Raison d’etre ~ a talisman against depression?

Raison d’etre ~ a talisman against depression?

I’m not entirely sure where to start with this post and I feel sure there will be folks yelling at the screen by half way. That is, if they’re not already getting annoyed. From the outset I’m going to be controversial and state that I am no longer remotely convinced of the truth of the chemical imbalance explanation for depression. It’s taken more than twenty years for it to enter into the public consciousness and while some of the effects it has had have been beneficial (for example the lessening of stigma by the recognition of depression as an illness and not as a moral failing or weakness) I am less than sure that the overwhelming medicalisation has been useful for everyone. The comparison is made to conditions such as diabetes where it is essential to life to take medication of some kind daily because a body has ceased to produce the required amount of insulin. Let me say now I am not intending to try and disprove the theory of chemical imbalance here. There is a lot of information out there that may be more convincing that one woman writing from her own experience. It’s almost impossible to measure levels of serotonin accurately in a living brain and more recent studies are revealing some startling conflict between the perceived effectiveness of anti-depressants and their actual effectiveness. I have often wondered if any drop in serotonin is a result of depression rather than a cause, just as anaemia may be a symptom of an underlying disease rather than being the disease itself.
My own experience of anti-depressants is a long one. If anyone was considering telling me I should try them before I diss them, I have two things to say. First, I am not dissing them at all; I am questioning them. Second, I was first put on medication for mental distress when I was thirteen. I’ve probably tried almost everything on the market. When Prozac was first offered to me, back in the early 90s, it was hailed as a wonder drug. My psychiatrist at the time put me on it with the intention that it should stabilise my state until I was well enough to begin psychotherapy. You can’t work through deep stuff if you can’t stop crying long enough to talk. That was the plan. The reality turned out differently. It took a long time before I began to show signs of improvement, despite upping the dose to maximum. I experienced side effects that were disturbing, to say the least. By the time I was feeling well enough to begin any sort of psychotherapy, we were about to move away to another county. The move triggered a massive relapse, and the process went on. I never got psychotherapy. After about eight years I came off Prozac and to my surprise, I didn’t turn into a weeping, wailing heap. I slept better, wasn’t plagued with night terrors and other things I thought down to my illness turned out to have been due to the pills.
When I first started taking Prozac (there have been other pills but I cannot recall brand names) I was in a situation where my life had been turned upside down by events I had little or no control over. I had trouble rooting myself in this new life, and my attempts to win a publishing contract were maddening. I came extremely close several times and it was only after a serious illness that had me rushed to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage that I came to terms with the fact that while I felt myself to be a writer, there was no route that would bring me to the fulfilment of that aspiration: publication. So I shut up shop and stopped writing. The sheer stress of bashing my head against the metaphorical doors was going to kill me, though I imagine not many will truly grasp quite why it was that important to me. I’m not sure I can explain adequately. Some would say that if it is writing that gives you pleasure then why is publication so important? It’s because I believe that for me writing is a calling, a vocation, a sacred duty (if that doesn’t sound too grandiose) and part of that calling is the sharing of that work with others. It has been the times when I have felt closest to hearing and obeying that call that I have felt the greatest sense of contentment and completion, a form in inner peace where I know I am on precisely the right path for me. My raison d’etre, if you like: my reason for existence.
During the years when I didn’t write, had excised it from my consciousness, I experienced such emotional pain and I peered almost daily into the void. There were times when if I could have just said, “Let me die now,” I would have done. I did some retraining in an area of holistic healing and the void eased a little. I was good at what I did but the work never took off. Every client was hard won and cherished, and yet there were always too few to become truly a focus for my energies. Looking back I can see that my work in healing has been a part of that calling, that part of the reason I am here is to be a channel for healing.
When another move meant my little healing practise had to shut (new house was too small to offer a designated practise room and I had lost heart. You can only start again so many times) I was in limbo again. I found myself teaching English to students and at first the novelty and the busy-ness drove the darkness away. I was a good teacher. My students sometimes still tell me I’ve been the best teacher they ever had but I wasn’t exclusively teaching them English. I can see now that all the time I was trying to show my students that side of existence that is not visible to the casual glance. Some of them got it; most did not. But it was important to me to try.
When I began blogging in February 2009, it was as if a puzzle piece had fallen into place. At last I had a voice. I could share my thoughts. Self publishing had been around for a long time, but disguised as vanity publishing it never appealed. The opportunity to publish at little or no actual monetary cost, and reach potentially millions of readers, and bypass the stern watchdogs of the old publishing houses was something eagerly awaited by thousands of writers. Yet it was something that took me by surprise. The success I have had so far has been modest(compared to the huge names) but for a writer of vaguely literary works that don’t easily slot into neat genres, I know I’ve done well. I’ve been in various best-seller charts on Amazon, making the top ten in several a good few times.
It’s not been the having of best-selling books that has been the most powerful antidote to depression, though. It’s been the sense that I am achieving my raison d’etre, bit by bit, book by book, reader by reader. It’s been knowing I am on the right path for me at this moment. I’m not denying I have bad days. Bad weeks and months even. At the moment I don’t know how much of that was down to the tumour that was cut out of me a month ago, or due to maddeningly erratic hormones. As my body starts to establish homeostasis and I get a feel for what is illusory and ephemeral, I know that my depression will return. It’s inevitable. Yet the belief in my calling is something that has every time been at the root of my recovery. The belief that I have something of value to offer the world and that what I offer is not simply words on a page. Hemingway once said that writing was easy: you just sit at the typewriter and bleed. He was right, too. The best writing comes from deep inside.
I’m not saying what so many New Age gurus have blathered on about (“Find what you love doing & the rest will fall into place!” “Follow your bliss!”) but there is an element of truth. Each of us have things we are called to do. Only you can determine what they are, and make them your Pole Star, your talisman against the darkness of depression.

(If you go to my Facebook author page here, you”l find details of the cyber party on May 1st to celebrate the release of Square Peg)

Do Not Wash My Feet ~ a poem for Maundy Thursday

Do Not Wash My Feet

I would ask you:
Do not wash my feet
For I have not walked
A thousand miles in dusty lanes
that coat sandalled feet in grime,
Nor yet barefoot on the pilgrim way
Wincing at every step away from grass.
My feet have not carried me through
The smoke and filth of battle,
Nor have I stood amid the wives
Who wait to see their men return.
I would ask you:
Wash my soul instead,
For though I have been spared
The trials of life
That others suffer,
Mine have left their soil
Upon my soul as well.

Piracy, pricing and the pernicious effects of victim-less crimes

Piracy, pricing and the pernicious effects of victim-less crimes

Piracy is not Johnny Depp running around in kohl and dreadlocks, pretending to be Jack Sparrow. Piracy is a terrifying reality on the seas to this day but that’s not the type of piracy I’m wanting to raise awareness of. The type of piracy I mean is a so-called victim-less crime.
Piracy in the creative industry is the stealing of content without the consent of the creator. Every DVD starts with an anti-piracy notice; most you cannot even fast forward through. But I’ve heard people say it’s not a crime and that an artist ought to be flattered that someone has thought their content worthy of lifting. I suspect that most reading this will be on the side of the angels and I may be ranting simply to relieve my feelings. I don’t know if any of my work has been pirated; I don’t want to look, really. Cease and desist notices seem to have limited effects and to be honest, they’re a hydra – a many-headed beast that grows ever more heads each time one is cut off. It’s the mentality that sends people to pirate sites that needs addressing as much as anything; the implementation of DRM has done nothing to reduce piracy and much to inconvenience genuine users.
I had a friend who had in the past committed what he considered victim-less crimes of eating at expensive restaurants and then sauntering off without paying. The argument was that it was something that restaurants factored into their costs and it was therefore not really a problem. The same friend also used to steal things like pillows from hotels, again using the argument that such losses were covered by insurance, and that didn’t everyone do it? Excuse me while I bang my head on a brick wall for a while in frustration. Stupid and immoral doesn’t even cover the half of it!
Shops inevitably lose a significant proportion of their good via shop-lifting and the losses are adjusted by raising the prices of the goods. Smaller shops go out of business as a result of the rise in insurance premiums, the cost of replacing stolen goods and because of the sheer misery of being robbed constantly. It’s easy to forget that shops are not always run by face-less business moguls but actual human beings with feelings.
It’s the same for books. Even when it’s a big name author who is being pirated, they lose out. For independent authors, it’s even more striking. You might argue that writers write for the love of it and not for money, but you know what? It’s possible we do it for both. We all have bills to pay. I’ve seen the argument that books are priced so high that people cannot afford to buy them. Unlike food, books are not an actual necessity of life, though life without books would be dull and grim. Books are always freely available, either via libraries (you can actually request particular books to be ordered from your library) or from the vast array of books that are no longer subject to copyright and have been made available by such fabulous initiatives as the Gutenberg project. These are the only free books I get now, ones by authors who have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
If it is price that puts people off buying a book, then I do not understand why quite so many bought, for example, J.K Rowling’s newest offerings when they were initially almost £12 for the e-book version. I know she has millions of fans, but honestly, £12 for an e-book? That’s prohibitively expensive. I’m still looking on the shelves of second-hand bookshops for copies of her detective novel. I appreciate that there’s few who will take a punt on an unknown author if the price tag is above a certain amount but it’s depressing to see that price is trotted out as a reason for not even trying. With Kindle, you get a decent chunk of sample for free to see if you like the style. I’ve already written about why I think free is a problem but there are a few things I would like to suggest in relation to free books. If you pick up a free book, resolve to actually read it. I’ve stopped getting free books for this reason; they are sitting on my Kindle, unread. The psychology of this is complex but basically paying for something gives it value and time is our most valuable commodity. If a book is free and is the first in a series, consider paying for the next instalment if you enjoyed the free book. Consider writing a review for free books; it’s one of the reasons authors make a book free, in the hope that reviews may come. Independent authors often have zero budget for advertising and reviews can be very helpful.
I said earlier than while writers write for pleasure, being paid for it is important. There comes a point when many authors actually stop putting books out, because the sense of futility can become overwhelming. I’ve heard of authors being messaged by people asking to be informed when the next book is going to be free. I cannot imagine anything more inducing of despair than such a message. It says, I like your books but you won’t catch me paying for them. There are shelves on Goodreads that in essence say the same: books I want when they are up for free (or so I am told. I don’t and won’t use Goodreads because it scares me).
One other thing. Pirate sites for books often provide books that are poorly formatted, incomplete and can be laden with viruses. Karma’s only a bitch if you are.

The Bet at a reduced price; time limited offer!

For a limited time only, The Bet will be available at 99p only. The price goes up first to £1.99 and then back to the original (and very reasonable price) of £2.94.

I’ve not used the Countdown programme before so this is very much an experiment. Please pass this offer on if you can, buy the book, tweet and share.


A Tale of Seeds


A tale of seeds

There was once a small collective of gardeners who banded together to buy their equipment and supplies. Tools and compost, fertilizer and weed killer all come cheaper if you buy in bulk so the four friends would split the costs and share the benefits.
One spring, as a free bonus with their order, their usual seed company offered a mystery gift. When it arrived they were eager to see what they had been sent. The gift came in a small cardboard box which, when opened proved to contain four small items. Each was about an inch long, dark brown and slightly wrinkled looking.
“They must be seeds of some kind,” said the oldest friend, turning them over in his hand. “Is there any information with them?”
A note fell out of the box, explaining that the seeds were part of a consignment sent to the seed company from an explorer who worked in far off places, collecting new plants and sending back their seeds. It seemed that the original label of the last batch had become detached from the parcel and the seed company did not know precisely what the seeds were for. “Grow them and see!” said the note. “And send us your pictures when you get them to bloom!”
“That’s no good,” said the second oldest friend. “How can we grow something if we don’t know what it is? What’s the point of that? I only have a small garden. I have to be careful of what I grow in case it’s too big for me.”
“And how can we grow it if we don’t know what it is?” said the third oldest. “Different seeds need different conditions. Some need to be frozen for two years before they grow. I’m not happy. Some free gift!”
The youngest said nothing but held the seed in her hand, and ran her fingers over it, stroking the ridged surface and trying to sense the life within.
In the end they agreed they would each take a single seed and nothing more was said.
The oldest friend took his seed home and spent many hours searching the internet to see if he could find out what it was and how best to grow it. He contacted all manner of experts before deciding that the seed must be new to science. He took many photos of it and sent it to a professor of ethno-botany at a university to study. The professor looked at it briefly, before writing back to say he didn’t know either but the letter and the seed got lost in the post.

The second oldest friend looked at the seed with suspicion. It looked like a nut so it would surely grown into a tree, far too huge for his little garden. Even planting it in a pot would take up far too much room and anyway, what use would it be? It wasn’t as if he was going to be able to eat the fruit from it; it would take many years before it grew big enough to fruit. He put the seed in an envelope and put it into the back of a drawer and forgot about it.
The third oldest took it home and after much thought, planted it in a nice terracotta pot and watered it, giving it a label that simply read ? Each week she came back and checked the moisture in the soil. After six weeks, she scraped the compost back to see if anything had changed. The seed remained hard and unchanged. She covered it over and watered it again. Every few weeks she pushed back the soil to see if the seed had begun to germinate. Eventually the seed began to crack and open and the thick tap root delved down into the compost, seeking purchase. “It looks like a bean plant,” she said, disappointed, but fetched sticks for it to climb up. When the first leaves began to appear, she changed her mind for there were no tendrils that indicated a climber. When it got to six inches high, she thought it must be a begonia and pinched out the growing tip to keep it nice and bushy. The plant withered and shrivelled and eventually died.

The youngest took the seed home and planted it in a pot, watered it and left it alone, whispering that small prayer every gardener has uttered, “Bless you, now GROW!”. Returning only to make sure the pot was moist enough, one day she saw that the seed had burst into a shoot, verdant and vital but still unrecognisable. She kept watering it, and every time the plant got too big for its pot, she moved it to a bigger one. With steady doses of sunshine and showers, the plant grew and grew until one day, a few years after it had been planted, it began to bloom.
Still no one knew what it was yet except the youngest gardener. Visitors to her garden would ask her what it was and she told them with a proud smile.
“It’s beautiful, that’s what it is, and it’s itself. That’s enough for me,” she’d say.