general, because that first impression of me was so confident and articulate. He understands now that it was a matter of survival, desperation making once impossible things possible.
It’s been several years since I found myself unable to speak. Even though I continue to struggle with anxiety, it’s never again manifested in that form. But even now, I hate the phrase ‘selective mutism.’ It implies that there’s some element of choice, like I was (and others still are) choosing not to speak. If I could rename it, I would call it Situation Specific Mutism. I think that fits better.
I wish I could offer some wise words or some quietly brilliant advice to those still unable to speak. But I think the most important thing is finding someone who gets it and not giving up until you find that person. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. The right person – the person that will get you and make it work for you – is out there.
Somebody once told me the story of a boy who was only able to participate in therapy when the lights were off but up until that point, all the medical professionals in his life had refused to do that because it wasn’t how things were done. Sometimes it’s ridiculously simple but for whatever reason, people don’t want to make those adjustments. But there are people out there who will, whether that’s having someone with you, whether you need to write rather than speak, or use another medium to communicate. In my experience at least, sometimes you have to treat the anxiety in order to make communicating easier.
The last thing I want to leave you with is an app that might be useful. It’s called Emergency Chat and it’s designed for communication when speaking is difficult. You hand it over to someone and it shows a message that you can personalise to what you’re going through so that the other person can understand it better and then you can type back and forth, or not. The message itself may be enough.
I hope this has been helpful. And if you’re going through something similar, know that I’m thinking of you and sending good thoughts.