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Dog Going Blep

Hey guys,

I’m going to be taking a brief hiatus from the blog – just for a week or two – while I get back on top of work and my mental health.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this picture of a dog going blep:

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– Fe

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Other Stuff, Personal

#justanxietythings

I had an actual blog post about the links between music and writing planned and half-written…and then this happened.

(I’m assuming that everyone’s familiar with the ‘justgirlythings’ meme?)

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I’m trying to be much more open about my mental health, hence…whatever this is. I think it’s so important to talk about the problems we have to abolish the stigma around mental illnesses and make sure that people aren’t afraid or embarrassed to get the help that they need.

I remember reading something once that argued that you don’t blame someone who has broken their leg. You don’t tell them they’re making up how much it hurts. And if they need to take painkillers to alleviate the pain a little then that’s not shameful at all. Why is it any different with mental health?

While in theory I subscribe to this entirely, I still find it incredibly difficult to talk about my mental health face to face with people, even those closest to me – often especially those people. But I’m working to change that, and I hope anyone else who also suffers feels that they can do the same.

So yes, I have anxiety, I have depression, and I’m currently getting help for other problems I haven’t got a name for yet. I have mood swings, hallucinations and psychotic episodes, and those are things I have to learn to deal with. But with the right support and a maybe a little help from medication I can live a normal, productive and healthy life. I’m still learning how, but aren’t we all learning really?

My Writing, Poetry, Writing Stuff

Space

I originally wrote this a few years ago in response to a relationship with a friend that turned sour, although it wasn’t all that sweet to begin with. It’s a little strange, but it was what I needed to say at the time and definitely helped me process what happened; the therapeutic power of writing.

You take up all the space.

You stretch elegantly, feline, filling every corner with yourself. And, like a cat, you have claws for those who cross you.

I feel them as you laugh lightly and place your hand on my thigh, exactly the way you know I hate so much. Your smile says you mean nothing by it, but in your eyes I see the challenge. Say something.

I never do.

I am a chosen one, privy to the barbed wire of your tongue as you spit venom about someone who has no idea they have invoked your wrath. I pity them, whoever they are, but I pity myself more as I hover too close to your sharp edges.

You tell me secrets that you create from thin air to bring us closer and I thank you for trusting me as though they were a sacred gift. All I really want is someone to tell my own secrets to, for they weigh heavy on my shoulders, but my life holds no interest for you and you tell me so. I bite my tongue and wait for the day when maybe you will like me enough to let me speak.

I am lucky you like me, you claim, as though you have an armoury stored away specifically to pierce my heart were I ever to fall from your good graces. I cannot think if anything I have done that you could use, but I strive to be better so you have at least a few less bullets with my name carved into them.

Were you anyone else, I would say I was weak for letting you drag your nails across my skin. But I convince myself it is for your own good, for rather you scratch me than yourself. I will bleed so you don’t have to, and never mind that I’m draining myself dry. If I can stand your poison for just a little longer then maybe your bottle will be empty, and then all it will take is to pour you full of perfume and we shall all smell sweeter.

Then one day you deploy your arsenal with military precision. Which do you want first, my head to mount above your mantelpiece, or my heart to roast on a spit? There was a time when I would have given you either.

You take up all of the space even now you’re gone. The places in me you used to occupy echo with the emptiness, the crumbling ruins of a temple I built for you.

For now I blame myself. Maybe just one more day would have changed things, one more day and you would have smiled at me just once without bared teeth.

But at least now your hand is not on my thigh, and for that I am glad.

Book Reviews, Reviews

The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls Review

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Chances are you’ve never heard of Emilie Autumn unless you move in very particular musical circles; I very much stumbled across her when someone referenced her in a blog. Her style is self-described as ‘victoriandustrial’ with a bit of musical theatre thrown in, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but something I actually quite like (if you want to check her out I’d start with Opheliac, which is generally considered to be her best album). She’s bipolar and an outspoken feminist, both of which feed into pretty much everything she does. She’s occasionally a bit controversial in her comments and her aesthetic has garnered accusations of romanticising mental illness, but overall I like her and her music has actually helped me through some tough times.

In 2009 Autumn self-published The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls to accompany the tour she was on and is based on the time she spent in a mental institution. Part autobiography, part historical novel, part fantasy, AFWVG is an odd mish-mash of styles mixed in with handwritten notes, recipes and photographs including shots of Autumn herself and as a whole looks stunning.

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I would definitely describe this as a Marmite book: either it works for you or it doesn’t.

The fictional half of the book is told in letters ‘received’ by Autumn during her time in the mental institution. Emily-with-a-Y, a Victorian violin prodigy who is condemned to life in The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, a place where vulnerable girls are mistreated and abused, and ultimately part of sinister dealings by the corrupt Asylum doctors. It’s fairly standard fare, but for the most part it’s executed reasonably well. Emily-with-a-Y is likeable and very human, although she does fall prey to the ‘Chosen One’ trope a little as the Asylum doctors find her a little too interesting for no apparent reason. There are also a few issues with overly-loquacious style and structure – there are places where the action begins to pick up pace only to be followed by a whole chapter describing the food at the Asylum – but I found it relatively enjoyable and, with a good editor (which will be happening now that Autumn has signed with a publishing house) it definitely has potential.

You do need to let historical accuracy go a little which people have complained about, but I don’t think that that was what Autumn was going for. Although her description can be a little clunky at times she does create a vivid, gritty world that holds genuine fear for the female characters and, although the villains are exaggerated, she draws parallels between their attitudes towards women and sentiments that are still held by some today that manage to cut close to the bone.

But it’s the autobiographical parts of the book that are by far the more interesting. Autumn bares her soul in these sections, drawing on things that she wrote around the time she was committed to create not just an account of her time in the mental institution, but a holistic look at what it means to be ‘crazy’. She’s definitely not always likeable in these parts, but she’s brutally honest about it and it’s both harrowing and beautiful. These parts aren’t for the faint hearted – the three diaries she includes sections of are very difficult to read – but I would honestly say it’s worth it. If you’ve ever been through anything similar then Emilie’s thoughts and experiences will probably speak very personally to you.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Autumn became more interested in the fictional world that she created than telling her own story because the autobiographical chapters become less and less frequent and don’t receive any proper conclusion. Instead she meshes the two worlds she’s written about together, which is fair enough, but I would have liked some closure or reflective thoughts on her time in the institution. I would definitely call this my main complaint because I enjoyed (although maybe that’s not the right word) the autobiographical parts much more than the fiction, although I realise that how much Autumn tells us is entirely up to her as it is very personal.

I’m not sure I could say that I recommend this book. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and I know that a lot of people didn’t like it, either because of the faults in the composition of the fiction or because the autobiography didn’t connect with them, and I can definitely understand why. I have to say that I’m glad I read it though because it spoke to me personally. I think it’s the kind of book each individual would have a different experience with, so if it sounds like your kind of thing then check it out. Just make sure you have a strong stomach.

Other Stuff, Personal

Lessons from 2016

Ignoring the complete shitshow that 2016 has been (because what else can you call the year when ‘President Trump’ became not just an idea but reality), it’s been quite a year for me. Yes, I am going to use this post to be self-centered and pretentiously introspective.

It’s been my first year living away from my parents, resulting in a fairly…bumpy ride for my mental health, to put it somewhat lightly, although for the first time it feels like I’m making real progress in getting the treatment I need. I met someone who is so kind and patient I struggle to believe that he’s real sometimes. I’ve made new friends in a new city and had some great times visiting old ones. I’ve made some fairly major mistakes, but I’ve also learned how to pick up the pieces and keep myself going.

I don’t know if I could exactly claim that it’s been a good year, but I can definitely say that I’m proud of myself, and that’s enough for me.

So now that I’ve got all thoughtful and broody on you, I’m going to pretend that I’m in any way qualified to give life advice from the things that I’ve learned over the past year.

  1. Adults really don’t know what they’re doing either. Entering the inner circles of the adult working world is great, because you learn that everyone is making it up as they go along, just like you. You just get better at hiding the fear in your eyes.
  2. Independence is terrifying but ultimately wonderful. Yeah, it’s really weird the first time you have to pay bills or get a P60, but then you realise that you have the ability to buy a huge chocolate cake and eat the entire thing and no-one can stop you, and it’s all uphill from there.
  3. The world sucks a lot of the time, and it’s okay to step away from that every so often.  It’s important to remember that you can’t focus intensely on everything all the time; it’s exhausting and ultimately achieves nothing. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty about taking time for yourself sometimes.  Just appreciate that you are privileged enough to be able to step back from these situations and have some tea.
  4. You’re going to hate your job sometimes. Yes, even if it’s the ‘dream job’, there are going to be days when the last thing you want is to drag yourself to your desk and do whatever it is you’re paid to do. You’re an adult now, you just have to do it anyway. That’s what coffee’s for.
  5. If you want something, you’ve got to ask for it. People aren’t mind readers (fortunately). If you want something, it’s no good sitting quietly and just hoping it’ll happen without your input. I really struggle with this; my anxiety and my general upbringing have taught me to try and get in the way as little as possible, so asking for things is a big no. This is definitely something I’m still going to be working on in 2017.
  6. Tinder does work sometimes. Speaking from experience here. I know it can be disheartening, wading through the weirdos, cultists and dick picks, but one day you might just find a guy who asks you out using movie quotes and then takes you on a personalised tour of the city because you mentioned you were new here and shares his umbrella with you when it starts to rain. Just keep swiping and you might find him. Maybe. No guarantees though.
  7. Your significant other is human, just like you. Your partner is going to mess up sometimes, and you can’t resent them for that because you’re going to mess up just as much, if not more. Everyone has their bad days, but it’s wanting to be with someone even during those times that makes a relationship work.
  8. Tea is actually magic. I drank a lot of tea through my teens (I’m from Yorkshire, it comes with the territory), but I never truly appreciated the medicinal properties of a steaming mug of English Breakfast after the most stressful day at work, or a cup of chamomile while you read in bed.
  9.  It’s okay to not be okay. It’s taken me a long time to figure this one out. Still working on it.
  10. People are good. I’ve always taken the attitude that people as a group are awful, but most individuals have at least the potential for goodness. This year has kind of proved that for me. As scary as things may seem right now, surrounding yourself with compassionate, generous people makes life seem just a little brighter.

It’s not much, but it’s kept me going this year. I hope that 2017 is a wonderful year for everyone, and that things won’t seem quite so hopeless after a cup of tea.