Goals For 2020

So the 19 for 2019 was probably overambitious, especially considering the instability of my mental health. I just didn’t realise how fragile it really was until it crashed. A lot of this year is going to be about looking after and rebuilding my mental health. So this year, I’m going for something a little gentler: a handful of goals that aren’t super specific. They’re more about trying than achieving.

GET BACK TO SWIMMING – For a year, I swam almost everyday and I loved it. It made me feel really good in my body. But then the depression, the medication side effects, the fatigue, and the meltdowns all made that impossible. I was either too unwell or too physically weak. But I really miss it. It wasn’t possible during the first semester of my Masters (my anxiety was so high and I was having so many meltdowns that I just didn’t have the energy) and I’ve spent the holidays working on my assignments but I’m optimistic that this next semester will be a bit gentler and I’ll  have the time and energy to start building the swimming in again.

START WEARING MY INVISIBLE BRACES AGAIN – Again, I did really well at this for a while but the mental health crash derailed it and it was just one thing too much. I was going through so much during the day that pressure in my face during the night was just more than I could take. But my teeth haven’t completely regressed so at least I’m not starting from the beginning. I’m wearing them again and it’s uncomfortable and hard but I’m trying my best to focus on the end goal: straight teeth that make me feel confident when I smile.

COMPLETE YEAR 1 OF MY MASTERS DEGREE – Because of the way the part time course is set up, I only have one more semester this academic year and from what I understand of it, it shouldn’t cause me the same levels of anxiety as the last one, as much as I enjoyed it. I’m also kind of looking forward to the assessment because it’s an essay where you can write about anything music related. How cool is that?! All the possibilities! And that’s year one done so all things going well, that should be possible. I’m cautiously optimistic.

CONSUME NEW MEDIA RATHER THAN JUST FAMILIAR MEDIA – With all the mental health stuff, it’s been hard to engage with anything that isn’t safe and comforting. It’s been especially difficult in the last few months when my OCD has been so bad, because it’s hard to concentrate on something new when I’m trying to write everything down. I’m going to be working on that specifically but also my mental health in general this year so hopefully those needs won’t take up so much time, leaving some time for watching, reading, and listening to new things.

GET BACK TO THERAPY AND FOCUS ON MY MENTAL HEALTH – I only went to therapy sporadically in the second half of the year last year because my therapist and I couldn’t get our schedules to match up and because of certain things going on in our lives and although I don’t yet know my timetable for the new semester, we (me, my Mum, and my therapist) are all determined – furiously so – to make it work because I really need the support. Things have gotten really bad and I really, really need the support.

WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS IN MUSIC – This is probably the hardest one and a lot of the time, it feels unbearable to even think about. While I need to work on not comparing myself to others in general – in all situations – I figure that’s too big a task for such a difficult feeling so I just picked one area. Music has always been my happy place and I want it to stay (or go back to being or something) my happy place and it’s not, when I look at other artists and feel lost and sad and lonely and angry and bitter. So I want to work out – probably with therapy – how to focus on me and not worry about other artists beyond a practical, objective sense. This feels really, really hard so I don’t know if I’ll manage it in a year or whether I’ll even manage to start but I want to so I’m trying to think about it and figure out a place to start because I don’t want to feel all of these things. I want my happy place back.

So these are my goals for this year. It’s difficult to really even think about things like this at the moment because everything feels so, so hard that I just feel overwhelmed. I feel like everything chips off pieces of me and at twenty five, I shouldn’t feel so small. I shouldn’t feel like there’s so little left of me. I’m struggling and I don’t know how to keep going and I don’t know what to do and a big part of me wants to just give up but I don’t know how. How do you give up? Because life just keeps going on without you. I guess that’s why my main goal this year is my mental health because I don’t know what to do anymore.

19 for 2019 Reviewed

In January, I was inspired to try the 19 for 2019 challenge, setting myself nineteen goals to achieve by the end of the year. They didn’t have to be massive goals; they could be one off things to simply try. I was inspired so I came up with nineteen things and gave it a go. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of what a hell of a year I was about to experience.

  1. Stop pulling my hair out – Complicated. I’ve gone long stretches without pulling my hair out but then the stress induced habit has usually been replaced by another one. Right now I’m going through an incredibly stressful time and have recently started pulling again. Maybe next year’s the year.
  2. Read ten books – I read a handful of books early in the year but I didn’t really start to enjoy reading again until I read This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. I devoured that: he has a beautifully personal writing style. Not long after that, I started my Masters Degree and I had an overly ambitious reading list so I read a lot. Plus, I had a phase of reading books from my childhood when I went through my bookshelf. So I definitely read more than ten books.
  3. Get a tattoo – I still haven’t managed to do this. I still like the thought of getting one and have multiple ideas but I really don’t like the way they blur over time. I don’t think I could bear to have a blurred tattoo on my body so I still haven’t gotten one.
  4. Continue swimming (or let it evolve) – There were periods of the year where I did manage this but sometimes the medication I was on meant I physically didn’t have the energy. And then when the kittens were born, I loved watching them in the early mornings, which was when I swam (before the gym got busy and stressful). Add in doing the Masters and what a drain on my energy that was, I haven’t been swimming half as much as I’d life. It’s definitely something I want to get back into in 2020.
  5. Write more songs – Given all the changes of medication (something that always seems to affect my songwriting) during the first six months or so of the year, I wasn’t able to write. I tried. I tried really hard and managed a few with the help of some wonderful cowriters. But now that I’m back on the Phenelzine, I am able to write again, alone and with others and I love it. For me, writing a song is the best feeling world; it’s feeling alive, it’s feeling connected to myself, to my soul, to the universe. It’s feeling real. So I’m writing again, as much as I’m able. And as I’ve started my MA, I’m writing for that too. I’m very aware of how much I’m learning and how much my songwriting is developing.
  6. Get my photo albums up to date – I did. And then they got out of date again. It was something I’d hoped to do over the Christmas break but I’ve literally been working on my assessments every single day. Fortunately my photos are well organised so when I have some time, it won’t be a terrifying task to attempt.
  7. Pursue the cause of my tiredness – I’ve tried. My god, I’ve tried. I’ve seen doctors and been to the Chronic Fatigue Clinic for a general session but that wasn’t at all helpful. I knew everything they told and have known for years and the other people there hadn’t been dealing with it for a fraction of the time I have been. So I didn’t feel very positive about that experience. I’m waiting for a follow up from them but I had no idea when that will be or how much it will help me.
  8. Improve my instrument skills – I barely did anything musical for a significant part of the year due to medication side effects and crushing depression so I’ve probably gone backwards in my instrumental skills. Having said that, I have been working on them since I started the Masters (particularly the piano so I didn’t have to carry a guitar up and down from London). So not a total loss. And hopefully this will continue as I continue with the Masters.
  9. Watch a meteor shower – In January actually, I did manage to catch a meteor shower and it was beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how magical meteors are; they’re just takes me breath away. And there was one huge one that streaked across the sky, like a knife cutting through the roof of a tent and letting in light. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
  10. Write more poetry – I did write a little poetry, but that was only during NaPoWriMo. Either my mental health was going down the drain or I was too busy writing songs for poetry. Why is there never enough time? Sometimes I feel like the world is moving really fast around me while I move at an ordinary speed.
  11. Finishing decorating and organising my room – I started to and then I somewhat undecorated it with the creation of the music video for my single, ‘Bad Night.’ While it’s mostly been returned to rights, there’s still some damage (a fist sized crack in the plaster that I haven’t gotten around to repairing). It’s just one of those things that’s always on the list but slips down to more urgent things. Hopefully I’ll get there at some point.
  12. Find an alcoholic drink I like – I’m now back on a medication that means I can’t really drink. The odd drink is fine but yeah, I can’t really drink. Before that though, I tried a lot of different types of alcohol and just really hated all of them. I also discovered that I’m allergic to limes, which are in a ridiculous amount of alcoholic drinks, including one that I actually did like. The one drink that I do enjoy is a passionfruit mojito even though it does contain lime extracts. So far, drinking them – and I’m not drinking them very often – doesn’t cause a reaction.
  13. Find a tea or coffee I like – Nope, they all still taste awful to me. I find it frustrating because drinking coffee is such a ‘normal’ thing and I feel like, having been denied so much by my Autism, it’s unfair that I don’t even get to be normal in this tiny way.
  14. Get invisible braces – Success! I was fitted for invisible braces and have received the first half of the set. I did really well at wearing them for a while but during the second half of the year, I haven’t done so well. It just felt like too much when I was struggling with serious anxiety. I’m hopeful that, with what seems like a less stressful semester starting January, I’ll be better at wearing them.
  15. Go rock climbing – Nope. I would’ve loved to but again, all the medication and energy stuff made that impossible. Another dream for another year.
  16. Participate in FAWM – I tried really, really hard to take part in February Album Writing Month but as it was (obviously) at the beginning of the year when I was trying different medications and therefore really struggling with my writing, I didn’t get far. I made several solid attempts and wrote several parts of songs but I didn’t manage to write even one full song.
  17. Participate in NaPoWriMo – Again, I tried and did write some poetry but nothing I was terribly enthused by. And I wasn’t particularly consistent and didn’t do it everyday but I tried. I tried.
  18. Donate blood again – I would’ve loved to have donated blood again but a lot of the medications made me ineligible to donate, which sucks because it’s something that’s really important me. So this is off the cards for the moment but as soon as it’s possible again, I’ll be back.
  19. Join the bone marrow register – Another one I’ve failed at. There’s just been too much health stuff and I’ve just been too unwell to think about it. Plus there were long stretches where I simply forgot. I want to do it so it will stay on the list until I manage it.

So it’s a pretty mixed bag and considering the year I had, I’m surprised I managed any of them at all. I’ve struggled throughout the year, especially recently, with how little I’m achieving and the frustration and anger and guilt that comes with that, that comes with living with mental health problems and a developmental disability. I’m trying to focus on the fact that, where I could, I tried. I tried to do as many of these things as possible.

Overall, an interesting challenge but I think I’ll try something different for 2020. I haven’t found the right kind of goal system yet so I’m just gonna have to keep looking and keep trying.

19 For 2019

It’s that time of year again and I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. I know a lot of people think it’s silly, that it’s just another day in a long line of days, but I love the feeling you get on New Year’s Eve, like you’re on the brink of great change. After the year I had, I was ready to move on and ready to do more. I’m excited about things for the first time in months.

I was really inspired by this video so I thought I’d have a go at coming up with my own nineteen things to achieve in 2019. I’m a bit overwhelmed but I’m also excited to do all of these things so I’m hopeful for the coming year:

  1. Stop pulling my hair out – whether my hair pulling is Trichotillomania or stimming (I don’t know where it comes from), I need to stop pulling out my hair. I hate it but stopping is incredibly difficult. I managed to stop once before, for a year, but the compulsion didn’t fade at all. I’m anxious about that but I really, really, really want to stop. While I was dealing with suffocating depression, stopping was too much to contemplate – I didn’t have it in me for both battles at once. But now that I’m feeling a bit lighter, I want to go for it.

2. Read ten books – I had a goal to read five books last year and read ten so I feel pretty good about this goal. It feels manageable.

3. Get a tattoo – There’s a tattoo that I’ve wanted for a year at least so I think it’s time to bite the bullet.

4. Continue swimming (let it evolve if it wants to) – I’m so proud of myself for continuing with the swimming for six months and I really want to keep it up. But I’m also open to it changing if that’s what feels right.

5. Write more songs – I’m so excited to have my creative brain back. I can’t wait to dive back into songwriting.

6. Get my photo albums up to date – I’m way behind with my photo albums. My depression made looking at my own face a really upsetting experience so I just had to let it slide. But it’s something I love doing and something I love looking through so I’d like to get up to date.

7. Pursue the cause of my tiredness – My struggle with fatigue is ongoing and I need to know why, where it’s coming from. Something has to be causing it and I want to know what that is and what I can do about it.

8. Improve my instrument skills – My piano and guitar skills have suffered during my depression and I wasn’t an expert to start with. So I want to work on them seriously.

9. Watch a meteor shower – I love watching meteor showers so I want to get them in my diary and make the time to go and watch one. Hopefully more than one.

10. Write more poetry – I barely wrote any poetry last year and that makes me sad because it’s something that I really love. So I want to make more time for that this year.

11. Finish decorating and organising my room – We’ve been moved in for about eight months and while we have the day to day stuff sorted, there’s still stuff like hanging pictures on the walls and finding places for all the small things (like extra hard drives and sorting out my make up) that still needs doing. So I’d like to work on that.

12. Find an alcoholic drink I like – I still haven’t found an alcoholic drink I like. I know that I don’t need to drink alcohol but so many people have said that it’s something you get used to, rather than liking it straight away so I’m trying to give it a fair shot. Pun intended.

13. Find a tea or coffee I like – As above, I still haven’t found a tea or coffee that I enjoy drinking. I’m still looking though.

14. Get invisible braces – This has been in the works for a while now but I’m really looking forward to getting on with it and to getting straighter teeth.

15. Go rock climbing – I loved rock climbing as a kid so I would love to do it again.

16. Participate in FAWM – FAWM stands for February Album Writing Month and it’s a challenge to write fourteen songs – an album’s worth of songs – in the month of February. I managed it once before and I loved the constant drive to create so I’d love to try to again. It’s a bit of a baptism by fire after not writing very much but what the hell. I’m already looking forward to it.

17. Participate in NaPoWriMo – April is National Poetry Writing Month and there’s a new poetry writing challenge every day. And as it’s already a resolution to write more poetry, this seems like a good opportunity. If everything goes as planned, I’ll be in Nashville for part of April so that might get complicated but hopefully I can participate for most of the month.

18. Donate blood again – Giving blood was a really special experience and it means a lot to me to be able to do it so I’m looking forward to doing it again.

19. Join the bone marrow register – I want to be able to help as many people as possible in my life so this is something that’s been on my to do list for a while.

So there it is. Bring on 2019.

The Old New Year’s Resolutions

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I hope you have all had a lovely, relaxing holiday period and that you feel hopeful about the year ahead. I’m feeling lighter than I have in a long time and for the first time in months, I’m actually excited about what’s coming next.

But, before we move on to the new year and all the new plans, I want to pause for a moment. This time last year, I set several resolutions – more like goals – for 2018. Now, 365 days later, I want to look back at them and look at how I did, whether I achieved them or not…

WRITE MORE SONGS – Technically, yes. I did write more songs. Not as many as I would’ve liked but more songs nonetheless. As I mentioned in my review of 2018, my depression seemed to completely suppress my creative brain so writing anything was a really struggle. But I’m cautiously optimistic about my songwriting in the near future.

RELEASE MUSIC – Yes, as I said in my halfway-through-the-year post, I have music out in the world (you can listen to my first single, ‘Invisible,’ here). It was a long, hard journey to that first milestone but we made it and I’m excited about what’s coming next.

FIND THE RIGHT MEDICATION – I found many wrong ones but, fingers crossed, I’m onto a good one. Right now, we just have to wait and see (my least favourite sentence in the world).

WORK ON BEING HEALTHIER – I feel really good about this one. Since August, I’ve been going to the gym and swimming for at least half an hour most days of the week and I’ve kept it up for six months. I’m so proud of myself and I love it so much. It helps me make sense of the world and it makes me feel really good. Food is still a daily struggle but I’m not restricting and I’m also not eating everything in sight. So that’s something.

BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT – I feel like I’m going backwards with this one. My depression has been all consuming and just as it started to let up, anxiety rushed in to fill the void. So I’m struggling here. I don’t know what else to say about this one.

READ MORE BOOKS – Yes! I definitely did that! My small, achievable goal was five books and I managed to read ten! So I’m very proud of my efforts in this department. Hopefully I can keep this up going forward.

IMPROVE MY MUSICAL SKILLS – This is another casualty of my depression. My lack of concentration and motivation has just made it impossible to do any consistent practice. Even when I tried my hardest, I couldn’t do it and then I’m really good at beating myself up over it. That’s another thing I need to work on. But as I’ve already said, I’m cautiously optimistic about things moving forward.

GO THROUGH MY POSSESSIONS – Well, I did that. We moved house and so I went through everything as I packed it. That was very overwhelming so I’m sure I missed stuff. I’m still creating a new order and finding things that I can throw out or give away but I made a huge dent in this resolution and I’m pleased with my effort.

So I guess it is now time to make some new resolutions. Watch this space…

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Of Stars and Spirals

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. This is not so much a book review as it is a collection of my thoughts about a particular book so I will be talking about the characters and the storyline in some detail. Hopefully it will make sense. If you’ve read the book or don’t mind spoilers, read on but if you want to read the book (which I highly suggest you do) and watch the events unfold, go and do that first. And then maybe you can come back and read this…

As I said in my post about New Years Resolutions, I really want to get back into reading. When I was a kid, I inhaled book after book after book and I have so many memories of forgoing sleep, just so that I could finish whatever story I was in the middle of. I really loved to read. It was my favourite thing. But somehow, with university and my mental health and the rollercoaster that has been my life for the last few years, reading sort of fell off my radar and I really miss it so one of my New Years Resolutions is to try and get back into reading. I want to rediscover what I loved about it. This was the perfect book to start with, even though it hit me with a tidal wave of emotions and I’m still recovering a couple of weeks later. But I think that’s how reading is for me, at least for the moment.

From the moment I heard that John Green’s new book was about a girl with OCD, I knew I wanted to read it and knowing that he has very personal experience with OCD made me even more excited about it. I’ve read several of his books (I especially loved The Fault in Our Stars) and I’ve always really connected to the voices of the main characters. And that was what made reading Turtles All The Way Down such an emotional experience. I read it in one sitting (apart from the first chapter – I realised I was going to read it in one sitting and so I needed to plan for that). I don’t think I’ve ever related so strongly to a book, which is a really big deal since I’ve been struggling to find a book I relate to at all. I found it to be a really true, really full account of dealing with a mental health problem. I’ve always struggled to work out where OCD fits into the mosaic of my mental health so I found this book really helpful in that sense. It shifted a few things in my brain and helped me understand myself a bit better. I’m very grateful for that.

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The story is narrated by sixteen-year-old Aza. She’s quiet and thoughtful, trying to manage friends, school, and planning a future, all while struggling with constant anxiety about bacteria, infection, and dying from Clostridium Difficile Infection (also known as C. diff). She describes the anxiety as ‘thought spirals’ or ‘invasive thoughts’. She feels like she has no control over her thoughts, describing them as “not a choice but a destiny,” and often the only way to control them is to check and clean a permanently open cut on her finger, proving to herself that she doesn’t have C. diff.

I love Aza and I really, really related to her, to how she thinks, how she navigates the world. I’ve always thought of my thought spirals as black holes but the descriptions match up pretty closely. And I swear, some of the things she says could’ve been pulled from my own thoughts:

  • “Worrying is the correct worldview. Life is worrisome.”
  • “I was so good at being a kid, and so terrible at being whatever I was now.”
  • “I knew what it was like to be in a feeling, to be not just surrounded by it but also permeated by it, the way my grandmother talked about God being everywhere. When my thoughts spiralled, I was in the spiral, and of it.”

We struggle with a lot of the same things, from the littlest things to the biggest things. Like me, she struggles with her sense of identity; she talks about her “irreconcilable selves” and describes her search for her self as opening Russian dolls, looking for the final solid one but never finding it (I can definitely relate to that, although my current metaphor is a house of mirrors). Like me, she’s untidy, something that flies in the face of a huge OCD stereotype. And like me, she struggles with her body, with having a body: “I disgusted myself. I was revolting, but I couldn’t recoil from my self because I was stuck inside of it.” Finding all of these things in a character feels like such a big deal. I don’t think you can really know how important it is to have a character you relate to until you can’t find one.

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The book could easily fall into the cliché of ‘girl with mental health problem meets boy and suddenly everything is better’ but fortunately, it doesn’t. I was so, so relieved. Aza and her best friend, Daisy, find themselves investigating the disappearance of Russell Pickett, the father of Aza’s childhood friend, Davis. Aza and Davis become very close very quickly but that only makes things more difficult for Aza. He means a lot to her but, as she says, the “actual mechanics of it” are really hard for her. Touching and kissing send her into a panic, a spiral that tightens and tightens. And that’s really hard for her: “I can’t have a normal life if I can’t kiss someone without freaking out.” As much as she wants to be with him, as hard as they try to make it work, her mental illness is just too much. It might sound strange but that is incredibly comforting. Despite the fact that we all know a relationship can’t magically reset your mental health, there still seem to be so many stories where that is exactly what happens. Maybe it’s because the writers want to believe that, for themselves or for someone they care about. But it’s not the truth. To know that there is one story – one more story – out in the world that demonstrates that is a relief to me. I know that my mental health prevents me from being in a relationship regardless of all other factors; seeing someone else experience the same thing helps me, even if that person is fictional. Whether it’s just for now or forever (“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to.”), that makes me feel a little bit less alone.

The real love story is in Aza and Daisy’s friendship. I fell in love with Daisy and their friendship from the first mention. I loved that she knew when Aza was struggling and just how to help her: “She’d straightened something inside me.” I was almost giddy with excitement to find such a supportive friendship. But then they both get into relationships and they start to drift. Aza’s mental health also starts to drop. The ritual of cleaning her finger becomes less and less effective. The spirals tighten, the voice of her OCD gets stronger, and her desperation increases, leading her to drink hand sanitizer in the hope that it will prevent her from getting sick. Driving home from school one day, she and Daisy get into a vicious argument during which Daisy calls her “extremely self-centred”. I found all of this really upsetting; my stomach kept twisting, so much that it hurt. I was so attached to their friendship that seeing it crumble was really painful. It results in Aza hitting the car in front and at the hospital later that night, the feeling of being surrounded by bacteria is just too much for her and the thought spirals overwhelm her. I don’t want to go into too much detail because you should really just read it. It’s so well written and I related to it so strongly.

After that, Aza has to spend a lot of time and energy on recovering from that. It’s scary and difficult and she feels very fragile but slowly, things do change. She and Daisy rebuild their friendship and while it’s so similar, it’s also very different to how it was before. They talk and they talk properly; those conversations are some of the best in the book.

But as wonderful as that is, it doesn’t solve Aza’s struggles. “Everyone wanted me to feed them that story – darkness to light, weakness to strength, broken to whole. I wanted it too.” She still has thought spirals; she’s still so terrified that she can barely talk about it. Her life – and her future – feel suffocated by her anxiety: “I could never become a functioning grown up like this; it was inconceivable that I’d ever have a career.” This process feels so real to me. I’ve hit breaking point after breaking point and I always expect to feel better, or lightened, afterwards but then all the problems are still there and that can feel devastating. Accepting the reality of her mental health is one of the biggest and most difficult struggles: “I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life.” But, despite all of that, you can see the evolution in her thinking. She manages to say yes to things that scare her, she has good days, and her relationships get stronger. It’s subtle but her self worth improves too: “You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.” That is so much more important than if she’d made massive strides because it’s so real. That progress is slow and subtle and sometimes we don’t even see it happening. But when it’s written out on paper, you can see it and it’s a really good reminder that it’s there. It gives me hope.

Her relationship with her Mum is another thing I really liked in the book. They have a close relationship (“I could always feel my mother’s vibrating strings.”) and she’s a good mother but she says the wrong things sometimes and her concern can just feel like another layer of pressure for Aza. Over the course of the story, they get better at communicating and she learns what helps and what doesn’t, and Aza gets better at telling her. That’s such an important process and I think it sets a really good example: mental health problems can be really hard to understand, on all sides, and we don’t always get it right. Getting it wrong doesn’t make you a bad person; you just have to learn from the mistakes. And communicate. Towards the end, they have a really important conversation where Aza says, “I can’t stay sane for you…” and I really want to highlight that moment. I had a very similar conversation with my Mum. I think that people in our lives ask us to do things for them, thinking that they’re helping you, motivating you, giving you something to live for, when in fact they’re just adding more pressure to an already difficult situation. It’s not their fault – they’re just trying to help – but it can make things worse and they won’t know that unless it’s explained to them. So I think that was really good to have in this book.

Something else I related to was the fact that Aza’s father died several years earlier. When it comes to the events in the story, it’s not particularly relevant but at the same time, it’s very relevant (bear with me). It’s a massive part of who Aza is (it’s interesting that, from an outside perspective, we have a stronger sense of her identity than she does). She keeps her Dad close, driving his car, holding onto his phone to look through his pictures, talking to him… “I thought about how everyone always seemed slightly uncomfortable when discussing their fathers in front of me. They always seemed worried I’d be reminded of my fatherlessness, as if I could somehow forget.” My god, I relate to that. I can’t forget, not for a second. It’s painful but at the same time, I treasure it. I don’t want to forget. It’s part of who I am: “To be alive is to be missing.” It’s one of those before and after moments in your life; it changes you. It was comforting to see my experience (“And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone.”) reflected back to me in someone else. As I’ve already said, it means so much to me to find a character I relate to so strongly. It makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel more real. “I remember after my Dad died, for a while, it was both true and not true in my mind… My father died suddenly, but also across the years. He was still dying really – which meant, I guess, that he was still living too.” Words like these are such a comfort to me. Aza imagines the moments they should’ve – or could’ve – had and they’re so clear that sometimes she forgets they didn’t happen. I can definitely relate to that.

Something I love about John Green’s writing is how he brings attention to things that are often overlooked or taken for granted: “It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else – in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love.” He weaves little things – or the little links between little things – into his stories that make the world more intricate, more real. The characters talk about the stars and Kurt Gödel. They have revelations about turtles and intersecting tree branches. Those things, for me at least, mean as much to me as they do to the characters. I mean, I am a space nerd and at least seventy percent of my thoughts are about metaphors but these things, these connections create so many layers to the story. As Aza says, “The world is also the stories we tell about it.”

After seeing what a huge impact this book had on me, my Mum read it, also in the space of a couple of days:

This story has also given me so much. It has helped me to better understand the feelings and anxieties my daughter lives with, and more importantly, another context to talk with her about them. (After reading this I realised that all the quotes she has chosen to include, are ones I have found particularly helpful too). I feel indebted to John Green for this story, for the hope I see it bring to her, and hopefully others too, for the understanding it can give parents and others supporting those with mental health issues, and for giving her a reason to read again. The way he closes the story also give me hope, for the future I wish for her.

It surprised me, how much she loved the ending since I’m still not sure how I feel about it. But I’m so glad she loved the book and that she got so much out of it.

This book means so much to me and I’m really glad it’s the book I chose to get back into reading. It’s definitely one that I’ll hang on to, carry around… It was always have a place on my bookshelf. There’s so much in it, multiple storylines that blend into each other. There’s elements of mystery, elements of romance, family and friendship, identity, loss… And it shows how everything affects everything else. The language is beautiful and brutal and real. I related to so much of it and it put so many of my thoughts into words. I love how he describes everything: he uses phrases like ‘swimming up from the depths’ and ‘sensorial planes’ when talking about thoughts spirals which is just so true, in my experience at least. There will be criticisms – there always are – but this is the book I needed exactly when I needed it and I will always love it for that.

There is so much more I could say – there’s so much I haven’t even mentioned – but I’ll stop there. So I’ll leave you with a quote from Aza’s therapist, who reminds me a lot of my own therapist. She says a lot of good and important things throughout the book but this is my favourite, and my favourite of the book:

“In some ways, pain is the opposite of language… And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify.”

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“It often dwells in cliche, but only as pop songs and epic poems do, mining the universal to create something that speaks to the familiar rhythms of the heart. At one point Aza thinks about how the string from one musical instrument can cause the string of another to vibrate, if it’s the same note. That’s what this novel does. It will pluck the strings of those in tune with it. It will resonate with, and comfort, anxious young minds everywhere. It might just be a new modern classic.” – Matt Haig, excerpt from his review of Turtles All The Way Down for The Guardian (x)

2018, I’ll Make You A Deal

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not to have resolutions. In this particular phase of my life, everything seems so uncertain, both in terms of my mental health and my life post university. I have no idea where I’m going to be in a month so it seems reductionist to start imposing constraints. I don’t really like the expectations around them but I do like the concept, the decision to move forward with better habits. So I’m trying to think of some habits I want to foster and some goals, all which should be achievable, that I’d like to work toward in 2018.

WRITE MORE SONGS – While I was still at university, I was writing a lot of songs, which was awesome, but I haven’t been writing nearly as much since I left. That has mainly been due to a suffocating bout of depression and then the medication-induced rollercoaster that I’ve been riding to try and get out of it. I want to get to a place where my mental health becomes more stable and conducive to writing and then, hopefully, it will be all systems go.

RELEASE MUSIC – This was a goal for last year and it almost happened but the whole process has just taken longer than I’d hoped. But it’s still on track so hopefully my first single will be out soon. That feels like a real milestone that I’m so, so excited for.

FIND THE RIGHT MEDICATION – I’ve already kind of mentioned this but I want to reach a place where my mental health is relatively stable and to get there, I need to get my medication right. The Venlafaxine has been better than nothing but I’m not convinced by it. I feel like I should be feeling better by now, better than I am. It’s been a FREAKING LONG journey already, which will be worth it when we find the right drug or the right dosage or whatever. But while it’s on going, it’s really wearing me down. It’s easy to think that I should’ve stayed on the Phenelzine but I know it wasn’t really helping me by the end. So, yeah, I want to get to a reasonably good place in the next few months.

WORK ON BEING HEALTHIER – This is vague but it’s such a process and I figure that, as long as I’m trying, I’m achieving this goal. I want to work on drinking more water, swimming more, and so on. I was just starting to get into a really good routine when my mental health took a nosedive and suddenly it was all I could do to get through the day. I’m not sure I’m back to the level of being able to go to the gym but I do feel capable of starting the small changes, like drinking more water. Hopefully, as my mental health improves (as it is starting to, if very slowly) I can work on this more. I’m also aware that my relationship with food isn’t very healthy – again, another casualty of my mental health problems. So I’m throwing that in there too.

BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT – This is something I want to write more about in relation to Autism because it’s really important. For some people, Autism makes is really difficult to be independent and that can be a hard thing to get your head around. I’m constantly beating myself up for not having moved out like all my friends, for not having learnt how to drive, for not having a job. But the cold, hard truth is that, at this moment in time, my Autism does not allow me to be independent. With the meltdowns, fatigue, getting overwhelmed by sensory information, getting overwhelmed by emotions, executive functioning struggles, and so on and so on and so on, it’s just not possible. This goal is deliberately vague because it depends hugely on my mental health and what I feel up to doing (and because I’ve only just really started thinking about it) but by the end of this year, I want to be a bit more independent. That’s a journey that I will definitely document.

READ MORE BOOKS – I cannot remember the last time I read a book (that wasn’t for college/university). I think a big part of that comes from my mental health struggles. My concentration has been absolutely terrible so I haven’t really felt able to get into a book but I’ve also felt quite alienated by the books I’ve tried to read. So, so many books are about relationships, about finding ‘the one’ (this seems to be especially true of the Young Adult genre – even when the main storyline is about something different – which is what I was searching through when I last tried to find something to read), and I’m just not interested in that. I don’t want my whole life to revolve around my mental illness but as for my life right now, it really does. That’s fine; it won’t be like that forever. But that means that, right now, I want to read about people like me, people struggling with their mental health, and I just haven’t been able to find much that I connect to. It’s an on going struggle. If you have any suggestions, let me know! This year, provided that my concentration improves as I get my medication right, I want to finish five books. That’s a low goal but I’d rather set a low goal and achieve it than struggle with feeling pressured. I am now part of a book club with my friends and although I haven’t yet been available to go, I’m hoping that that will help with this goal.

IMPROVE MY MUSICAL SKILLS – This is another one from last year, which was again derailed by my mental health. Having no energy and no motivation is a horrible place to be. So my hope is that that will improve (it already has a bit) as well as my concentration and then I will be able to get back to guitar and piano lessons and really improve those skills.

GO THROUGH MY POSSESSIONS – This sounds like a massive job but as I’m moving house this year, I’m going to have to pack everything anyway. I might as well go through it all at the same time. I do really struggle to throw/give things away – I probably fit at least some of the criteria for hoarding disorder – but I’ve been working on this and it feels like the right time. A clean slate and all that.

I’m a big fan of the idea that you can start fresh everyday, or even within days, but I think New Year is a good excuse to get some perspective and create a sense of purpose for yourself. I don’t think New Years Resolutions are useful when they cause anxiety but if you can use them to empower you, I think they can be really helpful. I guess we’ll see how well I do.

2018, I’ll make you a deal: you do your best and I’ll do the same.