The Magic Black Book

Writer and Editor. 21. London. Get Stable or Die Trying.

A Horrible Truth

This is the first Hallowe’en/Bonfire Night/Christmas/New Year’s on my own in 8 years. The urge to burst into tears at this realisation is overwhelming. My heart hurts. I want to be sick. Alone alone alone.

Un Roman

Here’s a synopsis and excerpt from the novel I am writing for NaNoWriMo. Enjoy!

Synopsis

She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon
She wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May…

War wages on across the world.
Wildfire spreads across California.
Maya Angelou passes away.
Arsenal win their first trophy in 9 years.
A young woman cannot write.

It is May 2014 and thousands of students are across the UK are preparing for their university finals. After three years of hard graft, it all comes down to these final essays and exams. Faced with extortionate debts and dismal employment prospects, the pressure is on. It’s a stressful time for everyone, but for some students it can become too much to bear.

At one of the best universities in the country, where its glorious redbrick Victorian buildings clash violently with futuristic technology suites, one block of flats on campus (which looks suspiciously like a budget hotel and would not look out of place on the edge of the M25) is specifically rented to students with physical and mental illnesses. Imaginatively and lovingly referred to as “The Disabled Block,” Johnstone Halls of Residence forms the centre of the universe for a group of disabled university students.

Written in the first person, this book is a memoir, based on real events and conversations. It documents my personal struggle with severe and crippling writer’s block during the time where I had to write for my life. While my world was falling apart, so were others’. The crazies had to stick together. And we did stick together, primarily at the Health Centre and on the pavement outside Johnstone, bitching about our therapy sessions and swapping diazepam, smoking too much and drinking an unsafe amount of coffee.

The NHS is supposedly one of the best state systems in the world. But just how much do they help those who need helping? Do they help or hinder young adults’ struggle to survive mental illness? The events that occurred in our lives that May exposed some serious flaws in the NHS and the British education system. It’s all just a big game. And we learned the rules and played it to the best of our ability. But not all of us won.

This is a book about writer’s block. This is a book about mental health. This is a book about university. This is a book about struggle: physical, emotional, personal, shared struggle. This is a book about how we came out the other side… Just.

Excerpt

On Friday, it rained. I was sitting on the floor outside Johnstone, smoking a cigarette, drinking a coffee, staring at the trees that I will come to miss so much. E came outside.
“Hi babe.”
“Hi.”
She has a look of determination about her. This is strange because I know that she cannot be bothered to do anything right now. She unfolded a fluorescent plastic sign and placed it upright in the middle of the pavement a few metres away from me. Then she came and flopped down on the floor beside me, knees up to her chin and rolled a cigarette. And then we sat in the rain and smoked in sisterly silence, and noticed that everyone who walked past us smiled.
The sign read: CAUTION – WET FLOOR.

Without: Reflection on Addiction

Trying to figure out how long it’s been since I last took a Valium. I think it’s been 6 weeks or so. Don’t get me wrong, if my colleague (who is sitting opposite my desk right now) said, “I’ve got a blister pack of 14 Valium in my pocket,” I would rugby tackle him to the ground and, at risk of a sexual harassment claim, would grope my way round his person to get my hands on those little pieces of gold dust. Then I’d run to the bathroom, lock myself in, pop them all out with shaking hands and choke them back, perhaps slurping water from the tap if I still had the slightest bit of rationality left in me.

But when I first realised my situation (that is, after hallucinating the image of a man loitering between the cars as I sat in a car park on a council estate in East Finchley, necking a warm can of Kronenbourg and snorting suspicious powder off a discarded brick, I stupidly, stupidly must have taken my last precious Valium tablet. The one I’d been saving for absolute emergencies. The one I carried everywhere with me at all times, lest someone confiscate it. The one that I needed the following morning, but that wasn’t there, in the mangled packet where it once lived, because I had stupidly taken it in my frenzied state the previous night) I behaved like an addict. Because that what I am. That’s what I was. An addict.

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You don’t realise what you’ve got until it’s gone. I used to reprimand my psychiatric team for the way that they liberally handed me scripts for a fucking irresponsible amount of diazepam, whenever I wanted, whenever I needed. They handed them out like there was no tomorrow, because for me, there is never a tomorrow until it arrives. I would laugh about it with my fellow bipolar/borderline/anxiety-ridden chums. “You will not fucking believe it, but Dr T has only gone and given me a script for 32 Valium!” “No way. 2mg?” “Nope. 5mg!” “WHAAAT, oh my god, so jealous.” “I know right. How fucking stupid though… Giving a suicidal patient the means to commit suicide. Giving a patient with a track record of addiction copious amounts of an addictive drug.” But those days are over.

Since leaving university, I have returned to my family GP. Doc has known me since I was a baby. She was the one who has tracked my mental illness from day one. She’s the one who started me on Prozac when I was 13. She’s the one who checked up on me after suicide attempts, who gave me her personal mobile number for emergencies, who gives me a right talking-to when I turn up for an appointment stinking of booze and cigarettes. And so of course, she’s the one who refuses to prescribe me any more Valium. Upon news of this, I had a fucking breakdown. Crying, punching the wall, screaming, bitch, bitch, bitch. But wait. Composure. Clarity. I’m a clever girl, I can get around this.

Doc went on her annual holiday to Israel two days later. I turned up at the surgery at 7am, demanding to see the locum. I turned on the charm, all innocent, “Ooooh lovely to meet you, hi, so basically, nothing serious, I won’t take up much of your time, but I appear to have misplaced my packet of diazepam. Honestly no idea where it’s gone, I need a new script please.” He smiled, reached for the green prescription paper, grabbed a pen, and for a second I relaxed my shoulders. I must have looked a little too pleased. He scrolled through my notes on the screen. And there in red writing, underneath the notes from A&E about the previous week’s suicide attempt by diazepam overdose, it said “RE DIAZEPAM: DO NOT PRESCRIBE TO ABOVE PATIENT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.” He smiled at me, “No chance.” Panic ensued. “But, but, but I just quit alcohol and I need it, I need it, you don’t understand.” “Have you been attending groups at the local drug and alcohol addiction services?” “What, no, I don’t need that, I just need some Valium doc, come on, look at my shakes. Look how much my hands are shaking. It’s because of the Lithium. My shakes are so bad, and nobody will give me procyclidine because they think they’re just anxiety shakes but they’re not, they’re Lithium shakes, and diazepam is the only thing that stops it, please. Please.” “I can’t. I’m sorry.” I left the surgery in tears.

I turned my mother’s home upside-down. Close to pulling my hair out I went through every single pocket on every single item of clothing that I own. Jackets, jeans, shirts, I checked in pairs of shoes, in my make-up bag, in every single handbag. There’s got to be some somewhere, come on. I checked on bookshelves. I checked inside books. It got a bit ridiculous. Nothing. Nothing nowhere. Because I had done the frenzied search before: when I wanted to take every single pill I possessed to kill all the hurt I was feeling, to kill all the pain, to kill myself.

I immediately called every single dodgy drug-dealer in my phonebook. Not even drug-dealers, just guys I knew who could “get things.” But someone had tipped me off. Told them all, Don’t give her anything, even if she calls you and she’s crying, don’t give her anything. They all said, “Nah, I’m not really knocking about with prescription stuff anymore” or “Sorry babe, I promised my missus I wouldn’t get involved with that” or “Ah I would, but all the local surgeries have got me and associates on their blacklist, there’s no way I could get it.” Fuck fuck fuck, fucking excuses. So they can get me a live hand grenade for a £5 note but can’t get me one little pill that can be found in the handbag, on the bedside table, in the bathroom cabinet of practically every man and his dog? Fuck it.

I had no choice but to cold-turkey it. But I’ll save reliving that nightmare for another day.

 

 

Depression & Regression

Oh when you look at me like that my darling, what did you expect?
I’d probably still adore you with your hands around my neck,
or I did last time I checked…

One of the worst symptoms of my mental illnesses, one which I am unfortunate enough to experience, is memory loss. Certain things from the distant past (my childhood, school days), I manage to dredge up from the bottom of my brain. Other old memories I can recall with ease, perhaps because I’ve told the story to so many people, so many times. Sometimes I surprise myself: visiting an area I used to frequent with an old boyfriend can evoke memories that I didn’t even know I had. But other times, most of the time, I am at a loss.

My short-term memory truly suffers. I can be on the train and suddenly have no idea where I’m going, which stop I’m meant to get off at, which pub I said I’d meet my friend in, which friend I’m actually meeting. I receive an email saying “Please come down to HR to collect your payslip” and I stand up and walk out of the office door, and then realise I have no idea what I’m doing. Where was I going? I can’t remember if I’ve eaten. I can’t remember if I’ve taken my medication. I can’t remember if I paid my bills.

The novel which I’m writing next month is about my life, my experiences, the strange occurrences that took place during May of this year. If you’ll remember, I had the most crippling writer’s block and I had my final university essays and exams to write. I am going to write about my inability to write. But, I can’t remember a lot of what happened in May because I didn’t write it down (because I couldn’t physically write). So now I’m kinda fucked when it comes to content. I just can’t remember. I lost my mind in May and it doesn’t look like it’s planning to return any time soon.

My mother is a hypnotherapist. I sent her a crazed text message this morning:

Can you do regressive hypnotherapy? Like, take me back 6 months and help me to remember things? Does such a thing even exist?! Help! X

Her reply:

I do not believe in regressive hypnotherapy.

Thanks, Ma. Really helpful. So, darling followers, allow me to pose a question to you…

Do any of you have any personal or secondhand experience or knowledge of regressive therapy? Or indeed any techniques for transporting oneself back in time to remember certain events?

Any help/feedback/thoughts would be much appreciated xxx

 

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

So, my long-suffering followers might remember this, but for the sake of my new readers, this time last year I decided to take part in National Novel Writing Month:- that is, participants have the 30 days of November in which to write a novel of 50,000 words. There are related forums, blogs, support, blah blah blah to see you through (in fact the online NaNo community is pretty damn impressive, to be fair). I thought that after my personal success of NaPoWriMo in April 2013, that it would only be logical to give myself something to take my mind off my illness, something to really get stuck into and finally sit down and finally write the bloody novel.

But alas, 1st November rolled around and I was having major doubts. This is what I posted on my blog last year:

I don’t know if I am well enough to do NaNoWriMo. Obviously, I am supposed to start writing today. Part of me feels like I can do it, but another part of me feels like I really, really can’t. I’ve got a dissertation to write, poetry to submit, intense reading for two courses, a critical edition to compile and edit, a blog to maintain: should I add writing a novel on top of all of that?

Along with my workload, I am exhausted from my relapse. My body feels completely drained. I have run out of aripiprazole which controls my bipolar, and I don’t have enough money to buy more. My hardship funding was supposed to come through on Wednesday but I still haven’t received it. I don’t physically have £8 to buy more meds.

So, I’ve got 97p in my bank account, a workload bigger than space, and supposedly a novel to write. What to do, what to do.
Any suggestions from my followers? 

The general consensus was “DON’T YOU DARE ADD ANY MORE STRESS TO YOUR LIFE. YOU ARE ASKING FOR A RELAPSE. Nobody’s disappointed in you. You can write the novel next year. Or whenever you’re ready. But don’t put yourself under pressure for the sake of impressing strangers in far off corners of the world. Your university studies should come before creative leisure. You can always do it next year instead.”

So, on the morning of 2nd November I decided:

I have decided not to take part in NaNoWriMo. It’s too much extra pressure, and my college work should come before recreation.

Then, on the evening of 2nd November, I suffered a devastating relapse, one which ultimately led to the breakdown of my relationship with the love of my life. My world fell apart. I was desperately sick. Thank Christ that I didn’t have a novel to write too! So I made the right decision, and instead I participated in National Blog Posting Month, where I wrote a journal-style post every day during the month of November.

But that was then. This is now.

Last week, I received an email from the NaNoWriMo 2014 team; obviously I had signed up to receive news and updates last year, so I am still on the mailing list. I felt a sudden pang of inspiration. The brand new glossy black Moleskine notebook that is currently collecting dust is just crying out to be filled. I don’t have anything to hold me back this year (apart from working/commuting for 12 hours a day). But I could write on my lunch break, while I’m eating my evening meal, when I am inevitably wide awake at 4am being tortured by my thoughts. And of course, weekends. If I could go to the library or the cafe and get a solid chunk of my thoughts down on paper, I would feel like perhaps my life has a purpose. I have stories to tell, and they’re too good for the pub… they need to be heard.

So, I’m making a compromise. I am participating in National Novel Writing Month in the sense that during November, I will be writing a novel. However, I am not going to beat myself up (literally) if I don’t write 1667 words every day, or if I have a day off, or if I don’t go to any of the local writing events. I am doing this for me. And I am excited :)

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DAUGHTER by Jane Shemilt (Penguin, 2014) And so far, it is bloody awful. Seriously disappointed. Review to follow…    

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