Break The Cycle

People say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It turns out they are not only right but that I am the literal definition of insane. Today I finally discovered the cycle of regression that I have been in for the better part of ten years.

If you are waiting for me to tell you about some earth-shattering moment of clarity or blinding light on the road to Damascus, then I am afraid you are going to be bitterly disappointed. The truth is that when the big moment arrived, it was marked by little more than a half-hearted sigh.

The best way I can describe the situation is an endless series of attempts to turn back the clock to a time where I felt happier and more fulfilled. Several times a year, I would make an active attempt to reestablish a relationship that I should never have had in the first place.

It was as if I was trying to trick my brain into releasing that dopamine rush it was so fond of handing out back in my late twenties. Never once did I take the time to consider why I was doing such things, or for that matter what I hoped I would achieve by upsetting everyone else’s life.

The truth is that when I find myself under emotional or mental stress, then I have a habit of regressing to earlier stages in my life. While not a new phenomenon, it is one that I am perfectly well aware: Only in a more extreme form as a self-preservation mechanism.

Other times I typically regress to some child-like state, retreating into a world of superheroes, model soldiers, video games or old TV shows: Basically anything that would give me a sense of place and security one most associates with childhood or early adolescence.

From time to time, the regression manifest in a much simpler form, and I take on a child-like attitude being equal measures flippant and ignorant of my more immediate problems. Thankfully this kind backwards step only last for an hour or so and does surprisingly little damage to the present.

Today’s discovery is a third flavour, one where I try to return to a time when I had more control and less responsibility: One where I felt loved, happy and secure, not as a child but as an adult. The problem with this form of regression is that it requires others to return to that earlier period with me.

At best this results in “What the fuck?” and at worst I end up opening old wounds and pulling others down into my self-indulgent drama. The only thing worse than my discovery is that it means confronting the idea I might not always be the good guy in these things.

Fortunately, my self-image is a problem for another time. For today I will be happy enough knowing that I have at least broken out of a destructive pattern.

Don’t Fall Asleep To Dream

Yesterday I forgot to take my tablets and last night I paid the price for it. In the past, I have alluded to what happens to my nocturnal mental state upon missing my daily dose of crazy pills. In the early hours of this morning, I found myself in such a state of distress that I thought it worth sharing.

Of the two episodes I had the first is the tamer them:

I was Spider-Man swinging through the nighttime skyline of New York City when the lights began to die. Building by building they would blink out, the darkness surrounding me as I manoeuvred in search of safety. No matter which way I would turn nothingness would be there ready to consume me. They area of security shrinking by the second. Then I could hear the creatures moving through the shadows of the city, searching for me. As I ascended higher and higher, desperately trying to jump into the sky and away from the faceless terrors below the stars began to go out one by one and the moon started to turn dark. In the end, I had no choice but to fall into the oblivion and whatever was awaiting for me within.

There are probably a multitude of interpretations of this dream, and if that had been the only one I had, I think I would have been able to cope or at the very least not have been so badly shaken.

However, the second episode exceeded the first in just about every way possible:

I was one of four detectives assigned to investigate the death of a prostitute involved with WWE Superstar The Undertaker. We arrived at the woman’s flat. It was a sad little studio apartment that was mainly a bedroom and a hall connecting it to the front door. One side of the room had been converted into a makeshift kitchen. The whole place stank of rotting food. The carpets were damp with mould caused by leakage from the defrosting fridge. Beyond that, the area was empty. The bed had been stripped, and there were no personal effects lying around.

The female detective opened the sizeable wardrobe and found a handful of clothes hanging up, belonging to both the woman and a child. The top part of the fitted wardrobe was a separate cupboard. Upon opening it, we discovered the mummified body of a small boy. Folded away like it was being stored for future use.

As we removed the child’s husk, we found stacks and stacks of electronic tablets, each one with a different family or child upon the lock screen along with a date. Without it being expressed to me, I knew that these people had all been murdered. I stood in the doorway and watched my colleague build a mosaic out of the tablets on the floor before collapsing to my knees and weeping as wave hopelessness washed over me. How could we possibly hope to defeat such relentless evil.

The scientific reason for the intensity of my dreams is because my medication affects my brain chemistry and that if my body misses the usual dosage of whatever chemical the drugs produce vivid dreams are a side effect. The problem is that I don’t dream and only have nightmares. This is life long problem and nothing new, but in forgetting to take my medication, the problem is exacerbated beyond all measure.

The lesson of the day; don’t break routine as it only leads to dark places.

And Burn Your Assumptions

People spend a lot of time talking about “writing for the market”. The idea is that you think about categories, age range etc. your book could potentially be placed in, should it ever make it to publication before you start writing. I suppose it’s a bit like having an idea of your destination before you get behind the wheel of the car.

Now I am not saying that the above is the correct way to do it. I think it’s just as valid an approach to write what you want to write and see where it fits. If writing to the market is a planned journey, then I guess this style of writing is like exploring. It might be more exciting, but there is a much higher chance of getting lost or ending up nowhere.

This isn’t the usual “ganders vs architects” argument or anything like that. I am 100% in the “architects” camp. I am thinking here more about what you do with the finished product and whether the investment of your time is worth it for something that may never see the light of day.

That sentence alone has really gotten me thinking, how much of my time have I spent writing unfinished novels. Things that will never see completion, let alone submission. Can my argument really be all that valid, if I am already wasting that time? Let alone asking the question of what constitutes a “waste of time”!

What does all this have to with my life on the unbearably hot June afternoon? I have an idea for a book that doesn’t really “fit” anywhere. When the idea first came to me, I was sure it was a “YA Novel“, maybe even “Middle Grade Fiction“. The themes did seem a little “adult”, but I have never been one to pander or dumb things down for children.

The problems really arose in the practicalities of telling the story. It would only work if it was set in the recent past, most likely the 90s as that’s “my era”. So now I am moving into “retro” territory and with themes and concept’s that could be considered “adult”. The closest cultural touchstones I could use are the TV show Stranger Things and the novel The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Neither one of these, I think, are really my target audience. And that’s where my problem lies, in the phrase “I think”, because the truth is this is more an assumption than any kind of provable theorem. Is it just that I need to more research and see if there is a market for this particular book?

Or do I need to loose the idea “books I should be writing” and just write whatever the hell is in my head? Do I need to stop trying to make myself into the type of author I aspire to be and just be the kind of author I am?

The first rule of writing is, write what you know. The problem is when you have as many mental health issues as I do, does that not bring into question my judgement? How can I write about what I know when I don’t even know myself…..

Even Heroes Fall…

As anyone who reads this will know I am prone to “Hero-Worship”. I don’t know if it’s some fetishistic or compulsive trait that I have developed or one that I have always had. Either way, I take people I admire creatively and imbue them with a kind of perennial sanctity.

In the past, on here I have named writers such as Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Terry Pratchett in just such terms. If such a list were to have a structure, then the name at the very top would be Warren Ellis. He was the first creator I saw as an actual person and not just a name in the credit’s box. Like so many other aspiring creators, he showed us the way, blazed a trail for us to follow and in the process became something of a cult of personality.

The problem with deifying anyone to any extent is that you tend to forget they are only human and just as fallible as anyone else.

This article on bleeding cool has broken my heart. I wish I could say it was hyperbole or me merely being overdramatic, but the truth of being confronted by the man’s humanity has left me lost.

People are people, and we are complex multi-faceted machines that cannot be assigned a binary value of merely one thing or the other. This truth is where partisan politics fails us because it requires simple solutions for complex problems. No one is 100% liberal, like no one, can be 100% conservative. Most of humanity belongs in that swampy middle between the two. Whether they wish to admit this or not is another matter entirely.

The contradiction in who I thought someone was and who they are has left me looking at the admiration and respect I apportion to people based upon what they bring to my life. Especially when weighted against actions that I find personally reprehensible.

Should I value the comics Warren Ellis has created any less because of accusations of immorality on such a grand scale? I am inclined to believe not. Should the man whose every word I have hung on for the better part of 15 years be held accountable for his actions, without question.

I am not naive enough to think that I am not as responsible for the extent of his fall, that if I hadn’t put someone on such a high pedestal that I wouldn’t be feeling as confused and lost as I currently do.

Could it be that it brings into question my moral code? If I aspire to be Warren Ellis would I have done the things he did given the same circumstances? Ideally, I would like to believe not, but I cannot say with any degree of certainty as I have not walked a mile in his shoes.

I have no more clarity now as I did when I started to type. All I can say for sure is that it’s going to take me a few days to process the news and decided on what kind of relationship I wish to have with the man who gave the world Transmetropolitan and The Authority. The man who introduced me to Bruce Sterling, The Pixies and Bryan Talbot.

A man who is just that a man. One who has been accused of morally reprehensible actions. As I mentioned earlier this is a complex problem and one I don’t think has a simple solution, if there even is such a thing.

It’s Been A While.

It is possibly the most cliched blog title of all time. Especially if you are of a certain age and you remember Aaron Lewis and his alternative metal cohorts in the band “Staind”. I am sure there is a multitude of alternative titles I could have chosen, but I try to use song lyrics, and it was the only one I could think of on short notice.

The most important aspect of the title is that it conveys some sense of the time it has taken me to write anything. I went from writing every day to every other day to about twice a week, sure that the decrease in my productivity was more a general malaise over writing than anything in particular.

As a man who has struggled with mental health issues most of his life, I should have seen the warning signs. Perhaps if I had taken the time to recognise what my behaviour was trying to tell me I might not have crashed as hard as I did last week. For those of you keeping score, it was Wednesday when my slowly dropping mood took a full-on nose dive into the ground.

If I was to put my analytical hat on for a moment and try to list the triggers for this particular breakdown I would have to say; Work pressures, lock down, the sudden change to the status quo and a distinct lack of control within my own life.

Actually looking back at that list it’s the last point which is the root cause of all my anxieties. For months know the world has been in a kind of suspended animation, frozen between two states; the way the world was and the way it will be. And I found myself cast adrift between the two.

There was also the one-two punch of my medication and my day job. The amount of drugs I have access too has dwindled since lock down began. Forcing me to consult my GP before they would prescribe a significant amount but not being able to get an appointment as the medical world has more significant problems.

The other is that I am being micro-managed at work and am finding the experience more than a little soul-destroying. If the world was not in such a state, I would be searching for another job, in control of my own destiny. Instead, I am trapped having to take whatever shit is being dished out to support myself.

Having hit rock bottom, I am back on something of an upswing. Writing on here helps a lot, unloading whatever crap is clogging up the filters of my mind and maybe helping others in my situation to feel a little less alone. I might not be “back on track” just yet, but I have my map and I looking for the right route onto the main road.

I even took some time yesterday to do some “creative writing”. It was only some flash fiction, but it was a fun exercise and also I have something that I could submit. The rest I will post on here, just to prove that I am not all “Tell and no show”.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay sane.

Disciplined And Strange, Focused And Restrained

When did I go from writing on here every day to writing on here every other day? I can’t remember the exact moment I began to lose my focus, but it has been waning at an alarming rate in the past few weeks.  Not just when it comes to writing either, my day job has become something of a slog due to finding interest in the most benign and incendental things around me.

I usually try not to write about two subjects at once, but I think the two are actually connected beneath the surface. Either that or I just really want to mention the fact that I have begun to think about my transitions between sentences an unhealthy amount.

Last night I was working on my latest What Culture article and my focus began to wonder, I would read a paragraph and correct it a bit and then go off and look at some shiny thing that was distracting me from across the other side of the room.

Whatever the distraction, when I compelled myself back to what I was doing I began to notice that there points in various paragraphs where I would finish one train of thought and jump straight into the next one. I think it’s tied to my visual interpretation of the text: Does that block of writing look like a paragraph and if not, then I would just continue.

As processes go, it’s a pretty terrible one, to be honest, but the fact that I know a paragraph should convey a single thought or idea and choose to ignore it is unforgivable. I could maybe get away with it if I was on here but something that I intend to be paid for, I should really be ashamed of myself.

The fact that this failing has been highlighted by my lack of focus is an exciting turn of events. Up until now, I have always thought of not being able to focus as an entirely negative thing but in freeing myself up a little from a dogged concentration upon individual words or sentences,  I improved the quality of the work.

Ideally, I would like to be able to strike a happy medium. To control my focus and “Zoom in and out” of a given project to see it as both as a complete work and the various “nuts and bolts” should they require tightening.  Turns out I also need to work on my metaphors, but that’s a problem for another day.

Maybe I will try writing with my internet connection disabled and my phone hidden from view. This will at least tell me what my self-discipline currently looks like and whether or not my focus is just a bit off due to the “lockdown” or if there is a more serious underlying mental health issue happening.

Writing as a tool for medical diagnosis? I am sure that’s actually a thing…

Dissecting Distractions

This is a distraction. This is a distraction in a fire in a barrel. Any questions? – Gordon Bombay, D2: The Mighty Ducks

That particular quote is up there today for two reasons. Firstly, in these troubling times, I think we could always use a little of Coach Gordon Bombay’s guidance and secondly because I really wish I could take all my distractions and set fire to them.

Upon reflection, it’s maybe a good thing none the distractions are people, or I would be advocating something far more sinister than I intended. I make jokes when I am nervous or uncomfortable, it’s a defence mechanism, and I feel like this post is me owning up to my misdeeds the past few days. Worrying if my silent audience is judging me harshly or not at all.

The phrase “misdeeds” should be a red flag to anyone with mental health issues as most people should have them in their normal life. Real misdeeds happen only a handful of times in anyone life at worst. They have ramifications far more significant than not performing a self-assigned task in an arbitrary time frame.

My rational mind understands that playing Elder Scrolls Online is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an enjoyable pass time, and like all video gaming, when done in moderation, it’s therapeutic and stimulating mentally. I should feel no guilt or shame for spending an hour or so a night playing it.

Yet, here I am confessing as if it’s some kind of cardinal sin. Somehow when the time comes, I don’t think Saint Peter is actually going to care that I spent a couple of extra hours a week running around as an Elf in a virtual landscape. The problem is the man in the mirror can’t cope with it.

He looks back at me, silently judging and asking where the words you have promised me are?  Is that article finished? Have you posted a blog today? Do you have any flash fiction hidden down the back of the couch? And when I fail to answer these, he turns away from me in disgust. I know this is my own poor mental health and that I have attached too much importance to writing.

If I should have anger towards anything, it should be my lack of focus. It doesn’t matter if I write a billion words or none. What matters is that I can concentrate on anything long enough to actually finish it without recrimination or guilt. This over-analysis of how I spend my “free” time is by far the most detrimental pressure on my mental health.

If I want to play a video game, watch a movie or read a book, then I should be able to do it without always thinking of “What I should be doing” and how this clearly isn’t it. Life without distraction or fun is not a life; it’s an almost sure-fire route to an early grave and even more pills than I am already one.

Surely a handful of comics, short stories and articles is a better epithet than achieving nothing other than a list of things I should have done?

But All The Drugs In This World Won’t Save Her From Herself

The thing no one tells you about mental health medication (Or at least the kind I am on) before you start taking them is that they can alter your brain chemistry. While this may seem like a fairly obvious thing given what the tablets are actually for, a rather strange side effect is that forgetting to take them causes vivid and intense dreams.

For most people, this either doesn’t sound too bad or quite enjoyable. For someone who does not dream and only has nightmares, well it results in being trapped inside a town of vampires forcing you to experience all manner of inhuman cruelties because “Scared meat tastes better”.

You would think that for someone who wants to write horror fiction for a living that this would be an endless source of inspiration. In truth, it just leads to elevated heart rate, muscle aches, and being so scared that you can’t get out of bed to close the window despite how cold it is. Please understand I am not criticising the NHS’s treatment of mental health issues in general, or it’s prescription of medications in particular.

Maybe I am just feeling a little tender after a miserable nights sleep, but the idea of writing at all, let alone something that would involve horrific images holds no appeal to me whatsoever at the moment. I am exhausted both physically and mentally. A plan is only as good as the person tasked with executing it, and at the moment, I could not be trusted to butter a slice of toast.

It also doesn’t help that I wrote several pitches for What Culture articles yesterday and those that I managed to “flesh out” beyond vague Ideas, I pitched and had accepted. So now I have made promises that my body is going to struggle to deliver. The only saving grace of the situation is that the reasons I forgot to take my medication yesterday where external and could not have been a product of self-sabotage.

If forgetting to take my medication was the only thing that had happened yesterday, then I would perhaps not be quite so down. The other thing I did, I will cover in a separate post another time as it relates to a slightly different aspect of my personal and mental health.

For today it’s going to be a case of tolerating the “day job” enough to make it to the end of the working day, closing up my lap-top and taking some time to let my mind and body rest up. It’s a three day weekend for me, so I hope that I will at least get some writing done.

Publication or even praise is not something I “need” from a piece of writing to make me think it was successful. It is the sense of accomplishment that helps bolster my self-worth. Which now has me wondering if a picture is worth a thousand words what is an emotion worth?

Confidence Is A Preference

The sun is out today, and the hot weather is causing my focus to slip and my demeanour to turn cranky. I am not what you would call a sun worshiper, but neither am I one of those people who love drawn out winters. My favourite season is spring. I think because it’s the most optimistic of them all, full of the promise of things that are to come.

That flowery intro has nothing to do with what I have been thinking about today, but I liked it, so I decided to keep it. It’s my blog, and I will waffle if I want to!

The thing about life is that it’s all about our connections to other people. As much as an autistic introvert like myself would wish this to not be true. My day job can’t be done without testers, users, designers etc. While writing in a vacuum is possible, anyone who has any aspirations to do something more than diary entries is going to find that they will have to deal with someone else at some point.

And therein lies to the great paradox of the writer; those who aspire to be creative in such a manner usually chose it as it allows them a degree of solitude and isolation. Only for them to then discover that you are still beholden to others. Publishers, editors, reviewers and any number of people involved in the production of a commercial product.

All of that is before you begin to factor in the audience.

Over on Facebook, I am a follower of the excellent podcast The Dead Robot Society and enjoy many of the discussions that take place on their page. I even join in when I can. The problem is that it offers me a level of anonymity and control that I wouldn’t usually get in the world at large, so it makes interactions more comfortable.

As does email for the most part but the notion of engaging another person in any form of discussion specific to something I have created terrifies me. I know that they are just waiting for an excuse to point out my flaws and shortcomings, to tear something I have worked so hard on apart.

In my mind, it plays out like that scene in Cinderella where the ugly stepsisters destroy her lovingly made gown just before the ball. The root cause of the anxiety stems from being severely bullied through my childhood and adolescence. Again knowing the root of a problem and solving it are not always the same thing.

There is only so far I am going to get by hiding behind my keyboard, I will never learn unless I am prepared to engage other creative people. Have my flaws shown to me, my work dissected on an operating table and the mistakes laid out before me. Then will come the even more laborious task of learning when they are right and when I am.

For years I used to think the problem with my writing was other peoples opinions, but the truth is, it’s what it has always been, my opinion. Cowardice disguised as arrogance.

I can’t think of a single way to end this other than declare it’s time for me to expose my talent to the world and see who runs away screaming first.

Putting Up With Shutting Up

The observant amongst you will have noticed I have added a new “Page” on here called Articles, which does what it says on the tin. My first ever piece is up now on What Culture and has so far attracted 15K in views. More importantly, it has netted me some money. Which means I am currently a “professional” writer.

As pretentious as this may sound that last part is weighing heavily on me at the moment. A lot of things in my life I do to “prove I can” and once is usually all it takes for me to lose interest in it. In this instance, the feeling isn’t quite as strong because it’s “non-fiction” instead of “fiction” which is what I ultimately want to do.

In an attempt to counter this feeling, I have pitched a second article and have been brainstorming all day on other things I would like to write. There is a part of me that thinks this is a productive and healthy way to behave. But that little voice in the back of my head is there. As it always is, reassuring me that I am trying to prove that this was a fluke.

Or maybe I am using it as a distraction from the much more difficult task of actually writing some fiction. I objectively know that it’s easier to talk about something I have spent my entire life doing, reading comics, than it is to create something new. To take an idea from out of my mind and bring it into the physical world.

God that sounded so much better in my head than written down, but the basic idea is still sound. I guess I am just trying to ascertain if I am doing what I am doing for the right reasons or because it’s the more comfortable option. I see it like this blog, a way of finding my voice and improving my skills as a writer.

What I have to ascertain is if the skills you use as a creative writer are the same as those used by a non-fiction writer and vice versa. There is a considerable amount of overlap in that they both use the same basic building blocks of the English language to convey an idea.

The truth is I need to write a new piece of fiction even if it’s just a bit of flash fiction, something to see if these past few months have had any effect. I think that will be my next task. Write a couple of pieces of flash fiction.

I wrote two a year ago and had one published. Maybe when I am next out on my bike, I will allow my mind to play around with short-form ideas and see if I can get a page of them when I come back. If nothing else I will upload them on here as a way of putting up before I have to shut up.