You know you’ve had a year to forget when thoughts of your various Christmas/end-of-year traditions race through your head, followed by “I don’t want to…” I’ve filled out this questionnaire near the end of every year for the last ten or so, and this year, almost couldn’t face it.
Trying to write down how I’ve been feeling recently is a bit like the Allie Brosh cartoon where she’s pointing at the dead fish and exclaiming “Can’t you see how dead these are??!!!” I’m assured this, and very dark thoughts in general, are quite normal given recent events, and the previous similar event, but by any measure, it is not an ideal state of mind for the run up to Christmas. The one thing I had hoped to be celebrating by the end of this year, finishing my novel, hasn’t happened. I’m owed money, and sticking to a daily routine has been like swimming in syrup. I’ve still been getting to bed at fairly reasonable times, and managing to read a couple of pages of an easy book sometimes, but often not actually being able to sleep and/or sleeping in for longer than I should, having been tearful and restless at night. I still read Twitter, but have hardly tweeted anything for ages until today…I suspect because two of the people who stood out from the time I began finding my voice there are now gone and it feels too sad. I’m not on any medication, and whether I should be has been the subject of sporadic internal debate (I took anti-depressants once, nearly nine years ago and have turned them down since). I’ve been having basic CBT on the NHS (i.e, all you can get for free) since August, for long-standing stuff, and it is useful for some purposes but not others. I’m inclining towards getting away for a UK break for a few days in January/February, but I can’t afford to, unless someone makes it my Christmas present, which I am hoping.
The last few weeks have brought some very, very big questions to the fore: Why mental health provision in the UK is in such a godawful state, and how it can be improved. Whether the standard aims of someone my age – find a partner, get a ring, have a family – are either a good idea, or realistic, and if not, what to do with that time instead so I don’t completely lose my cake, since the sorts of jobs you can properly be married to – like hard-news journalism, or banking – aren’t an option. How to finish the novel without my heart/head exploding from some of the resonances. And, in the short-to-medium-term, what to do to make variously horrible things a bit less horrible. These are really the questions I need to be answering right now, not online questionnaires. In the end, though, I decided to bite the bullet and try and fill this in. Mainly on account of memories from the summer which I thought it might help to try reliving at the moment…
1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
- Discovered there was a Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant (as well as Manna) and went to it (a birthday present). Also went back to Manna with friends, where I’d been before.
- Had a picnic at Kenwood House
- Had to breathe into a plastic bag. Which apparently you shouldn’t actually do anyway because it’s no use. Not a nice first, obviously.
- Not “never done before” but, until recently, not for well over a decade: Started writing down thoughts and feelings in a notebook. Pretty much everything I’ve written since I was 17-and-a-half has been in some sense public. Public writing can be very authentic, but never completely. Sometimes that’s worth remembering…
2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year? My main one was to do NaNoWriMo in November and finish the book. Which has been derailed by Events in previous years, and this year, was again.
For next year:
- Never to hold back from paying a compliment no matter how wrong or cheesy it sounds. Honestly, wishing you’d said the nice thing you were going to say to someone who’s no longer alive is horrible.
- To take compliments better, and not laugh them off out of embarrassment. Wishing you hadn’t done that – to two dead people – is also crummy.
- Run for Mind.
- Do something else visible and mental health related.
- Improve my own mental health (starting with getting the business support available to me, which I haven’t previously, and seeing if it works).
- Be less jumpy and irritable.
- Finish the book.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? My cousin gave birth to a son. My other cousin and his boyfriend adopted a son. Both are adorable. Unfortunately not near enough to cuddle.
4. Did anyone close to you die? Last month another friend took his own life. Not “close”, exactly; at least not recently. More, the sort of person who even if you didn’t know for long, you couldn’t forget if you tried (and I did try, particularly when Twitter went through a phase of recommending that I follow people with horrible opinions because he did so…). At 23, as a bright-eyed trainee journalist, I was told always to keep in mind that journalism and the internet let you get to know someone better within minutes of meeting them than you otherwise might in weeks, months, or even years. Four years later, as I faffed my tardy way late into an intimidating bar off St James’s where he greeted me as if it was his front room, that sentiment truly hit home. Meeting him felt as though I had a twin who was male, rich and Tory. Which was as frightening and weird as it sounds, but also happy and brilliant (or, as he would say, “First class!”). He was the reason that I was able to develop one of my book’s characters into something rounded and interesting from a one-dimensional wally based on a collection of vague prejudices. I’d never met anyone like him before and doubt I ever will again. Depression is an awful, awful illness, which so many people I know, myself included, have been touched by for many years. I cannot believe he’s gone. I keep thinking of things I might say/ask/tweet to him one day and then having to remind myself there’s no point. I’m devastated. It is heartbreaking.
5. What countries did you visit? None. See next question.
6. What would you like to have had in 2014 that you lacked? Money, mainly.
7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
- The WOW Festival at the South Bank Centre in March. There was some exciting noise about me speaking at next year’s but they’ve yet to return any of my followup on this…
- Late-April: Buying a commemorative martini cocktail at four in the afternoon with money from my savings. And slightly spoiling the mysterious-woman-of-the-world vibe by taking a photo of it with my iPad because my iPhone was out of battery…
- The first week in June, when I went to Durham for work and an early 30th birthday celebration.
- Also June: Germany thrashing Brazil in the World Cup
- June 20th: My 30th birthday. Couldn’t forget that if I wanted to.
- Mid-August: Day trip to Colchester with a writer friend and her three little girls. Cause of the foot of doom.
- November 17th – being a guest of the wonderful Black Dog Runner at The Mind Media Awards. Sadly now extra memorable for what came a couple of days afterwards…
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
- Managing to fill this in.
- Managing not to passive-aggressively tweet when upset about something. (Yeah! Look at me, Being A Grownup!)
- (in the summer) Being asked back somewhere to do a presentation a second year running. And being told it was better than last year’s.
- (in the summer) Interviewing a bloke from the rare demographic of ex-Durham and ex-City with no apparent substance abuse/mental health/marital problems, criminal record or iffy politics (facetiousness aside, it is rare…). We talked about Durham, politics, each others’ cats, and my book. Which I don’t think he liked much. So maybe not such an achievement. Maybe he’s just the wrong demographic…
- For Books Sake published a piece I wrote about researching my book which the Britain’s Next Best Seller blog picked up and linked to. Gulp.
9. What was your biggest failure?
- The usual work-type ones: mostly losing out on a commission about the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall to a famous writer. Getting an actual targeted and useful press release (one in a million), and then a national paper commission off the back of it, which was postponed and eventually dropped for budget reasons. And being tipped off about a staff job in the same section of said national paper but never hearing back. And entering a Christmas competition aimed at Russian tourists to win a break at a hotel where I once stayed a free night because of work. Way to sum up a downward trajectory…
- Spilling coffee on my MacBook then taking it to a ropey computer repair shop in a panic because it was the only one within walking distance. Who managed to bugger a sensor on the keyboard so that the machine now can’t be run off-battery. And Apple won’t touch it, because it’s been repaired by non-Apple people. Score.
- The magnitude of the long and difficult emails I had to write, professionally and personally. Not due to failures on my part, as such, but the amount of effort and worry that went into them was immense.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? A foot injury which left me unable to walk for nearly two months in late summer/early autumn, then anaemia from the pain meds (still on iron tablets, hoping to come off them very soon). Closely followed by the worst mental ill-health I’ve had since a breakdown 11 years ago, in the run up to Christmas.
11. What was the best thing you bought? It was probably a present I bought for a friend; I can’t remember the last time I bought myself anything more extravagant than a chocolate muffin. I was particularly pleased at finding some perfect wrapping paper for a birthday present in a really unexpected place. And at finding birthday cards which were super-appropriate, such as a David Bowie themed one for a friend who’s a big fan, and a card with tweeting birds on it for a friend I met via Twitter. (And by the way, I feel terrible that I still owe people presents from when my foot was injured…sorry about that…).
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
- People who celebrated my 30th birthday with me.
- Hannah and Nai, who came to Bucks from London to for a meal/film when my foot was healing.
- Allan, who treated me to dinner and the theatre (Speed-The-Plow with Lindsay Lohan) in October – it was a really nice evening and he is one of life’s all-round Good-Eggs.
- Lee, the charming Access To Work assessor (for the uninitiated, Access To Work is a scheme where people with disabilities can get in-work support with any aspects of a job that they find challenging. I had it for dyspraxia in my last PAYE job but didn’t know until very recently that self-employed people could get it too). We agreed on a support package which sounded exactly what I was after, and after half an hour it felt like talking to an old friend. I’m cautiously optimistic (this is very much a “proof of the pudding…” scenario) but as a first sign, it was promising.
- Melanie, for passing on last month’s bad news. Which sounds odd to say, but finding out any other way would have been much worse (Free tip: Never, ever Google anyone with any known history of depression if they seem to have gone quiet for a while).
- And to all those who’ve been especially nice in recent weeks, including people I hadn’t heard from in years, and people I’ve never even met because they live on the other side of the world.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? Not “appalled and depressed”, more “frustrated”. I’m frustrated at myself, that writing down how I feel is such a ridiculous effort at the moment. And that it is currently very difficult to see people, for logistical reasons on either or both sides. It’s frustrating when tangible things which might make you feel a bit better can’t happen, even when you rationally know why.
14. Where did most of your money go? Train travel. Although, to be fair, I can sometimes claim the most expensive of that back.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? These were all in the summer…
- Seeing old friends, and Durham.
- Writing in the big old Starbucks in Conduit Street (I know, it’s not really that exciting but it’s lovely in there and the music is good).
- Being invited to a House of Lords reception a second time.
- Going to the theatre and gigs, not that I did either enough.
16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2014?
- Let It Go – Saint Saviour
- Tennis Court – Lorde
- Sad Girl – Lana Del Ray
- Child In Time – Deep Purple
- One Of These Things First – Nick Drake
- Not The Only One – Sam Smith (not my thing, but quite a voice)
- All About That Bass – Megan Trainor (The “Gangnam Style” of 2014)
- Goddess On A Highway – Mercury Rev
- Anything from La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise, especially Uptight Downtown, Kiss and Not Tell and Let Me Down Gently
17. Compared to this time last year, are you…?
– Happier or sadder? Sadder.
– Thinner or fatter? Marginally fatter. Comfort food. Appetite’s the last thing to go in a crisis, and rarely does.
– Richer or poorer? Marginally less poor, but still fairly catastrophically so.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Anything useful.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Feeling like a disappointment.
20. How will you be spending New Year? I don’t know. At the moment, preferably asleep.
21. Did you fall in love in 2014? “I thought I gave up falling in love a long, long time ago / I guess I like it but I can’t tell you, you shouldn’t really know…”
22. How many one-night stands? Piss off.
23. What was your favourite TV programme? Silk, My Mad Fat Diary, Episodes, Who Are You? (Grayson Perry’s mini-series), any Italian cookery programme, Scott and Bailey.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? No. But I slightly get the impression certain people might like me slightly less than they did last year. Or that they feel the gap between our lives is becoming increasingly apparent, that I’m not the person they thought I was, or they’re not sure who I am and it makes them a bit reticent about me. I don’t know if this is true. I might be wrong. I hope I am.
25. Do you like anyone now that you didn’t like this time last year? Only that I didn’t know.
26. What was the best book you read? Currently reading Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe. Other than that, all I read was political non-fic as novel research. I have two Linda Grant novels from my grandma to read, and an arm-length wishlist of fiction but I just haven’t got to it.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Saint Saviour. Used to sing with Groove Armada. Absolutely beautiful. Sounds a bit like Kate Bush/Elizabeth Fraser/Bat for Lashes. The Quietus absolutely raved about her, and rightly so.
28. What did you want and get? 30th birthday celebrations to remember fondly.
29. What did you want and not get? It’s too painful to go into but let’s start with, for my book to be finished.
30. What was your favourite film of this year? Pride, the film about the Soho LGBT community’s support for the miner’s strike.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I was 30. In the run-up, I celebrated by seeing Thea Gilmore with friends in concert at King’s Place, and a weekend with friends in Durham. On the day itself I went to Cliveden with my mum and to Vanilla Black with both parents in the evening. Then the week after, another celebratory picnic in Kenwood House, and a meal with more friends at Manna in Primrose Hill. It seems a very long time ago now…
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? More money. Better mental health for others and myself.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014? I did a presentation in the summer where my trousers and jewellery exactly matched the colour of my iPad and iPhone cases. Was quite proud of that at the time.
34. Who kept you sane? I don’t want to name names here but without the support of my family and several friends in recent weeks I don’t think I’d be here right now.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? In the testosterone corner: Rupert Penry-Jones,Tom Hiddleston and Patrick Baladi. In the oestrogen corner, Eve Best and Anna Chancellor (You can tell I’m getting older, I’m no longer crushing on men who look like Richey from the Manics or women who basically look like me…).
36. What political issue stirred you the most? The disgusting state of mental health care in the UK. The attention given to UKIP, and Nigel Farage, who I would quite like to see swallowed by a hungry whale.
37. Who did you miss? People I never see because they’re far away, busy or dead (upon which note, I see some further-away people more than some who live in London/the South East. This needs sorting out.)
38. Who was the best new person you met? It was mainly a year for catching up with old friends rather than meeting new ones. But I did meet lovely people at the Mind Awards, at a few conferences, and while researching my book. And I finally got to meet Henrietta (@HCA_Bentall) at the British Museum’s Germany exhibition. After tweeting at each other so much we were mistaken for colleagues, we thought it was about time…
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014 Pass. (Teach me one if you like; there’s still time…!)
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up 2014: I don’t think that would be very good for anyone.