Episode 37: Learning, but slowly
In which our protagonist attempts to shine light into the abyss
You’d have thought I’d learned the signs by now, dear reader. You’d think that by now I’d realise a week of prolonged headaches and migraines leads to insomnia leads to rumination leads to the mother of all dark pits.
Spoiler: I haven’t. Not even after 20 years of chronic depression and anxiety, I still can’t tell when an episode is coming.
An episode is here.
It’s why I’m late on the missive. It’s why I might not be so talkative when you see me - or, conversely, I might be super talkative and desperate to hide what’s really going on. If you’ve encountered me this last week or so, I’m sorry. I’m trying.
I do think I might be coming out the other end of it, though. The good thing is that I know to ride it, to just go with it, to indulge myself a little - not too much, though; that’s the route to an abyss - and eventually I’ll start to see the light again. That’s the big lesson I’ve learned in this year of being self(ish): sometimes the best thing is to let it happen. To look right in the eyes of despair and say sure, here I am, let’s talk this through and see where we can get to.
It’s the not-sleeping that really gets to me, though, because it’s in the wee dark hours that my brain reaches into the long-forgotten segments of my life to show me what it’s found. Hey, remember that really toxic startup you worked at that nearly killed you? Here’s allllll the things you did wrong that year! Oooh - how about that time at school when you said all those stupidly aggressive things because you were being defensive? Let’s go over them one by one…
Rumination is the root of all evil. It’s also why I struggle with mindfulness and meditation, why I struggle to quiet my mind: that darn mind has so much to remind me of when the time is quiet. But confronting these things head-on is part of recovering from our darkest moments. Rumination, no, but facing them, dealing with them, processing them so you can move on? Yes, that’s the important part.
Conclusion? I need to get back to journaling. I need to get what’s in my mind out onto the page and released into the world. I need to write it all out, tear it up, burn it and release it. Leave it behind. Because I’m better than ever, and I don’t need to be reminded of past failings to know that.
Write it out. Release it. Move on. This is my mantra for this week.
Until next time, dear reader, have a spooky Halloween. Say hi to the ghosts for me.
A voice from the other side
A little story for your Hallow’s week: I moved to the UK 15 years ago, five years after my Beatles-obsessed father passed away. It was not easy by any means, and took me many, many years to settle down. However, whenever I was in a particularly bad place, I would inevitably walk past a busker that would start singing Here Comes The Sun. And I knew that dad was sending a message that I just needed to hang in there, and things would get better.
Fast-forward to last Wednesday, when, in the midst of my latest depressive episode, I was the writer-in-residence at the Bloomsbury Festival. It was a great day, but I felt hollow within, and was not having a great time internally. And then I walk past a busker at Leicester Square station who started playing you-know-what as I wandered past on my way home…
Here’s the resulting piece, conceived and written during my day at Bloomsbury and published that night. I hope you enjoy it.
The week ahead 🗓
Happy Halloween! It’s the time of year when the veil is at its thinnest; when everywhere can be a liminal place and you can reach to the other side.
Writing: I have my eye on three anthologies seeking submissions by the end of the year; which do I tackle first?
Work: Irons in fires, fingers in pies, and all that jazz. Slowly but surely waking up to the working world once more.
Health: Best we don’t go there - especially given I’ve got my GP reviews coming up 😳
Routine: Rebuilding my habits is the key. Plus, join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and NZ.
On the stereo 🎧
Sofa Surfing, by Enola Gay
Iggy Pop told me* about this Irish band that sounds like something from the late 70s/early 80s post-punk noise era but is in fact so new the band doesn’t even have an album yet.
*OK, so I was listening to his show on 6Music, but I still found the song because of him!
Off the shelf 📚
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, by Gwendolyn Kiste
I came across Gwendolyn Kiste during this year’s virtual StokerCon - the official annual conference of the Horror Writers’ Association - and loved what she had to say about gothic and folklore-based storytelling, so I grabbed this collection of short stories, her debut, straight away. It just took me a while to get to reading it… Fourteen tales of gothic longing, modern dark fairytales and speculative myth, each one devoured and mulled over and glorious. So many times while reading this, I resolved to give up my own writing - I’d never top this line or that imagery. C’est la vie.
(T/W for this extract: reference to suicide)
When my sister Savannah set out to do something, she never failed to impress. So on the morning she opened her wrists and emptied what was left of her heart, the bathroom looked less like a butcher block and more like an altar. A dozen lit candles decorated the sink. Opened to Corinthians, a withered King James Bible sat on the floor next to the tub. And with her favourite shade of lipstick - a drugstore brand named Rose Petal - Savannah inscribed a final message on the mirror: Now we know for certain where I’m going.
Get an eyeful 👀
Midnight Mass (Netflix)
Holy shit, this was worth persisting with!! The first couple of episodes were a bit slow and meandering, but I’d heard such good things about it - and have learned that persistence is key with Mike Flanagan’s work - that I kept going. It really kicks in about half-way through and just snowballs into the climax. Yes, it’s not exactly saying anything new, but the execution is magnificent and its message about the dangers of blind faith and the cult of organised religion are so on-point it hurts. Plus, it’s only seven episodes so you can definitely make time for that this Halloween.
Visual confirmation 📷
I got out of the house not once, but twice in recent days. Crazy, I know. On Saturday I met with old friends to peruse the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the V&A (‘twas awesome), and on Monday night I hit Soho for a book launch with some of the LWS crew. The wonderful Jenny Hammerton (avid supporter of these missives) booked a swanky cabaret club to celebrate her book with Peter Fuller: Supper with the Stars, a cookbook and celebration of the works and co-stars of Vincent Price. It’s limited and available here from All Hallow’s Eve, of course!