Friday, April 29, 2016

Black Dog Dead - April

Last month, I talked mostly about anger and its debilitating effects. Although still a clear and present danger, especially in that the root causes don’t appear to be in any hurry to uproot and plant themselves elsewhere, I’ve met with some success in managing that emotional response better.

And while my fifth Evil UnLtd book remains in the works, I do have somewhere I can redirect and channel any politically motivated anger in a more positive and humorous outlet. Well, at least the few segments of that I wrote this month made me chuckle and that has to count for something.

Creatively speaking, April’s focus has been on other projects. Two main ones, along with some bits and pieces on the side. And work has progressed through the usual mix of good days and bad days. Much as you’d expect.

In reflecting on such a normal unexceptional month, I’m conscious of three factors that stand out in the context of their effects on my mental health. One of which is probably more damaging than last month’s anger, but there are two which, I’m glad to say, have been of significant benefit.

Within the first week of the month I managed to self-publish a collection of short fantasy stories (The Tortenschloss Chronicles, currently available for Kindle, folks, plug plug plug) and, in that spirit of celebrating the small victories that I’ve discussed before, deserved a pat on the back just for achieving that and for meeting the deadline I’d set myself. Yay!

But just as the act of submitting a manuscript to agents and publishers comes with the inherent and unfortunately likely risk of rejection, the act of self-publishing and the necessary self-promotion that follows comes with its own set of risks. Chief among them being releasing your labour of love to a deafening chorus of indifference.

Yeah, that’s a slap in the face.

Frankly, it’s heartbreaking.

When your advertising budget is zero, social media is one of your few avenues for promotion and it’s seriously disheartening to see posts relating to your pet project go ignored and unshared by 99% of your online followers, contacts and friends.

Obviously, my huge heartfelt appreciation goes out to the 1%. Many many thanks to them.

But it’s worth clarifying, this is not about that vast majority. Everyone leads busy lives and it’s fully possible such posts go unnoticed in a lot of people’s timelines and twitter streams and what have you. I daresay I miss loads from others and for that, what can I say, I apologise.

This is purely and simply about how it affects me.

This, in many respects more hurtful than the persistent rejection from agents and publishers that was such a feature of the traditional publishing approach, is tremendous nourishment for the Black Dog. It invites that worst of NATs  – my old enemy, “What’s the point?” – right back in to take up residence. And my brain does a little danse macabre around the notion of quitting altogether.

Yeah. It’s probably one of the highest-yield fuels for giving up that I’ve encountered in recent years. And that’s hard, because my writing is me, it’s my life, and ultimately its purpose, its raison d’etre, like mine, is to be read. If it’s not, then I’m living in a vacuum.

What’s especially frightening about that life-hurdle is that for right now I have no answer. All I have is to keep going – keep writing – in hopes of different results. And that, my friends, is close to the definition of insanity.

So, yes, April had its unhelpful share of black days. Days of derailing that, despite my having skated close to getting all caught up, put me right back to behind schedule. With the sense of constantly chasing just to get nowhere.

Scary. Although fast-approaching deadlines is at least a terror I can deal with. 

Applying a little temporal juggling, pushing back a few projects by a couple of months I’ve at least made the weeks ahead look more manageable. 

Luckily, the actual horror days were few. Not something that could be said to have characterised my whole month. They were a significant and worrying feature and a pitfall I have to be very much aware of – not least because I have to come up with some sort of answer to them. Some better way of dealing with them. Ideas on a postcard, please.

Countering them were those factors that lifted me and helped keep me afloat. Factors that, now that I come to write about them, strike me as the simplest, trifling things. They’re not actual trifles, mind you. I didn’t binge on puddings. Tried that before, you just get fat and depressed.

First and foremost has been my weekly morning swim. Every Wednesday morning, I’ve been hauling my insomnia-heavy carcass out of bed and dragging it up the hill to the local leisure centre to go several lengths of the pool. It’s been a daunting adjustment and many a Wednesday morning has been a battle, I don’t mind telling you.
But this month, something changed.

On the eighth week of this enforced habit, I sensed a shift between the swim being something I made myself do to something I wanted to do. It wasn’t some dramatic revelation or epiphany or anything, but it was a change that dawned on me nevertheless as I emerged from the pool on the second week of April. Breathlessness almost – almost – felt like exhilaration. And whereas before I was always mindful to congratulate myself on just getting out of bed at stupid o’clock, that day it felt really good.

Now, take it from me, I have no natural inclination towards physical exercise – well, not solo anyway – and I’m a long way from physical fitness, but I thoroughly recommend something like this in anyone’s ongoing fight against depression. Aside from two very unexpected anxiety attacks in the pool on separate Wednesdays – both of which I think I coped with and reined in pretty well – I’ve found that the Black Dog doesn’t seem to like water. It hasn’t, so far, seemed to want to join me on my swim.

Even on the gloomier Wednesdays, when reticence was at its peak and I walked up the hill like a leaden sloth, my head and heart were relatively clear as I swam. And hopefully, if my experience in April is any indicator, this is one habit that’s going to continue to be beneficial.

In addition to the swim itself, I maintained the habit of reporting on the swim on Facebook, I guess to keep me honest as well as to reflect on the experience and assess my progress. But I feel like I can just now embrace it as part of my weekly routine and drop the reporting. And maybe, as and when finances permit, step it up to twice a week or more.

Something to aim for.

Another element that has been surprisingly good at colouring my April days has been comfort TV. One particular low evening I couldn’t face any kind of work and wasn’t even feeling up to frittering away the hours on a video game so I turned to Friends. That’s Friends with a capital F, the TV show.

It was always a favourite of mine and for me it’s the definition of comfort TV. Alongside the continuing Doctor Who rewatchathon (which has the additional benefit of inviting Facebook discussions) it’s proven a great mood-elevator, just an episode (or two, if I’m up early enough) over breakfast or maybe one for a half-hour break between writing sessions, that sort of thing. The fact that I’ve enjoyed the episodes all over again is no surprise, but I was surprised by how effective it’s been as a therapeutic habit.

It’s a simple case, I guess, of a little bit of what you fancy doing you good. So whatever your own choice of comfort telly might be, I recommend it. And it beats comfort food because, you know, you don’t put on weight and make life difficult for yourself when it comes to those weekly morning swims.

Obviously, at some point I will run out of Friends, but I’m already thinking ahead to what other favourites I might turn to when I reach the end of the series.

Hopefully, between fun entertainments and the swimming that should go some way to keeping me sane. (Relatively speaking!) And help counter anything that comes along to work in the opposite direction.

Now faced with an ultra-busy month ahead, it should be interesting by the end of May to see which side is winning.

SAF 2016

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