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Welcome, friends old and new, to my blog. This is the place where I can share my scribblings and thoughts on loving life. I hope you enjoy them, make suggestions and come back to read more.

Friday 20 May 2016

Friday Five: Five Things People with Anxiety and Depression Need You To Know

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and, rather ironically, it's coincided with my own rather nasty bout of my old enemy, depression

I've met people who don't believe in depression; they see it as a self-indulgent response to the everyday stresses that life throws at everyone. Well, lucky them.

I've also met many people who have suffered (and I do mean suffered) depression, and made it out again. And I'm one of them. I don't keep it secret as I see nothing in it to be ashamed of. Sometimes I get ill. This will be my third round of treatment in fourteen years, so I am positive that I will make it out this time too. I know how this illness works- and I know how it can be beaten.

Most people know me as an upbeat, optimistic and positive person. There is a reason for this. After the last time, I worked damned hard to protect myself from people and situations that bring me down and drag me dangerously close to the edge of the darkness. I take care of myself; I know my breaking point. I guard my happiness ferociously.

I also know that my depression will never go away- that I'll never be cured, despite the huge gap in years between episodes that require intervention- but I can be vigilant so it doesn't hit me so hard next time. But when it does hit, I know that dealing with it alone is an almost impossible challenge.

So, speaking from a very personal viewpoint, but on behalf of many people, here are five things people with anxiety and depression need you to know.

1. We don't want to worry you.

Please don't be hurt if we don't tell you what's going on, or try to hide it from you. Sometimes we are just trying to deal with it (in the early stages) and need everything to be as normal as possible. Sometimes, we can't bear for you to see us have a meltdown. As bad as it is at the time, the knowledge that someone who loves and cares for you had to watch- helpless- makes the aftermath so much worse. We're trying to spare you.

Sometimes, we don't want to talk about it, or can't because admitting it will make it real. And sometimes, it's because we think no one will believe us. If we let you in on the darkness, it's because we trust and love you absolutely, and trust that you will care for and love us when we are at our most vulnerable. That makes you very special to us.

2. We can't always ask for help.

People going through depressive episodes are a pain in the butt. They can alternate between agitation, hysteria, uncontrollable crying and catatonic states (sometimes all in the same day). They might stop eating. They might stop sleeping. They might look like hell. They know this is upsetting for others. But they can't stop it from happening, and they feel guilty and pathetic about it. "You know where I am if you need me" is a common phrase, but we need to really trust you to be able to ask.

We get through mild bouts of depression by being strong and proactive, and admitting you're not strong enough- especially for someone who prides themselves on being independent- is hard. What is helpful during the bad times are the friends and family who check in every day- a couple of times a day even- to ask how we are at that moment. Sometimes we're fine; sometimes we're not- but we're more likely to feel like we can share with you if you ask us. And if we're having a meltdown and you don't know how to help- ask us what we need.

3. We don't always see it coming.

Like other medical conditions, once someone has been through depression, they can often spot when it's coming again- but not always. For me, the warning signs are losing interest in things I normally enjoy, feeling abnormally tired, becoming withdrawn and anxious about social situations (especially ones where I feel trapped), panic attacks (a massive clue), being oversensitive and emotional, and restlessness. I also get edgy opening mail for some reason- which is probably the most bizarre one!

The first time I had no idea what was happening and it took my Mum shouting at me before I sought help. The second time, I recognised the signs and acted accordingly, getting back on the happy pills in a preemptive move before I reached the meltdown stage. This time... This time, I was so distracted by other things going on in my life that I didn't realise it was happening again until I'd gone so far past meltdown that I didn't know if I was going to get back.

Every year or so, around this time of year in particular, I'd notice when I began feeling and behaving differently and would fight hard to pull myself out of it. It was a regular thing- so I suppose I'd become a little complacent about being able to take care of myself. It's only been in the last week that I've been able to pinpoint how my mood and behaviour had changed over the last couple of months- and how much it had affected others around me. So sometimes we need people to tell us what we can't see for ourselves.

4. We need you to love us extra loud.

Being depressed makes you feel worthless- a burden on others. We know we're hard work and sometimes we can't see why people should even bother with us. That's why the daily check-ins count, the cups of tea, text messages, quick phone calls to ask how our day has been: they show us that we are loved when we can't love ourselves. Listening to us overthink without judging; holding us while we scream and cry from the emotional and physical pain; walking with us as we pace out the agitation; sitting with us in silence while we stare at nothing: that shows us that we don't have to go through it alone.

We know we will get better, that this will pass, but when the fear that we might not has us gripped tight, sometimes the only thing that gets us through is having someone there that loves us.

5. We appreciate everything you do.

We really do. Really, really, really.

Thank you to the friends who text me three or four times a day; thank you to the friends who make me eat; thank you to the friends who let me sit on their sofa and watch TV when I can't be alone; thank you to the friends who distract me with cinema trips and walks; thank you to the friends who let me sleep over when I'm too scared to sleep in my own bed; thank you to the friends who send me silly pictures and messages to make me smile; thank you to the friends who don't get frustrated when I have bad days and do everything they can to get me through the scary times; thank you to the friends who make me feel that I am worthwhile. Just... thank you. For not giving up on me.

Depression sucks. But we will get better: we just need to get the right help and be patient while it works. And, to the ones who sit it out with us, you have our eternal love and gratitude.

Saturday 9 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Hunger

Continuing with the A to Z Challenge 2016

Harrison drove home in brooding silence, his hunger for knowledge by no means sated by the information Emma had provided. Was India really capable of murder? Was she really the person Emma painted her to be? Something just didn’t add up. How could the girl, the woman, he’d spent so many precious hours with be a murderous nutcase that could shoot her husband and then turn the gun on herself in a fit of desperation?

No. Not his India.

He flicked the stereo on and shuffled through the tracks until he found it. Their song. As the melody washed over him, he sank into his memories…

“I could get used to this.” India swigged from her can of lager and wriggled closer into his side. Harrison wrapped his free arm around her shoulders and buried a smile into her hair. She smelt so good: a heady mixture of shampoo and lotion and promise. Harrison dipped his chin to brush a kiss across her freckled forehead, breathing in her scent.

“Yeah, it’s pretty decent.” And it was. In just a few short days, Harrison had found happiness with this free spirit who danced in the surf, this beauty who matched him drink for drink and stayed standing. Her sweet nature was like sunshine; his hunger for her insatiable. How strange that, in a seaside town where everybody knew everybody, their paths had never crossed before when it was obvious to Harrison that they were destined to be together. The details would work themselves out; all Harrison knew was that he and India fit together like pieces of a puzzle: imperfectly shaped yet entirely complete.

“But it’ll all be over soon.” India sighed and took another swig. Harrison stiffened.

“What will?”

“The summer. I’ll have to go back to school and you’ll have to find a proper job. You can’t make a living out of lazing around under the pier.” She laughed up at him, eyes sparkling in the reflection of the sun on the sea. “Or maybe you could- Harrison Shaw: professional beach bum.”

Harrison snorted in relief and tossed his long fringe in imitation of the male models whose posters adorned the bus shelters.

“Yeah. And when I’m rich and famous, and Kate Moss is begging for my number, we’ll be sipping champagne on a yacht in Ibiza instead of necking lager on Brighton beach.”

“You’ll still want me then? More than Kate?” India’s voice was teasing, but her face was serious. 

Harrison pushed her onto her back and kissed her deeply, relishing the feel of her fingers tangled in his hair. 

“India,” he whispered. “I’ll always want you.”

Sunburned tourists picked their way delicately over the pebbles, skirting around the young couple who had eyes only for each other...

The story continues on Monday with Infidelity.

Friday 8 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Gossip

Continuing with the A to Z Challenge 2016

“I can’t thank you enough.”

Harrison smiled in acknowledgement, sipping the coffee that Emma had insisted he have, letting his gaze roam around her living room at the family photos and assorted knick-knacks that decorated the walls and shelves.

“I only took my eyes off him for a second… he’s a monster when it comes to wandering off.”

Buddy thumped his tail on the floor in agreement, none the worse for his adventure.

“Honestly, it was my pleasure. He looked so frightened- it was the least I could do.” Harrison felt a thrill in how easily the lies came out. “Good job he had a collar and tag on so I could bring him back to you before the kids realised.”

Emma nodded.

“Yes, they’d have been distraught.” She smiled faintly. “It’s been a rough week already.”

Harrison couldn’t help himself. He leaned back in his seat, forcing the question to come out casually. 

“How so?”

Emma paused, clearly unsure as to whether this kind stranger really wanted to hear her problems. Harrison flashed her his gentlest, most understanding smile. She stroked Buddy’s head absent-mindedly.

“Their uncle and aunt died a few days ago.”

Harrison composed his features into a look of sympathetic concern. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. 
Was it sudden?”

Emma barked a humourless laugh. “You could say that. It was suicide. Well, one of them was.”

“What do you mean?”

“She shot my brother in the stomach and, while he bled to death, turned the gun on herself. Back of the head. Face blown clean off. I found them.”

“Jesus… that must have been…” Harrison struggled to find a suitable word, but couldn’t. “Any idea why?”

“Who knows why she did it. She was messed up- in the head, you know? The press are calling it a suicide pact but I know my brother and he never would have-” Emma shook her head, as if shaking away the image of the scene. “He wouldn’t have agreed to it. Why would he? Everything was perfect as far as he was concerned. He didn’t know about-” She stopped herself, the end of her sentence trailing tantalisingly in the silence.

Harrison bit the inside of his lip to stop the question from jumping out. Best to let her talk. Best to let her think spilling the beans was her own idea. Instead, he nodded encouragingly. She was on the verge of telling him; he just needed to be patient.

He didn’t have to wait long.

“She murdered him.” Emma spat the words out, unable to contain her anger. “No one will listen, but I know the truth. She murdered him because it had gone too far and he’d found out.” Emma raised her chin, defying Harrison to argue. “I know it.”

The story continues tomorrow with Hunger.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Frenemy

Continuing with the A to Z Challenge 2016

From his hiding place behind the tree, Harrison watched the woman unclip her dog’s lead and send it bounding over the grass. A quick search on the internet, plus his access to house records, had made Emma Yates easy to find. It was a simple lie to leave early to “meet a potential client” and, with Ted out of the office, there would be no one to miss him.

Following Emma all the way out here hadn’t been part of the plan though.

He ducked behind the tree as she turned her head in his direction, using the leaves as cover in order to study her from a distance. She wore no make-up now, only a vacant stare, wretched in its blankness. She pulled her phone from her pocket and began scrolling and tapping mindlessly as she followed the direction the dog had taken.

Harrison didn’t know what to do. His plan, if he could call it a plan, had been to somehow bump into her and start a conversation that he could steer round to India. How much did she know? But it was proving harder to engineer than he’d hoped when he’d followed her car from the address he’d looked up. If he approached her out here, a lone man in office shoes, with no dog and no business being up on the hills, he’d be lucky not to get a face full of pepper-spray and a swift kick in his groin.

Think. Think…

Ahead, the dog veered off into the bushes on the right and the woman glanced up from her phone at the rustling sound.

“Buddy- no!” she called, but Buddy, intent on catching the rabbit or fox he’d sniffed out, paid her no attention and disappeared from view. Harrison watched her to see if she would follow, but she merely tutted and turned her attention back to her phone.

An idea- a crazy idea- popped into his head. Impulsively, he backed away from his hiding place until he was level with the row of bushes behind which Buddy had vanished. Crouching low, he pushed through a gap and emerged on a narrow dirt track on the other side. Buddy, only ten feet away, raised his nose from the ground and regarded him curiously.

“Hey there, Buddy,” he murmured. Buddy wagged his tail, unsure. Harrison took a step towards the dog, his mouth dry with the anxiety of what he was about to do.

“Good Buddy.”

He took another step closer and Buddy padded over to sniff Harrison’s outstretched hand. With his other, Harrison grabbed the dog’s collar and scooped him up, hurrying back to his car as quietly as he could manage along the dirt track.

“Good boy.”

As he bundled the dog onto his back seat, Harrison could hear Emma calling Buddy’s name with increasing irritation. As it rose in pitch, panic setting in, he started the car and drove down the hill towards the main road before she could turn back and see him. Buddy panted at the window and wagged his tail, clearly enjoying his ride in the car. Such a friendly, happy dog. Such a wonderful family pet. Such a shame that he was missing.

Harrison was sure that Emma would be very grateful to the Good Samaritan who returned her lost dog. Very grateful indeed.

The story continues tomorrow with Gossip.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Enigma

Continuing with the A to Z Challenge 2016

The most recent photos filled Harrison’s screen: standard selfies, arty landscapes, a few snaps of various lunches if they had been particularly well-presented. Nothing that gave him a clue as to India's state of mind in the weeks leading up to her suicide. Harrison let out the breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding. What had he expected to find? A montage of misery? A catalogue of complaints about the hopelessness of life? Surely the police would have checked all this stuff already anyway?

Answers. I thought there would be something…

From the looks of it, India documented her life through Instagram, posting random enigmatic details of her day with obsessive regularity. He clicked on a photo of India and a blonde woman, taken a couple of weeks ago, to enlarge it. It looked like it had been snapped in a bar: the empty glasses and cheesy grins hinting at the length of time the two women had been there.

Liquid lunch with the in-laws ;) the caption read.

He tore his eyes away from India’s face and studied the other woman more carefully.

So this was the sister-in-law? What was her name? Emily something? Emma?

She was in her late thirties, maybe, wearing too much make-up, with mousey-brown roots revealing the truth behind her sun-kissed salon highlights. Harrison hadn’t paid much attention to the photo of James Cooper that had accompanied the article, but he supposed there must be some resemblance between this woman and her brother.

He clicked off the picture and scanned through the others, searching for James in order to confirm his hunch. He reached the bottom of the page- nothing. Strange. No smug couple shots? With every other detail being worthy of an upload, it seemed odd that her husband should feature in none of the moments she deemed necessary to record. But maybe, given her recent relationship status change, it wasn’t so unexpected. Intrigued nonetheless, he clicked to view India’s full Instagram account and kept scrolling down.

No…no…wait. There. A selfie, taken in bed, brunette curls fanning across the pillow, a man’s arm draped across her chest, the top of a fluffy blond head just visible below India’s cheeky smirk. Harrison’s heart skipped a beat. That tattoo.

A simple heart, composed of black Celtic-style swirls. Manly enough to show off at the beach, yet soppy enough to hint at a more spiritual side. The sort of tattoo that a teenage boy, giddy on alcopops and drunk on love, might ask for to impress his summer crush.

His tattoo.

The story continues tomorrow with Frenemy.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Details

Continuing with the A to Z Challenge 2016

The next day brought joy and misery in equal measure: the joy of getting his car back tempered by the misery of how much it cost to restore his bumper; the soft kisses and forgiveness he’d received this morning from Suzanne moderated by his guilt over how much more he needed to be forgiven for.

Ted was in a foul mood too, and not inclined to hide it. Harrison had already received a roasting over his handling of the second viewing at the Gatford property which, according to the Keanes, had been “amateurish” and “uninspiring”. Needless to say, he hadn’t closed the deal, and he couldn’t really blame them. His head had been so mixed up with the details of the newspaper article that he’d had a hard time remembering even the most basic of specifications to do with the bungalow. The only aspect of his workday that could be considered anywhere near joyful was the fact that Ted had left the office for a “business lunch” at eleven, and probably wouldn’t be back for the rest of the day.

And it was the need for details that continued to nag at him, even as he typed up the glib script for the glossy handouts for this house and that house. As well as he thought he had known India, as huge a part of his life she’d been, there was so much he still didn’t understand.

Facebook, the go-to social platform for casual stalkers, had proved annoyingly private. The only additional information he’d been able to glean was that, just over a week ago, she’d changed her relationship status from “married” to “it’s complicated”. Harrison couldn’t help but let a wry smirk slip at that, even as his stomach sank.

I wonder what her husband made of that? What the police will make of it?

The rest of what was publicly available, the profile pictures and life events and such, he already had committed to memory. He couldn’t find her on any other sites, not under her real name anyway. But maybe there was something he’d missed…

Harrison glanced over his shoulder to check no one was nearby, and minimised the property details document he was working on. He loaded up India’s Facebook profile and scanned the page again. There. Under the tab marked “More”, all the way down at the bottom. Instagram. How had he not spotted that before?

Another furtive glance around the office. Satisfied the coast was clear, he clicked on the link, suddenly afraid of what he might see.

The story continues tomorrow with Enigma.

Monday 4 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Corona

Continuing the A to Z Challenge 2016

“I’ve never been so embarrassed.”

Harrison flinched at the anger in her voice and averted his eyes from how her mouth twisted up in a tight knot as she spat the words in his face.

“Suzanne, I’m sorry. I-”

“Sorry?” Suzanne threw her hands up in the air, eyebrows raised, eyes hard and cold. “Do you have any idea how humiliating it was to have to stand there and scrabble around to find a card that hadn’t hit its limit? For Christ’s sake, Harrison- you could have at least told me you’d taken the money for your car out of our account.”

“I was going to- it just slipped my mind. It’s been a really weird day…” He ached, suddenly, to tell her everything. To share it all like he used to be able to, to let her rational, logical mind make sense of what he was going through and advise him. She was so good at that.

“Weirder than having the manager at Waitrose think you can’t pay for £170 of grocery shopping? Weirder than having to admit to a stranger that you don’t know what your boyfriend has spent your money on? I doubt it, Harrison.”

She turned her back on him and started unpacking the bags, shoving shopping into cupboards with the savagery of a boxer pummelling an opponent.

At a loss for what he could say, Harrison said nothing. Instead, he sloped off to the bathroom and locked the door. Resting his head against the frame, he screwed his eyes tightly closed to stop the tears that pricked suddenly. When had it gone so wrong?  Not just the money, but between him and Suzanne?

When they’d first met, at a summer wedding between mutual friends, Harrison hadn’t been able to believe his luck. This stunning woman who laughed at his jokes and danced close to him. This intelligent beauty who held his gaze and gave him her phone number. It was too good to be true, too unequal to be comfortable.

Not like it was with India.

Brighton. 1998. Summer. If you could call it summer. Stubborn dreariness masquerading as weather, the sun oblivious to the yearning of teenage boys like Harrison who coveted the hedonistic Ibiza vibe but lacked the funds and, instead, had to make do with hanging out on the pebble beach with a few beers and a portable stereo. A summer of cheap lager, bummed cigarettes and late nights dancing to Big Beat under the arches.

The summer Harrison fell in love.

“Got a light?” 

Behind sunglasses, Harrison opened his eyes and lifted his head from his makeshift pillow on the pebbles. Above him, blocking out the sun so that it radiated behind her cloud of curls, a corona around her head, stood a beautiful stranger in a sunflower-yellow dress.  

“Um…yeah.” He lifted his hips to fish it out of his pocket, sitting upright to stretch out his arm and hand it to her. 

“Cheers.” She lit her cigarette, tilting her head and blowing smoke as she scrutinised him. She didn’t hand the lighter back and Harrison didn’t ask for it. It was a small price to pay. 

“I’m Harrison,” he managed at last.

“India.” And then that smile.

Behind the bathroom door, Harrison pressed his face against the cool wood and shook his head in tight, regretful movements.

No. Life now was not like it had been with India. Not at all.

The story continues tomorrow with Details.

Saturday 2 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Blemish

Continuing the A to Z Challenge 2016

The trudge up the hill from the bus stop to the house took forever and, by the time Harrison made it to the cover of the porch, he was drenched. Memories of India soaked his brain with as much determination as the puddles soaked his shoes. A short wrestle with the key and he was inside, the air tropically warm compared to the autumn rain that had saturated him.

Shaking droplets from his hair onto the expensive runner in the hallway, he hurried through to the kitchen to set up. With practised efficiency, he laid out the contents of the file in neat piles of paperwork. His eye was drawn to the newspaper, crumpled and crushed at the bottom of his bag but, other than smoothing it out flat to dry on the counter, he ignored both it and his burning curiosity for now.

The Timmins, a middle-aged couple looking to upgrade, were punctual. Harrison greeted them with a welcoming smile and ushered them into the kitchen to begin the tour. Falling into the mindless sales patter distracted him from the turmoil in his head and he performed with as much charm as he would on any other day, even though this wasn't a day like any other. 

Twenty minutes later, he waved them off and closed the door behind them, letting his smile drop and his jaw relax. A glance at the clock told him he had ten minutes before the next viewing. Hurrying into the kitchen, pulled out the now dry newspaper and began to finally read.


A community in West Sussex has been left reeling after the discovery of two bodies on Thursday morning, the result of an apparent double suicide.

The couple, named locally as James Cooper and India Cooper, were believed to have been found by Mr Cooper’s sister, Emma Yates, after she became concerned that her brother was not replying to her attempts to contact him on Wednesday evening. On entering the house, she discovered Mr and Mrs Cooper in the bedroom with severe gunshot injuries. Attempts by ambulance crew to resuscitate Mr Cooper were unsuccessful, and both were pronounced dead at the scene.

“They were a lovely couple,” said a neighbour. “We had no idea that anything like this would happen. They always seemed so happy and we often waved at each other when I saw them about. It’s just awful.”

Sussex police are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.

Harrison pushed the newspaper away, fighting the bile that rose in his throat. The photograph, blotchy and blemished from the rain, swam out of focus until he saw only the India he remembered, the way she had looked the last time they’d met. Had she really been so unhappy? He struggled to recall a tell-tale sign, a clue that he should have noticed, but there was none.

The doorbell cut into his thoughts and he jumped from his seat at the counter. Shoving the newspaper back into his bag, he blinked away the image of how her hair had curled where it touched her collar bone and straightened his shoulders. He pulled his lips up into another smile and opened the front door.

“Mr Keane- Mrs Keane. Please, do come in.”

The story continues on Monday with Corona.

Friday 1 April 2016

Strange Ideas: Article

The first part of the A-Z April Challenge 2016

The newspaper landed with a soggy plop on the bus-station tarmac, headline facing up to the cloud-laden sky, the grainy, overexposed photo smiling at the raindrops that fell in a drumming tattoo.


Blinking stupidly, oblivious to the hurrying crowds that brushed and barged past him, Harrison Shaw stared into the eyes of the pretty brunette on the front page and fought the urge to throw up.

India Rayne. Jesus... 

No time to read it now; his bus was pulling in. Shaking the memory away before it had a chance to fully emerge, Harrison stooped to grab the newspaper and, tucking it under his arm, fought his way onto the packed bus.

At the office, Harrison barely had time to snatch a cup of coffee before Ted, his line manager and general pain in the backside, was on his case.

“I need you to show the Gatford house this morning,” he barked, abrupt to the point of rudeness as usual. “Got a couple of potentials lined up, so you can do the viewings back to back.”

Harrison stifled a groan. The Gatford house, a spacious bungalow up on the South Downs, wasn’t on the bus route and, after an unfortunate prang with a supermarket bollard the previous week, travelling by bus was his only option until the garage managed to repair his bumper. Ted wouldn’t give two toots about that though, and it could be worse- at least he’d only have to get there and back once.

“Sure. No problem.”

“Excellent.” Ted grinned, uneven tobacco-stained teeth adding nothing to his charm He threw the file on Harrison’s desk and spun on his heel, sauntering back to his private office with the smugness of a supreme delegator who’d just off-loaded a particularly troublesome task.

“First one’s at ten.”

Harrison swore under his breath, drained his mug, and jumped up to race back to the bus stop. Halfway to the door, he remembered the file and, swearing again, returned to retrieve it. It was already damp, landing as it had on the newspaper, and the article about the girl he’d once loved. Indias’s smile, wide and genuine even in a poor-quality snapshot, brought the scent of Anais Anais perfume to his nostrils, the echo of lusty laughter to his ears. He bundled the newspaper into his bag, along with the file, and was away, less than ten minutes after he’d arrived.

The story continues tomorrow with Blemish.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

The Bunny Suicide...

... or murder most horrid?

So, after a wet and miserable Easter weekend, the sun decided to shine today. Unfortunately, I had to go into work (despite it officially being my holibobs) but I knuckled down and was back home by the early afternoon.

Time for a cuppa and a nap on the sofa as a reward for all my hard work, I decided. And perhaps a little nibble on one of my Easter eggs- yum!

But, in the kitchen, I was met with a most unsettling- terrifying- spectacle... a shocking vision of horror that will haunt my nightmares for weeks...