A New Season

It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere, which I’m happy about. I think spring might actually be my favourite season (having thought about this more than is probably sensible). Just the sense of renewal, and fresh starts, and oh, the longer evenings!

New Year has that same sense of starting over, which is why it’s my favourite holiday (if holiday is even the right word?). And summer obviously has long evenings, too, but I’m not so great with heat*, so that doesn’t work for me. Spring, though… imagine a very contented expression here just at the thought. (I’d add an emoji, but the ones I have at my disposal don’t quite do it justice.)

*Extreme understatement (is that an oxymoron?).

Point is: I’m feeling good.

But also… in complete contradiction to that, things have also felt a bit… off(?) for me this past week or so.

2021 for me has been full-on so far. I finished the rewrite of my novel in January and February, then had the whirlwind of the launch in March. I typically take part in CampNaNo in April each year, but it’s just not happening for me right now. I haven’t had the physical energy or mental bandwidth, so have slowed things right down and am going a bit easier. It must be said that I probably wouldn’t have realised I was overdoing things (again) if my husband hadn’t pointed it out. You know how it is when you’re lost so deep in work you don’t even realise it? Just me? Well, anyway, Steve let me know I was in danger of burn out (again) if I kept on, and––as often happens––I then proceeded to be hit over the head with all the pain and fatigue I’d been pushing aside while getting on with things.

That was a couple of days ago, and now I think my brain and body have settled again and––lo and behold––I’m starting to get that itch to write again.

It’s almost as if there’s a rhythm to it all. I don’t know how many times I’ve been around this particular… what do you even call this? Weird life cycle? I feel like there’s a common metaphor that applies here, but it’s eluding me. At this point, I’m not entirely sure if this post is coherent or just a brain dump of unconnected thoughts (maybe both?). Regardless, it feels nice to write. To get the thoughts out, coherent or not.

Almost every day, at the end of the night (which is to say, anywhere from 11pm to 6am–our “typical” bedtime. Which is funny, but that’s kind of the point) my husband and I will often turn to each other and exclaim, “Weird day, huh?” And it’s more than just a running gag, because somehow it ends up being true. Every single time. Because there’s no such thing as ‘typical’ for us. We rarely know what we’re doing from one day to the next, and that’s before whatever of life’s curveballs hit us––and I love it. The weird days (and nights), the inconsistencies, and rhythms, incoherent ramblings, and random tangents… I really do love it all. And I’m grateful for the perspective to see that, that the brief step back has given me.

How do I conclude all this? Is there even a conclusion to be drawn? Is a lack of conclusion not kind of part of what I’m trying to say? If anyone is still reading this, thank you. Welcome to the inner workings of my brain. And, um… Happy Spring!

On Lockdown and Birthdays

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of lockdown starting in the UK.

It’s also my thirty-second birthday. Meaning I’ll be one of the first people to have two birthdays spent in lockdown.

Surprisingly, I’m not feeling too bad about it. Maybe because all the excitement going on with my book release is outweighing the disappointment of not being able to celebrate with friends, or maybe because I know that––comparatively––I’m not in too bad of a position.

All considered, I’ve been fairly unscathed by the pandemic. I’m not saying it’s been easy, but I’m aware of my privilege in not having lost anyone close, when for so many others it’s been so much worse.

Back when the pandemic started, my mental health took a nosedive for a couple of months, as I know was the case for a lot of people. And for a bunch of those people, their mental health hasn’t yet recovered. For more still, the emotional impact was compounded by the fresh wave of injustices that happened during the Black Lives Matters protests last summer. And even more recently than that, the unrest over racism against Asian communities in the states, and women in the UK.

Overall, it’s been a hard year. But I don’t need to tell anyone that.

I hope this doesn’t come across as insensitive, because that’s absolutely not what I’m going for here––my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered over the past twelve months. But with everything that’s happened, I also feel personally grateful to have made it through.

I got my first vaccine on Saturday, and I’m hopeful that, soon enough, I’ll be able to see friends again. (Soon being a relative term.)

Trite as it might sound, the hard times will end. We’ve got to hold on to each other now more than ever, in this home stretch. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and––I’m sorry, that’s a lot of mixed metaphors. What I just wanted to say is I’m feeling hopeful, and I hope that’s okay.

Refocusing

It is Monday morning. A new day, a fresh week. I am, as the title of this post suggests, refocusing.

I had been thinking I would write a post today titled ‘On Disappointment and Uncertainty,’ because that’s the one I had planned. It’s what I wanted to write last month but didn’t have the brainpower for. Because disappointed and uncertain was where my head was at for pretty much all of August.

I’ve already said I found August particularly hard, and that part of that was moving, but that doesn’t really paint a full picture of everything that was going on.

Before we got to the huge physical strain that moving was, there was applying for houses. And that was the emotional strain, because it seemed no one wanted to accept our application.

Waiting for landlord decisions is tough, in and of itself (especially when the answer comes back as no and you have to start all over again), but what that waiting coincided with for me was also waiting for responses from agents and publishers, waiting for a funding decision, and waiting for my A Level result. (I feel like there was something else in that list, too, but I’ve lost track of whatever it was at this point.)

If you’ve been following the UK news over the past month, you’ll know that results day was a clusterfuck. And if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know I was relying on a good result to, hopefully, kickstart my re-entry to formal education.

Well, I got an okay result. A grade C. Not exactly what I wanted, but not awful. And we found a house and moved in. There are some loose ends still to tie up the end of the moving process, but for the most part that is done. Huge, huge relief!

I found the uncertainty over these things legitimately debilitating. Hence my hiatus from writing. And reading. And posting here.

I’m still waiting on the funding decision – it ended up being pushed back until October – and I haven’t heard from the majority of agents and publishers I submitted to, but I’m not particularly stressing about that. Why? Because I have a plan. I almost always have not just one single plan, but a main plan and lots of smaller, sub-plans. I think that’s what made all the uncertainty hardest for me – all of the things being out of my hands. But going forward – recentering my focus on the future – not everything seems so dire.

I’ve had a poem accepted that I think is being published next month, in October. I have a short story due to be published in November. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I plan to be finishing the third book in my trilogy. As of this past weekend, I am writing again. I am reading again. I have an active list of reading and writing things to work through that is A. not crushing me under the weight of it, and B. not a list of physical tasks I must complete before even considering taking to my computer for words.

In under two weeks, I am handing back the keys to the old house. By that time, the minor work that needs done there will be wrapped up. It will have been cleaned within an inch of its life (several times over). I will have finished updating our address everywhere. Puzzle pieces will have slotted together and our payments will be all in order.

Things are coming together.

Huzzah!

Coming Back?

The organised chaos of my new workspace

*taps microphone* Is this thing on?

I think this is me, coming back from my little hiatus. I feel a little ridiculous for how weird it feels. Coming back, I mean, but also having been away in the first place. It’s only been a month, (only, she says!) but it feels so much longer. I feel rusty. Right now, I’m supposed to be taking part in a writing sprint but I’m weirdly hesitant. Gun shy, I suppose.

I’ve spent all of August and what we’ve had of September so far orchestrating a full-house move and it’s been… a lot. A lot of stress. Physical and emotional strain. I’ve moved before, a number of times, but specify ‘full-house’ move here because switching between student accommodation or transitioning from a single room in my parent’s house to having my own place is different from this. It didn’t have a patch on this.

It has taken all of my time and energy and it’s not 100% done, but mostly there, and now I’m back, here again. I got so excited by the prospect of being able to write again. I set up my new workspace and literally clapped my hands with glee. And I’m sat here… stalling. Scared? Maybe. Why am I scared? I don’t know. Like I said, I feel ridiculous for it. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think this is one of those things most if not all writers go through. I’m not sure if it’s burnout, but probably. Burnout sucks.

The ‘library’ area of my new house

But I guess the important thing is not attaching a label to my weird absence of words and focus on going forward. I am typing here, so that’s progress. I endeavour to come back here next week and write another post. And another one the week after that. I’m not entirely sure what those posts will be, but I’ll give it a shot. Because what’s my other option? Not write at all? Ha! No. That’s a truly ridiculous idea.

I’ve come back, so I trust the words will, too.

…in reading back over this before I hit ‘publish’ I’m tempted to say my apprehension makes sense, because writing can very much be like opening yourself up and bleeding. And I think my scabs from before are all hard, but that sounds incredibly melodramatic.

Also in re-reading, I’m concerned that I’m not saying anything new or different from my last post, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at right now, so… *shrugs*

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. Honestly, I’ll be fine.

Stay tuned!

Thinking

I’ve been thinking again about my past projects (pictured above), now have a bit of distance from them. They haven’t been out in the world for a while – I unpublished them over a year ago – and, in fact, one of them never even made it out to begin with. I killed my micro-poetry project before it ever really saw the light of day.

But anyway, I’m thinking about it because… because I’m kind of itching to start something new.

And I’m nervous.

I don’t know if anyone has been able to tell, but I’ve been finding it hard to blog, recently. Hard to motivate myself to do it. The words you’re reading now are the first ones I’ve written this month. Maybe I’ve lost momentum. Maybe I’m burned out. Maybe both?

Either way, I think I need a break. Which is funny, actually, because I’m not sure if I know what one looks like. A lot of the time, a break for me just means switching gears to do something else rather than stopping entirely. And it’s kind of the same here. I don’t want to stop entirely so much as I… well. This might sound weird, but I want to draw.

I’m not actually good at drawing, but I want to learn. I want to try.

I actually think I want to try Inktober, and I’m itching to put together a somewhat rough and ready zine from what I create.

…reading back over that last sentence, I am relieved that I still want to create. Maybe it means everything isn’t so bad as it feels right now.

I’m just tired.

I don’t know when I’ll blog again, but words will most certainly return in some way at some point. Maybe it’ll be in a month. Maybe it’ll be a few hours and I’ll then feel silly for having written this. Regardless, I’m gonna doodle in the meantime.

A zine is a fun idea, but I’m playing with it as just that; not committing myself to anything just yet.

I have mixed feelings about putting another thing out into the world, because of the aforementioned past projects. They all took so much time and energy (some more so than others) but, ultimately, I was unsatisfied with them. My standards kept rising and the books kept falling short.

No wonder I’m a little gun-shy.

…I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this. Maybe that’s my point.

I’m just thinking. Musing. Having a little doodle.

I’ll be back.

A Little More on Comorbidities

In my most recent health update, I included a bullet-pointed list of most, if not all, of my issues and talked a little about ‘comorbidities,’ which is a big word that just means having multiple conditions going on simultaneously (at the same time) that can also be, in some ways, overlapped (in terms of causes and/or symptoms).

In my list, I grouped a few of the items together, but I didn’t really explain the overlaps. That’s what I want to do today, and what I have tried to represent in the diagram above.

Before I get into it: it should go without saying that I am not a doctor and this post is purely based on my own experience, and my own limited understanding of that experience. But, you know, I’m gonna say it anyway: I’m not a doctor. Do not use this post as a guide to diagnose yourself.

Probably the biggest thing to note is how Fibromyalgia is right at the centre of the diagram and, also, at the heart of many of my issues. This is mostly because it’s an umbrella condition that has many different things rolled up in it. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)

The main symptoms I have from fibro are chronic pain, chronic fatigue, problems with my joints (which can, in turn, make me more exhausted and my body more painful more quickly), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), depression, and anxiety (and fibro fog! Can’t forget that!! Though I incidentally did, in my first draft of this post. Plus points for irony!). You can have each of these things on their own, or even a few of them, without having fibro, but when you have all of them, it’s a pretty big indication that there’s something bigger at play.

For me, fibromyalgia is a big deal and the diagnosis made a lot of puzzle pieces click into place. But there are things in my diagram (and on my original list) that are not fibro related. Asthma, for example, has no link to fibro. Except, in my case, it’s triggered by allergies and my allergic response often then triggers my sinusitis and/or IBS symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has no direct link to fibro (at least that I’m aware of), but they both cause me abdominal pain. My IBS also causes me abdominal pain; depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand even in people without fibro; and I have a sleep disorder that has nothing to do with fibro, but it does double-down on the fatigue I get as part of my fibro. I’m not exactly sure my costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs and breastbone) is linked to my more general joint and muscle problems, but it seems fairly reasonable to me that it is.

Moving on from this, in the bottom right of my diagram, you will see a triangle of what I’ve labelled ‘specific learning disabilities.’ These are dyslexia (problems with words*), dyscalculia (problems with numbers*), and dyspraxia (problems with motor skills and judging distances*). All three of these are different and can occur on their own, but they can also often present themselves in the same person, and I am one of those lucky people to have hit the trifecta.

Bottom left of the diagram you will see I’ve listed my hearing problems, which I haven’t linked to anything. That’s because, as far as I understand, it’s a separate issue from all the rest. I don’t know what caused it and I’m still looking for a solution, but medical science is discovering new things all the time so who knows what I might find out in the future regarding it. Maybe it is somehow linked to my patchwork of other conditions and symptoms, or maybe it really is there all on its own.

I mostly wrote this post and made the diagram above for my own benefit, to help myself better understand how I do (and don’t) work, but what I want you to take away from all this is that it can all get pretty complicated.

It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve come to identify myself with the label ‘disabled,’ and it’s a big label with big implications. The diagram above might make it look fairly organised – simple, or logical, even – but the day-to-day reality is that I am really tired and sore pretty much all of the time.

Hopefully my explanation has been clear, but if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.


*I just want to note that the explanations of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia I have given are super simplistic and in no way represent the full symptoms or definitions of those conditions.

On Friendship

This is, in part, a follow up to my blog post ‘On Adulthood.’ I’ve just reread it in preparation to write this and, wow, what a difference a couple of months can make.

On the first of March I said, and I quote, “My mental health is the best it’s maybe ever been… for right now, I’m okay.”

And then, of course, the world fell apart. Not just my world, but THE world. And I, like many others, am not okay. Far bloody from it.

But what has this got to do with friendship, you ask? Well, in that first post I talked a little about ‘Friends’ the TV show, and how I was relating that to my life.

I now want to do that again, because I’ve had some follow up thoughts. On both the show and reality.

I finished binge-watching episodes maybe two weeks ago. And where it had started out as a fun pastime, it kind of ended up as just another thing I wanted to power through and finish. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was taxing, in the end, but I definitely kept hitting up against some problems again and again (and again).

For example, despite being set in the extremely multicultural city of New York, did you know that Friends didn’t start consistently having black background characters until season seven? It took the show SEVEN years to make the token gesture of putting one or two people of colour in the background of each episode.

What’s more, there is so much anti-LGBT sentiment. By the end, there wasn’t a single episode that didn’t have being gay (or trans) as a punchline. And there were so many fat jokes for a show where every single character is skinny!

You might wonder why I even bothered to finish it if these things were bothering me so much, and here is the crux of the matter: you can both love and be bothered by the same thing at the same time.

Our experiences of things are rarely binary, where we either entirely adore it or cannot find a single thing to like. With everything, there is nuance. And that can be okay – because it is the intrinsic nature of things, it has to be okay – for the most part, but you need to draw the line for when it’s not okay. For when the bad outweighs the good and it’s time to give up and walk away.

If Friends had still been airing when I was making my way through the seasons, I may well have stopped watching. But since it had ended, and the end was a definitive thing that I was not far off, I decided to stick with it.

Recently, however, I decided I could no longer stick with a real-life friendship. Like the show, and like all of us, this person had good points and bad points. But my breaking point came when those bad things – like their sharing of harmful conspiracies and racist lies – became frequent enough that I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I challenged my friend, but they wouldn’t listen. They’d been poisoned by the same kind of crap they were sharing.

So, I broke it off. I unfriended them. And I walked away.

Sometimes things change – people change – and sometimes that’s for the better and sometimes it’s not, but sooner or later you will come to a line in the sand, and you gotta decide which side of it you want to be on.

It can be sad letting people go, but what’s the point continuing to share my life with people if I can’t live with myself?

Health and Fertility Update – June 2020

I don’t honestly know if anyone following my blog is interested in updates about my health, but I do know that I myself find them useful to look back on. At any rate, it’s been a year since I voiced my frustrations regarding trying to get pregnant and that was the last real health-related update I shared, so I figured this post was overdue.

In terms of mental health, I have been all over the place, but with everything that’s going on in the world right now, I suspect that’s the same for most people.

I talked before about trying to lose weight, but that’s ground to a halt, partly because of lockdown but also because my local Slimming World group disbanded prior to that and my motivation went out the window when my fertility consultant moved the goalposts on me.

I had been trying to get my BMI down so that I could access fertility treatment, and the entirely arbitrary number they had originally set for me to reach was a real struggle. Then, at my last appointment, I was told that the clinic had their funding cut and so they were moving my target BMI even more out of reach. Like, impossibly out of reach for someone with PCOS and my body type. While this was an obvious blow, I got some clarification over exactly what they had planned for me in the hypothetical situation I did reach the magical number and they told me IVF, which is not something I knew before then. Continue reading

Embracing Norn Iron

I have lived most of my life in Northern Ireland. I was born here. My parents are from here. My husband and his family are from here, too. You could say I’m kinda invested in this place.

But this place is complicated. Geographically, it’s complicated. Politically, it’s really complicated. Culturally, it spends most of its time confused and upset.

Because of this, and for a whole host of more personal reasons, I have always felt conflicted about good ol’ Norn Iron. (As the locals call it.)

It’s quite possible I’ll always feel a range of emotions about here, but what I have come to terms with is that this country – this land – is part of me, and I am part of it.

I used to see being in Northern Ireland as being the worst of two worlds, almost literally. And there is a little basis for that viewpoint even now, but you don’t need to be a genius to see how pessimistic that is.

As I have gotten older and discovered how much I don’t know (about lots of things, not just regarding N.I.), I have learned that the choices we make and the opinions we hold have power. If I stayed stuck in my previous mindset I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but I would be worse off for it.

These days, I’m actively choosing to watch out for positives because, yes, they do exist if you look for them. Not everything has to be doom and gloom. And being aware of positive things and appreciating them helps to encourage further positive things.

Prime example: the literary community, like all of the other communities, is divided in a lot of ways. There are opportunities open to the UK, and there are opportunities open to Ireland. This used to frustrate me, because my heart would pull one way, my head would push the other, and I never knew which way, if either, I was actually supposed to go. I was caught in the middle, foolishly thinking I had to pick a side, wholeheartedly dedicate myself to it, and cut myself off entirely from the other.

And here’s what I took way too long to figure out: I don’t have to be either/or, I can be both!

That’s liberating. That’s revolutionary. That… probably should have been way more obvious than it actually was, but that terrible mindset I was talking about had blinded me like it blinded – and still blinds – so many others.

All of that to say this (because, yes, I am coming to a point here and it will explain the photo I’ve picked to accompany this blog post): back in the day if you had asked me to take part in a project celebrating Northern Ireland, I may not have said anything, but internally I would have cringed. Now, though – with my new found acceptance of this place and my place in it – I am more than happy to take part in such a project. Ecstatic, even. And asked to take part I was!

When lockdown first started and ‘social distancing’ was still a relatively new term, Angeline King – the lady currently at the helm of Women Aloud NI – hatched a plan to give WANI members a project to distract ourselves with.

“Let’s write a book!” she said, and we only went and bloody did it!

North Star is an anthology of short stories and poems that celebrate the six counties of Northern Ireland, and has a specific section for the city of Belfast, too. I am in there and I am proud to be so.

Again, national pride can quickly become a thorny issue, but this isn’t about that. This is about representing the best of our communities and pulling together to make them even better.

From here on out, that’s certainly what I’m hoping to achieve. Who’s with me?

A Non-Update

I feel weird writing a blog post this week, given all that’s going on in the world. I have nothing of use to say about the crises, so am not going to add a ‘hot take’ to the ever-growing number already floating around the internet. And yet, to not acknowledge it feels almost wrong. There is something to be said for carrying on as usual as much as possible in times like these, but ‘usual’ and ‘possible’ are vague yardsticks at best.

Being completely honest, I’m feeling very anxious right now. I think most of us are in the same boat with that.

My local college has not closed its doors (yet!), but I’ve decided not to attend. I’m lying low as much as possible.

It should probably go without saying, but I will put it here just in case, that the event I talked about in my most recent post has been cancelled.

That’s all I got for now. Stay safe, guys.