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!

 

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The Tree Of Rebels and Disconnection From Nature

So it’s finally here! The day has finally arrived! Sometimes when in the middle of writing and rewriting and crafting a book, publication day can feel like an impossibility. Something so far in the future it feels like it will never happen. The Tree Of Rebels felt like an impossible thing more than once. This was a very tough book to write and one I had a constant love/hate relationship with. It’s very different from my other books and I wrote it with an audience in mind, something I’d never done before.

As I’ve mentioned before, the seed of this book was sown while scrolling through Facebook one day. I’d kept seeing these petitions to sign to stop Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but what I did read and digest alarmed me and got the cogs turning in my head. I’ve often thought about nature and who owns it. Have you ever walked through the woods or across a field, only to be stopped by a fence and a Private Property sign? Have you ever stood on a high hill and looked down at the landscape and realised how restricted our movements actually are? How the paths and roads have been laid out for you and how signs and fences stop us roaming as we once did?

The more I thought about large corporations owning seeds and nature and having that control over the food chain, the more I imagined a frightening dystopian world where growing your own food is banned. This might seem like a far fetched idea right now, but for some people this is already becoming a reality. Believe it or not, there are places in America where people are not allowed to have backyard gardens or chickens. Where people can be arrested for attempting to gather rainwater. The frightening future is already on its way…

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Distrustful of GMO’s, hormones in meat, anti-biotics in milk and pesticides on fruit and vegetable, more and more people are turning to growing their own food. Self-sufficiency is becoming popular again, and you can’t deny this is a form of rebellion, of taking back control. It’s vital for our planet too. The meat and dairy industry is literally killing the earth.

Dystopian future in mind, I already knew I wanted to write a young adult book. The protagonist, 13-year-old Lissie had been evolving in my imagination for some time, and now she finally had a place to play and grow. The book undoubtedly evolved into something more than I had envisioned. It’s not just about seeds or a post-apocalyptic future, it’s about rebellion, questioning the status quo, defying your parents and searching for the truth, no matter who it hurts. All classic issues in the complicated journey of growing up.

But one of the main messages I hope people pick up from this book if they do indeed pick up any is the consequences of becoming disconnected from nature.

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. A head in the clouds type of girl. I love nothing more than a walk down the lane, to the river, or across the fields, the common, or the woods. Something special happens to us when we are in nature, when we walk barefoot upon the earth, when we touch trees, smell leaves and view flowers and wild animals. Sometimes I think I might be a bit odd. I have very strong urges to touch and hug trees. They call to me, they really do. Once I lay my hand on the trunk of an ancient Oak, I find it very hard to pull away. I can’t get over the fact they are helping me to breathe! They are eating pollution. Without them, we would all die. The same goes for the humble bee and other vital pollinators. We simply cannot afford to ignore nature. We are nature. And I truly worry that many of us have forgotten.

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Where I live is very beautiful, but I fear that others do not see it. When they race their cars down the narrow lane and hurl their rubbish into the bushes, I fear they never linger long enough to see the beauty and majesty of the trees. I fear they have no clue that they would die if the trees were not there. I’m fascinated by the unseen lives of birds, insects, and animals. I’ll stare at birds in the sky, watching their flight, hearing their cry, wondering where they are going and where they live and what they do. I want to know. I want to be part of their world. Sometimes I feel like I am trespassing. Especially come dusk when the bats start circling and the owls start hooting. This is their time, not mine. How they must despise us, I often think.

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I think the thing we are often missing is gratitude and wonder. I am in awe of nature which makes me want to protect and nurture it. Sadly, others just don’t see it at all. In truth, this means they do not see themselves. They are disconnected from it, therefore they don’t care about it or appreciate it. If you don’t care about something, or see the value in it, you’re not going to go out of your way to protect it, are you?

In Lissie’s world, the people are taken care of. They are housed and fed and educated and worked. There is no war or violence. They have returned to traditional ways, fearful of the technological world that enabled war and destruction to almost wipe out the entire human race. But in order to keep them contained, the people are separate from nature. Food is grown and delivered to them. Animals are raised in domes . Unwanted plants are circled and torn up. Wild animals are feared and killed. They know very little of the natural world. And this is all sold to them as the perfect world. A society without war and hunger and homelessness. A safe, sheltered, catered for life. It’s Lissie who resists this version of life and strives to find out more about the outside world. A true rebel, spurred on by the dying words of her Great-Grandmother, she seeks the truth. What happened to the Old World? Who destroyed it and why?

Please feel free to leave a comment! What are your fears for the future? Do you enjoy reading post-apocalyptic or dystopian books, and if so why? How do you feel about the issues of humans becoming disconnected from nature? What can we do about any of it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

Something As Simple As Rock ‘N’ Roll Could Save Us All

Last night I went to a gig which reminded me how glorious us humans can be. How glorious most of us constantly are. It was a Frank Turner gig, which may or may not be significant to the effect it had on me, the emotions it stirred, the tears it unexpectedly brought to my eyes. But then again, it definitely needed a certain sort of singer and a certain sort of crowd for this blog post to have been inspired.

Frank Turner, for those of you who don’t know, is an English singer/songwriter, of a folk/rock tradition. This was the second time I’d seen him live and it was even better due to the smaller, more intimate venue not far from his own home town. Over the years many of his songs have gotten to me personally, but isn’t that always the way with performers we become attracted to? They write so many lyrics that could have been written just for us, making us feel like they are talking directly to us.

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Frank Turner invites a mixed crowd of people, which in my opinion makes for the friendliest and safest kind of gig. Young teenage couples stand and sway beside grey haired ones. Parents stand with hands on the shoulders of their children. Women in their thirties and forties, and everyone in between. It doesn’t matter what you wear or how you look, you’ll feel instantly relaxed and at home. There’s no sense of danger or threat in this mild mannered yet devoted crowd.

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Like all great performers, Turner knows his job is to make us happy and he plays this role to perfection, making it is his sole purpose to excite, entice and invite the crowd to have fun. Like the pied piper of music lovers, if he says jump, we jump, if he says sing, we sing, and if he tells us all to hug a stranger, we hug a stranger. There were some truly wonderful and memorable moments last night, including a man who had flown in from Lithuania to see Frank, being called on stage to pick out someone who would then crowd-surf to two points in the audience in order to deliver high fives to two chosen men.

Having recently mentioned money being raised for Safe Gigs For Women, Turner asked us to prove what a safe and respectful environment his gigs provided for all. Later on, he crowd surfed himself in order to find a beautiful girl to dance with while singing I Wanna’ Dance. He found a little girl and danced with her, and I am sure it will be a moment she will never forget.

But this is not meant to be a gig review. If it was I would say that the crowd were suitably enticed into a hand clapping, feet stomping frenzy, roaring along to each and every song, dancing and hugging and kissing. I would say that Turner did a magnificent job of interacting with the audience, delivering an energetic and passionate performance while coming across as a genuinely lovely and down to earth person.

But all that aside. Something happened last night. I kept getting emotional. I kept wiping away tears. It might have been the two pints of cider. It might have been the songs (I’m not ashamed to admit I wept openly to Ten Storey Love Song and I Am The Ressurection when I saw The Stone Roses) But it was more than that. Because I’ve been feeling emotional a lot lately.

I’ve caught myself staring into space, lost in fearful thoughts. I’ve found myself breathless in the beauty of nature whilst a cold terror that everything is ending clutches at my heart. I’ve had moments of intense love with my children, which feel undeniably punctured with hopelessness. And I’m not the only one. So many people I know seem to be experiencing what can only be described as a sort of mourning. We’re grieving for a world that seems to be going backwards in so many ways, devoured by hate and division. We’re mourning for a beautiful glorious earth that cannot hang on much longer under the damage we inflict. We’re aghast at the utter demons who rule the world and who are voted in by people who should know better.

It’s been bad news followed by worse. Now you might have different political opinions to mine, and that’s fine, but these things need to be spoken about. None of us should ever have to be silent. You might have voted Conservative, for Brexit or even for Trump, but I cannot hold back from discussing the fall out from such outcomes. On the morning of the Tory election win, there were groups of mums gathered in shock at school, in tears. I cried myself. People who were already scared and dismayed at the rate at which the NHS, education and the welfare state had been cut back, rolled back and privatised for profit, were facing another five years of rule under a barely elected Government extremely lacking in compassion.

But we soldiered on. Signed petitions and even won some of the battles. Then came Brexit. And again, if you voted differently to me, that’s fine. I know plenty of people who voted for their own reasons which were not doused in selfishness and intolerance. However, it cannot be denied that Farage and the right wing press whipped up a frenzy of suspicion, hatred, selfish nationalism, not to mention the repetition of outright lies and misinformation.

The morning after I saw the same shocked faces at school and at home. It felt like the extreme right wing racists had won, and the terrifying increase of racially motivated hate crime since then would suggest they felt they had. They felt vindicated and are now proud to voice their intolerant views. It felt like everything was going backwards.

But we shouldered it and carried on. Then came the election of the most powerful man in the world and we all know how that turned out. Avoiding social commentary and political discourse as much as I possibly can here, it cannot be denied nor should it be, that the majority of people across the world right now are pretty scared. They’re either so scared they voted for a misogynistic unqualified lunatic or who doesn’t believe in climate change, or they are now terrified because of that outcome.

As Turner said himself last night, it has been a shit year and the world right now feels very unstable divided and scary.

I felt it hit me last night. The emotion, the fear, the ache of hope, the solidarity with others. With each song he sang I guess I released a little bit of what I had been holding onto. When he spoke about his song Rivers not being about nationalism, but about the beautiful rivers that carve up our land, I wanted to shout yes! I came away feeling lighter, not knowing how much I had needed a night like that.

'And when I dieI hope to beBuried in out in English seasSo all that then remains of meWill lap against the shoreUntil England is no more''Rivers'Frank Turner.png

I guess I don’t really believe any more than rock and roll can save us all. Maybe we are all too far gone, but I do still believe it can save us, if only for just one night.

And I thank Frank Turner for that.

And in his own words; ‘We can get better, because we’re not dead yet!’

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When Fear Drives Fiction

So, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time and wondering if what deterred me from it for so long was fear of fear. By that I mean there is already so much to be afraid of in this world, why would I want to give myself more? I’m currently writing from a place of fear and uncertainty and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the only human feeling like that right now. And I mean on a daily basis. It’s like that Monday morning stomach lurch, except it happens every morning. It’s like the heavy sluggish twisting guts you get before an exam, before a driving test, before you do anything you’re scared to do. Except it never goes away. It’s there all of the time. Weighing me down, wringing me out, making me pause to catch my breath. It’s like that too; like I can’t breathe properly, like there is a deep and shaking level of fear rising up to the surface, and if I am quick I can take a breath and send it back down again. Deal with it another day. Move on quickly into the light.

And there is light. It’s vital to remember that. There is light and love everywhere, and I hope you’ve got as much as I have in my life. When I feel too bad, when the sinking feeling starts to drag me down, I buck myself up and busy myself with the things I love. My beautiful children. Loud music. My garden full of flowers, vegetables and animals. Writing and books.

I’m examining the world right now and wondering if life imitates art, or if it is in fact the other way around. Does art reflect the world we have already created? Or does it project our fears for the future based on what’s going on around us right now? George Orwell must have been pretty terrified, that’s all I can think. Big Brother. Thought police. Uniforms and Two Minutes Of Hate. Chilling stuff. Which all feels rather apt and grim at the moment.

I’m writing to you from a post Brexit Britain. I hate the word Brexit. To me it sums up the dumbing down we’ve been subject to for so long now. Let’s join two words together and make a new one so we don’t have to say too many words! Now I don’t care how you voted, and I’m not going to talk here about my vote, or the whole situation in any real depth. I personally feel that there were good reasons to stay and to leave, but that as usual the government and the media focused on immigration and fed us lies, and what an ugly divisive country this now looks as a result. Let me say again, if you voted to leave, I respect that vote and your reasons for it, and I’m not going to talk about what might happen next. What saddens me most right now is the applause and delight demonstrated by far-right groups across the globe. Whether you like it or not, there are many people out there using this situation to legitimise racism and xenophobia, and that makes my heart sink. I thought we had come so much further than that, but it feels like we are slipping backwards all the time.

It feels like we are now adrift, with no one stepping in to guide us through this unchartered territory. The Labour party and the Conservatives are in turmoil. Everything feels weird and unsafe. I can’t help but wonder what future writing will evolve from this tumultuous time in politics. And that’s the only way to get through it, I feel. Write about it.

My next two books certainly reflect a lot of my current fears, thought I don’t think I was entirely conscious of it to begin with. The Tree Of Rebels was conceived one day when I signed an online petition to prevent Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t really know too much about the case, but some very concerned friends of mine deemed it a very serious issue, so I signed it and hoped for the best. It got me thinking though. What if a company could patent seeds? All the seeds? What if they could then, bit by bit, own nature? What if in the future, growing your own food was banned? Surely a government with complete control over nature, would have complete control over its people. The idea made me wonder further; how would this society operate without total rebellion? Well, the people would need to be thankful for what they were given, and what makes people thankful? Perceiving life to be better now than it was then. A story driven by wonder and what if’s…but ultimately fear. I’m a keen gardener myself. I worry so much about the state of the world, so I’m trying to become more self-sufficient, just in case. The thought of someone telling me it’s now illegal to grown my fruit and vegetables or raise my chickens and ducks is terrifying. The thought of a giant and powerful company with extremely dubious ethics essentially owning nature appalls me. So I wrote about it.

Writing helps me make sense of the world. Or at least it is my desperate attempt to. I guess we all have our fears. Things that keep us awake at night. I’ve felt for a while that the world and all it’s people are heading towards some kind of tipping point. Is the world now worse than it has ever been? I scroll through my Facebook feed to witness a never-ending roll call of human misery, animal abuse, environmental damage and worse than all of that; apathy. I feel sick to my stomach, as well as helpless, cynical and angry. Are these the most selfish times we’ve seen? The most brutal? Maybe it is all too easy to look back on the past too fondly. I’m guilty of this myself. I become convinced that the 1980’s and 90’s were a wonderful, simple time. Surely it was all lovely then, wasn’t it? Well no, actually. It’s just that I was a kid and totally unaware.

Fear and dismay drive fiction. We create stories we are frightened of as a way of warning ourselves and others. Helplessness spawns words and worlds and sometimes, if we are lucky, solutions. At least it makes us feel better, anyway. Elliot Pie was born of this frustration with the modern world and the way it is all heading. Elliot is 12 and he wants to do something to help his mother, who is refusing to leave the house after a number of hard knocks. How can he convince her the world is not a bad place filled with bad people?

It’s been quite a task for a writer currently so disillusioned and afraid. But I had to go back and look at it all through a child’s eyes. Elliot doesn’t want to give up on the world yet, or on life. He feels like the adults in his life have all written it off for him before he’s even had a chance to work it out for himself.

Like Elliot, and for my own children, I have to cling onto a dangerous and painful amount of hope. I stand by the very few politicians who have decent intentions. I hope the powers that be don’t prevent them trying to change things. I hope that people are not too apathetic, too far gone, too addicted to reality TV and pointless celebs to fight back before it is all too late. I hope George Orwell was wrong. I hope Elliot Pie is right.

In the meantime, my advice to anyone feeling like I am right now, is to do what you can to ensure love wins. Whatever that means, in whatever way you can, make spreading love and tolerance part of everything you do. This morning I woke up feeling more positive than usual. I decided on the school run journey that I would be kinder than normal, and I let out as many waiting cars as I could. It was actually sad how many of the drivers looked genuinely surprised and thankful. I played some invigorating, uplifting music, told my kids I loved them, and decided that if the two little rabbits in the adoption centre of the pet shop were still waiting for a home, then I would get them. I’d had my eye on them for a while, and once I’d learnt their history (four years of neglect) it was a done deal. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit of love counts. And at least I changed the world for them.

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