And Just Like That…Everything Changed

I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing such a mixture of emotions right now that it’s genuinely overwhelming. I’ve got fear and anxiety dipping and rising. I’ve got humour coming and going. I’ve got excitement about the challenges ahead and the thought that maybe, just maybe, this situation will somehow bring some good and make us change the way that we live. I’ve got determination and a kind of let’s just get on with it atttitude popping up from time to time. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry. I am so grateful for so many things and at the same time unable to really absorb all this, let alone plan. The uncertainty is definitely the most stressful element of it all.

For me, the answer lies in writing. Always. Ever since I was a kid I have written to help me make sense of the world around me and the emotions I am feeling. I don’t often really know what I think or feel until I write it down. So, here I am, soaking up the latest news that UK schools are to close indefinitely this Friday due to the Corona virus outbreak.

A few weeks ago I barely gave the virus a second thought. I think a lot of us ignored it. It was like all the other things we were supposed to be afraid of right? SARS and Bird Flu, Swine Flue, Ebola and Zika virus to name but a few. The biggest things worrying me were climate change and the turmoil that would possibly arise from Brexit.

It was something happening in another country to other people, and that attitude shames me now. Because now we realise, don’t we? How bad things can happen to us too. To any of us, anywhere, at any time. We realise now how scarily fragile everything truly is.

Last week, as the virus started to dominate the news, as other countries started to go into lockdown, it still did not feel real. Until I went into my local Home Bargains and could not buy loo roll. I had enough at home but was mildly surprised and amused to view the stark, empty shelves. I wrote about it on Facebook and I think most people were feeling the same. Well, isn’t that a bit annoying and strange?

A few days after that I went to Tesco late at night, figuring that was the best way to get what we needed. My husband works in a frozen foods supermarket and he was reporting empty shelves and panic buying there. That night at Tesco I started to realise how strange everything had become. The shop was busier than it should have been at 10.45pm. There was no loo roll, no medicines, no soap or handwash, no pasta or rice, barely any tins or packets. I still got most of what we needed so I wasn’t too worried, but it did start to sink in. This is not going away. This is just going to get worse. We are heading towards lockdown, school closures and job losses. Oh shit.

Still, Monday morning rolled around as usual. No change there. School run and work. Busy, busy. No sign that anything was going to change too much in our day to day lives. That day I did make the decision to stop my fortnightly adult writing group until further notice. It’s my least frequent group and I make the least money doing it. Enought people had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to the situation, so I decided to pull the plug. I thought that would be it. But by Tuesday afternoon I had recevied an email from one of the schools I run an after-school writing club at informing me that all after-school clubs were cancelled until further notice. My other school followed suit and I then found out the museum I hold two writing groups at was closing, so those had to be cancelled too.

I wouldn’t say I panicked exactly, but I started to stress about the financial side of it all. Would I have to refund people for the sessions they had paid in advance for and so on. The more I thought about it, the more sad I felt. I’ve spent so long building up this little business and it’s really only been in the last year that things have started to take off for me and make some real money. However, I didn’t feel too sorry for myself for long. I started to think about all the time I would now have to read, write, learn to play the guitar and garden.

And then today, the news we had all been expecting. All schools, colleges, nurseries and so on are to close doors this Friday until further notice. I’m not exactly stressed about it. I am actually quite looking forward to spending more time with my children and I am determined that my 5 year old, in particular, sticks to the same school day he is used to. I am determined that he will have fun. It’s going to be a challenge for us all, but the schools have been absolutely amazing, with the constant updates and reassurances and I am sure they will be sending lots of resources our way. So now I won’t exactly have much free time, but it’s okay. We have a new challenge to adjust to and humans are nothing if not adaptable. We also have a remarkable ability to look on the bright side and make light of things. I think we will see alot of that.

I am of course anxious about food and medicine supplies. I stocked up on our asthma inhalers and hayfever meds this week, just in case. Paractemol is like bloody gold dust now! But we are in a luckier position than some. As long as he does not fall ill, my husband’s supermarket job should be secure. He is utterly exhausted though. They are run off their feet and dealing with very abusive customers at times. We live in a semi-rural location, with only one neighbour. We have a large enough house and a very large garden. I am extremely grateful for my hens and ducks who are all laying very well at the moment and I am putting the extra effort into the vegetable garden. I fully intend to put the kids to work out there too most days, as I feel like now more than ever they need to learn these skills, in case anything like this happens again.

It could be worse. We are lucky. The government is talking about help for the self-employed and for renters, so there is hope there too. I am going to be sending out weekly writing prompts to the children who normally attend my clubs and I am going to post daily ones on my business page for the writing company. I hope to figure out how to put online classes/workshops together at some point, but I am now rather stretched for time with the home schooling to get my head around.

My main worry is my 74 year old mother who has a heart condition. Her operation has been cancelled and she is in the vulnerable group. She doesn’t seem to see it that way though and so far has not been too good at isolating herself. This worries me greatly and I have tried very hard to impress the importance of it on her.

Anyway, the way I see it now, our job is to stay calm, stay positive, stay kind. Help each other whenever and however we can and be there for our loved ones. Keep busy, keep active, embrace the arts more than ever, and in my case, write my way through it. If you see more blog posts than normal (I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging front due to the business of life) it’s just my way of working through it and making sense of it. I can’t recommend writing strongly enough for easing stress and anxiety.

My main thought right now is how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. How suddenly the ground can fall away from under you. It should give us all pause to think, especially if we have ever looked down on those less fortunate than us. Now we are all in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin, or how much power you have. This is affecting us all. Because truly, we are all one, we are all connected. It’s just that we have forgotten that and lost sight of it. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned in all of this. That’s also the best we can do, I think. Learn from it. Admit where we might have been wrong. Aspire to change.

That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, but I think I will be back regularly with my thoughts on this and with news on how my drastically changed life is going! Wish me luck with the home schooling, that’s all I can say!

Stay safe folks. Look after each other xx

When Writing is the Cause of and the Solution To Anxiety

For a lot of people, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. It provides an emotional outlet, a chance to say what we think and feel, the opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Whether we publish our work or not, there is no doubt that writing provides an emotional release, as well as a creative one. Throughout my life, I have often turned to writing to soothe and comfort me. I’ve used it to combat and work through feelings of anxiety, loneliness and anger. As a young child, I wrote a diary religiously, and I still have them. Piles of notebooks filled with my inner thoughts and emotions, as well as my hopes and fears. There is no doubt in my mind that writing has helped me in my life and provided a kind of therapy when needed. For this reason, I would recommend it to anyone who needs to vent, to explore their thoughts and frustrations, or to find a way to be heard.

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But weirdly, writing has been having a different effect on me lately, causing something close to panic. It took me a while to work out what was going on, but now that I think I have, I wanted to blog about it and talk about how I am handling this.

It started a few months ago I think, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when. You know that feeling you get before you do something scary? That lurch in your stomach? That tightness that feels like butterflies? I can only explain it as being similar to that.

This would happen at random times, for no real reason. I’d get that feeling strongly, sometimes so bad it made me feel like I couldn’t take a proper breath. Very weird. Even weirder, is that I had nothing to worry about.

Everything in my life is the same. My kids are all fine; I’m not unduly worried about any of them at the moment. My husband and I get on just as we always have. Our finances are never great, but they haven’t changed at all, so it’s not that. Everyone in my family is happy and healthy. There is nothing I can pinpoint that would come out of the blue like that and make me feel winded.

So, I’ve narrowed it down to one thing, one thing that I never thought would cause me anxiety. One thing that has actually been the solution to anxiety and fear and anger and any other negative emotions in life. Writing.

I’ve said before that writing excites me and it still does. If I’m walking the dogs, and I know that when I get home I’ve got some writing time, I get that lurch in my belly. But I know that’s genuine excitement. I like it.

This other feeling is more like a feeling of dread, which I cannot for the life of me understand because I still love writing, I still get excited, I still think it is the best thing ever. Writing dominates my mind more than anything else.

So, I started thinking, what is it then? I want to write, writing makes me happy, writing is so many things to me. Why is it suddenly making me feel like I cannot breathe?

I’m still not really sure. Writing this blog post is my way of trying to figure it out. I’m wondering if any other writers have ever experienced anything like this?

One thing I can tell you; the feeling goes away when I’m writing. By the time I’m at my desk in the evening, tapping away, whether it’s going well or not, I’m happy. That feeling is not there.

So why does it plague me throughout the day?

Like I say, I really don’t know. There are several possible reasons, which I’ve listed below, but to be honest, I’m not sure it is any of these. I just don’t know.

  • too many projects on the go? It could be this. I have two books I am ready to release, but I’m waiting on further rejections from publishers for one, and beta feedback on the other, and then there will be the whole book-launch thing to get into…perhaps it’s the unfinished, unreleased status of these two books that is causing the churning feeling?
  • too many projects waiting for be done? I know this bothers me, but I try to keep it in perspective. Having ideas for future books is a good thing, and I think I’m lucky. I keep track of the ideas on a page in this blog and some of them I am already working on when I can, but maybe this feeling of impatience and anticipation is adding to it, I don’t know
  • not enough time in the day? This does cause anxiety, it’s bound to. I know everyone feels like this to some extent. Busy lives leave little time to get things done, and to-do lists get longer, and it can all feel overwhelming at times like you will never ‘get there’. But I keep reminding myself that everything changes next year when my youngest child starts school. I will have plenty of time to work on my books and my community interest company
  • the community interest company? I do worry about it sometimes. It pops into my head that I’m crazy to be trying to do this. That it’s too ambitious, bound to fail, etc. I want to do it, I want to inspire and encourage my community to write, and I’ve already come this far; turning the writing group into a CIC, planning two projects, getting some funding, applying for more. I’m learning lots and I’ve got big plans, but every now and then I just wonder what the hell am I thinking? This is not me! Someone else would do a much better job of this! So, I guess it’s there as a worry.
  • general indie writer panic? This is a thing. I panic that I will never have time to write all the books in my head and get them all out, but I also panic that I will never ‘make it’. I’m not sure what I think making it means, to be honest. I guess a publishing deal and steady sales would be a thing to aim for. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about this. I just keep writing and plugging away at my platform to grow my audience. But I think a panic is buried there somewhere, a panic that this will all turn out to be fruitless, a waste of time, and I’ll look an idiot.

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But I honestly don’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking about the things listed above. I know they are there, and they come and go, but generally, I’m a really upbeat positive person who gets easily excited about life. I’m not looking for a great big happiness, I’m just happy with the beauty of ordinary life.

So, how am I dealing with this? Well, I’ll tell you.

  • by carrying on. Because I know that every word I write is a step forward, and that helps. Because quitting is not and never will be an option.
  • by forcing myself to switch off and relax at the end of the day. I write once my littlest is in bed, and I should really write through until bed-time, but I’m not doing that now. I’m writing for an hour and a half, maybe two, and then I’m joining my eldest child to watch Supernatural on DVD.

(I have avoided TV over the last few years, because with young kids, I knew I had to give up something in order to get the time to write. So I gave up TV. Just recently though I’ve relaxed my strict no TV rule. I got hooked on Hannibal and Breaking Bad, and after lots of begging from my daughter, I finally gave in and started watching Supernatural from season one. Now I’m hooked and it reminds me that when I was a kid, I wrote loads but I still had time to relax and watch TV. I think it’s doing me good, and it’s like a little reward after writing is done. After Supernatural I read before bed, and I feel great.)

  • by remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day. This isn’t a race. Nothing in life is a race. It’s all about the journey and what you learn along the way. Yes, setting up my own company is scary but I have to accept that I will make mistakes as I go along and I will learn from them, just as I have in every other part of my life. A few years from now things could be very different
  • by trying to focus on one thing at a time. And by that, I mean whatever is the most pressing thing. I panic when I feel like I have too much to do, so I have to separate it out, deal with one thing at a time, and always the most important one comes first.
  • by rewarding myself. I nearly always do ‘work’ things first when I get on the laptop. My to-do list contains work-related things and writing related things. I make sure I have ticked a few off the ‘work’ list before I reward myself with actual writing, the writing that calms me down! I also reward myself in other ways, such as having a nice snack or glass of wine waiting for me to enjoy the DVD with after writing.
  • by remaining hopeful. Life as a writer can be crushing, soul-destroying even. I truly think being a trad published author is just as tough as being an indie but in different ways. It’s not easy for anyone. Earnings for most authors these days are diabolical. Getting reviews is like pulling teeth. Getting visibility means allowing yourself to be sucked into social media when all you really want to do is write. There are without a doubt, a lot of downs, and a lot of frustrations. But I tell myself, where there is life there is hope. So in other words, while I am still alive, who knows what could happen? What could be around the corner? I will always remain hopeful of better sales, better visibility and success. Always.
  • by taking a break from blogging and social media so I can just concentrate on writing. You might have noticed my blogs are thin on the ground lately. I haven’t tried to promote my books at all, apart from sharing reviews. I just get tired of it sometimes. I just want to get the next books done.
  • by never giving up. I might fail. I might never earn much money, I might never get a good publishing deal, I might never be well known or have my dreams come true. I might not make a success of my company either. I might give it all I’ve got and then have to call it a day in a few years time. But one thing is certain, I will be able to say that at least I tried!
  • by using negative feelings to my advantage. By this I mean, in my writing. The weird feeling of dread, the sensation of not being able to breathe, I can write about that. I can use it. It helps to know how my poor tortured characters feel most of the time!

I think writing this blog has made me feel better about the whole thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts though. Have you ever experienced feelings of dread, without really knowing why? How did you deal with it? Please feel free to comment and share!