Revisited: Writerly Reflections

So something weird happened this week: I got an email from WordPress.

Okay, so that’s not so weird. I’m involved with a few different blogs right now, and my inboxes generally contain at least 5 WordPress emails every day. The weird thing was that it was telling me someone had linked to a post on this blog, which I haven’t gone near in a number of years, and which I had almost entirely forgotten.

So I open it up, and it turns out RamisaR over on Musings of a White Rose has linked to my ancient post, Writerly Reflections, over on their blog. And I figure that if people are still linking to this blog, I should probably make the effort to look at it a little myself.

My original post talked about my introduction to writing, so I’m gonna use what I said just short of 4 years ago and also revamp it with a couple of updates.

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember.

I’m certain almost everyone is sick of Harry Potter by now – I’ve more or less reached that point myself – but I’m of just the right age where Harry Potter was this fresh new thing when I was a kid getting into reading. The first few books were read to my by my mother as bedtime stories (in fact, I think I was too young to really remember the first book as I had to re-read it a number of years later) but by half-way through the series, I was reading them for myself. And compared to most of the other books there were for kids my age, the later Harry Potter books were h u g e. Like, you’d really know it all day if one of those bad boys were in your schoolbag because you’d be dragging yourself around by the end of the day.

Needless to say, through this love of reading came a love of writing.

I enjoyed plenty of other kids books, I should say. I was really big into Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Hobbit, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series and Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. And eventually, this addiction to books transformed into a kind of need to make my own. All the way through primary school, I’d come up with endless ridiculous characters with my buddy Phillip. We had monsters, detectives, wizards, villains, superheroes, and everything else that a self-respecting kid would want in their stories. At this stage, we were convinced the work we were producing was definitely going to make it big. In hindsight, they were some pretty low-quality designs.

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Eventually, in fifth class (I would have been 9 or 10 years old), my teacher stopped me after class and told me to stop writing stories about these “silly superheroes”.

These characters made their way into all manner of comics, models and short stories, and they continued to pop up over and over again for years. When my teacher finally snapped and told me to write about something more serious, I was outraged. Here I am, writing the next great work of Irish literature, and this woman comes and tells me my protagonists are silly? Something had to be done.

When I turned 13-or-so, the only writing anyone got to look at was work that had to be handed in to a teacher anyway, while my personal writing turned from gripping tales of daring do to angst-filled poems about someone in class not giving me my pencil back, or whatever was bothering me that day.

That something eventually turned out to be a spooky noire story with an edgy cliffhanger ending. “Yeah,” I no doubt thought. “That’ll show her.” But it showed nothing to nobody, and when I got my homework back the next day my feedback was something along the lines of “What happens next? Where’s the rest of the story?” This was the first time I had to learn that some people just don’t get art.

When my teens rolled around, I realised that perhaps my future didn’t lie in science fiction and fantasy, but in poetry, and the uncomfortable angst of adolescence gave me plenty of material to whinge about. Most of my (really rather dodgy) poems were about dead animals – roadkill, prey, etc – because I was going through a bit of a phase. I did write one sort-of-okay poem about a friend of mine who died when I was around 16, but that’s about it.

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Still, even if a short summer job with a small town newspaper turned out not to be my big break, it certainly showed me what I wanted to do with my life, writing-wise.

My poetry phase didn’t last forever (or so I thought), and my attention shifted once again. This time, I decided I wanted to be a journalist and even took up a summer job with my local newspaper. This plan lasted until sometime around the start of my second year of university, which is also around the time I stopped writing this blog. I started writing for a few university publications in my final year of university, and became the Arts and Entertainment editor for The Gown during my Masters, but there was no real end goal.

At the same time as all of this, I started working as a freelance writer, and I think that’s probably what killed my interest in journalism. I worked with one or two great projects, a few of which I still write for out of enjoyment rather than necessity. But something in the meaninglessness of churning out “content” with the sole intention of (A) passing plagiarism checks and (B) search engine optimisation sort of destroyed some part of me.

I became incredibly depressed (though I had already been diagnosed with clinical depression long before this, so probably this just made matters worse rather than triggering some major downturn). I stopped replying to client emails and messages, even though I relied on these people for money, and they relied on me to keep their projects running smoothly.

In my head, my plan was to just live off what money I had, and when it ran out I’d end it all. I don’t know if I was ever actually going to go through with that, I know I put a lot of thought into it but I don’t know what was actually going to happen. But then, plot twist!

I finished my undergraduate degree in the summer of 2016 and graduated with first class honours. And somehow, I was offered a scholarship to complete a Master’s degree in reading and writing poetry. And just like that, I had been given another goal to strive for, another little meaning to keep me going for another little while.

And I just finished my Master’s, and don’t have a poetry collection (yet!) but have been published in a few different magazines, and I’m making plans for my next step.

So that’s where I am now, just in case you were wondering.

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Hypervigilance

Saturday morning rattlehead – jeans ripped
At knee, laces half-tied, young blood scurried
Down the small streets. Eyes darted, thoughts scary,
Noted the strangers that loomed as I rapped
On the only door I knew could be rapped
Safely. Check the exits. Not safe, not sound.
My heart is in my ears. My mouth is sand.
I’m jagged. Wash hands. Flick switch. Rinse. Repeat.

With my forehead pressed against the front door,
I swear your eyes are burning through my skull.
I check the lock again – one, two, three, four,
Five. You’re smiling, and the smile is a lull:
Warm fire in winter… or unknown danger –

Windows, the dark – and my head’s loud once more.


Well, it’s Day 1 of NaPoWriMo 2015 and yes, I have already failed to follow the prompt – start as you mean to go on, eh? Honestly, I gave the prompt a go, but I was just drawing absolute blanks all day. So here is a rough sort of sonnet-ish yoke I wrote instead. I’ll try harder tomorrow, I promise!

Lean, Mean, Alcohol-Induced Anxiety Machine

There are certain things that I don’t let myself think about because I know that I’ll send myself into a full panic if I do. It is by blocking these things out that I maintain a level of functionality, this is especially important in social situations (come on, who wants to hang out with someone if they think there’s a chance they’ll have to sit through them having an anxiety attack?). Since turning 18 (the legal age to drink in this country), I have discovered that alcohol is especially useful in these situations. Without getting drunk, a small amount calms me down just enough that I function like a normal person. All hugs and dancing. All fun and games. Wonderful… to a certain point.

All of my flatmates go out at least once every week and get utterly plastered. They love it. The poison in their systems makes them think, say and do ridiculous things that are hilarious at the time and make fun stories for the next day. They all have stories from the start of the year about how they barely knew such-and-such-a-person but they were super drunk so they went together to such-and-such-a-place and had some sort of kooky adventure that made them best friends to this day. Alcohol is a big part of their lives, and has been for quite some time.

I have a rather more complex relationship with it, however. It helps me to such a brilliant degree in social situations (I must point out here that I only drink once a week at most) that I certainly count it as one of the more positive changes that have taken place in my life in recent times. But the second I get actually *drunk*, something that has only happened two or three times and hopefully won’t happen many more times that that, the effect is the exact opposite. I think about all the things I shouldn’t, and I start to panic. What’s worse is that when I’m drunk, I don’t even think to get away from people when it happens, because I can’t feel it coming like I can when I’m sober. I can have a full-on freak-out in a bar, and all my friends can do is look on in horror.

All of my friends, that is, except for two. Because it is in your lowest moments that you discover who your real friends are.

Since moving to Belfast and actually developing a social life of sorts, I have had three of these public panics. The first two are referred to here and here. The third happened this Thursday past. On all three occasions, it was one or both of two people that looked after me and helped me calm down. These people were Nicole and Michael.

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On Thursday, we were at Kremlin, an excellent club full of lovely people. It is my favourite place to go out, which is odd considering I don’t generally go for clubs. Because we’d gone out in a big group (usually, if we go to Kremlin it’s just 3 or 4 of us), we had had predrinks beforehand. I was… jolly. Let’s call it jolly. Thanks to £2 drinks and the obsession of my comrades with “seeing Tabitha drunk” (which is quite a let-down really, I think they expect me to a completely different person somehow), I quickly became more than “jolly”, and then quickly descended into the drunken panic-state that is the reason I do NOT generally drink in excess.

Thankfully, however, both Michael and Nicole were out that night and they both pounced on me almost straight away. And they calmed me down. And they helped me enjoy the rest of the night. And they didn’t complain once that I was causing a problem.

Thinking back to the events of that night, I am not sad that I can’t socialise in the way that everyone else can. I’m not sad that I can’t risk getting drunk like everyone else does. I’m not sad that I have wasted all these hours of my life in a state of panic.

I am happy, very happy.

This time last year I felt all alone in the world and did not feel like there was any real reason for me to stay. Now, I have a large circle of friends and a small circle of close friends who I know I could trust with my life. I have people I can talk to when things get too much. I have a place in the University of my Dreams. I have a mother who loves me and a sister who I can hang around with as if she’s just another friend.

So, so what if I have problems with socialising and communicating? I have everything I could possibly want, and I couldn’t be happier.


Stuff for you to check out:

  • Michael’s music (youtube/soundcloud)- he’s a super-great musician and a lovely person. Would you be so kind as to check it out and maybe give a little feedback? Even just the listen would be a great help, he needs a signal-boost! (No, he hasn’t asked me to post this. I’m just trying to help out!)
  • This blog, because it’s great.
  • This lady’s twitter account, because it makes me smile.

I hope you all have a great day!

Tx

The Attack of the Brain Bees

Anxiety is a big, all-encompassing disorder whose symptoms can affect every single aspect of life. For me, it is something that has constantly improved and disimproved for as long as I can accurately remember. Different aspects become stronger and weaker as time passes. Sometimes, my problems culminate in a low but constant buzzing that allows me to function inconspicuously but easily keeps me up for days on end. Other times, it manifests itself in bursts of extreme nervousness that make it rather difficult to concentrate and cause me to shake violently, but still allow almost normal function. Right now, however, anxiety attacks are the bane of my existence, and these do not allow normal function at all.

If you are unsure what an anxiety attack entails, AnxietyCentre.com offers a pretty good explanation:

There is a long list of anxiety symptoms. But because each body is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety affects each person differently. Consequently, anxiety symptoms vary from person to person in type or kind, number, intensity, and frequency. If your symptoms don’t exactly match this list, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety. It simply means that you body is responding to anxiety slightly differently.

Common anxiety attack symptoms include:

  • A feeling of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen, that you are in grave danger
  • A strong feeling of fear, foreboding
  • An urge to escape, to get out, to run away from danger
  • Blanching, turning white, looking pale
  • Blushing, skin blotches, turning red
  • Burning skin
  • Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing
  • Confusion
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
  • Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotional upset
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of losing control, freaking out
  • Fearful thoughts that seem incessant
  • Feels like there is a tight band around your head
  • Hot or cold chills
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
  • Nausea
  • Numbness, tingling sensations in any part of the body
  • Panicky feeling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Plugged ear(s), stuffed ear(s)
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing heart
  • Shooting pains in the chest, neck, shoulder, head, or face
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trembling, shaking (visibly shaking or just trembling on the inside)
  • Upset stomach
  • Urgent desire to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
  • Vomiting

This is a pretty accurate description.

For me, during an anxiety attack, it feels like my head is full of bees (hence the title). Instead of one clear train of thought, it’s more like all of my thoughts are climbing over each other to try and get heard, and the result is that I can’t make sense of any of them. Without access to clear instructions in my head, I don’t know what to do, and I crumble. I’m scared and confused. I feel like I’m not in control of my own body. I struggle to breathe. I sweat, shake violently and have nosebleeds. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I start scratching at my arms and neck in a desperate attempt to have something else to focus on.
By the time I have calmed down, I’m covered in bruises, my skin stings and burns and my fingernails are bloody. It’s not an attractive sight.

These attacks are not something I would ever wish on someone else.

I don’t allow my friends or family to see me when I’m having one. The fact that I can react this dramatically to things like crowds and loud noises, things that most young people revel in, makes me feel incredibly weak. For this reason, if I feel stressed or overwhelmed I try to escape the situation as quickly and as quietly as possible.

There has only been one occasion on which I couldn’t escape in time for an attack, and it happened just one month ago. Everyone in the flat and the flat’s social group went to a “foam party” for Rachel’s birthday. By the time we got there, we had been drinking for a while (I’ve discovered that sometimes a small amount of alcohol renders me almost socially capable) so I was doing fine for the first hour or so. By half 12, however, Shannon had discovered me curled up at the side of the room, crying uncontrollably as I recovered from my first ever tipsy panic attack (no fun). Ever the good Samaritan, Shannon took me home and got me some company before returning to the party by taxi. She explained to the rest of our friends that “Tab was getting a bit stressed, and I wanted a walk so I took her home.” I think that that’s probably one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.

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Before it went downhill: Curtis, Evan, Francesca and I at the foam party.

Got questions? Experiences? Feel free to comment!

Have a nice day.

Tx