Author Archives: Amy Lloyd

About Amy Lloyd

I’m a writer with two books currently published by Penguin Random House THE INNOCENT WIFE and ONE MORE LIE. My third book might kill me or it might not, we will have to wait and see! If not I’ve got so many ideas up my sleeve that there’s barely any room for my actual arms anymore. I want to branch out, play with genres and write non-fiction about my colourful mistakes and cheeky depression. So hot. I love you all! Don’t be mean I’m a millennial.

Am I here? Of course I am, yes.

I have fallen in the forest
Did you hear me?

In the loneliness
Oh the loneliness and the scream
To prove to everyone that I exist.

 

Frightened Rabbit – The Loneliness and the Scream

 

 

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About to get pierced.

Yesterday I thought I was okay. I wasn’t as well as I had been the day before, or the day before that. It was maybe a week of wellness. I wrote and felt that I had a purpose, something which I hadn’t felt at all during the lockdown, the quarantine the self-isolation the whatever it is now.

Depression is cruel like that. It gives you these moments where the sun comes out for you again, when you look at yourself and think, Hey, there you are. Where have you been? I missed you.

I’d been writing again. Exercising with regularity. Trying to eat well, though my appetite has gone and so has my thirst, like a cat in old age, looking scruffy, no energy to make myself look good. Why bother? I try to remind myself to drink but the water bottles stand three-quarters full of lukewarm water while I lie staring listlessly at the television or scrolling through my phone, ordering stuff, so much stuff in the hope it will fill the hole I feel widening inside me.

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Let’s stay in bed longer.

I can barely concentrate on anything. I have wanted to write this blog long before I briefly felt better again. (I feel better and better and worse now then better, than ever, than ever. I feel much better and better and worse and then better – Frightened Rabbit – I Feel Better.) That’s the ride. Though the balance keeps shifting and I’m afraid I keep falling into the shadows. Much longer periods of awfulness, of a pain so bad I find myself slapping my face, banging my head against the wall, or sinking an exacto-knife into the deep, fatty flesh of my hips. Fantasies about how I want to go, when, where. Precise. Playing the video in my head of how I want to go again and again, like the VHS tapes of Disney films I’d watch on repeat as a child.

I wake up one day and realise I am not crying. No, I’m doing better than that. I’m getting up and I’m cleaning up after Henry, who is sick and keeps losing control of his bowels in the kitchen and the bathroom. I can crush up Sheldon’s antibiotic and give him his painkillers (we are still waiting for an x-ray and then for the surgery.

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Blurt It Out foundation – look it up.

Some days I just lie in bed, eyes closed, listening to Audiobooks or the playlists I’ve made which are quiet enough to sleep to or Sleep by Max Richter, yet another gift gained from Scott Hutchison’s recommendations, I lie there, and sometimes I find myself surrounded by cats. Zola, lying over my head on the pillow like a hat, his deep purr sending tingles over my flesh. In these moments I think I am loved. Sometimes Henry jumps up, always announcing himself with his meow. He will fuss and paw and eventually find a place to lie down. Sheldon appears like a ghost, I see him only when my eyes open and he is there, often on my chest or next to me, wide awake. It’s…weird.

But I try to get up and exercise. I always get dressed. I have signed up to a new gym.

Trying. I am always trying. I do this so no one can ever say I didn’t try to get better.

I’ve eked out my book so far in excruciating writing sessions. Then I had that week of wellness and the words just seemed to write themselves. I had ideas. I wanted to live to see them through. Sometimes I wonder if narcissism is going to be the thing that keeps me going. When I imagine dying with two books under my belt it seems insufficient and wouldn’t really show my full range.

Other days, this doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that I can make it so I never have to wake up another fucking day ever again. Because waking up is like being torn from the womb. Again and again and again. Most days I do wake up crying. Some days I call out for Zola, who chirrups, sometimes popping his head up from the bottom of the bed where I didn’t know he was and he clumsily purrs and stumbles his way to be near my face, his breath comfortingly stinky, his whiskers tickling my cheeks. Should I get up? I’ll ask him but that’s up to him. He sometimes curls up into the space near my stomach. He is so soft. When he exhales it’s a sound of pure contentment that’s contagious. Sometimes he wants to share the pillow, sometimes he kicks me in the head until I’m on the pillows next to his. Sometimes it is time to get up, so he chases my feet and pads at my face and makes it impossible not to get up and open the patio doors so he can continue collecting sticks in the garden.

Anyway. This isn’t the half of it. But I probably don’t need to tell most of you: lockdown has fucked with my head. My finances. My creativity. My relationships. My independence. Everything.

My therapist asked me two weeks ago to list five things which make me happy and I could only get to one. I’ve thought about it. Maybe they aren’t as simple as the examples she gave but here they are.

 

  1. When it’s dark and the fan is on and I’m reading a book I love.
  2. When I’m running and it’s tough but I know I’m doing it anyway.
  3. Dancing with Turn’d Up Fitness.
  4. Being surrounded by my cats.
  5. Listening to Frightened Rabbit on my headphones so everything else is blocked out. Eyes closed. Knowing Scott is still here because of the love that won’t let him go, his family, friends, the fans. Hoping one day I’ll see him again, ‘And God’s got his dead friends round. They’ve painted all the walls in red, to remind them they’re all dead.’

 

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Snog.


Daylight, Woke Up Hurting, Though I Can’t Quite Say Why.

Oh I don’t know these buildings,

I think I am lost.

Fuck This Place – Frightened Rabbit

I feel weird ending the other blog the way I did. Worried I gave the impression that now I’m a full-time writer and I exercise that my depression is better or gone completely. I would hate to mislead people into thinking what I used to think: that once my situation changed, I would feel better. That once I had some validation, I would feel better. That once I had money, or could buy a house, or could work from home I would feel better. IMG_6101

In truth, the moment I was told I had won that competition I was relieved. The moment I found out I was a Sunday Times Bestseller I was actually asleep. I was so stressed my book wouldn’t sell well that I turned off my phone, drew all the curtains, got into bed and just passed out. I woke up to messages from my agent and publisher who were so, so happy for me and sounded confused and disappointed not to be able to tell me in person, didn’t understand why they couldn’t get in touch. When I found that out, I felt relief, followed by an immense sense of guilt I wasn’t happier for myself when all these wonderful people were so happy for me.

I am at the end of book three now and still my publisher and agent are so kind and so patient with me. I should have finished this a long time ago but have experienced so many mental setbacks and such insecurity that I’ve had long periods where I’ve withdrawn and not been able to even look at my computer. This is the reality of it all. And it’s not uncommon. You probably feel it too, maybe to the same degree, maybe to a lesser one, maybe even more so. Big achievements often feel like a relief rather than pure joy. After all the hard work you’ve put in and what’s at stake, this hardly seems irrational, does it?IMG_6229

But it really knocked me down when I realised that getting validation and having my literal dream job didn’t cure my depression. I remember taking that call confirming I won the competition and experiencing a very fleeting moment of pleasure before sinking into a pit of imposter syndrome and stress.

It took me two books to realise I was only ever going to be happy when I was actually writing and when I was writing for myself. There are lines in both my books which still make me happy when I think of them because they surprised me. I surprised me. I didn’t know I could write like that, the way I wanted to write, because so much of writing is getting it wrong.

And that’s where I’ve gone astray on this book. I’ve been pushing for the perfect first draft, though I know by now it’s impossible. So rather than risk writing badly, I’ve avoided writing at all.

It occurred to me that I used to avoid exercise in the same way but that I eventually managed to overcome it, with practice, and with techniques that maybe I could bullet point here and which work for both writing and exercise and pretty much anything you want to succeed at but are struggling with. IMG_6102

So.

  • Start with really small goals. Just do ten minutes. Just twenty minutes.
  • Start even smaller if you have to. Just put on your workout stuff. Just get your equipment ready.
  • Prepare the night before so that when you wake up everything is in place for the day. That way minor setbacks such as ‘I can’t find my sports bra’ or ‘my laptop isn’t fully charged’ can’t blossom into excuses not to do it.
  • If you feel like shit, lower your expectations. Do something lighter like yoga or a short walk. Do some planning instead of writing.
  • Just keep moving. If you need to drop some weight to keep up with the exercise then drop the weights and just do the squats or the lunges. If you need to drop a plot point for now just put some fucking brackets in saying what should happen at that point and then move past it to a bit that’s easier to write.
  • You don’t need to do it every day. Just make it count when you do by doing your best. Sometimes I say to my personal trainer that I’m not feeling 100% but I will give him 100% of what I’ve got. Sometimes I think this to myself when I open my laptop for the day.
  • You/I need to let go of our fear of failure. Nothing is fixed. One bad workout doesn’t mean it’s all bad. One bad day of writing doesn’t mean you’ve ‘lost it’ as I often tell myself. As if I ever had this ‘it’ and it was mine to lose. It’s bullshit. Shake it off and start again the next day.
  • You know when you need to step back. Your body will tell you. But be honest and don’t stop for longer than you need because you make your life so much fucking harder if you take a long break. It’s harder to come back from, you will feel it in every muscle. It will feel scarier walking back into the gym or picking up your laptop.
  • Ask for help. I am terrible at this. Awful. But if you need a friend to go running with, find that friend who likes running or skating or sexy dancing or spin class or anything. Ask someone who might be like you or me, who just doesn’t want to be alone in all this.
  • Ask your doctor. Some GPs actually prescribe gym memberships through the National Exercise Referral Scheme. Here is a link to the Welsh page: https://www.wlga.wales/national-exercise-referral-scheme-ners
  • If something isn’t working for you, drop it. If there’s a class that makes you feel like shit every time you take it then get rid of it from your life. If there’s a side plot in your book which is distracting and difficult and not working: drop it. I should have done this MONTHS ago by the way with book three. Once I had stopped trying to make this broken thing work I felt my mind relax again and now I am finally making steps forward.
  • Deadlines are good but don’t crush yourself with them. Don’t tell yourself you’ll be deadlifting 60kg in three months and then hate yourself for failing. Don’t tell yourself you can write a book in six months when you’re in the grips of a serious depression. Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot achieve and you will be happier and more productive for it.
  • Whatever you do, make sure it’s for the right reasons. I started writing this book because I love it. I started exercising to help my mental health. When both these activities become unpleasurable I remind myself of why I started them and it helps me to carry on through the fog. If you start to exercise because you hate your body you won’t have any incentive to keep going when it’s tough. If you start writing a novel just to make money…sorry, I’ll try and finish this when I stop howling with laughter at the fucking idea of it. For money!!!! You kill me.
  • No one is looking at you. Don’t compare yourself to other people. We know these things but depression breaks our sensible thought patterns and we forget. Just do you and forget everyone else or you will never get anywhere because there is always someone doing better and if you’re busy watching them you’re only wasting time.
  • This is an old favourite: you never regret a workout. This is so infuriatingly true. No matter how bad that workout was (you were tired and sore, you were slow or you were wobbly and off balance) you will never regret doing it. You will pretty much always regret not working out, or writing, or going out with your friends like you arranged a week ago when you felt much better than you do now. What really sucks? You will always dismiss this sometimes when you wake up hurting and just want to stay in and not exist and then you will feel worse again, later, a rebound misery, because you know you would have felt better if you’d stuck to it.
  • I have had to train myself to think of things as though they cannot be cancelled. If the thought flickers through my head I immediately shoot it down, like I’m playing Duck Hunt on my NES. Those duck thoughts come and I shoot them right back down before they can fly off screen and start gathering together, planning on how to make me quit that day. Be prepared for them. Eventually you get fewer and fewer because the ducks know not to fly there anymore. This was aa terrible metaphor but see? I stuck with it, even when the ducks were telling me to pack it in.
  • Keep going. I know I’ve already said this but I mean it seriously this time. Keep going. You are worth fighting for, so fight for yourself.

 

Donate to Frightened Rabbit’s Tiny Changes charity here.

Title taken from the lyrics to Woke Up Hurting – Frightened Rabbit.


What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?

Though the corners are lit

The dark can return with the flick of a switch.

It hasn’t turned on me yet

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.

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Job Centre creep extraordinaire.

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.

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Art by Scott Hutchison.

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.

Donate to Mind here

*Title also a lyric by Frightened Rabbit.

 


RED January 2020

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I wish I could say I got this quote from reading Rilke but really I got it from watching the film Jojo Rabbit. Either way, it’s still true, still vital, still genius.

The truth is that I can’t remember a time before I felt awkward, anxious, different. What seemed easy and natural to other people never felt easy to me. Example: I was kicked out after one day of nursery school because I wouldn’t stop screaming and crying. They told my parents not to bring me back. I don’t remember this, but I do remember going to look around my school for the first time, a private Roman Catholic school with kind nuns and high brick walls and big black gates.

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Evidence of my one and only day of nursery.

I remember my parents leaving me with a teacher while they took a tour of the school and I remember feeling like they were never going to come back. I remember crying, sitting on a teacher’s knee, no amount of reassurance could convince me I would ever see my family again. And this continued for years. Every day I arrived at school kicking and screaming and clinging to my bampi’s legs begging not to be left behind. I remember how all the other children seemed fine and I remember thinking there must be something wrong with them, not me.

By the end of each day I would be fine but every morning the pattern started again. Why didn’t I believe that I would go home at the end of the day, when so far each day had ended that way?

I was sick a lot. Ear infections. But this was preferable to the overwhelming anxiety I felt at having to go to school.

At the time, I would never have been able to articulate this and so it became something I kept to myself, my behaviour totally inexplicable to anyone else who saw it. To them, maybe it looked like tantrums, recalcitrance. To me, it was a force I had no control over, didn’t understand, and would have loved to break. Every September I braced myself, told myself it would be different, I would be able to handle it, but without knowing what it was that scared me so much I always fell back into the fear.

It was in primary school I started to have these weird moments where my brain would glitch. I would feel very suddenly detached from my surroundings, everything would take on a surreal edge. This would last about thirty seconds, maybe a minute. A thought would flash in my mind: I am not supposed to be here. Then I would quickly scroll through the places I usually felt most comfortable: my nan’s house, my home. I’m not meant to be there either, the thought would continue. I would feel lost, out of place, with nowhere to go. All this only in a brief moment of time. A physical reaction, my heart beating faster, feeling the world sway beneath me, and then, as soon as it came, it would be gone again. I would be back in the moment.

What was that? I’d wonder briefly. Each time it happened was like the first time it happened. These moments continued until sometime in my mid-twenties when all of a sudden they stopped.

I wonder if it had something to do with gaining some autonomy, over where I was and what I was doing and who I was with.

Not that there was anything wrong back then. I was lucky. I was well-loved and people were caring and understanding. No children made fun of me for still crying when I came to school every day.

Not even when I started at my first high school. When I vividly remember being forced to go to a class, physically unable to stop crying, some panic I didn’t understand had control and I didn’t know how to stop it. As I cried and people looked, the teacher gave me a sheet of A4 paper and told me if I sat on it then I would stop crying. Confused, I did sit on the piece of paper. It didn’t work. I don’t know if he was being cruel or clumsily kind. No one was mean to me about it. Sometimes this memory creeps up on me and I cringe, groan. It is agonisingly embarrassing. It’s just one of the hundreds of unwanted, intrusive memories which catch me by surprise several times a day.

What if I had had CBT then? Not last year, but when I was a child, a teenager. What if someone had talked to me about how to manage my feelings and how to harness logic instead of letting my emotions run wild?

Of course, all of this led to worse depression, worse coping mechanisms (drug problems, binge drinking, self-harm, ditching school all together) which only made me hate myself more, made it harder to climb out of the hole I was digging for myself.

I’ve decided to be honest about this because maybe it will make a difference. As often as I’ve wanted to give up, I’m still here. The thing is, from the outside, it might seem as if my life is great. Even if I look at it from the outside I can see how good I have it. So why don’t I feel good? What is feeling good? How can I get there?

I’ve found ways to manage my depression. Healthy ways. One of them is exercise. It’s not a cure – and I think this is why so many of us are resistant to it whenever a doctor suggests it when we ask for help – but it has shown me I have strength and motivation I never knew I had. I’m going to write more blogs over the course of January while I complete my exercise challenge.

I’m trying other things, too. Things I’ll describe in more detail over the month. What has worked and what hasn’t. I’m trying to get better, I’m trying to make tiny changes to earth. I hope you will join me on the way.

This song makes me happy: I Wanna Get Better

Donate to Mind via my Just Giving page here: RED January 2020 JustGiving Page


Taking Back the Streets

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I was walking to work the other day when just in front of me I saw a woman handing out flyers to people who crossed her path. I wasn’t in the market for a flyer that day as I already know everywhere and everything I like so there isn’t any point in showing me a new thing or place because if it was that good I’d already know about it.

The thing was she wasn’t stationary like flyer people normally are. Instead she was sauntering up the street and then pausing to give a flyer to a person who was too mentally weak to say no.

Not me! I thought. I’m taking control. There is no way on earth I will take one of these bloody flyers because if I do I will have to hold it all the way to work and I don’t need that kind of responsibility.

I was catching up to her. Every time she stopped I got a little closer, and because I was walking quickly and she was walking relatively slowly I was making gains all the time. My heart was beating faster in anticipation of turning down the flyer. I practised my lines in my head, No thank you! Not today thank you!

For a while I walked not far behind her. She seemed to speed up and I thought I would be waiting for ages until I got to turn her down. She veered into my path and in order to pass her I had to step onto the grassy verge at the side of the pavement but finally I found myself walking next to her.

This is it! I thought. This is my moment.

I turned to her, NO THANK YOU! I said to the back of her head. She stopped and turned, a confused look on her face. I paused and looked her in the eye, No thank you! I said again, pointing to her flyers.

I started walking, faster than before, leaving her in my dust. Well we sure told her! I said to myself inside my brain. Yes but…my brain started. What? I asked it. Well, you kind of messed up the timing and it made us look like idiots.

I had to admit my brain had a point. But I found the whole experience very exhilarating none the less and with practice I am becoming an expert at saying, No thank you! to all those street people asking for things.

Spare a moment to talk about our saviour- NO THANK YOU!

Hello madam, would you like to try- NO THANK YOU!

Would you like to help children with cancer? – NO THANK YOU! Although you’ve phrased that in a way specifically to make me feel bad and I think that is a bit unfair.

This is a Step Forward for me. Until recently I have wrestled with these people endlessly. It has wasted their time and mine. Rhys once came home to find a strange charity man taking my bank details, drying out from the rain with one of our towels draped over his shoulders. Now I have found the power. NO THANK YOU! I can say. NO THANK YOU!


Assertiveness Training – Part 2

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Soar means Situation, Objective, Action, Result, Reflection. There are too many Rs for this to work properly but no one minds.

Lunch. This morning I made the decision that today was the first day of the rest of my life and so instead of having Greggs for my lunch I have packed an elaborate meal of salmon and broccoli and wholewheat noodles. Because we only have half an hour and we are all the way up on the 11th floor we have to stay where we are or we won’t have time to eat. By now I am tired and a little grumpy and I wish today wasn’t the first day of the rest of my life because then I could have a steak bake and a fondant donut.

As I am the most popular people immediately flock towards my table where I am sitting, leaving the only other available table for the less popular people. I have been hoisted by own petard because though I crave solitude I now have to spend my half hour of lunch talking to everyone. When I open my lunchbox everyone makes impressed noises like, ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaahh’ and I tell them what it is and how today is the first day of the rest of my life. I am glad they got to see that I am Eating Well because unless people actually see you eating this stuff you may as well not bother.

They ask about my book and I tell them about it. Irene – who does not need an assertiveness workshop and we don’t know why she is here – tells me if it isn’t any good in five pages she won’t even bother. Irene tells me I need to make it free to read on Kindle or she won’t bother reading it. I tell Irene that I am Poor and there will be no freebies until I can afford it. When everyone laughs I tell them, There will be no ‘lending’ or ‘borrowing’ of Red River until I am rich! And we all laugh again, except Irene who now has to find a new way to subtly undermine my achievement.

But I am tired and my food tastes horrible even though I’ve told them all how Really Nice it is. Luke is eating a Kit Kat and I want to slap it out of his hand and eat it from the floor. I am sick of talking about myself and so I ask everyone what books they like or what TV they enjoy but everyone is shy and says only the bare minimum. It turns out we have very little in common except for that we are all pushovers (not including Irene).

Luke talks about Game of Thrones and I make the obligatory joke that there are a lot of boobies in it and we all laugh until Irene says (quite inexplicably), I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT SEX SCENES IN GAME OF THRONES AND I AM LIKE NO, NO, IT IS A RAPE SCENE NOT A SEX SCENE.

We sit quietly until it is time to go back to the classroom.

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An eagle soaring confidently.

Sunita separates us in to groups for more role playing. This time we are given a scenario and must act it out, taking it turns to be the one who needs to be more assertive. For our group we need to ask our boss for time off in lieu because they’ve made us come in over the weekend. It is my turn first and I am the employee and I am reasonable and assertive and do a good job. When I’ve finished someone gives me feedback and says, I just didn’t feel like you were invested enough. I nod and agree although feel this feedback is more about my acting skills than the content of my answer. Next, Luke is the employee and he goes from 0-100 and immediately starts threatening his boss with official complaints about his incompetency and selfishness. I say, Okay this was good but maybe you need to be a little less defensive? Luke agrees and has the look of someone dazed, as if he doesn’t know what came over himself. The woman who told me that I wasn’t invested enough praises his performance.

Finally, it is the turn of the quietest person I have ever met to be the mean boss and I think, Ugh this’ll be tough. But she surprises us all by suddenly becoming a total bitch and we all make noises like we are a Jerry Springer audience when she says things about being a team player and saying, Well you did ask me for more responsibility but now that you have it you’re asking for time off! It is a remarkable performance and when it’s over I tell her that she is a Secret Bitch and hides it well. We all clap.

The classroom is now hot and stuffy and there is a brief Palaver when we try to work out the air-conditioning and fail. A man from the office below is summoned to switch it on and then we all complain that it is too loud and the air is too cold. We are tired and don’t want to be here any more. Sunita asks two people she identified as the Best at the role playing exercise to show the class how it’s done. At first I think, Whatever, this will be totally boring. But it turns out they really are good at it and in turns I laugh and become angry and feel great pity for the one playing the employee. It is so good that it goes on for ages and we could all watch them for a long time but Sunita tells us we must get back to work.

I am given a piece of paper with a Feelings Wheel on it and we are asked to identify how we feel in the situations where we need to be more assertive. It feels like the kind of exercise they might give to children who have violent outbursts in classrooms. Nevertheless, I obediently write my situation down on my notepaper and consult my Feelings Wheel to choose my emotions when I’m in that situation (Anxious > Insecure). Then, we choose alternate feelings that we aspire to in that situation. I choose, Happy > Confident and we write down a way to get to those feelings by acting differently.

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We are all desperate to leave and cannot remember what it felt like to have the wind in our hair and the rain on our skin. All we know is the whir and clunk of an aged air conditioner and the smell of Nescafe on each other’s breath. We have already played so many roles today that we have forgotten who we are and why we are here. Am I a mean boss or am I an overworked employee? Did I just dream that I was an author?

A girl next to me opens a can of Coke and I whisper, Where did you get that? Is there a vending machine? And she tells me, No I brought it with me. My heart sinks. I sip the lukewarm water from the broken water cooler and remind myself that we can finish at 4 because we only had a half hour lunch. At least, I think, the role playing is over with.
Sunita claps her hands together once, There is just ONE more exercise I want to do today, she says, and we all die a little inside. This time, we must be interviewers and interviewees. We must use a technique with the acronym SOAR(R) when we give our answers to the interview questions.

Exhausted, our group dutifully interviews one another and provides feedback. This group is lovely and we all lavish one another with praise even though by now none of us give a shit. But when someone finishes speaking we all say WOW! You are SO GOOD. I can’t believe how good that was! And it’s so sweet and kind that I am buoyed for a while by the generosity of human spirit we are all showing. However, we all decide we can’t be bothered when we have ten minutes left and instead we just sit there and talk about our jobs and how stupid job interviews are. Sunita comes in and expresses disappointment that we have given up on the task but I tell her, We are tired, We have pushed ourselves all day and now we have nothing left to give.

So she gathers everyone back to their desks and starts to round up the day. I am so excited to leave that I can barely understand what she’s saying. Only ten minutes left, only six minutes left, only four minutes left, only one minute left!! Okay, I think, we have overrun by two minutes now. Five minutes. Has she forgotten her promise? If we had a half hour lunch, she said, we could leave at four. But now it is twelve minutes past and we’re still here. Quarter past. Twenty past! By now I am apoplectic. I have not refreshed my email for several hours and this is something I like to do at least every 3 minutes if possible. I think of that blissful few seconds between refreshing and loading where there is a possibility of a new email with exciting news before the disappointment of seeing that there’s no email or only junk email and it is like actual drugs to me. I am jonesing for a refresh and Sunita has lied in order to con us out of half an hour of our precious lives and none of us are saying anything because we are all total pushovers and the whole day has been completely useless! Is this another one of her Derren Brown mind experiments or is she just pure evil?

Soon it is 16:34 and she is handing us more pieces of paper and everyone is shifting in their seats and when I am about to scream she finally says, Thanks everyone! Have a lovely evening and when you get a chance please fill out the online questionnaire that I’ve emailed to you all!

Chairs are pushed back and everyone crams their handouts in to bags and says goodbye even though we all get stuck in the lift together anyway and have to make small talk all the way down eleven floors. There is no signal and I cannot refresh my email. When I am finally outside I have to put up my umbrella because the drizzle is turning to heavy rain. We all say goodbye and I enjoy the fresh air, taking big gulps and remembering what it is like to be a real person again. I look at my phone: no new email. If I was to check my feelings on the Feelings Wheel I would say I was Happy > Cheerful.


Assertiveness Training – Part 1

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Write on indeed. Yes, I am holding a pen.

It is the other week now and a rainy morning and I am on the eleventh floor of a building that is eleven floors high. I am holding a flat white and I am feeling grumpy because I have been made to go on an all day assertiveness training course. This is because when I am on the desk and people ask for things that they are not allowed to do, I say, No, and if they ask again I say, Oh go on then, because it easier than arguing with them.
The view out of the window is quite good and in the distance I can see the building where I used to work and I think about how I miss it but also how I am glad I don’t work there any more because it was a Nightmare. There are already six other people in the room but no one is talking and it is eerily quiet. At the front a woman who looks like she should be the Sexy One on The Apprentice is writing things in felt pen on a flipchart.

In order to get to a seat I have to scooch behind people and as I do this I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry, and I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry and I think, Ugh, a whole day with people like me. This will be unbearable.

Like me, everyone has brought their own pens and notebooks. In the quiet we all smile sheepishly at one another, and slowly more people start to enter the room, apologising as they scooch, and sit in silence.
Eventually the quiet becomes too much for me and I say, Isn’t this weather awful? And this makes everyone giggle in relief because someone has finally spoken and a woman (we are almost all women in here) starts to reply when The Apprentice lady says, Right! And we know it is about to begin.

At this point I get a few butterflies because I have been on other training courses and this is when the trainer asks us all to introduce ourselves. This is my opportunity to say, Hello, I am Amy and I work part-time here and outside of work I am a writer and my book is coming out in January. People are impressed at this point and so they will ask me what it’s called or how I ‘got in to that’ and I will tell them, It’s called Red River and I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition. This is great because it means that I am the Centre of Attention and that’s the best part of the day.

But instead, this lady asks us to write down our first impressions of the person opposite us.

Well, this is terrible. I may not get to mention my book AT ALL today!
I glare at the nice man opposite me and I write down:

Friendly
Smartly dressed
Brought own pen

Then I wait while everyone else finishes their own lists. There is some confusion as to who is opposite whom because of the way the desks are laid out and so it is some time before everyone has put their pens down.

The Apprentice woman introduces herself as Sunita. She tells us she is a Business Psychologist and I think that is pretty much perfect. As she talks she paces back and forth and I am distracted by how well her hair stays where it is supposed to. She says, Now when we got in here you were all very quiet and I was waiting to see who would speak first and I believe it was you, (here she points at me and I feel like the person being chosen to assist a magician at a children’s birthday party), who said something about the weather? Well, she continues, I stopped you there and had you all do this exercise because I didn’t want you to get too comfortable with each other.

What is this Derren Brown nonsense? I think to myself. I will be on edge for the whole of the day now, wondering what is a test and what isn’t.

Sunita tells us about the day ahead and promises us that if we only take half an hour for lunch instead of one hour then we can leave half an hour earlier. I cling to this as I write my name in colourful felt tip pen on a white label and stick it to my chest.

Then she asks who would like to be the first to read out their first impressions of the person opposite. Predictably, not one of us raises our hands and I think again of what a long day this will be. Eventually, Sunita resorts to picking people and when they read out their first impressions I realise that I have done it wrong. They are saying things like, Her body language suggests that she’s an introvert but I can tell from her eyes that she’s kind.
I cross out ‘Smartly dressed’ and ‘Brought own pen’ and write, Looks approachable but not as though he would readily approach people. Seems well organised (has his own pen). Why am I so obsessed with him having a pen? I wonder. I have sweat on my brow. I decide it would be better to get this over with and so I raise my hand to speak next. I find myself babbling a little because I feel like I haven’t said enough and need to fill the silence. People laugh when I say things that are supposed to be funny and so I only act up more and then I am overexcited and find it hard to listen to other people when they speak.

It comes to the person opposite me, Asif, who says, When I first saw Amy I put down that she seemed friendly and shy but now that she’s spoken-

He thinks I’m horrible! I say and everyone laughs.

No, he says, Now I don’t think you’re shy.

I am a terrible show off, I think to myself, but it is too late because now I am everybody’s favourite and I cannot let them down.

The morning continues with various exercises. We are asked to rate ourselves on a scale of 0 – 10, 0 being passive and 10 being aggressive. Most of us have written ‘3’. We are asked what we believe ‘being confident’ is and everyone has a very hard time describing it including me. The best I can come up with is, Not being nervous and sweaty all the time.

At break I look at my phone and out of the window and I think about what freedom feels like and I feel strung out as the adrenaline from being Centre of Attention wears off.
Now, Sunita says, We are going to do some role playing. Everyone in the room goes red and tries to turn invisible. She continues, I know you’re all introverts and this will be like drawing blood from a stone but these exercises are fantastic for building your confidence.

I wonder if I would die instantly if I jumped from the eleventh floor or if it would be slow and painful.

Sunita tells us all what an Elevator Pitch is and then says we will be Speed Networking

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Picture of an elevator with words ‘elevator pitch’.

for five minutes at a time. Then she becomes distracted and asks us all if we’ve ever seen the Amy Cuddy TED Talk. No, we say. Or rather we all shake our heads and silently mouth the word No because none of us want to commit to anything unless we know the whole group is saying the same thing. Stand up, Sunita says. She explains the concept, about body language and influencing the way we feel by using poses. How does Wonder Woman stand? She asks so I cross my arms like it’s the X-Factor until I realise everyone else is standing with their hands on their hips and apparently that is the right answer so I quickly change my position.
She makes us hold this for a long time until we feel sufficiently powerful enough to start our role playing exercises. I am still DREADING this and have noted the windows do not open just in case people throw themselves out. Touche, architect.
What I’m going to ask you to do, she says, Is talk to the person opposite you for three minutes about what your greatest strength is and give us examples of how you’ve used this strength, how you’ve succeeded with it.

I perk up. Until now, there hasn’t been an organic way to mention my book and how great it is but now…yes. Yes this might work very well for me.

When the time starts I say, Hello, I’m Amy and my greatest strength is my creativity. In 2016 I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition…

My monologue continues for three blissful uninterrupted minutes. The person opposite me makes impressed noises and their face does all the things I want it to. At the end they are allowed to give me feedback on my pitch and they say they want to know more and they can’t believe how great it all is.

I have perfectly masked my extreme narcissism with enough modesty that they tell me I should be MORE PROUD of my achievements and not diminish them. Ha-ha, I think, but I am proud! In fact I think I am SO great and even more great because you fell for the fact I don’t think I’m totally great!

The best part of this is that after our time is up and I have listened to their pitch (we will skip that bit here as it’s not as fun for me to recall) I get to do it ALL OVER AGAIN. I get to do it about 5 times but at the end of the exercise there are still 9 people in the room who do not know about me and Red River and this bothers me until Sunita says, Now did you all hear what Amy said? And asks me to repeat it for the whole class. I pretend like this is slightly embarrassing but that I am rising to the challenge in spite of my great humility. People gasp and say how wonderful it is. I say, It is a dream come true.

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Evolution in three simple images. Man expressing my thoughts exactly.


Bugs on a Train

There was a silent drama on the train today because an insect decided he wanted to get a free ride.

I don’t know what the insect was because I had never seen one like it before. So I think it was a brand new one that’s only just come out. It’s a wasp crossed with a daddy longlegs and it didn’t mean any harm but we were all disgusted anyway.

It was mainly flying around me and I tried to dodge it while maintaining my street cred. Anyway, soon I thought it had gone. Phew, I thought. But then I saw a woman staring at me. Her eyes were big and worried.

Oh no, I thought. It’s only on my head! Disaster. I tried to casually brush it out of my hair, gently so I didn’t squish it. It took a few times before it flew off. I smiled at the woman and she smiled back because I didn’t have an insect on my head any more.

By now, more people were involved, watching the insect and smiling to other people who watched the insect.

Eventually it came to rest on a man’s head. He was ginger, so maybe the insect thought he was a lovely big flower, or the sun. But this man was only looking at his phone! Oh no!

We all shared looks, had a smile because he didn’t even know about the insect! And it was on his HEAD!

The insect was having a lovely time. He stood up like a mantis and rubbed his hands together as if to say, Right! Now I’ve finally found a seat, let’s get to business.

We all waited for him to fly off or for the man to realise there was a creature living in his hair but it seemed that, together, they had found peace.

We all smiled because it was nice to have a shared secret and also because we were glad it wasn’t us.


Effectively Mugged by a Female Tramp

This is classic Rhys.


Part 2. Of Hamster Parties, Robot Cars and Tony bloody Blair.

Yes. I have decided to Beyonce this blog. My phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to know what’s about to happen next! Well stop harassing me, this is the conclusion.

For those who can’t remember as far back as Tuesday I will recap.

When we last saw each other it was 1991 and Tony Blair had just done me over by awarding the poetry competition to someone else. I insinuated this was someone VERY BAD because that was a good cliffhanger and that makes people want to read the next bit.

Let us see what that’s all about…

 

REWIND.

Once, I had a hamster called Jerry. He was a good guy. He went bald. We were firm friends. I even attended a hamster party, and he came with me in his little ball and met the hamsters who were friends with my friends.

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Me with Jerry (far left) at a hamster party. I am looking deep in thought, probably about another brilliant story.

One day, after a long and stressful life and several months of ailing health, Jerry died unexpectedly.

I was very saddened. This was even worse than when PJ and Duncan, my fish, died. (I do not remember the timescales. Perhaps Tony Blair and PJ and Duncan did not exist until later, or maybe this all happened earlier, I just don’t know. These are artistic choices, please stop being fussy).

There was a girl at school. We will call her Blonna to protect her identity as what she did was very mean and I wouldn’t want her to get hate mail for it now many years later. Blonna told me she was glad Jerry died.

This was the culmination of some long running feud. We had both said things, done things, we didn’t mean. But this? This was a step too far. My friends with hamsters understood and they told Blonna she was mean and she shouldn’t say things like this, and we all said we would not talk to her any more. At this point we all simultaneously flicked our hair and walked off.

The next morning, long before our daily assembly, a woman I did not recognise came into the classroom. She asked me if I was Amy. I said, Um, yes? because she was so scary I wasn’t sure if I was me. She had a glass eye (this is not an artistic choice, it is the truth) it was fixed and scary and her eyelid didn’t blink. Her other eye narrowed in anger, she pointed a finger in my face. She said, If you’re ever mean to Blonna again! Don’t you dare talk to my daughter again! I don’t remember her real words, I only remember the eye and the loudness and being very confused. My teacher was furious, she told her to go away, she hugged me all the way through assembly and even then I didn’t stop crying.

FAST FORWARD.

Tony Blair is handing Blonna the little chair. She has done an acrostic using the word DAFFODIL. There is a massive daffodil drawn in the empty bit of the page. It is very pedestrian. Not her, I think, my eyes filling with tears. She is smiling, she holds the little chair above her head, my heart is a concrete block.

At home I tell my mother. Tony Blair! she says, missing the point. She’s talking about the parents who gathered at the gates, Why do they care, they’re all Tories anyway. I do not know what this means but my mum is clever and she is a good person so I know she is right. Whatever it means, it helps me feel better, they really are tories. Ha ha ha.

It would be many, many years before I entered another competition. It would be 2016, in fact. Welcome to 2016! This is a dark future. All the celebrities are dying, it turns out Tony Blair was a baddie all along and we are trying to teach robot cars to make complex ethical choices, like if they should sacrifice themselves to avoid hitting a group of orphans. Phew, it’s all so heavy these days, so as you’d expect the stakes for my own writing also much higher.

I have written nearly a whole book. On this particular day, sometime in late March, I am feeling okay about it. Better than okay, today I think it is brilliant and probably one of the most fun books ever. It is on this day that my boyfriend Rhys sends me a text. (He often send me texts but I mean he sends me a specific one). It is a Daily Mail competition for a first time novelist. The prize is really good, it’s way better than the play set and the little chair combined! But even better, something like this would prove for sure that I am good at writing.

The deadline for the competition is April 16th and I have a lot of work to do so [montage] I knuckle down, editing day and night, I print it off and read it aloud while I walk around the living room with a pencil tucked behind my ear (I don’t but it looks good for the purposes of this montage, otherwise it’d just be me sitting there typing on my lap much as I am now) I shake my head and I throw it all away and start again. I show it to Rhys, he gives me a double thumbs up! (We can’t use dialogue, there’s music playing, so we need visual cues.) I put it all in a large brown envelope and I hold it to my chest and close my eyes for a moment before putting it in the post box. [end montage]

Not much happens for a while that is relevant to this story. I had a really good time in Disney World and we can maybe put in another montage of me enjoying rollercoasters but then we might have too many montages in a row.

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The mouse in the spaceship story, met with critical acclaim.

Wow, time has gone so fast! Much like a rollercoaster (you see what I did) there have been ups and downs but now, finally, I am answering a telephone call. My hand is shaking because I have been waiting for this call since I have been told I was shortlisted. I am in work, in the corridor, pacing. The person does not waste any time, they are telling me, You won!

Take that Tony Blair, I think. I am happy. This is everything I have ever wanted. I am thinking I won’t ever be sad ever again probably and then

Ugh

I am thinking they’ve probably made a mistake picking me because I am actually not a very good writer at all.

 

Perhaps this is not a very inspiring end to this story but it is the truth, and it is important to tell the truth because then other people will know that a lot of us are like this. We never think we are very good at anything and we think we need other people to tell us we are good but we don’t. It isn’t Blonna or Brother word processors or Tony Blair standing in the way of our happiness, it is only ourselves. Silly us.

So maybe from now on, when we are feeling worried that we aren’t good after all, we shouldn’t look out there for support, but in here (I am pointing to my heart).