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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s crippling fear and anxiety when it comes to my writing. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the particular self-talk, procrastination and self-sabotage techniques that go into holding oneself back from being a writer. Here is a list I have made, in case you too would like to prevent yourself from achieving any kind of success.

1.- You just don’t have the time. Sure, there’s time to browse Pinterest for 45 minutes and faff around putting your hair in weird styles, but ultimately after you’ve spent half the day urgently colour-coding your wardrobe, there’s no real time to settle in at the computer and gets some words down. Damn.

2.- You’re just not feeling it right now. You need a zone, you know? Some kind of centre has to be achieved. You need the right playlist. Everything has been kind of hectic and you’re feeling overwhelmed and maybe after a bubble bath and eight double choc chip cookies oh but now you’re tired and it’s late so tomorrow.

3.- You don’t have any ideas at the moment. I mean, never mind that writing is, you know, a job and something you have to work at. Never mind that maybe you could sit down and brainstorm some article ideas or do a blog post or dredge up one of those 352 unfinished fiction pieces you have sitting on your hard drive. Never mind any of that. You’re drawing a blank. Better watch some telly.

4.- There are so many writers that are better than you. And they seem to have it covered. I mean, why bother pitching to the publications where some of the people you respect the most are regularly published? You’re not nearly as good as they are, and to even ask for the comparison is embarrassing. Better not to pitch to these publications because they’ll just laugh at you.

5.- Pitching is hard. It’s like, regular work. You have to do it often and think hard on your ideas and accept rejection. You have to keep crafting ideas and even if your ideas are good, people STILL might say no because it’s just not what they’re looking for right now. You have to keep cold calling and cold calling with your work, trying to convince some editor that your work is worth paying for. Doesn’t that sound awful? That sounds awful. Let’s not do that.

6.- Writing has to happen around the rest of your life. So even if you manage to drag yourself off Pinterest for five minutes by switching off your internet connection and getting someone to hide the router, other stuff keeps getting in the way. The kids still expect to eat. The house is a shambles. You have doctor’s appointments and family visits and other work to do. Really, there’s a lot of reasons not to throw yourself at the writing thing, and the rest of your life is the main one. Time and tide wait for no writer. Dear lord somebody has to vacuum the living room and the two year old insists he doesn’t know how.

7.- Even if you try your hardest, you might not succeed. Which is huge really – you could put SO much time and effort into pitching and writing and submitting, and nothing could come of it. That would suck so hard. Imagine how horribly disappointing that would feel? Better not to try. Maybe just nibble at the edges, look at some publications that are accepting submission, think vaguely that you should write something, and then forget about it. Then you can kind of convince yourself you would have gotten around to it eventually.

8.- Don’t go to writing events where you might engage or learn something because that will just make you feel worse. In fact, studiously avoid any event where you know more than one other writer will be attending. If there’s an event where another known writer is attending and that writer is successful, fake a sickie. Tell them your grandmother died. You really don’t want to be anywhere you might feel any sort of guilty inspiration to get some work done. Other writers, who are actively writing, will just make you feel bad about yourself. Avoid, avoid.

9.- It’s not really a job, so you don’t have to work at it. Writing is just a thing you’ve always done when you had the time, but never what you’ve earned your money from, so why start now? You probably don’t deserve any money for what you do anyway – you’re not very good and other people are better. Don’t work at it. Don’t try to better yourself. Don’t ask to be paid. Find another office job and put this idea away.

10.- Just think about it tomorrow. Do the work tomorrow. Brainstorm tomorrow. Send something off to an editor tomorrow. There’s always something else to do right now, something else that needs your attention, something to distract you. Tomorrow. You’ll get to it tomorrow.

Promise.

Pitchthis

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I’ve been thinking a lot about mental illness and creativity. Specifically, my own. I have been uncommonly balanced for four years now – those who know me as friends and intimates now would perhaps not recognise who I was before. Though I’ve had periods of reactive depression, I’ve never reached the terrible depths of despair that used to be my default.

I also, during those times, was at my most creatively prolific.

I wrote during the periods when I was despairing, when I felt trapped and hopeless. I wrote because I hurt, and if I could just get it out of me, like bleeding a bad humour, then perhaps I would feel better. Perhaps the world would not seem so bleak. I wrote when I was suicidal, when I was suffocating with anxiety, I wrote when I felt helpless and hopeless and when I was having existential crisises about god and identity and the self. I wrote because I wanted other people to feel what I felt, to feel that sharp turn of emotional agony, like a knife in the belly, twisted hard.

If I examine my work from that period, it’s no surprise that I wrote almost exclusively about women whose power was taken from them, and their subsequent deaths.

Writing as creative catharsis became my norm, so when I balanced out after finally finding the right medication combination, I struggled, for years, to write again. I mean, if you’re not borderline suicidal and obsessed with the concept that your work will only gain value posthumously, what’s to write about?

The last major play I wrote before the depression lifted is about loss of hope. About fractured minds, delusions, the shifting nature of memory, but really, about the loss of hope. Because that’s where I was when I wrote it. After ten years of seeing doctors and other medical practitioners, after ten years of therapy and bouncing from drug to drug, I was losing hope. Had lost hope. It had been slowly torn from me, like stitches that rip thread by thread. All the drugs, while making minor improvements, still failed to stabilise me and often came with intolerable side effects.

There were times I hallucinated, or spiraled into mania, or felt cripplingly exhausted and unable to move, as a direct result of the drugs that were supposed to improve my mood. And every time I changed drugs, I faced the prospect that washing out from one drug before starting another would leave a small window when I was at my most vulnerable, when I would try to kill myself.

Did. Did try to kill myself.

I wrote all that out, let it fall onto the page in an attempt to be done with it.

Part of maintaining my mental health now is recognising who I was then, both as a writer and as a person with a debilitating mental illness. Though I’ve been well for several years, I will never really consider myself cured. I still take the drugs, after all. I call it a remission. I am a recovering depressive. Mental illness controlled and shaped me as an adolescent and young adult, moulded me and guided my steps in life. I am who I am because I grew up trying to manage an illness that refuses to be neatly boxed and put to one side. It hurt me. It hurts me to remember it, to know that without the right medication and strength of several years of mental wellbeing, I could be that person again.

That person who wrote all her pain on a page and sent it out into the world, away.

Now I think I write from a place of strength, not illness. It’s taken me a long time to start writing again, as though recovering from mental illness also meant putting away its crutches. And I missed writing, but I missed it like cigarettes. Because it came from an unhealthy place for the longest time.

A few days ago I put my fingers to the keys and wrote a piece of flash fiction for a competition. I don’t care if it’s never seen again – the important part was I wrote something, and it didn’t feel like bleeding. It didn’t feel like an uncontrolled gush of emotion, it felt like a regulated, modulated trickle. It felt like letting out a memory rather than drawing on something entirely present.

Afterwards I did not feel stunned and empty, like I used to. I felt calm. In control. Balanced.

I learned to be a creative person as a way of coping with mental illness. Now I find I can still be a creative person, and I don’t have to be sick or sad or suicidal to do it.

Good.

forevermore

 

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I live with a constant and crippling fear of failure. I live with it every day. It tells me things, creeps up on me in the night and curls around me like a sleeping cat. Not good enough, it says. Never good enough. Might as well stop trying.

It is for this reason that I often don’t write when the mood strikes, or inspiration hits. It’s the reason I don’t send my short stories off to competitions, why I don’t pitch to magazines, send my plays for assessment or ask other writers to look at my work. It cuts me off, shuts me down and silence. My fear. My self-sabotage.

Better not to try than try and fail. Better never to submit my work than submit it and face rejection. Hurts less. Costs me less. This way I still keep my pride and dignity.

All of these thoughts, that have wound up around me and strangled my ambition for a lifetime, they are tangled up with depression and anxiety and low self-esteem. The steel blade piercing my resolve.

I have worked and studied almost half my life to be a writer, and yet I hold the inherent belief that I am not good enough. Not compared to other writers whose work I read and admire. I am not eloquent enough to be printable, and not determined enough to be successful.

Better not to try than try and fail.

Better not to try.

The horrible little voice in my head that talks in the background, that provides a constant litany of reasons why am no good, it uses my voice. It sounds like me, works from my vocabulary and with my turn of phrase. Trust your inner voice, right? My inner voice tells me, often, that I am worthless as a writer. That I have wasted my life doing this. That I will never amount to anything, be a success, be noticed or published or respected or heard; that to keep going is pointless, to procrastinate is best. Better not to try, not ever, better to save face rather than deal with assured dismissal and be shattered.

I see other people who are productive and determined, inspired and adaptable, who work on and on while overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and that little voice simply says, you could never do that. You are not that person. You are not that motivated. You are not capable or competent.

Better not to try.

I’m not writing this as a cry for help, or to be told what I am or am not. I’m writing it to exorcise a demon. To expose this terrible doubt that lives inside of me, masquerades as the best advice I could give myself. Because I don’t want to live like this, crippled by an inferiority complex that targets my dreams.

I’ve decided. This is worse, living like this. Worse than rejection, worse than the possibility of failure, worse than loss of pride and dignity.

Better now, I think, to try.

 

writingonthewall

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I’ve learned, after 10+ years of dealing with depression, that preventative measures can make a huge difference when it comes to mental health. This is generally called self-care, and I have certain self-care measures I start pulling out whenever I feel my mood is fragile, like now. Self-care can sometimes mean maintaining rather than declining, I’ve found. I want to go into detail on more of these in future posts, but here’s just one or two to start with.

Maintaining a routine. This one is so important for me, or I drift. I am more than capable of doing nothing for days on end while the chores pile up around me and I get nothing done. My mood can spiral because of the sheer nothingness of my days. With kids, maintaining a routine happens without a lot of effort from me – my days are defined by meals and naps anyway, so I put the effort in to keeping up regular activities like play dates, grocery shopping and outings. I try to keep active when the kids are sleeping and I’m not having a sleep myself.

Keep order in my environment. For me, this involves running the dishwasher once a day, trying to vacuum at least once a week, staying on top of the laundry. A cluttered environment clouds my mind, and it’s hard to stay positive and active when I’m feeling overwhelmed by mess. I’ve taken this a step further, and recently cleared the clutter out of our bedroom and set up a little dressing area for myself, with my jewellery and hair stuff organised next to the mirror. It’s a small space of calm that I focus on keeping tidy, so my bedroom feels like a positive space rather than just one more room that’s stressful for me to be in. No kids’ stuff allowed. 

My little corner of neatness.


Create small goals. Making small, attainable goals can be incredibly helpful for me. Rather than a big, looming five-year-plan type deal that seems both far away and unreachable, I like to create small tasks for myself, or break bigger projects down into smaller tasks. For example, I’ve been sewing a lined swaddling pouch for the baby – this is a project that doesn’t take forever, I enjoy and can work on in small bursts. Tidying all the clutter out of the bedroom was a goal I banged out in an evening, and part of our larger project of getting the house organised. I century organised all my sewing and craft gear, which I’ve been meaning to do forever. Small goals don’t overwhelm, and yet give a sense of pride and satisfaction when they’re completed, which is helpful to my mental health.

 

This isn’t prescriptive by any means, just some things I’ve found have worked to keep my mental health on an even keel. Sometimes depression happens no matter what, but sometimes I can hold it off by being careful, sticking to habits that I know keep me focused and calm. It’s when I start to drift into overwhelming stress and anxiety that my mood spirals very fast. Right now, because I’m aware that I’ve been feeling down and that can easily lead to depression, I’m pulling out all the self-care stops. 

What are your techniques for self-care?

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I have been finding it very hard to write as I am feeling very dark. I would not call it Post Natal Depression as yet… More that I have felt the edges of things I cannot control crowding into me. Maybe I can control them, and simply feel I cannot.

I feel immense responsibility towards my family – the end of my paid maternity leave looms and that means finding a replacement income. I don’t want to go into part time work just yet, it would mean childcare for two children, which is hardly feasible, and most likely the end of breastfeeding Morgan. I hate expressing milk, it’s time consuming and painful and anyway, what job would be flexible enough to allow me an hour or so each day to pump? I want to be home, with the kids. I need to consider my skills, the possibility of selling my writing and the likelihood I would regularly have the time to write.

I feel angry at a society that sets mothers up to fail – for some like me it is needing income yet finding returning to would come with too many financial penalties. For others it is the necessity of returning to work when they would rather stay home. There has been a lot of rhetoric lately about careers and choice, and I think choice in the workforce is a luxury. I am angry that I spent so many years sick, and thus my capacity to earn is greatly reduced because of interrupted employment and education. I am frustrated that the things I truly want to do don’t result in a paying career.

I am angry that society doesn’t value what I do as a mother, staying home with my two boys. Angry that I sit here, feeling both trapped and worried, doing mental sums in my head but mostly thinking about how I would love to work a day for two, probably, but realistically it needs to be all or nothing, full time work or staying home. For years, possibly.

I love em, but years? Years as a stay at home mother? Alex and I talk about our goal, which is f or both of us to work part time. But I don’t know how to make that happen. Isn’t that the dream, though? To do something you love, just enough so that it doesn’t bore you to tears?

Sometimes I feel like family is pressure, to do better, be better, succeed more, and I must have spent all that time leading up to children just faffing around and time wasting (which isn’t true), and not nearly enough time focusing on my writing (probably true), and now I feel a suffocating need to succeed at something, anything, to earn something for my words (or what else have I spent all these years working towards?) and then of course comes the crippling anxiety…

I look into my boys’ faces and feel I am failing them as a mother.

Which is normal, I guess. 

 

 

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The day we brought Morgan home from the hospital, our 2 year old, Sebastian, was over-tired and having a bit of a sugar crash. He slept in the car and woke when we pulled into the driveway – and immediately started crying and shouting ‘no no no no no’ when he realised the baby had come home with us. We’d tried to do our best to explain to him in advance that the baby was coming to live with us, but he didn’t really understand, I think, until that moment.

Since then, Sebastian has gotten better, although initially he was obviously resentful that I nursed the baby so often and wasn’t available for cuddles. He sometimes climbs into the bouncinette with a dummy he’s appropriated, playing baby. He lets the dummy fall out of his mouth and pretends to cry, mimicking Morgan, and I have to put the dummy back in his mouth and talk to him as though he’s a baby. I think this is a pretty healthy expression of the jealousy he feels over all the attention the baby gets – sometimes he needs to be the ‘baby’ again, to have my focus and attention in this way.

Sebastian’s grandparents have also been invaluable – Sebastian spends special solo time with both Alex’s mother and my parents, staying over night and having all of their attention. I’m lucky to have such help! 

Sometimes Sebastian is very affectionate with Morgan, to the point of being far too boisterous. I have to watch them together or Sebastian will try giving Morgan his dummy, or share his food with him, or touch the top of his still-soft head. Sometimes he’s still resentful, telling me to put the baby down or stop feeding him, because he wants my attention. But Sebastian is young enough that as time passes, he forgets the time before, when there was no baby and he was the centre of our universe. 

Sometimes I feel incredible guilt, for having a second child and taking away the special one-on-one, mother-son relationship we used to have. But then I think about the future, and how lovely it will be to have two boys so close in age, who will grow up together, play together and learn together. Morgan is just starting to smile, and I think Sebastian will start to find his brother a lot more interesting when they can interact.

Driving in the car yesterday, Sebastian pointed something out to Morgan, which made my heart warm. There’s a bond between siblings, and here I see the beginnings.

Sibling rivalry

My darling boys


 

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On the 86 tram in Northcote, I remember I used to live just near here. A few streets away in a little semi-detached unit with a friend. That supermarket was my supermarket. I worked on a theatre show right nearby. Used to go for drinks with friends at that pub. One time this whole street was closed for a festival and people wandered across the tram tracks, now where the cars are, and I was buffeted by the crowd and saw a friend, or a friend of a friend, some guy I used to play cards with.

Going farther back, I used to take the 86 tram to work. I lived a few suburbs back in a tiny one bedroom flat that I loved to pieces. In the hot weather I would sleep all day and stay up all night, chain smoking and writing and feeling so grown up (all of nineteen years old) and so cynical, like life had already rolled me over and pushed me aside. I was so very, very young then.

Now I take the 86 tram with my mother, toddler and infant son. The toddler has never been on a tram before and it’s a special treat, rather than the way I get places. How long since I have been in Northcote? How many years since that was my supermarket? In a way this is my life all the time now – walking streets and places I used to know, remembering how my life used to be and realising how quickly it changes. How different I feel now.

You don’t know how good you had it, I want to say to nineteen year old me, who stays up all night writing.

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Stay at home parents like me spend a lot of time doing things that are observed and judged by other people. I take my toddler and baby with me when I go shopping, the groceries I choose are visible in the basket or cart; the way I speak to my children and react and interact with them can be viewed and listened to when I’m out in public. Who they are, how they act and what they wear can be taken as a direct reflection of me – I’m the one they will spend the most time with at least until they start attending school. I choose their clothes, organise their haircuts, feed them and wipe their faces after. It’s with me that they will do a lot of their learning – my voice and words and behaviour they emulate. 

Being their mother is my job right now. Someone has to do it, and I want to, don’t get me wrong, but its a job. Unlike every other job, however, there’s no clear reimbursement for services rendered, no start and finish time, no set goals and achievable outcomes. But everybody, and I do mean everybody, thinks they get input into how I do my job. Everybody is my boss.

I found I got really defensive a few days ago when my partner innocently requested that I do something (to do with our grocery shopping) differently than I’ve been doing it. I got angry, because this is a task that I do 90% of the time and it makes sense for me to do. I have the time, the inclination, I know what needs to be bought and what foods the toddler is happy with fit now. Generally I have a fairly accurate idea of the contents of our fridge and pantry as I do a lot of the cooking too. 

A perceived criticism in the way I did this really got to me because its part of my job. I already feel ongoing Mama Guilt over the toddler not eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar, and that I don’t cook enough, or cook enough variety, and we don’t eat organically, and I buy snacks often without paying too much attention to the sodium or sugar levels, and none of this would be so bad if only we all watched a lot less telly which is probably evil.

I see articles online, and tweets and Facebook posts, that judge mothers, that make commentary on how they parent and how their children behave. Because society thinks it is my boss, that it gets to decide if I’m doing a good or bad job parenting, and those parameters change with who you’re speaking to. 

its hard because this is my job but my partner is parent too, he lives in this house too, and the things I do every day affect him. Where is the line for what is entirely my say and what we have equal input into? If I make most of the decisions because I’m the one that’s home, can he question them? How do you balance that, being fair to his personal investment and my need for autonomy? And sometimes I make so many of the decisions that I don’t want to make all of them, but they’re like cascading dominoes – I know what is in the pantry/fridge because I’m the one that did the shopping so I should decide what we eat for dinner even when it’s not my turn to cook. 

I think we don’t talk about this enough – that when one half of a couple stays at home, they become entirely responsible for the home, even when the other partner spends all their off time there. It’s then easy to become resentful over household and parenting responsibilities, because of lack of autonomy in some areas and far too much autonomy in others. This then affects the relationship, because that relationship exists within the context of the household and parenting, and its sometimes easy for us all to forget: this might be my home, but it’s also my job. One of us Goes out for work and comes home to relax, but I must somehow do both in the same space, when there is no 9-5 definition of start and finish for each.

A balancing act, and one I don’t know I’m particularly good at. 

Eagle_eyes.JPG

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Morgan

Morgan

This is my second son, Morgan. He was lifted out of my numbed body through a hole in my abdomen in the early hours of a Friday, three weeks ago. I heard a gurgled cry, and then the surgeon held him up for me to see – a slippery, crying doll-like baby covered in white vernix.

I didn’t labour for days to have him, because I had a c-section. This is a choice I feel really good about. He’s my last baby, and I’m glad I have something other than the memories of fear and trauma from the birth of my first son. I did have a bit of labour, because Morgan decided to arrive early, thus the middle of the night intervention rather than my lovely planned hospital appointment for birth.

His face wasn’t bruised from the squeeze of a vaginal birth, his features weren’t distorted by swelling. I didn’t lose loads of blood or scream with pain and fear as he was born. Although I lay on my back on an operating table, numb from the breasts down with a sheet blocking his view, his birth was beautiful to me. I chose it, I felt in control, and although I trembled with shock a little as I was wheeled into Recovery, I felt positive after the birth.

I held him to my breast and his mouth latched onto my nipple and I loved him immediately, just as I loved my first child immediately.

Now we are four. Four in the home and four in the heart. I have a partner whom I love passionately and two beautiful children. There won’t be any more babies for me, so I’m enjoying this time. Our family is complete. I’m whole.

morganandme

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This week has been hard for me. I’m having horrible stabby back pain that kicks in every time I try to move/walk/everything. I saw my chiropractor yesterday and while it does seem to have eased a little, it hasn’t been a huge change. And because I’m tired and in pain I’m more likely to snap at Sebastian for little things, which oh god makes me feel horrible and guilty – along with not being able to get down and play with him properly. But my mobility is pretty constrained right now too. This makes everything so much more frustrating because there’s so much stuff I have to do and yet I’m feeling very limited.

It’s now less than six weeks until the baby is due. That really, truly and properly occurred to me for the first time a few days and I’m feeling a bit panicky. The nursery isn’t done! I have no idea what baby clothes we have! There’s so many dirty dishes in my sink! I haven’t sorted my clothes to figure out what I can wear post-baby but can breastfeed in!

The last few weeks of pregnancy are always super hard because the end is in sight, and it is both too close and not close enough. I have moments of truly profound anxiety where I wonder if I can cope with a toddler and a baby. Alex has four weeks parental leave arranged, but I’ll be recovering from a c-section, so it probably won’t be all special fun super family time. More like me with a giant hole in my abdomen trying to shield it from a toddler who likes climbing me like I’m a tree AND nursing a tiny human who is bound to be big. I console myself with the fact that standard recovery time for a c-section is six weeks, whereas I remained in pain and not completely healed after a natural birth for three damn months.

I am huge, too. Look at this picture from just after Christmas:

30 weeks pregnant

30 weeks pregnant

Now imagine me even bigger. And waddling. With my hand in the middle of my back like some sort of archetype for pregnancy. And making that noise when I get out of chairs, IF I can get out without help.

I worry that after I have this baby I will get consumed by the sleep-deprived brain-blankness of new motherhood again. I want to keep writing – I’m writing for The Peach now and finding that incredibly satisfying, and writing this blog has done a lot for making me feel like I have a voice again and my skills haven’t disappeared in the last few years. There’s a lot I want to do with this blog, and none of it will happen if I’m not writing and posting regularly. But then I remember the lack of sleep, the night nursing, the nappies, the overwhelming feelings that come with giving birth and part of me thinks, how will I manage anything else?

It’s supposed to be easier, isn’t it? Transitioning from one child to two? I mean, at least this time I have a fairly solid idea of what to expect. Having baby number one is like getting a reality bomb dropped on you – you think you’re prepared but there’s just no way you can be. At least with baby number two I’ve already lived through it once and confirmed I will actually survive.

The next few weeks will be busy, if this horrid back pain ever gets better – sorting through our baby things to figure out what we need and don’t need; preparing the nursery for bringing the bubba home; arranging our lives a little better in preparation for the big life change that’s about to happen.

Meanwhile I’ll just be the one in the corner armchair, making that noise when I try to get up.

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