Though the corners are lit
The dark can return with the flick of a switch.
It hasn’t turned on me yet
Not Miserable – Frightened Rabbit
I’d intended to update this regularly throughout the month but I have been battling my third book and it looked as though I was about to lose the fight. But now I have risen just as they were about to call the match and I am spitting blood and I’m bruised and it’s taken everything I have to get back up and keep throwing punches and I’m overextending my metaphors like crazy. Soon I’ll have knocked this sucker out and I’ll hand it to my editor and she will gasp and she will say, Amy, what is this? And I’ll be like, My masterpiece.
Anyway. I’ll give you a very quick summation of my depression and how Jillian Michaels helped me change my life! You can cringe at this but it is the honest to god truth.
It was 2015 and I was at what I thought was rock bottom (until 2018 came along and proved rock bottom was actually quicksand and I could sink forever if I didn’t reach out a hand for help).
But 2015 was shite. I had graduated but couldn’t get a job which was any more financially or spiritually rewarding than those available to me before my degree (call centres, retail, customer service). And now I had huge student debt. I had been rejected so many times that when I thought I’d really nailed an interview at a university they called to tell me I hadn’t got it I just…lost it. I remember sobbing uncontrollably on the floor at the foot of my bed and hitting my head against the wood as hard as I could. I hated myself. I hated my life. I felt worthless. I felt like there was no hope for me, I would never own a house or have a job which made me happy, or ever BE happy. I’d never go on holiday or be able to treat people I loved to nice things. I felt like a parasite.
Longer ago, before I went back to university in my twenties, I was signed on the dole and had to have weekly meetings with this horrid little man who liked to smirk and mock me for failing every week to get a job. One week I told him I was going back to Uni to do creative writing in a few months so asked what that meant as far as the dole went and when I said creative writing he laughed at me. What a dick. I digress to tell you this not to say “now who’s having the last laugh!” because I long stopped caring about that little man. I say this because Dennis Nilsen also worked in a job centre so pay no mind to these creepy little men. My dickhead wasn’t even interesting enough to be a serial killer. The height of his cruelty was laughing at shy, underweight young women who had ambition. Nobody writes books about guys like that.
Back to 2015. I loved Jillian Michaels. Her exercise DVDs were the best part of my days. They kept me going. They gave me routine. They changed my life. So Rhys bought me a ridiculously expensive VIP ticket to see and meet her when she came to Cardiff. She gave a motivational talk, not about weight loss but about life and pursuing what you care about. She said, “If you have a why, you can tolerate any how.” It was a revelation. I had been doing things backwards. I’d been struggling to get a job I didn’t really want just so that I could relax and start writing a book which had been growing and growing in my brain for a year.
Suddenly I realised that no job was actually right for me. Writing was what gave me purpose, what I loved and the only thing I cared whether I was successful at or not.
I started writing the book the next day. I applied for jobs, I got one at an HMRC call centre (another job which didn’t require a degree but which paid so much better than anything else I’d applied for and had better working conditions) and I wrote before and after work and on weekends.
I’d never seen that side of myself before. Being committed to something. Returning to it every day. Sometimes it was so thrilling to sit down and write. I was writing the book I wanted to read, a book no one else in the world could write for me. It was all mine. Anything could happen. Sometimes it was bloody awful and I’d sit there and think, This is the worst book anyone has ever written. I want to quit. I’m no good at this.
The thing is about being a writer, though, and all of them will say the same: it’s a compulsion. You need to do it. Without it you are miserable, even if sometimes the writing itself makes you miserable. I’d been miserable since leaving university because I’d shut down that part of myself. Cranking it back up again was exhilarating but often left me feeling very exposed and vulnerable. Like, what if I’m awful at the thing I care about the most? This is such a hard wall to push through, especially with all the negative thoughts depression and anxiety like to contribute.
Exercise helped me every day. It still does. I like to think of it as the one time of the day I don’t have to think about writing but sometimes I can be exercising and my mind will wander and all that energy will feed my creative mind and it will unlock the key to some part of my book I’ve been struggling with. Sometimes distraction is the best way to solve a problem and exercise is a very healthy distraction.
You all know the rest. I am here now, writing at home, a full-time writer. My creative instinct was right: that book I’d not been able to stop thinking about was a good idea. Other people wanted to read it. And they did, loads of them, in countries all over the world. It’s nuts to think that someone like me, who has always had such awful problems with my mental health, could find a way to manage it well enough to write a novel (which is seriously no joke – another thing writers will back me up on, that shit is hard work).
Exercise won’t cure your mental health problems but it gives you tools you can employ in the rest of your life. Knowing how to break through tough barriers, having a routine (it’s hard to get up and get dressed if you don’t have a job and you’re depressed – exercise helped me get ready for my day). It can help you free your mind, if only for half an hour, from the grind of depression and maybe leave you feeling better, more energised. If not, then at least you can say you did something that day towards feeling better. It will help you sleep better later on when the negative thoughts start whirling around as you put your head on the pillow.
If you are reading this in the midst of a bad bout of depression and think, Well this is all well and good but I can’t even get out of bed right now and all this seems a thousand steps away from where I am right now: I get it. Wait for a break in the clouds and then start small. There will always be a break in the clouds. We forget this when all we can see and feel is grey but I promise there will be a break and it is then you must capitalise on it. Go for a walk. Do a five or ten minute workout on YouTube. Do yoga. These are the times you try to establish new routines because later, when the clouds come back, you are ready for them. You know how to carry on, you have your armour, you are stronger than before. Just carry on. Always. And one day you will look back and be grateful to yourself that you did because wonderful things happen, incredible people appear in your life and you will feel so much love and you won’t even fully remember the bit where it was all grey, where you were sinking. You will be glad to be here and you will know that next time it comes back for you, if it comes back for you, you have beaten it before and you can do it again. I know you can, because I can. And I will, as many times as I need to, because I have a whole list of whys and I’m working on my hows, always exercising to keep myself ready for the next fight.
*Title also a lyric by Frightened Rabbit.