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Life can be better

There’s been a lot of difficult stuff happening, not just recently, but seeming to build like a snowball rolling downhill for the past few years. In no particular order, the past few years have been punctuated with deaths, horrible world events, personal lows (mentally and physically), misunderstandings and communication failures, professional doubts, anxiety, and expenses. All this is enough to stomp even the most optimistic unicorn’s heart into a pile of bloodied glitter and broken spirit.

But.

Life can be better.

Burying the positive things that have happened beneath the dark shadows of the negative stuff is too easy. Almost seductive. Like wandering through a dense forest, it can be difficult to focus on the light struggling to part the trees or that the path has to go through a terrible bog before the clearing. I have spent the better part of the last few years in the worst mental and physical health of my life (except for that pesky cancer thing a bunch of years ago), and lately – through last winter to now – things have felt so very heavy. So heavy that suicidal thoughts have become too frequent, desire for self-harm difficult to ignore. Retreat. Hide.

But.

Life can be better.

I have a good life, in general. I live in a beautiful place. I make enough money to survive (not on my own yet, but as an equal partner). I make art for a living and it is all I’ve ever wanted to do my whole life. I wake up every day near someone who loves me. I just had a delightful, fifteen minute chat with a delivery person in the sunshine. I have some really great stuff I aim to achieve in the very near future (professionally and personally). I have friends. I have a car that keeps running. I have exactly five of ten nails without chips in the polish. I just petted a cat.

So life can be better, but the focus has to be on the better, not the unfortunate. I struggle a lot in this body of mine – my brain isn’t wired to behave, my body is not efficient – but I keep going. I am, perhaps annoyingly so, optimistic and positive. Even now, as I sit here typing this and with several fresh and painful days of tears and depression behind me, I am looking for that light between the treetops.

I am doing the best I can.

Be kind. Be good to each other. Take time to talk. Take time to rest.

Keep going.

Processing the strangest week of my life


What a week. It’s not everyday someone can say they were quoted in a newspaper, let alone pretty much all of them and interviewed for most of the major television stations in the UK.
I have that unsettling – and frankly, unwanted – claim to fame.

Here’s the story, and you might want to get a cup of tea because it’s a long one.

Something I, and several other locals, learned this week is that your seemingly local village appreciation page on Facebook has a wide variety of members, and in our case one is with the BBC. We found that out this week when, on Sunday the 19th of August 2018 I posted an opinion about some new beach signs. Here’s a screen grab of it:

And it went nuts from there… There’s no way this should’ve become news. But, here in the UK, we have a summer holiday season where people are stressed about their kids and cramming in a vacation that will hopefully have good weather and won’t make them broke, the government is on holiday (ridiculous, considering Brexit is looming) and the news media is desperate for UK-interest stories. This is “silly season” and so my opinion about signs became national news.

Sort of.

What started as a discussion on signs (number, size, language, and placement) became a watered down national debate on whether a person can/should/shouldn’t take a stone from a beach. You can imagine how that has played out. Heck, just do a Google News search for some keywords, and read the comments in any of the papers. Twitter has some pretty shouty opinions on this too. And it all stems back to a story within the story told by the parish clerk, Barry Jordan, about a holidaymaker who was seen stuffing the boot of their car with bags of stones from our beach. The individual was tracked down and threatened with a £1000 fine if the stones were not returned. They apparently drove a significant distance to avoid the fine. This angle is far more interesting than my comment on the ugly proliferation of signs, so the media latched onto it like fire on a dry field.

The first interview I did was for The Guardian newspaper. They phoned, I jabbered nervously about the signs, they asked about the stones. They asked for photos. I was completely blown away that this was making news, but the BBC had already put a story online and so the fire was started. The next few days are a blur of ringing phones, emails, interviews, and finally television appearances. All over stones, and some minor mentions of the signs, which, by the 20th (24 hours after my initial Facebook post) had been halved in number as the parish council listened to the village feedback.

I do not regret my initial Facebook post on the matter, and although I too believe in preserving our beach, I have a little softer approach on the topic of a stone or two. Beach combing is a pastime for many and I don’t personally believe the removal of one stone will cause major ecological upset, but I also know that removing one stone times thousands of visitors can add up. I do weekly beach cleans, so if I see someone loading up a rucksack or pram, I do stop to talk to them about the protection act. I’ve never been shouted at or challenged, and people seem genuinely unaware it’s illegal to take stones. For that reason, signs are necessary, of course. But, given that my first job out of design school was at a sign company, I know that they could’ve been better designed and implemented. But none of that matters now as the original point of the story has been lost to people all over the country either shouting about their god-given right to pocket rocks, or defending the earth and its every pebble, or condemning the governing bodies of Britain for telling them what to do and wasting money chasing pebble pinchers. A huge, national argument has sprung up because my village had the nerve to ask for its stones back, and I don’t even disagree with them doing so.

So, I’ve been filmed for ITV, BBC, and then had a live, primetime interview via FaceTime with Sky News. That was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. I spoke to a black screen, only hearing the story before my segment and then the questions from Kay Burley. I had no prep, no idea what they’d ask, and my experience with live tv started there. Having no visual feedback – no facial expressions of the presenter to read – was hugely disconcerting. I tripped over my final words. My friends snapped photos of me on their tvs and said I did great. I’ve watched the ITV and BBC segments. I did my best, but especially with edited segments, the media will still present the story in the way that they think will get the most views and people talking. It has never been about getting my side of the story right.

Thursday arrived and my final appearance was a photo with Barry on the beach for the Bude & Stratton paper. The reporter is someone who has covered our beach clean activities and keen to make sure the story is presented properly. Too little too late, perhaps, and being a local paper is unlikely to make much of a splash, but I am grateful. After the photo was taken around noon, I had a coffee by myself, thought about everything, went home and cried.

I didn’t do much after that because as a person with mental health issues including anxiety, I was absolutely drained. I pottered around the house a little, played video games, cried more, and went to bed. I hadn’t cried all week because I didn’t know if someone would want my photo or me on tv and I couldn’t risk puffy eyes and terrible sinuses. I had a week of crying to catch up on.

Friday arrived and I stayed in bed for most of it. Then I did some yoga. I had my regular video catch up chat with Aaron in Wisconsin, and then went to bed. Today, I’m processing the week in words and preparing to lay low and get back to my version of a normal life.

So why didn’t I say no to any of the interviews? It’s easy to sit back and say “you didn’t have to do any of that” and in a way you are right. But here’s the thing: it didn’t happen to you and it’s impossible to understand the strange current you get swept into when it does. Also, I believe in seeing things through and to not at least try to present the factual basis of the story would have been a failure on my part. I put an opinion out there, it got picked up and twisted, and I’m not a person who backs down, even at the risk of my own mental health. It’s how I’m wired, and so I see things through.

And now, I’m I week behind in my work, regaining my strength after a week I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and trying to get back to a normal life. Perhaps the next time I am in the papers and on tv it will be for my art or some amazing beach clean activity. I do hope so.

Thank you for reading, and special thanks to the people of my village for being amazingly supportive. You’re all pretty wonderful. x

Social media, my brain, my life and the one I want

I’m not sure where is a good place to start with this, so I’ll thought dump with a list.

  • Blog all thoughts on my own site, rather than be lazy and post to Facebook (where the reaction is fairly instant but mostly meaningless).
  • If it’s a short thought, don’t even tweet it. I don’t need to get that reaction hit from a fleeting thought. Instead, tell Pete. His reaction means a lot more and he is a human right here, right now.
  • Instagram is still useful, but can be utilised better. I’ve already slowed down on my posting there, and it is easy enough to have those photos post to Facebook at the same time if I want them to.  Take photos for me, not for others or for validation through the ‘likes’ of – mostly – strangers. I used to use Flickr a lot. It was my Instagram before Instagram was ever a thing. Do I need Flickr? Probably not. It’s still out there, but largely irrelevant to my life now. Unsure about its worth to me.
  • I have never been in as much mental health distress as I have been over the last eight years. This is down to several factors: mom died (see my blog category: Letters to Mom for more on that), my marriage broke down, and my dependence on social media to fill the voids left by both losses increased exponentially. I began needing the feedback of others where the interaction with my husband was lacking and missing through losing mom. This unhealthy series of events has made me the most unhappy, unstable, self-harming,  and suicidal of my life.
  • My career as an artist is building in a direction that offers financial stability but it’s like in a video game where you can have the benefits of a certain mod but it will subtract from something else, like your health or shield. I’m teaching art but at the detriment of my creating it. I can pay my bills every month but my passion is suffering for it. My mental health has not allowed me to find balance due to anxiety, fear, guilt, and depression.

This is all stuff that I couldn’t afford the mental energy to structure into a proper blog post, but all things that needed saying. So where does that leave me… where does that leave us?

I’m making changes, starting today.
I’m not going as far as this guy has with deleting his social media accounts (although I totally respect and admire why he has) but I am stripping back my involvement on social media. I will still push blog posts and some Instagram photos up to Facebook and Twitter, but that is largely an automated process that requires no effort from me.

What is changing is my “go-to” habit. I don’t need to “go-to” Facebook for anything other than to respond to a private message (which, by the way, just ask me for my phone number so we can text instead of going through Messenger, thanks*), or to check in on my business page (which sees little traffic and engagement anyway, so it’s mostly just an exercise in presence rather than a beneficial ingredient in my career success).

Notice I mentioned my blog. Here’s the thing: I was once a prolific blogger. Nearly every day for years. Heck, my blogging has seen me invited to tech events, had me give a talk at a TED-style event, and I’ve reviewed many products and services. My little corner of the internet was once a hive of activity and for the last eight years has been little more than on life support. That is changing. For real, this time. Why now? Why not before?

Because mental health and addiction are fuckers to deal with.
I have had poor(er**) mental health due to a reliance (that’s the addiction) to a flimsy connection with others, however fleeting they might be. (Mmm, tasty, tasty dopamine.)
I felt huge loss in the last eight years and filled it with the instant hits of ‘likes’ and – sometimes volatile – conversation on Facebook. This reliance on Facebook – which I once vocally loathed – to became my family where my genuine family [mom, husband] once stood created a merry-go-round from which it was impossible to jump. It became worth the anxiety and depression because I could blurt a Facebook post about it and get the instant virtual hugs and platitudes from ‘friends’ around the world. Feeling low? Facebook will put you in touch with hundreds of acquaintances who will comfort you. That’s the cycle. That’s a problem. Rinse and repeat. Cry and post and cry…

So, I’ve been doing some thinking over the last couple of weeks. I am currently in a depression and anxiety low, but oddly enough, this time I’m seeing some clarity in it all. There are minor differences in the circumstances of this particular depression/anxiety low that I won’t get into, but thankfully there is enough of an ingredient difference to allow me to think this through, write it, and mean it.

You likely won’t even notice the subtle changes to my online behaviour on social media. You’ll still see photos of cats, the sea, and pretty flowers on my timeline. You’ll still see art updates on my business Facebook page. What you won’t see are the off the cuff, slice of life posts that mean nothing to anyone in the big picture of existence. I’ll be texting those things to friends or popping my head into Pete’s office to tell him. Both are far better investments.

And I probably won’t be reading your Facebook posts or comments, but it’s not because I don’t care- it’s because I can’t. I cannot afford the mental drain of keeping up with hundreds of ‘daily life minutia’ posts. None of us needs that kind of mental clutter. Sorry not sorry.

The tl;dr…

I spent years needing/craving/seeking connection when my two most important connections were lost. Now, I know that I actually lost a third connection in it all- the connection to myself.
Time to get that back, so I’m changing the way I do my online time and activities. You probably won’t even notice. And I’m ok with that because I will.

x

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*If you tag me in stuff on Facebook, don’t expect me to see it. I’m not looking at that kind of stuff anymore; it’s distracting. Just text me or email me if it matters that much.

**Not like I think changing my relationship with social media is gonna fix my brain, because it won’t, but it will likely make my struggles much more bearable. I’m counting on it.