In praise of understanding

I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point. 

Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so? 

The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine. 

I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things. 

I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity. 

So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work.  Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest. 

EMDR published today on Fevers of the Mind

Speed post to let you know I’ve a new poem about EMDR therapy, published today on Fevers of the Mind.

Writing through Anxiety

A difficult ten days or so here. Ten days of intermittent anxiety attacks, feelings of absolute hopelessness and all the jolly symptoms that go hand in hand with an anxiety disorder. I’m on the other side (more of that later) and can trace back to the triggers, but I’d forgotten how frightening it is to be in the midst of it all.

What is an anxiety attack?

I think they’re different for everyone. For me the symptoms build up over several days. I know it’s coming when I start becoming fixated on the possibility of loved ones dying, as well as becoming obsessed by detail of any task. I lose the ability to cope with change, and can crack without obvious warning. The attacks peak with symptoms that are similar to a panic attack – rapid uncontrollable breathing, rapid heartbeat. It’s scary.

As well as these peaks, I experience an intense malaise, feelings of worthlessness, and feel profoundly ashamed that I can’t control my mind. I finished a year of EMDR therapy just 12 months ago, and genuinely thought I was “over it”.

What are the triggers?

A combination of exhaustion from taking on too much as well as a couple of things on TV that tapped some past incidents are what I trace back to. I think being over-stretched meant my brain hadn’t got the resources to rationalise and reason. I couldn’t remember any of the techniques I’d been taught, and couldn’t seem to talk myself down. It’s like being on a train that you know is going the wrong way but you can’t stop it. Being busy meant I let much of my good habits (I keep a gratitude diary and practice tapping therapy) lapse. Like forgetting to exercise I suppose.

What happened to stop the anxiety?

Things peaked a few days ago. It wasn’t great. On Thursday I happened on this tweet from Matt Haig

It resonated, and somehow landed, and I think started the path back.

Thursday also saw the start of NaPoWriMo – a month of writing poems. I’m part of an online group, Wendy Pratt’s April Write-a-thon, writing, reading and feeding back. Thursday’s challenge was to write a sestina, using six set words – nothing specifically to do with anxiety – and out it all came. The discipline of the sestina seemed to calm me. It was a poem that came from the dark place where I was living – and yes, “getting it out” genuinely helped. It created clarity, and perhaps distance. It’s not a bad poem either.

I’m not out of the woods, and a bunch of physical M.E. symptoms has clustered (dealing with the huge amounts of adrenaline created by anxiety takes its toll) but I am less trapped by it. I feel like myself for the first time in what feels like an age.

I rarely post about this these days, but today this feels right . I feel like celebrating feeling better, and feel chastened that I stopped taking the care I should.

Have a happy day, take care, wash your hands, wear a mask and pick up your litter.

Kathryn xx