It’s been a while, nearly two years, in fact, since I last posted my personal musings on my blog (previously Wee Red Writer). So much has happened in that relatively short space of time, it actually feels like a lifetime ago. Looking back, I barely recognise myself. In a good way. They say you have to hit rock bottom, before you can make the climb towards meaningful change. In my experience, it’s true.
I want to fill in the gap, and let you know why there was the long hiatus. But first, an important message: I no longer call myself a publishing professional. I’ve shaken the label, for a much truer, more important one. I am a writer. All I ever wanted, and all I ever hope, to be. The shiny new nametag for my website represents this shift, from ambiguous booky enthusiast, to straight-up (and owning it) writer. The shift has been a freeing one, offering a sense of certainty and solidity which I didn’t have before.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter, and who are familiar with my writing, will know that I am a disabled writer. This is another label which took me time to wear comfortably, both of which I now wear openly, in the quest for authenticity. And so, to the hiatus.
In January 2017, I suffered a breakdown in my mental and physical health. I had been pushing hard against my nebulous illnesses, desperate to ‘succeed’ despite them. The preceding year of planning my wedding, running and marketing large industry events, and co-chairing an industry-body committee, left me completely and totally spent. Burnout hit like a ton of bricks and I went from firing on all cylinders one day, to falling of a (metaphorical) cliff the next. I had landed in the bottom of an abyss, and I couldn’t see a way out. I was signed off work and ordered to rest. I did, and it made no difference. I pushed through with reduced hours until April, when I called it quits.
During this time, I had been diagnosed with severe generalised anxiety disorder, on top of my existing fibromyalgia. How could this be? I was energetic, bubbly, social, and busy: it made no sense. But then, it did. My therapist had me identify the worries that whizz around my brain in an endless carousel minute to minute of any given day. The crushing fear that my family were going to drop dead any minute, that I alone was responsible for their well-being, that I had to keep pushing to succeed, because if I didn’t, then who was I? Not to mention the constant voice telling me I wasn’t good enough, never would be, and must always be the person at fault. It was tough to hear, but I immediately recognised it to be true. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helped me to mitigate this daily onslaught, and (mostly) tune it out.
Through my therapy, and time to rest, I embarked on the pursuit of my authentic self. The self who I didn’t yet know; the self that wasn’t always trying to please others. Shaking the feeling that you are responsible for everything takes some practise. My sessions went down some painful avenues, but I threw myself into them, because I wanted to get better. I faced some uncomfortable truths, made peace with traumatic events and said goodbye to some not-so-great friendships. The emotional investment eventually led to two months of total fatigue, where I barely left my flat, due to dizziness, nausea and palpitations that would leave me gasping for breath when I moved. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue. But gradually, it abated to a (mostly) manageable level. I wrote consistently during this period, to help me to come to terms with my newfound state-of-being, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have some of this writing being published now. Living with chronic and mental illness is a constant challenge, and I wanted to raise awareness to encourage the dialogue that incites necessary change in our society.
Writing has become a form of therapy for me; not only does it offer emotional release, but also community. So many people have reached out to me to share their mutual experiences and it’s been incredibly humbling and rewarding, to know that my writing is helping others. Being able to write openly, and honestly, about my experience of mental and chronic illness has, I feel, been the greatest healer. I’m still sick, but it sits more comfortably with me now. It’s just another facet of me; neither defining, nor insignificant.
Perhaps most importantly, the newfound time and search of my authentic self, took me to an incredibly supportive community of writers, many of whom share similar experiences. At the start of 2018, a full year after my breakdown, and just as I was beginning to feel confident in my new self, I decided to start a weekly group for writers, and freelancers in the industry. I knew how lonely I was feeling, sitting writing away on my own at home, and I figured there would be others like me. A group of ten or so of us have been meeting weekly ever since. The support from this group of people has been the catalyst for further emotional healing, but also for my embracing my writer-self to its full potential.
I cautiously revisited the novel which I had outlined a couple of years prior, with the hopes that it could be something. There is no greater power than the feeling of belonging to a community. With the support and encouragement of some wonderful people, I diligently set to work on ‘getting it down’. The novel jumped from a loose 25k words to 80k in the space of five months. I was grabbing at every opportunity, and I was delighted to be selected this summer as a runner-up for the Jericho-Marjacq writing bursary for under-represented voices, and also sponsored for a two-month membership of the Breakthrough Writers Bootcamp, for my manuscript.
Now, ten months after starting the group, I’m in the midst of making my revisions, before sending out to my beta-readers for critique. The support of my writing community has been invaluable in my progress and I simply would not be at this stage if it weren't for them. Looking towards the end of this year, and to all the magic the next one might hold, I find myself grateful for the challenges that paved my way to getting here.