Tuesday, September 30, 2014

There And Back Again.

By Jay Stringer

About three months back my brain went boom. I was angry. I was moody. I was getting sad. A lot. For no real reason. There were days when I'd come home at the end of the day-job and not be able to talk. My chest would be tight. I'd then sit in front of the keyboard to try and write -the thing I was supposed to enjoy- and find I had nothing left. I would sit up until four or five in the morning trying to find whatever I had lost.

In short, I was not fun to be around.

I realised I'd been feeling this way for a while. That I felt like I'd been having a slow heart attack for many months and that my my brain had felt neglected and decided to get in on the act.

I went to the Doctor, after a few weeks of refusing to seek help, and he told me straight away that I was all kinds of nuts.

I joke. He didn't say that at all. A Doctor wouldn't use the phrase "all kinds."

I was signed off from the day job and I've been off ever since. I'm due to go back next week and, in all honesty, I can't afford to stay off any longer.

For the first few weeks of being off, I made the mistake of trying to continue writing. I was treating it like a holiday and doing what I always do when I'm on holiday from the day-job; writing. I was still fighting with the blank page and still getting angry over something I didn't understand. After that, my better half pointed out that the Doctor had told me to stop working and that I hadn't done what he said. I wasn't on holiday, I was supposed to be healing.

So I finally let a few people in on what was going on, and stopped writing.

I filled my time with reading, sleeping, and cleaning the flat (though I'm overplaying how much of that I did, really.) The most important thing I did was starting to ride my bike. We live only half a mile from the River Clyde, and every day I would get out on my single speed (later, fixed gear) bike and ride. Ten miles at first, then fifteen, then twenty to twenty five miles a day. Along the river or through the city. On abandoned cycle paths or in crazy busy traffic. I could do more now. I could easily do thirty or forty, but I find the current amount is what I need.

After a few weeks of that, you start realise what's important. Perspective comes back, and your priorities snap back into place.  It's going to be different for everybody. I needed to get back to writing. I was itching for it. I got back at my desk and carried on with the current book, and with work that I owed to a few people. Eventually I remembered DSD was still here, waiting.

Why am I writing all of this?

Well, I'm a writer, it's what I do.

But it's also important to say some of this. We don't talk about mental health enough in any walk of life. And in ours, in this crazy writing profession we've chosen, the vast majority of us are holding down more than one job. Some of us get to really enjoy the other job, some of us get to really hate it. But regardless, on top of that, we also have families, friends, commitments. We have skin that would like to see the sun from time to time, and lungs that want to be out in the fresh air.

As writers, we have the odds stacked against our health. Chances are you're spending too many hours of your life sat down. Too much time staring at information on a bright screen. You're also spending way too many or your waking (and sleeping) hours letting the writing take over sections of your brain.

I see it affecting friends, and I saw it affect me.

If you're feeling in a bad way, talk to someone. And if you recognise any of the signs in what I've said, then make changes. For me, I'm done writing at weekends. Once my day job is done for the week on a Saturday afternoon, I'm done using my brain again until Monday. And I'll be out on my bike every day, whatever it takes to find the time to do it.

Whatever changes you need to make to balance your life out, start them today.


Dana King said...

Congratulations. Too many people either refuse to recognize their own signs,or decide to macho their way through them. I started taking the summers pretty much off from writing a few years ago, to focus on reading, watching baseball, and other even more sloth-like activities. Come September, I was raring to go. Started to take it for granted, until this year events prevented me from taking things quite as slow over the summer as I like, and I can see (and feel) the difference. Next year, I may skip even the small editing tasks I kept up with this year as a way to catch up a little on the down time.

The even better news, for you, is that now you know what to recognize and should be able to catch any recurring symptoms sooner, before they get too bad.

Welcome back.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, welcome back. And thanks for this. All kinds of truth. Find what works for yourself and do that. Sounds simple, it's not.

Holly West said...

Thank you for writing this. I'm right in the middle of a huge crisis with my family because my father won't get treatment for the severe mental health issues he's been battling for years. My mom left him last week, the day before their 49th anniversary. I have no idea how this will all play out, but so far it's been absolutely terrible. I'm glad you're seeing progress in your own treatment.

seana graham said...

Thanks for writing this, Jay. Very well, told. And how apt that a bike should prove to be a key to a problem that turned out to be all about balance.