Saturday, 7 January 2017
Reach out...we'll be there... by Dawn Finch
I’m not a joiner. I just want to get that one out right from the start. I don’t do social things, and parties and social occasions fill me with horror and dread (drorror? horread?) and so I suppose I am perfectly suited to the life of a writer. It is, after all, not the most social of occupations. We spend days, weeks, months alone with only our furry friends for companionship and most of the time that is perfectly fine.
Sometimes it isn’t.
In my experience many of my creative colleagues suffer like me from depression and emotional issues. We struggle with things like Impostor Syndrome, self-doubt, low self-esteem and loneliness, and many of us from clinical depression. In the silence of our rooms we pick, pick, pick over every tiny scab of our psyche until they become huge scars that we then try to hide from the world.
It is January, another cold and grey month rolling into the grimmest month of all and it feels a long way from the months that bring sunshine back into our lives – this is the time of year that we most need each other. This is when we need to reach out to each other, and for anyone who is not a joiner and who is filled with drorror at the thought of a crowded bar or a gathering. These are the long and dark months when even the most optimistic struggle. If you too are battling loneliness and the Dark, here are a few ideas that might help.
Rethink your real world “joining”
I have found that for me solace and support lies in joining things in a different way. I am on a number of committees and groups connected to children’s books and libraries. At these meetings we have agendas and I can look over what we are going to talk about in advance. This means that I am prepared and this reduces my issues with unpredictability. I have found that these committees have allowed me to meet people who have become incredibly supportive and wonderful friends. These people have given me courage in my own abilities, and a huge amount of self-confidence. (You know who you are, and you all rock. I love you all.) Organisations like the Society of Authors and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators are not just there for professional and career help, they are places of huge emotional and spiritual support too. The threads of their many networks can bond and support us all.
Rethink your virtual “joining”
There are many forums and discussion groups for writers to join, but these feel very daunting to a newcomer. You might fear joining them as you are worried you won’t know what to say, or that old enemy Impostor Syndrome will sit up on your shoulder and tell you that you are not experienced or good enough to comment. This is where lurking comes in. Tell yourself that you don’t have to comment, you don’t have to say anything at all. You can just read the comments of others and maybe start by just liking them. As writers we are almost expected to have an opinion on everything, but I find that my opinion is often just “I really enjoyed this” or “thanks for sharing, that’s really interesting.” There’s nothing wrong with being a lurker, you go right ahead and lurk away!
Rethink your socialising
There are thousands of book events every year from launches to talks. All of the major bookshop chains have book events and you can register your interest in these on their websites and by signing up for their newsletters. The same goes for publishers and signing up with them will also keep you in touch with what they are publishing. These are what I think of as “safe” socialising. I can chat about books and reading, and there is a talk to listen to so I don’t have to struggle through the whole evening trying to think of conversation or small-talk.
Rethink your social media
Social media can be very brutal if you are struggling. When you are feeling strong, take a good look through the timelines and the comments people have made and don’t be afraid to either restrict the negative people, or remove them. It is hard to do as we want to be polite to people, but sometimes our timelines can feel quite toxic and it’s your space so don’t be afraid to tailor it to fit your needs. If you find that people post things that are not helping you, delete the comment. This is your playground and you can take control of it.
One thing that I find most useful to my moods is to go onto my social media accounts and seek out people to say nice things to. When I feel the chill of loneliness, I scroll down my Facebook and find at least six posts that I can say something nice and cheerful about. Once you start dishing out compliments, you start to feel a little better. It is hugely uplifting to say positive things on a regular basis and when I’m feeling low I find that is the quickest way to shine a little light into the darker corners. I also know when to take a break, and forcing myself to totally avoid social media for periods of time is a blessing too. I think of Facebook as being my staffroom. I can drop in for a tea break, look at people's holiday snaps, have a friendly chat with friends, giggle at a few jokes, and then head back to work. If I find I'm treating it like an all-encompassing world, I know it's time for a break.
And finally…. Reach out!
We all need advice or support at times and asking for it can be difficult, but don’t be afraid to do this. Working alone means that we don’t have a colleague on hand to ask about things like research and plot points. This allows the self-doubt to creep in and gnaw at you. I’m an experienced researcher, and that means that I know that there is no way I can tackle everything alone, and I don’t try to. Don’t struggle when you are lonely or stuck, reach out. Social media is great for this, and make it clear that you need advice or support. You’ll be amazed by just how much help you get.
This all might sound trivial, but these are tiny steps towards dealing with some of the problems of lone or sole working. Loneliness can feel suffocating at times, and with the dark and wet months keeping us shut up inside we can pass days sweating over our work without any human contact, and that can concentrate our deeper feelings of isolation.
You’re not alone, we are all out here with you, all tip-tapping away on our laptops or scribbling in our notebooks day after day. We are all doubting ourselves, all wondering if our work is any good, all fearing the next rejection, all worrying about money and the future. We are all in this together and even though we can’t always immediately see that shoulder to lean on, or the hand that steadies our step when we stumble, it is there.
We are not alone.
Children’s writer and librarian
Please, if your problems feel insurmountable and you really can't cope, don't struggle on alone. Talk to someone. Anyone.
The Samaritans. can be reached free on any phone on 116 123
They are there 24 hours a day, and really can help.