This is my writing notebook, though it hasn’t always been that. It started life with a much more serious purpose.
Not long after starting on my second manuscript I realised I was on a much tighter time frame than first time around and had better try organise myself. There had to be a lot less making it up as I went along (yes, yes, but shhh, you know what I mean) than first time around. I chanced upon a great blog post about how to increase word limit http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html (read it, it’s good. There’s a book too) and decided to follow the advice. Obviously the first thing I decided I needed was a notebook so I went upstairs, had a good rummage on my shelves and unearthed this one which I had forgotten all about.
Then I had to put it back on the shelf and go sit down for a little while with a cup of tea because finding it again messed with my head a lot.
After the birth of my second child I developed full-on, mind-melting, 4a.m. floor-pacing postnatal depression. It was understandable I suppose. We sold and moved house not long after she was born, with all the stress that involves. My husband was working away, we have no family close by and I had a 19 month who was already exhibiting signs of what would turn out to be Asperger’s Syndrome. It was all overwhelming. I pushed myself through days and resisted taking medication, partly because I was breastfeeding and partly because as a society we have a very strange attitude towards mental health issues. I’ve thought long and hard about even writing this because it is feels like outing myself as some sort of freak or failure as a functioning human.
I would never have refused drugs for a heart problem or epilepsy but being a bit sad, well, we just don’t like to go there do we, even when describing depression as being ‘a bit sad’ is like describing a broken leg as ‘a bit annoying to walk on- don’t make a fuss, push it out of your mind and stop being silly, of course you can run a marathon!’
Eventually I saw my GP and asked for counselling. She was wonderfully understanding, not at all judgemental and put me straight down on the six month minimum waiting list.
Six months. Almost as long as the time my baby had been alive. Six more months of feeling defeated, useless, despairing and exhausted. I couldn’t wait that long. I admitted defeat and started taking medication and started to feel better in very small increments but I knew I needed something else too.
My husband went out and scoured Waterstones for some self help books and found me a book on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I made myself read it, even when I really, really didn’t want to. It had helpful -incredibly helpful though not easy- tasks to complete.
I did them in my cheerful stripy notebook. The brightest I could find that wasn’t too girly or covered in flowers because I wanted something bright to look at on the dark days.
I spent a lot more time crying, a load more nights lying on the sofa or curled up in a corner, many months still doubting myself and feeling like I’d never come through the other side but eventually I turned a corner. Once more, a nod and raised glass to the ladies to whom Falling for Her Captor is dedicated. With absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever they have stopped me from sinking on so many occasions.
I got the counselling too and that helped and eventually I stopped using the notebook, about halfway through. I put in on the shelf and after a couple of years I forgot about it.
Things brightened up and I put myself mainly back together. I started teaching again I became a person rather than simply a human shaped sack of Mum and misery- see previous posts for puree related ennui.
Now all those years later and I decided to try mapping out chapters, discovering the notebook was a bit of a punch to the chest. I had come such a long way and I had barely even realised it was happening. I had been panicking that I’d never be able to finish a second book. Did I have a complete story in me? Could I get it done to deadline? Would me editor tell me they’d made a mistake and ask for the money back??? Reading some of the things I had written were very bloody hard but to be able to look back and see where I had been and where I was now was very emotional. I don’t intend to read them again, but it was the little kick I needed to get my head down, plan and write and get on with what I had to do.
I made more tea, turned the book upside down and began to plan my chapter. The method worked. Hooray! I planned, wrote longhand, scribbled dialogue and drew lots of boxes and amazingly managed to get the manuscript to my editor over a month in advance. Double hooray!! Now I have the revisions back and they look doable.
There are 4 pages left in the middle of the book between what I have written now and what I wrote then. The gulf between my mindset then and now is too big to span.
There isn’t really a moral to this story (or a point, I hear you cry?) except this. Depression isn’t something that ever goes away. I still have it and I suspect I always will. The mental heart murmur or psychological diabetes is never cured, you just learn to manage it better. You may know someone who lives with depression. Chances are you do whether you know it or not because as I’ve said, the stigma means it takes a lot of guts to admit it and guts isn’t often what you have when you’re at the bottom of the pit. If you do know someone make sure you look out for them. If the colleague who usually jokes looks a bit absent one day make them a cup of tea. If the mum at toddler group is looking frazzled go chat to them. If the parent walking round the supermarket with a toddler clinging on looks like they’re going to burst into tears then give them a sympathetic smile when they knock oranges flying.
Support Mental Health charities, they do great work and don’t receive much funding.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going so shuffle off and start work on those revisions.