On the 365th day

In September 2016, I started getting buddy boxes from the Blurt Foundation. They were a little thing to look forward to, a gift just for me. The buddy boxes were great at promoting selfcare and I began to realise how much this could help me. In fact I started to realise how much I had been ignoring my own care in the years before my depression was diagnosed 2.5 years ago and even through my treatment and management of it in the year plus following diagnosis. However, alongside the buddy boxes, I began making other positive changes, like finding a new 9-5, which helped set-up 2017 as a year to tackle selfcare.

I read that Jane and the team at Blurt had started a campaign for selfcare that October; #365daysofselfcare. By the end of December I was in that reflective/resolute type of place and I decided to start the challenge on the first day of the year. Not much thought other than, this might be good for me, went into it. I didn’t think about how it would be a whole year (even though the name of the challenge gives that away), and I didn’t think of the real impact it might have on me, let alone on others.

Friends, loved ones, strangers alike have asked questions throughout the year, like:

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • Are you finding it easy?
  • Will you keep doing it?
  • Should I do it?

Answers have varied, but mostly;

  • Because I need to.
  • Right now? Everything.
  • Nope. Well sometimes, but more often it’s a slog.
  • I did. I’m so very glad I did.
  • If you want or need to. In fact, if you don’t think you need to then maybe do it anyway. Prove to yourself that you’ve got selfcare down. And then tell me the secret.

You don’t need to be depressed to need selfcare. Everyone needs care, love, kindness – and if you can give it to yourself then that’s the greatest gift ever. To not just survive, or slap a smile on. To recognise what you need, ask for it, get it, give it. That’s what selfcare is about. It’s not about how much you spend. It’s not always about bubble baths and facials – although sometimes, that is the care that you need. On my worst days it’s about letting myself be cared for, doing the bare minimum but the minimum that will help – which can include just getting up to brush my teeth. It’s about recognising what you need and giving yourself the permission to have that.

On the best days, that has meant making the most of everything around me, spending time with my loved ones or happily on my own. On bad days it was about listening or reasoning what I needed as a bare minimum. At my worst this year, I went through two weeks of panic attacks due to a change in medication where I didn’t listen like I needed to. I finally reasoned with myself that I couldn’t wait another two weeks for the appointment I had with my doctor. I listened because it’s not what I would have let anyone go through if I’d known it was them not me experiencing the panic.

The bad is horrific but the good is great. Selfcare has enabled me to learn and remember how life is both, how I can be both or multiple inbetweens. My lowest points don’t have to define me.

That is this biggest lesson of all that selfcare has taught me. That I can be a good writer and have depression (I know I am not alone there!), that I can be a writer and have a career in marketing too, that I can have a career in anything and have depression. Because if I care enough about myself then I can achieve whatever I damn please, in spite/because of/independent of having depression.

If you’re thinking of doing #365daysofselfcare, I’ve got a few tips.

  • Go into it open hearted and with a growth mindset. Or be willing to grow.
  • Want some knowledge and/or support from the experts? I suggest reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (vulnerability goes hand in hand with recognising you need to care more, she’ll help. I also suggest her latest book, Braving the WildernessWatch her Ted talk if you’re unsure), The Selfcare Project by Jayne Hardy (I wish I’d had this in the beginning. I’m reading it now and it’s teaching me loads and helping me recognise what I’ve achieved in this year), and lastly, if you’re a creative type then Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
  • You can do selfcare in whatever way works for you. You can do it for a year and keep a diary of it. Like me, you could post photos and comments on it on social media. You could just tweet or write statuses. I only suggest doing this on a platform which you find supportive. For me, I am glad I did it on Instagram because I’ve found people like makedaisychains (who helped so much with her #boringselfcare drawings) kay_ska, and planetprudence. But do what works for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to not post. It helps, it really does, to physically put out into the world what you’re doing, but also it’s just as fine not to. I found by around half way through that it helped me more to be offline. So that meant I did catch-up posts, because even though I wasn’t posting, I was still doing the selfcare.
  • Not sure where to start? Check out this free starter-kit.

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So, that’s it. I’m ending this year, in my pyjamas with a glass of prosecco in hand, and a smile on my face. I’ve looked at all my photos and I can’t pick my best. Each day has helped me, and I hope the next year of selfcare helps you too.

 

On being a letterer*

*no not the comic book kind. My kind of letterer. Deal.

Today I have written three letters, the first ones for a while. It takes something out of me, which I can’t always tap into or give. I hadn’t noticed when writing one or two a time, but when I wrote four one Saturday, I realised how much energy was going into each one. Just as much as a story. More maybe. They quite often become more personal that I aim for, especially knowing that there won’t be a response. I often get more philosophical than I mean to too, but somehow that can make me work out what is buzzing around my head in that unreachable space. The process is a little like meditation.

Letters

I started writing letters for From Me to You in March. I already sent irregularly timed letters to friends which is why Alison invited me along to their letter writing workshop at Waterstones Piccadilly. Working with From Me to You, I often write to complete strangers who are currently dealing with cancer. This was something I wish I had done for loved ones in the past but these letters have provided so much that I couldn’t have foreseen.

When you’re ill and dealing with the onslaught of treatment, having some escape is vital. You may not have the energy to read a whole book, or the conversations you have with friends may have a habit of coming back to your illness and the limitations it can bring. I have written about my fears around depression, and I can only relate in that way – having never had cancer, but there have also been frank conversations with loved ones who have had cancer who didn’t want to talk about themselves but wanted to hear my stories about my day, or what I was passionate about right in that moment.

So that’s what I try to share with the recipients of my letterees (yes, I just made that word up. If you can be a letterer – I know it’s not the right context, who cares – then you can be a letteree). At first I used to try to justify why I was writing. I felt selfish because I couldn’t ask and listen to what was happening with them, until I realised that was part of the point. This way, the letteree gets to access a whole other life in a moment. Occasionally From Me to You send me the name and a little info about someone who has been nominated to receive letters. I’ve been writing to one man for a little while now, and it was so rewarding to hear that what I’m sending is making his days easier and making him smile. We both have a love for Marvel so I’ve been sharing my theories about the current Netflix series and the latest films. It doesn’t have to be Plato-level philosophy!

The fact that I get something from it also feels selfish, but it’s a thought I’ve learnt to put aside. I give more than I would if I were just making a monetary donation, and instead of a sticker or a badge I get some insight back. If it’s not something that person wants to read, I can’t stop that or fix it – but there is something beautiful about the serendipity of just sending words out into the wider world. That in turn has helped me relax about the stories I write and where they will end up finding homes. See, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

If you’d like to find out more about From Me to You, and how you can become a letter writer (or letterer in my world), then visit their site.

The gift of giving (the non-book one)

Around this time of year, I’ve normally given out enough book recommendations to make me think a post about it would be a useful thing to create. This year is no exception, but this blog won’t be that one. That’ll be the next one, probably tomorrow – I know, two blogs in two days after six months of silence. Shock. Horror.

So what’s this one about?

I’ve recently taken up a BuddyBox subscription from the Blurt Foundation. It’s a little self-care based gift to myself once a month. A surprise (because I always forget when they send them) often appearing when I need it the most. I wish I’d thought I was deserving of this sooner, and I’m glad that I’m buying it for myself although I’m sure it would make an excellent gift too. This month, the box included Blurt’s new little magazine. In it, was an article about what to do with your empty buddy box. It suggested refiling it to give to Give and Makeup.

Give and Makeup is a non-profit initiative whose sole purpose is to get everyday essentials into the hands of women and children who need them the most.

We are currently running our Shoebox Campaign for the Christmas Season 2016.

To donate, please send a shoebox/small box filled with appropriate gifts to:

Give and Makeup
PO BOX 855
LONDON
W4 4AW

They can have anything – pyjamas, clothing, slippers, books, crayons, colouring books, suitable dvd’s (they will be checked), toys, sweets, chocolate, magazines, comics, dolls – pretty much anything that you know a child/young person will appreciate.

As always please ensure the following:

  • gifts are suitable for ages between newborn and 15
  • no toy weapons
  • no items of a religious nature
  • new or nearly new please
  • boxes can be packed according to one child/gender or a mixture across all ages.

I’ve been struggling with the thought of Christmas this year, more aware somehow of those who don’t have all we do – the safety of a home, the warmth from love as well as heat. It’s been a growing feeling in a year that has turned the world on its head in so many ways, not just because of the upcoming holidays. There feels like there is so little one can do to make the world a better place when I think of all the atrocities.

This article reminded me of the smallest things can have an impact on someone, if not many. Helping one is better than none. So I’ve filled my small box with as much as I can which I hope will help a teenage girl somewhere out there.

Box for Give and Makeup

If you would like to join me in this, please do. There are so many causes, but reaching out and connecting with someone could make a difference to 2017. I hope.

On time, gratitude, and new views

A year ago I let my voice be loud enough to tell the ether that my debut short story collection would be published. Deadlines were placed, my work began. Today, my work continues. The deadlines have moved, publishing schedules being as they can be, and there is now more time. Yet to be Determined will be in your hands in 2018. The irony of the title is not lost on me.

At the moment it is in my hands, but I am not alone. Thanks often comes at the end of the process, but in the steps we take for a book to live in other peoples’ lives, it’s not just down to the author. The encouragement from my friends, writing colleagues, and particularly my wife is not forgotten at any stage. Thank you, you know who you are.

I did not foresee this extra time but I am now grateful for it; the space in which to continue the journey, both for the book and myself. I’ll try not to question talking about this now, and last year, before the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. I could try to pass over it, hide. I’m not going to. I will remind myself of the gratitude for the honesty that my writing peers have been kind enough to share; and I can hope that it will helps others as well as myself.

Often the question of ‘right’ comes up – right words, right time, right way. I’m a believer in fate, but don’t always have the patience for it. I’ll keep reminding myself that it’s worth the wait. For example. This. Was. Worth. The. Wait.

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My thanks to Cathy Galvin (that blissful woman on the right who founded the Word Factory) is unending. Not least because she gave me the chance to help Neil Gaiman with his signing, and generally hang around with his amazing assistant Clara before the masterclass.

Being on the other side of the desk with this ‘literary rock star’ gave me a new view of being an author that I am yet to experience. So far there has been one person who took note of my name when I was at the Cinnamon Press fest last year and came up to me to congratulate me on my story ‘Once there was a bear’. I was so taken aback that I quickly thanked her but couldn’t think of the next thing to say. Like a normal person. Neil Gaiman, like many authors of course, has his stage presence – the rock star Neil – which slips into place and off again when he then becomes Neil the writer who still gets excited about seeing the work he is most proud of in front of him. I feel very fortunate to have been able to witness that, in someone I am so in awe of.

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So this weekend I spent time talking hard things and writing hard things. I allowed myself to crash into innocence (waking up in a bed full of cuddly toys will do that), enjoyed the sunshine on my face, learnt how to make origami stars (my new stress relief), and dipped into Neil Gaiman’s collection of non-fiction The View from the Cheap Seats. A wise woman (Caitlin Moran) said this of it – and I feel it’s the perfect sum up:

“If this book came to you during a despairing night, by dawn you would believe in ideas and hope and humans again. This is a beautiful, beautiful book.”

Another book to add to your list. If you want to read the Once Upon a Time article pictured, its available here.