Tag Archives: mental health

Remembering the Brown Envelope

Ah, yes. It’s a day for the cold sweats and the palpitations, the clenched jaws and the tight smiles and the ‘yep, I’m fine no honestly I’m all right will you ever just leave me alone I’m really grand, I swear’ sort of conversations. It’s a day for stepping carefully.

It’s Leaving Certificate results day.

I'm fairly sure this image is actually taken from my Leaving Certificate maths answer book...  Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

I’m fairly sure this image is actually taken from my Leaving Certificate maths answer book…
Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

Every country has its school leaving examinations, of course. There are HSCs, GSCEs, SATs, and all manner of acronyms. In Ireland, it’s the LC (though nobody really calls it that), those weeks each May and June when the national news shows daily images from deathly silent examination halls and conducts interviews with clench-jawed students whose too-bright eyes betray their nerves. Mid-August brings results day – schools open early, piles of innocuous-looking brown envelopes sit in alphabetical order in boxes, and the principal is on hand with words of comfort and advice. Some kind teachers (who aren’t still sunning themselves in foreign climes) flit about offering aphorisms and tea and soft, fragrant hugs or claps on the back. Mums and dads crowd outside, chewing their fingernails to the quick (that’s if their children allow them to be anywhere near the school, of course), and for some reason it always seems to be a sunny day. Sometimes, this can feel like a taunt.

The day I got my Leaving Certificate results is a long, long time ago now, but I’ll never forget it. The walk from the front gate of my school to the Reception desk, where those brown envelopes were sitting, felt like ten miles of broken glass. My principal had a rictus grin on his face. Some of the school secretaries were frantically sorting results into alphabetical order while others were equally frantically looking for results as students began to queue up. The banter was loud and jovial, and there were hugs, and there were narrowed eyes as old rivals fought to get their results simultaneously, and then – once the envelope was received, and the principal’s hand was shaken – quiet settled over proceedings as corners were found. Gentle ripping noises filled the air as the envelopes bit the dust, followed by feverish calculation as the points were added up. (In Ireland, each result carries a particular ‘points’ value – an A1 on a Higher Level paper carries 100 points, and so on down the scale to a Pass grade on an Ordinary Level paper, and college courses demand certain total ‘points’ scores for admission). Then, like a bubble popping, it was all over.

I remember a friend of mine, who has since become a very successful accountant, added up my points for me because I was incapable of doing it. (This will show you why I did an Ordinary Level mathematics exam, instead of a Higher Level one, for my Leaving Certificate). I remember her face brightening as the total became clear, but somehow it still felt like I hadn’t done ‘enough’, whatever that nebulous concept is. People all around were stunned at their results, either because they’d actually managed to get the points to do the course that their parents had always wanted them to do (no word on whether it was what they wanted or not), or because they’d missed out, sometimes by as few as ten or fifteen or twenty points, on what they saw as their ‘dream’ and their only means of escape. Tears often flowed. People swore to stay in touch, and others arranged then and there to share flats in Dublin or Limerick or Cork or Galway when they went to college, and some just put their results back in their shredded envelope and left without a word. In many cases, it was the last time people would see one another for the rest of their lives. We’d been at school together for years on end, sharing classrooms and corridors and changing rooms and ‘recreation areas’ (never ‘playgrounds’), and this day marked not only the results of our exams, but in some cases the end of the tenuous connections which had bound us as one. I still wonder, at times, what happened to some of the kids I studied with; that boy in the corner of my Irish class, the one with the shock of blue-black hair – what was in his envelope, that sunny day? And the small girl with the gentle grin who shared her paintbrushes with me one day in Art; what was her name?

On my Leaving Certificate results day, I got the points I needed for my general Arts degree. In fact, I got way more than I needed. I still ended up taking an extra year at home, doing a practical course in office management, before I left for Dublin. My close friends all went on to college without me, but they were the sort of friends one can’t lose, as such; we all stayed together emotionally, and we’re all still friends now. Life has taken a zig-zag path since, and I’m not sure whether things would be exactly the same for me if I had managed to get fifty or one hundred fewer points that day, or fifty or one hundred more. But even if things hadn’t gone to ‘plan’ (insofar as my seventeen-year-old self had one), I’m sure that my mid-thirties self would be just fine.

I have a feeling kids these days are just as scared as we were by the thought of looming examination results. Modern Leaving Certificate students have the option of checking their exam results from home, on the internet, but I hope the majority of them still go to their school and have the results physically handed over by a teacher. I hope they still gather in clumps, adding up one another’s points, hugging and crying and laughing and commiserating together, giving one another advice, swearing to stay in touch – though, of course, swapping Skype IDs or Instagram screen names or Twitter handles instead of postal addresses – and sharing this day with one another. It only happens once; you only get to do it with one group of similarly terrified and excited people. It’s a bonding experience.

But – and this is important – it’s not the end of the world, or of your life, or the death of your dreams, if you don’t get what you wanted or needed to go to college. It’s not worth crying over. It’s not something which should cause pain, or stress, or fear, or desperation. You have the option of resitting exams, but it doesn’t even have to come to that; there are ways around everything. If you want something badly enough in life, you’ll get it, no matter what that envelope contains or what your points total is. Getting points to go to college is one way to achieve a dream, sure. But coming up with your own way, working hard to get there, and making plans of your own? That’s what being an adult is about. The Leaving Certificate is something we all have to do, in this country – a rite of passage, a milestone in our school career. But it’s not the most important thing you’ll do. You’re just beginning.

If you’re under stress due to your results, or you’re worried, please do contact ChildLine – 1800 666 666 or text ‘Talk’ to 50101 from within Ireland. Consider contacting your school, too, who will have guidance counsellors on hand. They’ll have heard it all before, and they’ll be full of ideas and suggestions to help. And talk to older people who’ve been there before you. We all remember the stress today can cause, but life goes on. In fact, life gets great from here on out. Don’t let one small slip of paper ruin your bright, fantastic and excitingly unknowable future. As scary as our memories of results day are, I don’t think there are many adults who wouldn’t swap with you right now for a second chance at that wide-open, endless, limitless potential – so make the most of it.

And whatever your results were, congratulations – your life is going to be amazing.

Helplines:

ChildLine – 1800 666 666 or text ‘Talk’ to 50101, or click the link to talk instantly

Samaritans

Leaving Certificate/Irish Independent Helpline

Or talk to any trusted adult, including your teachers/principal or older relatives, if you’re under pressure. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Book Review Saturday – ‘Brilliant’

In this slim, seemingly simple tale, Irish writer extraordinaire Roddy Doyle has attempted to do something profound – and very important.

Image: panmacmillan.com.au

Image: panmacmillan.com.au

There is a lot of talk, in Ireland and elsewhere, that we are now ‘pulling out of’ the recession which has plagued Europe and the world for the past seven years or so. We’re seeing ‘an end to austerity’ and an increase, apparently, in take-home pay and a general improvement in most people’s lives. So they say. I’m not sure how equitable this recovery (if it even exists) is, or has been, and there are some sectors of life in Ireland which got off far more lightly than others. People are still suffering, and mental health is a topic of regular discussion. People are being treated for depression and complications arising from it; anxiety disorders are common. Everyone knows someone, usually someone close, who has struggled and/or who continues to struggle. Nobody seems certain what to do about it, or whether it is every going to end.

One thing is for sure, though: throughout this whole period, when every news bulletin and newspaper and TV talk show and radio opinion piece was focused entirely on the recession, the austerity measures put in place by the government, the taxes and levies which were brought in ‘as emergency measures’ and then never removed, the growing queues of unemployed, and the emigration numbers which seemed to have no upper limit, not very many people stopped to think what effect all this doom and gloom was having on the children who had to live through it. How hard it must be to be a child – particularly a sensitive, inquisitive, knowing child, who is aware of the world and the adults around them – watching the future of their country collapse, and wondering what will become of them down the line? This is the scenario we’re faced with in Brilliant, where Gloria and Rayzer (Raymond), a sister and brother living in West Dublin, find their beloved uncle coming to live in their house because the bank has taken his, and he needs some time to ‘get back on his feet.’ His laughter and sense of fun have gone, and the family (who already have Gloria and Rayzer’s granny living with them, too) soon begins to suffer under the strain. Everyone loves Uncle Ben, of course, but living all squeezed up together is not a lot of fun.

One night, as Gloria and Rayzer eavesdrop on a conversation between their parents and their granny, the idea that Ben has ‘the black dog’ on his back comes up. ‘The black dog has taken Dublin’s funny bone,’ says Granny – and Gloria and Rayzer, being enterprising kids, immediately set out to find the funny bone and steal it back. On the way they rope in their very eccentric neighbour Ernie, who has decided to work as a vampire in order to stave off the worst of the recession’s effects (I can’t help thinking there’s a complex metaphor in there about blood-suckers draining the life out of the country!) and as their quest continues, boys and girls from all over the city, all of whom have loved ones who are suffering because of ‘the black dog’, join in their fight.

For the kids have one secret weapon up their sleeves – a magic word which can destroy the black dog of Depression and send him trotting away from Dublin for good.

This is a very straightforward book – there’s no getting away from that. It began life as a short story, and in some ways it does feel a bit ‘stretched’, as if there’s not enough plot to sustain its length. But that hardly matters when you’re reading dialogue which, at times, made me shake with laughter and set-pieces which are so Irish, so Dublin, that reading this book is as good as taking a trip to my fair capital city. I loved that Doyle made the seagulls of Dublin such heroes in his story, because – to be honest – nobody in Dublin likes the seagulls which seem, at times, to be running the place. The cry of a seagull will always remind me of Dublin, and they are absolutely part of the fabric of the city, but they’re also a huge nuisance. So, to see them having a wonderful role in the denouement of this story was refreshing, and fun. There are landmarks galore in here, and the route the children take is one I know extremely well, so I was there with them in my head as they ran, chasing the black dog through the streets. Even if you don’t know Dublin, or the route they take, there’s a handy map (drawn by Chris Judge, who also did the illustrations) inside the front and back covers of my edition (the hardback) to keep you on track.

Most of this book’s appeal lies in its characters, both animal and human alike, and in the sheer fun of the dialogue. A lot of it is very Irish, and might cause a bit of confusion if you’re not used to it, but in most cases context serves to sort out what’s happening. The plot is uncomplicated, the action is all driven towards driving the black dog out of the city, and the simple power of the book lies in the reality behind it – the fact that we know, as readers, exactly how hard it is, and has been, to live through the past few years, and how many people that black dog has squashed out of existence. The actions of the kids – coming together, and fighting as one – might be the best answer anyone has yet come up with to fighting off the darkness; maybe we adults could do worse than actually listen to them, for once.

When Things Are, Surprisingly, Okay

It’s Monday. Not traditionally my favourite day of the week, but this week I’m feeling – well, okay.

I did some writing last week. It wasn’t as much as I’d hoped I’d do, but I’m reasonably happy with how it went. I have yet to read over it, of course, which is always akin to ripping off a sticking plaster, but we’ll get through that. Things went in slightly unexpected directions, and steps were taken towards the development of a plot, and so that has to be good. Right?

Skeptical cat is skeptical. Photo Credit: wadam via Compfight cc

Skeptical cat is skeptical.
Photo Credit: wadam via Compfight cc

Well, we’ll see. This is the fourth incarnation of this particular story. I’ve junked a draft of twenty thousand words, and over the past three or four weeks I’ve managed to write a draft of almost twenty thousand words, and I really want to bring this draft to a satisfactory end before I get heartily and irrevocably sick of the entire thing. Much as this tale has dogged my steps for the last decade, if this draft doesn’t work, there won’t be a draft five.

I’m not at that stage yet, though, which is – of course – another good thing. I’m constantly reminding myself that life is full of good things, if you know where to look (and you keep your eyes peeled). It’s hard to remember this when you feel constantly bombarded with Bad News and the horrors of the world, but it helps to bring things back to a small focus, sometimes. We’re okay. I’m okay. This moment, right here, is okay.

So, despite the fact that it’s blowing an absolute gale outside, I think today will be an okay day. I’m ready to get cracking, and let things come as they will. It’s good to remind myself that a day in which I get anything written (in the jaws of everything else that’s going on in my life/head) is a good day, and that a day in which I get a thousand words down is better than a day in which I get five hundred down, and a day in which I get five hundred written is better than a day in which I stare, burned-out, at the screen, blinking away my own scalding tears.

Today won’t be a day like that. Today, I’m feeling okay – and I haven’t even had my morning cup of tea yet. Today, I will write words. I may not write a thousand, but I will write some – and that is all good.

I’m probably feeling okay today because I had a happy weekend, spent with my dear one, and yesterday the weather was glorious, so we took a drive around the countryside. It was such a soul-lift to see sunshine in the fields and a blue sky overhead (even if the wind was still cold enough to freeze the blood), and I hope that feeling will remain with me throughout this week. Of course, chances are it’ll have dissipated by lunchtime today, but no matter. It’s here now, and that means things, right this moment, in this tiny time-bubble, are okay.

So, I guess I’d better get cracking.

The best of good luck with your projects, and your work, and your life, this week; I hope you’re all feeling okay, too. If you’re not, I recommend going and looking at some nature, and taking a few deep breaths, and feeling the aliveness in your veins and muscles and bones, and taking a moment to be thankful that you have a moment to be thankful in. It usually works for me.

Listicles

Today is a day for listing.

Not the sort of listing that leaves you lying sideways in a body of water or indeed charging down a muddy track on the back of a horse with a lance clutched in your armpit (though if this is what you’re into of a frosty Monday morning, have at it), but the sort that requires concentration and focus and organisation and lots of tickable boxes.

Photo Credit: Rob Warde via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rob Warde via Compfight cc

Sometimes, Monday does this to me. My brain can’t settle and my thoughts zip about and anything I try to do founders on the Rocks of Concentration. So, when you’re trying to do important things like write books and judge flash fiction competitions (keep an eye on Flash Friday for more on this later today!) and just generally live your life in a healthy and productive manner, foundering on the Rocks of Concentration isn’t really something you should be encouraging.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with mind-flit. Mine is to make lists. To-do lists, primarily, but not necessarily things that can or should be done on that day. Just things that need doing at some point in the future, like cleaning jobs or tidying up of one’s online persona or phoning one’s long-neglected best friend or finally getting to the recycling or rejigging one’s life goals, and things of that ilk. Making lists of things doesn’t necessarily mean that all this stuff gets done; in fact, some things have been on my lists for years, now. (I promise I will, eventually, get to the recycling. Honest). It simply helps my mind to know that these things, here, controlled and tidy and sensible, written in plain style in a list, ready to be ticked off or crossed out at some stage in the future, constitute the contents of my brain. These are the things that are on my mind. Writing them out means that they take a break from buzzing around inside my skull bashing noisily off my eyeballs and fluttering down my ear-holes and settle on the page, just long enough for me to have a look and decide that they’re doable.

Controllable.

Within my power to achieve.

Even if I know, and they know, that they’re not.

Today is going to be a major list day, which is strange as I had a great weekend, spent at home with family and friends, largely relaxing and fun. Nevertheless, for some reason I woke up this morning with serious brain-flit. Things are starting to feel out of control, and slightly overwhelming. Paperwork looms. Officialdom and authority will soon have to be engaged with (this always makes me nervous). I can bet that if I re-read my WiP this morning, it would read like so much sawdust – and that would be very off-putting indeed.

So instead I shall make lists, and I will do what I can to tick off my to-do items, and I will wait for my equilibrium to come back, and then – as I always do – I will get on with my work.

And if anyone has a largish paper bag I could breathe into while I’m waiting, that would be awesome.

 

Gratitude

This post will do what it says on the tin: I simply want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who contacted me – and there were lots of you – to say ‘congratulations’ after my announcement last week that I was successful in gaining a book deal.

Photo Credit: gregwake via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: gregwake via Compfight cc

As soon as the word was out, every social media account I have went crazy with notifications. People from my home town, old school friends, friends of my parents, people who sort-of vaguely know me through family members, and (quite possibly) a few people who don’t know me at all but got caught up in the excitement of it all, sent me so many messages that I couldn’t keep up. I had Tweets galore (and I even gained a few new followers! True, I lost a whack of ’em shortly afterwards, but as they come, so they go), and I had some lovely email messages from a writers’ group I’m part of (to which I shall respond!) In short, I had so many messages that I couldn’t reply to them all, though I did try my best. I wanted to say, though, that I appreciated every single message and that I’m massively pleased (not to mention slightly blown away and even a little embarrassed) by all the support and positivity, but most of all I’m extremely grateful. Thank you, everyone.

But, do you know something? It’s an overwhelming thing, getting a book deal. My anxiety demons have been awake and roaring for the past while – particularly during those weeks I spent knowing, behind the scenes, that the announcement was coming, but being unable to share it with anyone besides a very select and carefully chosen few – and for a person who, like me, isn’t comfortable with being in the spotlight, now that the announcement’s been made, it’s a weird mix of feelings. I’m very glad and grateful, to you all as well as to my steadfast family, but I’m also terrified. Nauseated with fear, in fact. That’s not something I expected. I read the most amazing blog post over the weekend, which – somehow – I managed to find on Twitter amid the tumult, and here‘s a link to it. You know how, sometimes, you read something and you think: That was meant for me? Even if the person who wrote it doesn’t know you, and will never know you, and certainly didn’t write anything with you in mind, it still speaks directly to your heart and your experience. That blog post is one of those things. I’ve never read anything which comforted me so much, and I think it’s important to talk about things like this – how it can be a terrifying thing to achieve a dream. How it can make you feel things you never expected to feel. How, sometimes, you get to where you wanted to go and you still feel lost, and how frightening that is.

In saying that I’m feeling things I didn’t expect, I’m not trying to take away from my gratitude. I am so glad that so many people were pleased for me, and wanted to share their congratulations, and that so many of my friends and family took the time to get in touch. It was wonderful to have good news to share, and I’m hugely glad to be part of such a supportive, positive and loving community.

But still.

I feel weird.

And, what’s more, I’m allowing myself to feel weird. I’ve been trying to suppress it and work through it and ignore it for months now, but from today, I’m going to own it. I’m going to climb the mountain of Weird and take a deep breath once I get to the top, and hopefully I won’t ever have to climb it again. The only way to deal with your feelings is to acknowledge they’re there, I’ve learned; suppression only serves to compact them in the base of your psyche, turning them over time into a hard layer of bad thinking which becomes difficult to shift. If I can look my weird feelings in the eye and say: ‘Hey. I know you’re there. You and me, we’re going to talk later, okay?’, I think it will help me hugely. And if more of us spoke up about the fact that sometimes, especially at the most unexpected moments, feelings of awkwardness and discomfort and fear and anxiety can come out of nowhere and overwhelm us – even when it seems like we should be at our strongest, or our happiest – I think it would make things easier for others who are also going through it, feeling like they’re totally alone.

Nobody is ever alone. I have learned this lesson in the last few days. I am part of a huge network of people, all connected by time and friendship and family and community, and I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. But I’ve also learned that no matter what you’re feeling, you’re never alone, either. It’s incredibly hard to share and be vulnerable (and I’m grateful, also, to Annabel Pitcher, the author of the blog post I linked to above, for being so open and candid about her own struggles), but if we all had the courage to share our fears, and let the people around us know that we’re all in this together, it could have a massively positive effect on our community.

I’m a weirdo. So, quite possibly, are you. And that’s perfectly okay.

Thank you for reading, for supporting, for being with me throughout this journey. Thank you for being part of my story. I’m grateful, too, to be part of yours.

Early Days

Yesterday’s experiment worked rather well, thank you very much. In fact, it worked rather well in spite of myself, for even as I sat down to write knowing that I had a ‘limit’, and that I wasn’t going to allow myself to keep going until my eyes were falling out of their sockets with exhaustion, I didn’t really believe I’d do it. I didn’t really believe I could start writing and then stop, like that, and for it to have been my decision. Normally I go until I can’t any more, which – in all honesty – isn’t really a good policy. Not all the time, at least.

It tends to turn you into this:

Photo Credit: Jason A. Samfield via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Jason A. Samfield via Compfight cc

The onset of December has already had a disastrous effect on my energy levels and general wellbeing-ness, so I’m glad to know that I am capable of immersing myself in writing without allowing it to get on top of me. I’ve done that before. Not good, for me or the writing.

I was speaking to a friend at the weekend about creative careers, and the danger faced by anyone who likes to create and who wants to do it for a living. My friend has her own business (she’s fantastically accomplished) but also enjoys baking, and is very good at it. Several people have encouraged her to take up cake-making on a semi-professional basis, as her work is easily as good as, if not better than, some of the cakes you see for sale in shops. (I can also testify to the absolute deliciousness of her work. Someone’s got to look after quality control, after all). However, my friend made the very good point that she loves baking because it’s not her job. She fears that if she began to sell her baked goods, it would take the joy out of it. This, I’ll admit, is something that worries me, too.

At school I was good at art. I loved to draw, and still do (though I don’t get time to draw much anymore), and I liked pushing myself to learn about different techniques and tools. In my final year at school I was halfway through creating a portfolio to apply to art college when I realised: I don’t want to work at something which I’d rather have as a hobby. I wanted to keep art as something I did without feeling pressured or stressed, and as well as that I knew I didn’t have much of an eye for design – I was a draughtsperson, good with line and shade, but not so good with composition. I knew my limits, and I didn’t want to waste my career wishing I could be a better, or different, artist than I was, straining for abilities I didn’t have.

I have limits with my writing, too. There are things which simply don’t interest me, and there are things I know I’ll never be able to attempt because I don’t have the skills – horror, for instance, or crime writing, or women’s fiction. But where art was definitely a hobby, and not something which took over my every waking moment, I feel differently about writing. I woke the other night at four a.m. thinking about the project I began yesterday. I’m constantly thinking about writing, and characters, and stories, and even though I know some of the ideas I have aren’t workable, or big enough, or original enough, to ever leave the confines of my skull, I have no control over the fact that I’m always thinking about writing and ways to improve my writing. I don’t have all the skills and abilities I need to write yet, either – but I want to develop them.

I want to write professionally, and to the absolute best of my ability, in the hope that it is of a high enough standard to be acceptable, but I also want to be able to take a hobbyist mental approach to it. I want to be able to think that the work I’m doing doesn’t have to be perfect first time around, or it doesn’t have to be the best story ever written (even if, in reality, it does!) I want to be able to start and stop as I please, write 1500 words and then leave it at that, or work for three hours and then stop, not because I have to but because it’s the best thing for me. I want writing to be my job, but I understand that working at it in the same way I’m used to working (eight hours straight, short breaks, unrelenting focus, goal-oriented, self-motivated) can sometimes lead to poor ‘product’. Of course, wanting all this doesn’t mean I’ll get it, but I think this is the constant balancing act of people who work creatively – trying to ensure you’re working as well as you can while maintaining your health (mental and physical) and the quality of the work you’re producing. It’s not easy. Everyone writes differently, and what works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another, but I think – though I’m still experimenting – that I’ll try working in short focused bursts for a while, and see if it makes a difference, both to my work and to my mind.

I have completed one book, of which I am proud. I have several ideas for future books, which I want to write to the same standard. I want to write for the rest of my life, and so that means I need to develop a technique which allows me to be prolific and also produce work of a high standard – the best of the ‘professional’ and ‘hobbyist’ worlds, one might say – as well as equipping me to prepare for a long-term career.

It’s early days, but I hope I’m finding my feet.

The Indefinable ‘Ugh’

One of our neighbours has a beautiful little boy. He’s always smiling, always laughing, and he likes to run around to our house and show off his ‘toy of the day’ – lately, it’s been a small plastic handsaw with which he likes to destroy our garden gate, to a soundtrack of throaty chuckles. Today, he turns two years old, and so – feeling organised, grown up, and infinitely practical – I decided to buy him a birthday card almost a week ago. It’s been sitting on our kitchen table ever since so that I don’t forget to write in it; every time I saw it I cracked a grin, not only at the thought of how much fun he’s going to have at his birthday party, but also in the smug realisation that, for once, I got something done right, and ahead of schedule.

See? Not only cute, and awesome, but *timely*, too, what with all the rockets and planets and stuff. *sigh*

See? Not only cute, and awesome, but *timely*, too, what with all the rockets and planets and stuff. *sigh*

I sat down this morning after breakfast – so early it was still dark outside – intending to make writing the carefully worded birthday message my first task of the day, only to discover something maddening.

There was no envelope for the card inside the plastic wrapping.

I didn’t think to check, when I bought the card, that the envelope came with it. The shop assistant at the register clearly didn’t, either. I guess we both assumed that if a card comes wrapped in plastic, the envelope is included. I was so mad, I could have growled. ‘This has messed up my whole day,’ I told myself. ‘Now I have to reschedule this, and do this differently, and I’ll need to change this…

And then I calmed down and realised (with the aid of a few deep breaths) that it was no big deal. I’ll just go and get another card. I have to go out to the shops anyway; it’s no extra hassle. But the initial whoosh of irritation (with myself), and the collapse of my careful edifice of being organised, was overwhelming.

That’s concerning.

Once, years ago, I was waiting in line for the coffee machine during my morning break in work. The café was crowded; there was a long line for coffee. A woman and her friend cut the queue and jumped in ahead of me, and I felt my teeth smash together and start to grind, of their own accord. My body flooded with rage, to the point where I began to tremble, and I have never felt so close to ‘losing it’ – all over nothing. Now, this may have been severe caffeine withdrawal – or it may have been something larger. Something that perhaps happens to people more often than they realise.

It’s strange how you can be so busy, and distracted, and scattered, and everything else it takes to live life in the modern world, that you become totally out of touch with your body and how it feels. I was unaware, until this morning, exactly how much of my sense of organisation and personal capability was based around a two-year-old’s birthday card. During my queue for coffee that morning in work, I was totally unaware (until it smacked me in the face) exactly how much stress and pressure I was under, and how close I was to snapping. It took these tiny life events – forgetting an envelope, being skipped in a queue – to draw my own feelings to my attention, and to make it clear to me that I was a bit out of balance.

I’ve been working away on ‘Eldritch’ for the past while, and it’s been going, but with difficulty. My plotting methods have proved effective, but progress is slow. I fear my main problem with the work is that I don’t love it – not that I don’t love writing, because I do and will always love that – but I don’t love the story as much as I loved the tale of Emmeline. ‘Eldritch’ doesn’t grab me up in its arms and sweep me away like the other story did; it doesn’t make my heart pound like ‘Emmeline’ did, even after the twentieth re-read. I am afraid that I will never write anything I love as much as ‘Emmeline’ ever again, and that it’s pretty poor to have ‘peaked’ before you’ve even begun.

This is what’s on my mind.

I’m trying to be organised, professional, capable, grown-up, but one forgotten envelope and the whole thing crashes into dust. I’m trying to be a writer, and I’m certainly working hard, but I fear the end result will be the same – dust. It’s like there’s a creature with downturned eyes and a floppy, curled-down mouth and a set-upon expression following me around, whispering ‘ugh’ into my ear every few minutes.

Ugh. Don’t bother trying that. You know it won’t work.

Ugh. Really? You think this is what a real professional person does? You think this is the appropriate way to behave?

Ugh. Haven’t you learned anything? You’re no spring chicken, you know! You need to get a handle on things!

I think I’ve had quite enough of that.

So, today will be about remembering to smile, and breathe. It will be about being kind to myself, and taking a walk. It will feature buying a new birthday card and writing a happy, fun-loving message in it, and delivering this card to the bouncing boy who has brought so many smiles to my life, and then, once all that is done, worrying about work.

And, after all that, I’ll give the Indefinable Ugh a slap across the chops, and tell it to be on its way. I’ve got stuff to do, and I don’t have time to listen to its nonsense.