The third in my series of blogs about abandoned novels. This one involves a ship and wizards.
This year I’ve had difficulty getting to grips with writing a new series. I’ve written about 100k worth of false starts, not including 50k of a story that I’ve since abandoned. I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me: all I had to do was come up with a world, some people with swords, some conflicts and that was it, right? But nothing ever felt quite right.
This week I worked it out.
So, I guess this doesn’t have much to do with writing. It’s about life and mental health. Just a bit of personal honesty, maybe.
It has taken 19 months. But today, for the first time since April 2017, I am able to say: I feel ok.
For those who don’t know me well, it’s no secret that I split with my wife after seven years together, in 2017. It was the most amicable divorce one can imagine; we acknowledged that we were best friends who lived together. We talked about it for an hour. And it was done. It was easy. We just parted. No mess, no argument, few tears. And I mistakenly believed that, our separation having been so simple, that I would be fine.
I was not fine.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to lose a long term relationship of such magnitude to someone who hasn’t. I don’t know if I even could to someone who has. It’s not a single feeling; it’s a constant, unending shadow that covers every single aspect of your life. It’s not just that you lose your best friend, confidant, and home. You lose your sense of self. You lose your plans for the future. Your life-path, which felt so ironed out and clear, is suddenly awash amidst a sea of possibilities. Some of them are sparkling and desirable, and you reach for them with greedy hands. Some of them are bleak, and you retract from them as if they’re frozen shards of nitrogen. I’ve spoken with many others who have divorced during the last year, and there’s one phrase that sums it up: you have a Crazy Year.
The hardest thing about the Crazy Year is that you can’t see that you’re in it when you’re in its depths. Everyone will give you advice, and you’ll cast it off because your emotions get whacked and overwhelm you. Every day – every single day – you feel an intense, burning need to make vast and significant changes to your life so that you feel ok again. A day a work is spent waiting for the evening, and in the evening you have to go somewhere and see people in the hope that things get better. You feel good because you’re out of something you didn’t want to be in, but the gaping hole left in your self esteem has to be filled, somehow, anyhow, because sitting quietly alone simply isn’t acceptable. Something has to be poured into the gulf.
So I guess in short, I’d say: you get fucked up.
I couldn’t read a book. Couldn’t watch a movie. Couldn’t do anything. I simply lacked the concentration.
It didn’t help me that this was tied in with the launch of my debut novel. The book launch wasn’t the cause of the separation, but it was a catalyst. It forced me and my ex-wife to acknowledge that we wanted fundamentally different things out of life. She wanted a house in the country, kids, dogs, a quiet life of crafts and homely comfort. I wanted a city apartment, travel, cocktails and, the clincher, no children. I can’t have children anyway (or at least, it would be difficult), so that kind of made it a moot point. It’s a strange thing to admit publicly, but I’m a believer that we shouldn’t shy away from expressing things about our health because they shouldn’t be shameful, and so I feel that I ought to practice what I preach.
But anyway. The last year was hard. I met some incredible people, and I met some people who weren’t what they seemed. I got to live out a lot of my life’s dreams – meeting authors that I’d adored for 20 years – and I hit incredible lows. I lived in a hotel for three months, and that feeling of displacement exacerbates the problem yet further, casting you further and further adrift. Again, it’s not easy to describe the feeling that having a debut novel out gives you. It’s wonderful, and also awful and terrifying. So much of your self esteem gets tied up in it, because you worked so incredibly hard, poured so much emotion into it. Daily, I checked every social media platform over and over, looking for notifications to see how things were. It’s a deeply unhealthy thing to do, but utterly addictive. You feel a need to do everything that you possibly can because it feels like this is your shot. And you have to take it.
But it’s now November 2018, and I can finally say: I’m ok. It has taken a long time to get here, but here I am. The mania that grips you during the Crazy Year finally seems to have ebbed away, and for the first time in a long time, I feel that I can say that I’m ok just being me. I’m ok being me without a relationship, and I’m ok sitting watching TV on my own. I can enjoy going for a walk, and I can turn my phone off. When I look into the future, it’s no longer an all or nothing. It’s just life again, as it once was before. If it doesn’t change today then that’s ok. If it doesn’t change tomorrow, then that’s ok too.
I feel like it’s important to talk about these things. I feel that when other people talk about sadness and mental health, it helps those that are also suffering. I don’t have any advice, if you are, other than to say that eventually, things will change. Not exactly inspiring. Not exactly brimming with hope. But everything changes – your situation, your daily life, and ultimately, you change too. And with change comes the possibility for future happiness. But first you have to relearn what it means to be content doing the small things in life – watching TV, listening to music, reading a comic.
Be kind to yourself.