Parenting a child who has depression – Mental Health Matters

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Last September my son left home to begin a new phase of his life at university. Like many mums, I felt a mixture of sorrow, pride, happiness, loneliness, and excitement. I also felt something else.

Fear.

My son has depression, something he’s very open about and shares on his blog. He’d deferred his uni place the previous year, not feeling in the right headspace to go but now…

Now he wasn’t entirely sure but after some medication and therapy, he felt it was now or never.

A few years previously, when his brother had plans to go to uni, I found myself googling student recipes to print out for him, articles on budgeting. This time around I googled suicide statistics for male students.

The results were horrifying.

Men are three times as likely to take their own life than women.  My son hasn’t been brought up with a ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality. As a family, we’ve always talked and he’s openly shared his feelings with me, his mood, his ‘I’ll-never-get-out-of-bed-again days.

But I had a constant gnawing worry – what would happen when I wasn’t there to talk to?

Mostly he manages his condition well. He knows his triggers and has coping strategies in place. His new friends are understanding when he can’t face going out or leaves a gig halfway through.

Mostly he manages.

But there are times he doesn’t.  Times when I check his Instagram story and know from the music he’s listening to that his mood has plummeted.  Sometimes he’ll come and spend a few days at home, but sometimes he’ll retreat into himself and these are the most terrifying of times for me. The dark voice whispers in my head that it’s all my fault – something I did or didn’t do – while I anxiously trawl through his social media accounts all hours of the day and night. Not because I want to know where he is, but because if he’s posted, I know he’s alive. I study photos he’s been tagged in. How does he look? But how he looks is no indication of how he feels. As he said on his blogyou can’t see mental health, you can’t look in a mirror and see the damage being caused.”

And living with that fear. The fear that one day it might all get too much for him creates such a feeling of utter helplessness, of hopelessness it’s a constant battle to balance giving him space to grow, with checking he’s okay. I try not to plague him with endless calls and messages (often I plague him with endless calls and messages).

A few nights ago he sent me an email completely out of the blue, completely out of character. It was a long and lovely message about his brothers and me, and if it had come from one of my other children I would have burst with happiness. As it was, a cold dread wrapped itself around my heart. Immediately I rang him thinking something that no parent should ever have to consider.

‘Is this a suicide note?’

‘Umm, no. I can see why you’d think that, but no. I can promise I will never do that,’ he said with sincerity, and he meant it. But I’ve worked in mental health. I know those long, dark hours where sufferers of depression convince themselves it would be a good thing if they weren’t around anymore. That everyone would be better off. Happier.

That is never the case.

My son raises awareness of mental health where he can, particularly amongst males.  I’m immensely proud of him for being so open and honest. Despite the despair he often feels, he has a desire to help others.

He said of his own journey “I went through a phase where I would drink more in the hope it would fix the problem. I can’t begin to explain how badly this impacted my mental health, constantly throwing yourself into a situation you don’t want to be in is crazy, essentially what I was doing was running as fast as I could into a wall, but every week running slightly faster and hoping that the harder I hit it, the better it would be.”

I hope that one day he stops running.

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This was a raw and emotional write I’ve shared with the permission of my son. If you or your family are affected by mental health issues you can access UK mental health services (including emergency support) here and in the US here, or speak to your doctor.

 

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Where do story ideas come from? Everywhere…

My husband had gone to a client meeting, my son had just left to meet friends when I decided to have a break and make a drink. Back in my study, I put my coffee on my desk and it was then I realised, somebody had been into my room.

But I was alone.

Fear prickled at the back of my neck. On my keyboard, was a Biscoff.

‘Hello?’ I called into the silence which now felt heavy and oppressive.

Grabbing my phone, I called my son.

‘There’s somebody in the house,’ I whispered. ‘They’ve left a warning on my keyboard.’

‘A warning or a biscuit?’ He asked.

‘Was it you? But you’re not here?’

‘I found it in my pocket when I got to the bottom of the road and thought I’d pop it back as they’re your favourite. Seriously, mum how could you think it was creepy?’

‘Because somebody could want me to think I’m losing my mind, doubting my reality. They-‘

‘You’ve got an overactive imagination,’ he said.

It’s something I’ve heard throughout my life, usually accompanied by an eye roll and a sigh. My school reports often started with ‘Louise is such a daydreamer.’ I am but now, rather than seeing it as a flaw, as I’ve always been led to believe, I look upon it as something positive. Although gazing out of the window and making up characters in my head may be a problem in many jobs, without my over active imagination I wouldn’t be living out my life-long dream of being an author.

For Mother’s Day, my youngest son bought me a fizzy bath bomb from Lush. We’d not had them before and he wanted to watch as I dropped it into the bath. Just before I let it go he said ‘look mum, there’s a secret message!’

Inside a small hole on the top of the bomb there was a tightly rolled piece of paper.

‘What do you think it says?’ he asked excitedly.

‘I think it says ‘drown, bitch,’ I said. ‘I don’t think it’s supposed to be revealed until you’re in the bath and as you stare in confusion at the words you become aware of someone standing behind you-‘

‘A hand on the top of your head,’ he said (he writes too…)

‘Which pushes you underwater and holds you down until you stop struggling.’

The disappointment when we read it said ‘thanks’ was immense.

My three sons are used to me now. One called me to tell me he’d lost his wallet he quickly followed it up with ‘and no I don’t think anyone will find it and leave my ID at a murder scene.’

‘You never know,’ I said, darkly.

Last weekend, we took our dog for a country walk and my son pointed out the perfect place to hide a body. I didn’t roll my eyes and sigh, tell him he’s got an overactive imagination as though it’s a bad thing. Instead, I encouraged him to explore the idea, write it down. If all potential story-tellers were made to feel having a vivid imagination is a bad thing there wouldn’t be as many books and that would be a very sad world indeed.

Never underestimate the power of a story – My thoughts on genre snobbery

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Recently I had lunch with a fellow psychological thriller writer who was sharing the plot of their current work in progress.

‘That sounds brilliant,’ I said.

They shrugged. ‘It’s not going to change the world or anything, is it? I know I just write cheap entertainment.’

Immediately I pulled out my phone and shared an email I’d received a few days previously.

Dear Louise,

It’s 5am and I’ve just finished reading ‘The Sister.’ I LOVED it so much I thought I’d google you and when I read you were a fellow chronic pain sufferer, and you’d written much of your story throughout the night, I just had to reach out to you. I can so relate to the fact you sometimes use stories to get you through the night, I’m exactly the same but as a reader, not a writer. I’ve had a chronic condition for three years now and although I’d like to say I’m used to it, I’m not. During the day, my pain is manageable. Sometimes a friend drops in although their visits are becoming more and more infrequent as it becomes apparent I’m never going to ‘get better.’ The nights though are different. Long and lonely. I’m too uncomfortable to sleep for long periods and this is the time I feel sorry for myself and sometimes question what the point is to me anymore and my thoughts become really morbid. This is when I open a book and escape. If it weren’t for stories I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now. The characters become my friends. I become so invested in them I stop thinking about myself and worry about them instead. Their world becomes my world, and before I know it, the sun has risen and I’ve made it through another night. It’s such a talent to be able to draw a reader in and I want to thank you for writing books. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them. Keep at it!

Genre snobbery exists, I know – as a crime writer I’ve experienced it. But I don’t think one genre is better than another. It’s such a privilege as an author to create a world that allows someone whose own world is full of sadness and pain, to escape if only for a short time.

If you’re writing a story and someone asks about it, please don’t say ‘it’s only…’ because you never know when your book might change a life, or save a life.

All fiction can lift and heal. Words can illuminate the dark.

An open letter to the writer who told me I’d likely NEVER be published

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Hello,

While I was going through some papers I found a report you’d written on my first novel and as I read it I felt incredibly sad. You probably won’t remember it, or me, but in 2015 you almost crushed my dreams.

Almost.

I’d longed to be a writer much of my life but, always lacking in confidence, being published seemed unachievable. I didn’t have a degree, any A Levels. I didn’t have the courage to sign up for a writing course.

In my 30’s an accident left me with a disability and my life radically changed. I then spent several years struggling with chronic pain, and my mood until I started writing a story, then entitled ‘Dear Grace’ about best friends, Grace, and Charlie.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I had something to get up for. A purpose. Often I was awake throughout the night, lonely and uncomfortable but now I had my manuscript – a world I could escape to and I escaped often.

I felt a feeling of immense pride when I finished my first draft but then came a bereavement, one of the people I loved most in the world suddenly gone. My depression came crashing back and I didn’t write for a long, long time.

In 2015 I reread my story and a tiny ember of hope began to smoulder. I thought it had potential but I was plagued with self-doubt.

Could I write?

Who could I ask?

It took much courage, several glasses of wine and all of our savings to send my manuscript off to a well-known organisation who offered critiques. When I heard you would be reading my story – someone who reviewed books for a living – I felt delighted.

Until I received your feedback.

Your report started by saying Writing fiction is a long hard slog for anyone and the chances of getting published are very slim.

Immediately I felt deflated, stupid for ever thinking I could achieve my dream. Assuming that for you to have told me it was unlikely I’d ever get published when I hadn’t asked for your advice nor was it something the agency listed as including in the report, must mean my writing was bad.

Very bad.

After your feedback on my story which you weren’t keen on, you ended your letter with ‘you show some flair but I think, bluntly, you need to face up to how difficult it is to get published. You may want to consider self-publishing. Traditional book deals from publishers are increasingly hard to come by. I’m sorry not to be more encouraging and I wish you the best.

Tears rolled down my face as I packed away my manuscript and my dreams for another six months as I spiralled back into depression.

I am writing this to let you know that dreams are fragile and hope easily extinguished. I googled you before I began writing this post and you still critique for the same agency. Please, please think twice before telling someone how impossible it is to be published if they haven’t asked you for publishing advice. You just might make them feel they aren’t good enough to write. Not everyone has an endgame of seeing their words in print and if they do not everyone is chasing a traditional deal. You never know what led them to the story they want to tell and what it means to them. I overcame depression largely because of my characters and it was something I enjoyed. You made me think I was wasting my time. That I shouldn’t. I couldn’t.

But I did.

‘Dear Grace’ became ‘The Sister’ and it went on to spend several weeks at No.1 in various countries, quickly sold well over half a million copies, has been translated into 25 languages and nominated for an award. Three other novels have followed, all with huge success. My fifth is due to be published this October.

Publishing is so subjective and although you thought I couldn’t, I’m so pleased I found a publisher who thought I could.

And for any writers reading this, don’t let anyone lead you to believe that you can’t and if they do, prove them wrong.

From Louise

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Book Review – The Swap – Fiona Mitchell

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Ever since I read The Maid’s Room, which I gushed about here, I’ve been waiting eagerly for Fiona Mitchell’s second book, The Swap.

And oh how it was worth the wait! Fiona has crafted an emotive and credible read centred around Tess who, during her IVF treatment, had her embryo mistakenly swapped for a stranger’s. For two years Tess and Annie, the other woman, have been unknowingly raising each other’s children.

Tess has never bonded with her son, Freddie, so when she meets Annie’s daughter, Willow, she’s determined she and Annie swap their children back. But Annie won’t let go of Willow without a fight.

Harrowing in parts, but uplifting in others, Fiona keeps the pace constant, never letting the story become pulled down by legal jargon, although it is obvious she’s carried out much research. For the last half an hour of reading, I was literally holding my breath. How could this story ever reach a satisfying conclusion, given its challenging subject matter? You’ll have to read it to find out but I thought the ending was absolutely perfect.

The Swap is deeply moving and beautifully written.  Although we’re only in January this will likely be my top read for 2019. I can’t recommend it enough. Due for publication in April – you can pre-order a copy here.

Goal setting – Creating a vision board

 

This weekend my sister came to stay. We’re very different but it’s lovely to spend time together.  Sunday morning, while she was playing my piano I decided to refresh my vision board.

Half an hour later I had gathered a stack of magazines, scissors and was sitting at the breakfast bar cutting out headlines, random words and letters to spell out positive phrases.

‘Louise,’ she stage whispered making me jump. I hadn’t heard her come into the kitchen. ‘Are you blackmailing someone?’

‘Umm, no.’ I said while thinking God, what DOES she think of me.

‘Are you making a ransom note?’

‘No. I can promise there are absolutely no victims of kidnapping here, but you must swear NOT to go into the utility room.’

Her eyes flickered towards the door of the utility room and back to me.

‘If you were doing something,’ she shrugged, ‘As research for a book. I promise I wouldn’t tell anyone.’ (And THAT’S why I love her).

‘I’m making a visualisation board, for positive thinking.’ I said. Disinterested she wandered back to the piano.  I know, I know. I am SO disappointing for a crime writer sometimes.

Positive thinking isn’t something that comes naturally to me. By nature, I worry. A lot. My anxiety was exacerbated after a change in health led to disability and chronic pain which also threw clinical depression into the mix.

Alongside gratitude journaling, which I blogged about here, I find it really beneficial to my mood to keep a visual reminder of the things I want. Of the person I strive to be. My hopes and dreams. Goals for the future. Where I want my writing career to be.

Everything manmade in our world began as the seeds of creation in someone’s mind. No matter how unachievable they were told their goals were and regardless of the opinions of others, through belief and determination their ideas became a reality.

Ours can too.

Recently on YouTube I’ve discussed whether you can use the Law of Attraction to visualise your way onto the bestsellers list (you can watch that here). A vision board is an extension of that mind-set.

I love having such a positive board hanging in my study. When I’ve killed someone off (writing wise of course – sorry sis) I can spin around in my chair and the world is light once more.

 

 

If you want to make a board, here’s how: –

1) Gather images, headlines and random words; anything that catches your eye in a magazine (or print from online). Be completely open and do this from the heart. You’ll know if an image provokes a positive feeling and it doesn’t have to make sense. Don’t try to analyse too much what the stuff you are gathering means at this stage.

2) After you have a substantial pile, sift through it for a second time, discarding anything that doesn’t resonate as strongly with you this time around.

3) Glue or pin what’s left onto your board and leave it somewhere you can see it every day. Don’t worry if some of the images don’t make sense to you at this stage. Be patient and wait and see what happens, it should all become clear.

Alternatively you can make a board specific to goals you already have in mind.

Join us for an evening of books & mince pies!

 

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Like I’d ever let you REALLY have the last mince pie…

 

Do come and join Darren O’Sullivan and I at Waterstones in Peterborough on Thursday 20th December where we’ll be talking about, and signing, our books, along with answering any questions you might have from 5pm.

Peterborough is beautifully Christmassy in the evening with gorgeous lights, and if that doesn’t put you in the festive mood, we’ll also be bringing mince pies!

 

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