New Year, new me. Well, not exactly – but a new e-mail provider for this Member’s Community. I’m still dotting the teas and crossing my eyes, but 2022 is the year that we make the long overdue move from Mailchimp to Mailerlite.
What does that mean for me? An inflated sense that I’m moving in the right direction and making the right choices. What does it mean for you? …a slightly different logo at the bottom of these e-mails.
Let me be the (first? seventh? thirtieth?) to wish you a Happy New Year! I hope that you enjoyed however you chose to celebrate the festivities in these strange times.
We spent the evening quietly watching television, then on the stroke of midnight I opened up a rather hefty bottle of Pilsner and we turned out the lights and held the cats up to the windows so they could watch the nearby fireworks. You’d expect them to be scared, but no- they’re odd beasts that find bright lights and explosions enthralling. One recently tried to scratch open the TV in order to get at the reflection of our Christmas tree.
So! What’s the plan for 2022?
I find it helpful to set broad themes for a new season, rather than tackle specific measurable goals that are easier to fail at. The concept isn’t my idea, and here’s a video by YouTube educator CGP Grey that explains it much better than I ever could, which I recommend to absolutely everyone.
I’ve still got some fixed goals for 2022, and they’re quite familiar:
Finish writing, editing and polishing I Thought You Were All Better Now? and send you your free digital copy.
Find myself on stage, in front of an audience, doing something more enriching than karaoke.
Stop buying new materials for art projects and builds until at least half of the unfinished projects stacked around me have been given at least a fighting chance at completion.
Worry less about whether my writing is enduring and relevant, and focus more on where it is resonant, useful – and fun!
Let myself be loved. That one’s always been a work in progress.
I look forward to the ideas and progress we can share together in 2022.
Last month’s email led to so many drop-outs, bounces and leavers that this community is back to the same size it was before the start of summer! I guess that’s what happens when you’re quiet for so long that people and their email servers start to forget who you are.
Well, I’m still Nick, I still write books that I sometimes but rarely publish, I’m still drenched in cynical optimism (or is it positive pessimism?), and I am still nowhere near as successful as people seem to think I am.
A few years back a very persistent stalker-fan on Twitter kept haranguing me for quick routes to make it to the top in publishing. If I knew what those were, I would definitely have shared them, but I’d make a point of following them myself first.
The current route I’m taking towards getting I Have Tried Everything Else and I Thought You Were All Better Now?* finished involves writing down every single issue, barrier, goal and concern, and turning them into a list of specific actionable tasks. That might sound daunting, but the meticulous and obsessive quadrant of my brain (in name only, since it takes up way more than 25%) laps up this kind of workflow, even if a lot of the tasks are just “Do this, only better.”
Speaking of doing things better, last weekend I was in Brighton having a long, involved, and very drunk conversation with someone about the purpose, style, and ambition of my work, and how we both felt about a “build good/fight bad” approach to living.**
As our encounter came to an end and the inevitable swapping of details approached, I smugly produced one of my latest contact cards. Then stopped.
The Facebook address was out of date. The Twitter handle was wrong. The referenced Instagram account doesn’t exist anymore, the website is just a placeholder and oh – the headshot doesn’t even look like me.
So, persistent Twitter stalker-fan from the past, you might be better off finding your own way without me.
I hope you are well, Nick xx
* I am so very successful in publishing that at this point I had to look up what the name of my own book is.
** At least that’s how I remember it. For all I know I blathered on for six hours while they nodded and thought about biscuits.
I thought about starting this email with a what are you reading at the moment? sort of chat, but I’m not reading anything at the moment – although I’m quite involved with a copy of Jeff Abbott’s 2008 thriller, Run. Occasionally I take it off a shelf and put it on my desk, or put it on a different shelf. I stare at it longingly, and I even took it for a weekend away last month.
But reading? Actually making the time to sit down and find that quiet headspace where I’m not rushing from one task to the next in order to maintain the head-above-water coping strategies I deployed during the pandemic? That’s something else.
Anyway, much like reading, I realise that I haven’t e-mailed you in a while, either.
So, how am I? I’m fine, I guess – not in the dismissive inauthentic way that we tell your friends and colleagues, but not in the “everything’s peachy” sense either.
I’m fine. Just fine. Acceptable. Je suis pas mal. I hope you’re pas mal too.
The good news is that I’ve been slowly finding myself more able to write and edit again, which means that I’ve been indulging in one of my favourite things: filling up sheets with different-coloured scribbles.
There’s two fairly hefty issues that I’ve noticed during the reactivation of the process.
Firstly, my titles are all wrong.
500 Days In The Quiet Room and All Better Now? are nice and evocative and would suffice if people actually knew who I was and what I’m trying to do, but the not-self-help-but-kinda-self-help genre is so crowded that grabbing the right attention with every tool available (including the title) really matters.
Prepare to be dazzled and amazed by this exclusive reveal of my current working titles (and subtitles!):
I Have Tried Everything Else: A 500 day [something?] of first-time anti-depressant use
I Thought You Were All Better Now?: [Collected?] writings on the [something?] of maintaining [the image of?] positive mental health
I still don’t love either of them, as you can [probably?] tell. With All Better Now? I’ve added more dressing, but honestly I think that the real final title will reveal itself when all those “writings” are properly collected – although is it still a collection if they’re all coming from me?
I’ve pulled 500 Days… back to the original name of the blog that preceded it, and tried to capture not just the agenda of the book, but the place I was in when that journey started. “500 Days In The Quiet Room” is a nice word-concept, and it features throughout the book, but it’s a meaningless riddle to potential readers, something to put them off rather than intrigue them.
The second issue I’m having is… footnotes.
Half the point of I Have Tried Everything Else: 500 Days… was the little footnotes throughout, which not only explain obscure cultural references, but provide a sort of then-and-now dialogue of voices, excusing or condemning my past behaviour and resolutions.
That’s all good if I’m just publishing in paperback and can set those footnotes at the bottom of every page, nicely formatted and relevant to the words above, but pretty much every e-reader on the market likes to stick footnotes all the way at the back of the book.
There are other solutions of course [like what?], like an interspersing a voice [like this?] in the text [oh I see!], but that lacks the distinctness of two timeframes, and is a little more intrusive than I’d like [oh, sorry].
I’ve also considered writing with two distinct voices in two distinct styles on the page itself, but this also has issues.
[The main issue I am referring to above is that the flexibility of font size on e-readers can mean going for many pages whilst still in commentary, after which the reader may forget the initial issue being commented on.]
As with my titles, I haven’t come to a solution I’m totally happy with yet, and just as with my titles, I think it will present itself as the work continues.
Anyway, that’s me for now. I’m not going to make a presumption about when the next e-mail I send will be, although something about this one has bitten me a little, so it might be sooner than either of us think.
As always, I genuinely hope you are well.
P.S Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up I Have Tried Everything Else at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection I Thought You Were All Better Now for absolutely free!
I’ve recently seen a few members drop off due to automated spam filters and the like. If you don’t want this to happen to you, please take a moment to add me to your safe senders list. I’ll let Dr Google explain how:
So, this isn’t the email that I originally planned to send you today. Initially I wrote about what it’s like to be sick with something other than coronavirus in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, and the sort of flipped impostor syndrome that can come from feeling like you’re not “sick enough” to warrant sympathy.
I read it back, felt it leant quite heavily on my own experience and feelings, and found myself pushed to wonder why anybody would care.
In contrast, I had a meeting last Friday regarding my dayjob, that descended into an hour of me explaining all the things that I felt were currently wrong with my position. It felt glorious.
I feel like there’s a link here, and it’s what happens when compare our own suffering to that of others and find it wanting. We don’t like to complain (Hey, can’t complain!) because we know that people have it worse than we do (At least it wasn’t coronavirus!), and often end up side-lining our own feelings and refusing to acknowledge a need for support.
Having the chance to express how I felt about something was a huge emotional release, but needn’t have been. Before the work-from-home pandemic, I might have casually vented to my colleagues about some shared work issues. I might have spent an evening with friends comparing notes on what we do or don’t appreciate about our employment.
For now, and for who knows how long, those avenues are closed, and it feels like we’re putting our feelings on hold in the avenues available to us, at least until we feel our suffering is big enough in comparison to warrant attention.
I don’t want to write self-help. I skirt very close to writing things that fall under that rather loose marketing definition, but I don’t feel like I have the authority to offer advice or motivation, particularly not when I’ve been sat hip-deep in my own low period since the middle of last year.
(again, I feel like I’m talking about myself a fraction too much, and that nobody should rightly care)
So rather than advice or motivation, I’m going to offer you hope.
I hope that the truth of what you’re going through isn’t lost amongst what everyone else is going through.
I hope that being “all in this together” doesn’t mean getting lost in the crowd.
I hope that you have the necessary self-validation to feel your feelings honestly and without caveat.
I hope that you have avenues and resources where you can share how you feel with others.
And as always, I hope that you are well, Nick xx
P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now? for absolutely free!
It looks like it’s been so long since I last spoke to you that the e-mail client has changed their platform in the interim and I hardly know what I’m looking at.
Anyway, do you remember my intention to get 500ish Days In The Quiet Room and All Better Now launched before the end of the year? Do you remember my hope that I would release them some time around World Mental Health Day (that’s mid-October)?
Well obviously that hasn’t come to pass, and but I’m not beating myself up over it. The double-launch is rather a large and daunting project at the best of times, never mind the almost-worst of times that 2020 has put us through.
Writing two books about mental health while my own mental health is flagging? Well, I don’t think anyone will blame me if I experience a little slowdown.
Still, both books in the project are chugging along. They haven’t stopped dead, and neither have I. I am still writing, still creating, and still finding time to do absolutely nothing, even if “do nothing” has to sit at the top of my unrealistically busy to-do list (or as my third therapist has encouraged me to think of it, my “to-try” list).
Speaking of writing, I’ve recently churned out two pieces which both cover the very vibrant and vital subject of dish-washing. As I’ve said before in Good Mental Health is Like Owning a Dishwasher, keeping the kitchen clean is something that pretty much all of us have to deal with, frequently and constantly.
It is an ongoing chore that permeates our daily lives, and it’s rather bloody samey too. As such, the experiences and memories associated with it tend to get layered upon each other, and grow louder and louder as our relevant neural pathways strengthen.
When I was barely 10 I read a caption in a drama studies book that said, “He does the washing up, angrily…” and thought little of it. I still think little of it, but I think of it every time I do the dishes. Every discussion and argument that I’ve ever had about washing up and kitchenware (and I’ve had many) plays ad infinitum in my head when I load a dishwasher, fill a sink with suds, or put something in soak that really should have been put in soak three days ago.
There’s something about it that chimes with my experience with PTSD in more significant areas, this sense of bringing all the baggage from every previous associated encounter along to the present, even though it lends nothing, achieves nothing, and is ultimately irrelevant in the current context. Conversations with my father on the poor hygiene of sink baskets don’t serve me in a kitchen where I don’t have one. Arguments with my university housemates about whether leaving suds on dishes affects the taste of the food or causes cancer are irrelevant when those housemates haven’t reached out in 15+ years and I rinse my dishes thoroughly anyway.
The repetition of very basic tasks in dishwashing makes it hard to move away from these layered thoughts and repetitions, and they might well be with us forever. Still, perhaps they can instead be used as some sort of banal light to help guide our way through other instances of established trauma.
“The abuse you suffered six years ago is as relevant to you now as the argument you and your mother had about whether dishcloths did more harm than good.”
Something to that effect.
So hey, I hope you are well, hope you have a very Happy New Year, and hope you don’t find yourself dragging too much of 2020 into 2021, a year in which I will hopefully have something tangible to publish.
P.S. This is actually just one of my new missives about dishes (Dishives?). The other can quickly be summarised as this: Sometimes it’s okay to keep the short-cuts that helped you get healthy, even after your health has been restored.
P.P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now? for absolutely free!
If I want to get anywhere with this thing I really need to get better at snappy-but-relevant subject lines, don’t I?
It’s common when you haven’t been heard from for a while to claim “I’m not dead!” or “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated!” and I’m not sure if those are currently grossly inappropriate adages, or more appropriate than ever.
Well hello, I’m not dead, and I’m not inactive either. I’ve been splitting my time between whatever the work-from-home dayjob requires of me (ooh, cryptic!), embracing the Jericho Writers Summer Festival of Writing (Livestream Edition) and absolutely blitzing the main editorial pass of 500ish Days In The Quiet Room (something else in brackets).
This has generally meant scribbling out huge chunks of gibberish and scribbling in huge chunks of not-gibberish, and working with truly worrying sheets of notes like the above.
I’ve had some big and good ideas, principally about swapping out footnotes for interjections and running commentary, leaving empty days out of the final text, and breaking the whole thing up into thematic sections.
It’s set to look less like a technical account of a fixed calendar of events, more like a dialogue between two voices reflecting on key moments and revelations. That still sounds wonderfully vague but what it boils down to is this- 500ish Days In the Quiet Room is going to be more enjoyable to read than the original plan would have had it.
All Better Now? is a different beast entirely. Whilst I’m enjoying the exciting new development of adding a question mark to the title, I’m struggling with the body of the text because half of me wants to write direct self-help advice and the other half wants to keep it observational. It was never my intention to give advice with either book, only information and personal experience, but maybe that sort of guidance bleeds through in this genre and is unavoidable.
What I do know is that this drive to feel like I’m working towards something and giving something on my platforms can only be fixed by getting both books finished and done. Otherwise for now when you tap the side of this community it rings out like an empty vessel.
I hope you are well.
P.S This month I also removed a chunk of low quality videos from both my YouTube channels based on the criteria of “Is it what you want the world to see from you?” So many of those little speeches and sketches answered the question with a resounding “No.” that I almost feel inclined to make a video about the process itself.
P.P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!
Once I told myself to stop writing about coronavirus (or at least, stop sharing what I wrote about coronavirus), I noticed two things. The amount I wrote decreased drastically, and the quality of what I wrote increased substantially.
The coronavirus pandemic is very loud, very apparent, and very prevalent, which gives it the appearance of being very important, which it is. It might even be the most important thing at specific times and in specific places, but it isn’t always, isn’t everywhere, and won’t be forever.
Anyway, I don’t want to spend this email talking about the difference between loud noises and clear signals, because I could do that for hours and it’s an idea that really needs editing down. No, I just wanted to touch base to remind you that I exist, and let you know where I’m up to with the projects that not writing about coronavirus has given me time to work on again.
I’m most of the way through the second edit of 500ish Days in The Quiet Room. This pass is for straightening out any gibberish, strengthening the quality of the footnotes and asides, and getting rid of anything that’s a bit too Walter Mitty, anything that feels a bit too much like a kid showing their Yu-Gi-Oh cards to a disinterested parent.
The next edit will be focused more on structure, deciding exactly how the asides are going to be presented, and what numerical data like dates and times I’m planning on keeping in. After that the cover art, blurbs and physical specs still need pulling together, but I feel like I’m on track for an autumn/fall release this year.
Oh, and you’re still getting it for a ridiculously low price. Like the lowest I can price it without paying you to take copies off my hands.
I’ve also started to turn my focus back to the essay and non-fiction collection All Better Now, which in practice means revisiting chapter titles with several manic typing sessions to see where I can push the ideas to make them something a little more unique and usable. Ideas like good mental health is like owning a dishwasher, a missive which I hope piqued your interest nicely at the start of this email.
I’m either releasing it in tandem with 500ish Days In The Quiet Room, or a week or two in advance. Oh, and you’re still getting the digital copy absolutely free.
So… why is good mental health like owning a dishwasher? Here’s a little concept preview of what’s going to be a much more filled-out essay…
Everyone has dishes to clean. Some people have more dishes or dirtier dishes than others, but everyone gets their dishes done. Those with dishwashers find it easier. They don’t enjoy it – no-one enjoys the dishes – and it’s still something they’d rather not do, but they have the tools to help them get the dishes done quickly. When those without a dishwasher are too tired to wash any more dishes, they have to stop. The dishes start to pile up. When those who own a dishwasher are too tired, the dishwasher is still there for them. If the dishwasher breaks, they can do the dishes themselves for a time while the dishwasher is repaired. If you’ve never had a dishwasher, it’s something you need to work to bring into your life, invest in, find a place for, and often have someone help you install.
Yeah so there it is… a rough and ready concept pitch. I think I need to hang a hat on some of the symbolism, pick a focus between “you” and “people” and either reduce or increase the repetition. A preview is a preview for a reason, of course.
I hope you are well and your dishes are clean,
P.S I don’t own a dishwasher.
P.P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!
The following is a long post that I wrote for my Facebook page as a sort of taster for the kind of writing that I share in this community, and hope to stuff into the pages of All Better Now. It largely focuses on the difficulty of fining a solid creative response or mindset during the current global situation. I hope you enjoy it.
I wanted to write something about coronavirus. It’s everywhere and affecting everyone, a line drawn across our collective history (although a fatter and wobblier line in some places), and not addressing it would feel like ignoring it.
Also given my platform, brand, or whatever you want to call it, it would be a wasted opportunity not to have some kind of involvement. Even the most staunch keep-calm-and-carry-on stiff upper lips of the crying-never-helped-anybody generation have accepted how intrinsically linked the coronavirus pandemic is with mental health, even if it is just under the take-a-walk-in-the-woods and we-all-get-stressed-sometimes approach that frequently ignores mental illness.
Enough hyphens, for now. It’s hard to know exactly what I want to write, or find exactly what I 𝘤𝘢𝘯 write. If you slide over to my Reddit or Twitter you’ll find memes and missives that were pretty pithy in the moment and maybe helped me work through a mood or thought bubble at the time, even if they didn’t receive that many upvotes or retweets.
But when it comes to writing something a little longer, it’s hard to know what the angle is. Do I want to write something relevant right now, or something that’ll stand the test of time a little more?
I struck solid gold with When Lockdown Is Over, my poem about deploying disingenuous hope with the best intentions, because no matter how long this thing continues, that desire to be a better person in a better world when it’s over will still be there, as will the honesty to admit that it might not be as easy as expected.
I’d already been working from home for a week when the UK locked down around me, and I didn’t feel that same sense of “This will be fine!” spirit that everyone else appeared to have. I didn’t want to bake loaves of banana bread. I didn’t want to get up early to bounce around my living room with Joe Wicks, not least of all because to my archival brain, Joe Wicks is a character from EastEnders, played by Paul Nicholls from 25 March 1996 to 14 November 1997.
I couldn’t think about home improvements, home workouts or home third-thing, because all I was focused on was getting to the end of the day and the end of the week without falling to pieces. It took me a while to realise two things.
Firstly, no-one is as happy as they say they are. This is fundamental, ground floor, entry level stuff which I should have known and probably already did. The people laughing through exercise routines and celebrating their baking skills online aren’t doing so because they’re fine, they’re doing so because they want to 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘷𝘦 that they’re fine, to others but more likely to themselves. This sort of competitive happiness is the cornerstone of the crapiness of social media, and something of which we’re all quietly and/or dramatically aware. Like I said, entry level stuff.
(Quick sidebar, this doesn’t make them Bad People™, just people who are trying to carve out their own sense of happy. If sharing their best moments and getting engagement off the back of that makes them happy, who is anyone else to judge? Give them that smiley face or the blue thumbs up they deserve.)
Secondly, I wasn’t coping to begin with. I’m not talking about day one of lockdown, or the early days when coronavirus was first creeping into the news. I’m talking about weeks before, when no bats had been nibbled, no secret virus labs had been breached, or no 5G masts had been switched on.
The realisation that my inability to cope with the early weeks of lockdown had nothing to do with lockdown itself has been the most liberating moment of the whole damn epidemic. What I thought was a slow crash into breakdown was in fact… a normal day.
Sure, I’m washing my hands more, no doubt more than the official medical advice, but that’s what I’ve always done. The levels have been raised across the board, that’s all. When the not-so-crazy wash their hands 40% more, so do I. The difference between us is maintained.
And yes, I’m indulging my less healthy coping mechanisms a little more. I’m drinking (lots) more water, more caffeine, more booze. I’m exercising control by making more lists and timetables, sleeping less regularly, lifting too many weights and completing meaningless video game achievements. And I’m starting more sentences with conjunctions. But who isn’t?
Truly hilarious grammar jokes aside, I don’t think there are any arrows in my coping quiver that are unique to me, it’s just the volume that they’ve been turned up to that’s worth keeping an eye on. Also, my mixed metaphors are a mess. Noisy arrows.
Anyway, to bring this all back around, it’s hard to write something specific and timeless about coronavirus, because the situation isn’t inherently timeless. It wasn’t long before banana breads and yoga workouts were replaced with “It’s Okay to not be Okay” memes and stories of personal coping failures.
I thought this was my niche, as it so often is. I thought I could write one of those big ol’ lists of things it’s okay to not feel or not do, and that it would properly express how I felt whilst (let’s be honest here) driving new readers towards my material. Because outside of bread-bakers and yoga practitioners, one thing I am seeing a lot of is full time writers and performers doubling down on ways to make their own work effective in this period.
I’m a full-time writer, I just don’t get to use 35 hours of that time fully enough. When I last had a therapist, one thing we talked a lot about was this feeling I had that the whole world needed to go on pause while I caught up. Well, the whole world is on pause now, but I can’t shake this feeling that they’re still running on ahead of me.
So finding a little niche in the “It’s Okay to not be Okay” movement felt like a bolt from the blue, something I could rally around and produce a substantial body of work regarding. Then I blinked, and the scene shifted. There’s now so much material telling you how okay it is to not be okay that not being okay has become some sort of aspirational norm.
“We baked banana bread today!” is now “I don’t mind telling you, me and the kids are having a tough time.” And that’s great – well, not exactly great – but it’s good that people are finding themselves with a sense of personal honesty about everything they’re going through, and that they’re not ashamed to speak up. If anything though, it’s too much now, a smothering blanket of inactivity covering the downturn of people leaving yoga and baking behind in droves.
In that same spirit of feeling a little ahead of everyone with my lousy coping skills, I feel like I can see the next step already growing. The lovechild of making the best of our time and feeling okay doing nothing with our time is being born, and one of the many names it is going to go under is Try Something Today.
Yeah, it’s okay to do nothing. Sometimes it’s even useful, healthy and therapeutic to do nothing. But why not try and do just one thing? Don’t feel obligated to bounce around your living room every morning to the smell of banana bread, but why not tidy a cupboard, do some stretches, read the first 15 pages of a book, or just sit down with your phone and go over every happy photo you’ve taken in the past six months?
This sense that we have to present a perfect, unified sense of ourselves is, to me, one of the most bull facets of the developed world, and something I want to actively work against. Our online presence works like a business card for all we do and all we are and all we’ve ever been, and often feeds back into our sense of self so we look at the contradictions within us like they’re failings or indiscretions. We call out previous versions of ourselves as being in error, and we’re ashamed to admit when we’re not sure, undecided, or just haven’t found what it is we care about yet.
There’s one last thing I want to talk about, because I feel like if I leave it behind it will decrease in relevance just as fast as everything else I’ve been putting pins in.
We are all going to be different when this is over, and that’s not going to necessarily be a good thing. With hope, we’ll value our healthcare services more, and place more emphasis on the relationships that matter to us. With cynicism, we’ll abandon those relationships that aren’t as important to us, and gorge ourselves on the resources and freedom returned to us like we’ve won some sort of revolution.
There are positive goals that most of us share for the time when this has passed, but there’s also a stack of unhealthy coping skills we’ll need to leave behind, and misplaced senses of importance and focus that we’ll need to realign.
I know I will need help and time getting out back into physical, social spaces. I know there will be people who tell me “Coronavirus is over now” with the same tone that they used to say “you’re supposed to be better now” and “what have you got to be depressed about at your age?”
What I need, and what others are going to need – because I know I’m not special in this regard – is a breath of time to sit on the fence, to ease back into whatever passes for normal life, and slowly break the reliance on whatever it was that got us through this difficult time.
It’s okay to not be okay when everything is okay, as long as we’re given the space to try.
Now more than ever, I hope you are well,
P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!
I hope you are well, I really do. I’ve been trying to bash out some words on the current Covid-19 pandemic and the various ways I feel it affects mental health, and (this isn’t exactly what I had planned) I wrote a poem.
When The Lockdown Is Over is about the hopes and intents of a world where we’re allowed back outside, and the delusions we might be building around that. My million dollar hot-take, simplified? Most of us will carry on pretty much as we did before.
It’s getting released on social media tomorrow (Easter Sunday) but of course I wanted you to see it first, with a little inside track. Cutting it a bit fine I know, but I didn’t fancy sitting on it much longer.
Well, here it is:
I come in at the top I bit fast and drop a consonant here and there, but I wanted this to be something rough-and-ready rather than overly produced. Whatever you don’t like about it, I probably already dislike threefold.
As a little behind-the-scenes treat, I thought I’d give you an insight into the process. What started as some quick phone notes turned into scribbles, made a way through a cut-and-paste adventure, and ended up glued to an envelope in my reading hand. I’m not big on hobbycraft so this isn’t usually the way I do things, but it worked pretty well.
So there it is. Hopefully you’ll take something from it, and the random nasties of the internet won’t pour too much derision on it. I’m doing my best to crack on with the next thing and not look back or sit still. I guess it’s all we can do, sometimes.
I really do hope you are well. Nick Xx
P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price this year, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!
Hello! Long-time no speak. I hope you had a good new Christmas and New Year and all the other festivals and holidays and days since then. Didn’t I promise you I wouldn’t bother you too often? I’ve run too many “Sorry for not posting more!” blogs to fall into that trap.
What I’m sharing today is a scratched-out thought piece which I think is going become a chapter in All Better Now. If you make it to the end, I’ll reward you with a photo of my two lovely cats, whose relevance will become apparent as you read on. Sound good? Great.
So, late last year I found myself trying to explain to one of my cats that he wasn’t having a bad day.
The idea of a “bad day” is a pretty ubiquitous one. Those days when everything seems against us, when mistakes and failures stack up on each other, and our moods turn aggravated and sour. We can’t be doing with nonsense or bullshit, and withdraw ourselves from social contact into almost apologetic isolation. Like the song says, It’s been a bad day, please don’t take a picture.
Yet when I was struggling with anxiety and depression, Bad Days™ were one of my saving graces. Throughout 500ish Days In The Quiet Room I use them as get out jail free cards for abject shitty moods, reminders that the bad day I’m stuck in isn’t my entire life or who I am, but just one day. It ends, and a fresh new day begins.
That new day might also turn out to be a bad one, and indeed many of those 500ish days went bad, but acknowledging them as isolated incidents was one of the many tools that helped me through my recovery, and helped me relearn that me and my life weren’t failing, only some of the 24 hour periods that I struggled through.
Excellent stuff. Although, as I was trying to explain to my disgruntled feline house-mate, this idea can go further. If a life can be broken down into good days and bad days, then surely a day can be broken down into good and bad moments?
You’re not having a bad day, you’re just upset because the critter you were chasing escaped. Okay, you wanted your dinner biscuits earlier than usual, and the critter you were chasing escaped. Right, the critter you were chasing escaped, you wanted your dinner biscuits early, your sister pounced on you from the dresser top, you ran into the wall when you were playing earlier, and the humans you keep as pets won’t let you into the kitchen at the moment even though it smells like salmon.
These are individual bad moments, things that disturb or avert you, things which make you feel like you’re not the best version of yourself. But the day isn’t to blame. The day has no intrinsic value that affects your mood and self-worth, it is only the container for these moments, just like your life is only a container for your days.
These aren’t even “bad” moments, they’re just unwanted or unwelcome. Often something vital to your needs or agenda tomorrow might be nothing but an obstacle today, an intrusion that you “can’t deal with right now”* but might face later with excitement.
*translated from meowing
Removing the idea that events and actions sit on a good-or-bad dichotomy (di-cat-omy?) could possibly have the effect of reducing your dread towards these previously “bad” things or cancel your dismay when they throw pits and barriers (kits and cat-carriers?) in your way.
Still… explaining this to cats is problematic, not least because of the language barrier.
Cats are pretty good bullshit-detectors, and don’t suffer hypocrites gladly. If they see the big human cat eating the fancy Waitrose salmon, they’re not going to listen when you tell them to leave it alone.
They’re not going to trust you unless you lead by example, and stop taking the easy route of blaming the day or blaming the moment for things not progressing in the way you’d prefer. Just because it isn’t your fault doesn’t mean there’s a higher order to things, or a bad sign hanging over this calendar period. Sometimes things are just things.
Cats need to see you practice what you preach, and engage in a little mindfulness when remembering to yourself that no, this isn’t a bad day, it’s just a series of unwelcome events grouped by daylight.
You can’t lie to these faces.
So! This piece probably falls more on the creative side of creative non-fiction than most that I’ve shared with you so far. I’m intending that All Better Now features a decent 50/50-ish split of factual and whimsical. It’s not about giving advice, but sharing ideas that might make you think a little more about the healing process, and the idea of having a “fixed” state of mental health.
As always, I hope you are well,
P.S Do you talk to your pets (or plants? or plushies?) about your mental health? Does it work, or help you uncover new ideas? Hit that reply button to tell me about it.
P.P.S At the moment I’ve got a couple of essays spinning their wheels just before the point of writing. I like to get those ideas as hot as they can be before putting them to paper. Given that, I don’t know which you can expect to see next.
P.P.P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!
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