Monday, 28 January 2013

My Journey to writing – A tale of self-preservation and mental health.


My Journey to Writing 

A Tale of Self-Preservation and Mental Health


I recently read Matt Haig’s (author of ‘The Radley’s’) honest and touching guest blog on Booktrust, about how writing helped him overcome depression, to read Press Here.    This got me thinking about my journey to writing, and inspired me to share it. I began reading and writing at a particularly difficult time of my life, looking back I believe it gave me the strength to get through this time whilst keeping my sanity.

In 2003 my husband and I moved house, from  lovely comfortable home to what can only be described as a ‘Fixer-uper’, the new house had no working heating or hot water, it’s roof was barely watertight, and the garden had more rubbish than the local junk yard.  



Then I found out I was expecting a baby, and at twenty four, being young and healthy we foolishly thought it’d be a breeze. At the twenty week scan we found that the baby had a C-Cam, a cist on the lung that was 10% of baby’s size, displacing all the other organs, and was likely to burst which would be fatal.

Momentum of one of the best and most stressful days of our lives 20 week ultra-sound.

After the news, the rest of the pregnancy was rather stressful, then the baby came, a lovely little girl, who seemed healthy and an x-ray indicated that the C-Cam had shrunk and was no longer an issue.  However, the baby did not thrive. After six months she was still only birth weight. She could not retain food, it was expelled (with force) from both ends, and she was on a whole concoction of drugs to keep her going.

On top of this there was her skin. She was red, pillar box red, with acute infantile eczema that was constantly getting infected. This was heart breaking, not knowing what to do, and being under six departments across three hospitals trying to work out what was wrong –was exhausting physically and mentally. Eventually it was discovered that she was allergic to pretty much everything, including breast milk, and when put on pre-digested milk, she began to steadily get better.

Me and my lovely poorly little girl

However, she was never well enough for me to return to work. At six months we tried an hours ‘settling-in’ session at a local nursery, and ended up in hospital for a week on fluids because she caught a bug, and being so small, had not the resources to fight it.

That was it. Stuck in a ramshackle home, with a sick baby and on a tight budget due to unexpected loss of income, I began reading as it kept my mind active and was inexpensive. I discovered YA books, and found that I really enjoyed them and that they were written at a level that dyslexic me could cope with.

Everything was on the up, with the drugs and special milk my daughter began to gain weight, and began to sleep (did I mention she only slept one hour in 24!) But when she was eight months, she had a routine CT scan on her lung, just to confirm that the X-ray results were right, only to find that the cist was the lung – it was occupying the whole space, and was likely to burst and kill her at any moment.  Two very stressful weeks later (over Christmas) she has an operation and had the cist, and lower left lobe removed.

12 hours after surgery - 2 hours before lung collapsed 

The operation was a success (despite a few scary moments) and with both weight and lung fixed, it was only the skin left. The eczema we managed by wet-wrapping, and her health continued to improve.  Just as things were settling down, baby number two started manufacture. This time it was me that wasn’t healthy. I suffered the whole pregnancy with PGP, ‘Pelvic Girdle Pain’, and could not walk, sit, or move as I was in agony.  This condition usually rights itself after birth, but when my son arrived – bony and healthy, it got worse.

Happy baby - poorly hips!

So now I was stuck in a slightly improved ramshackle house, (we had hot water, and the roof no longer leaked!) with an almost healthy toddler, a demanding infant and in excruciating pain.  This was when I began writing. I wrote a small passage, a re-envisioning of a fairy Tale, and decided to turn it into a book. I began to read, I spent months immersed in fairy tales, and YA novels. The reading fed my mind, inspired a story and I wrote continually. The process kept my mind active, gave me focus and something to obsess on that wasn’t pain, or worry. It also meant that when my lovely supportive and tired husband got home from work, I didn’t bombard him with idle chitchat (just because he is another person over the age of three) and give him space to wind down.

It turns out that my pain is caused by shallow hip joints, and that my hips are wearing themselves out, at 30 I found out I needed hip replacements, and at 31 I went in for surgery which halted half way through as I ‘fainted whilst already unconscious under the anaesthetic!’ As half the surgery had been done, I was in more pain, and not fixed! At this point I read constantly, and wrote lot of scenes featuring pain!

Happy and healthy!

It is now a few years later, my daughter is in full health, my son is full of mischief, the house has been pulled down and rebuilt (another blog maybe), my husband is still supportive and working hard, but my hips are still not fixed! However I manage my pain with a combination of physiotherapy, exercise, and keeping healthy mentally - through reading and writing.

In short, reading and writing served as my personal solitude and therapy, keeping me strong when my family needed me most. 

Thanks for stopping by and reading my story.

If you or someone you love are suffering with any of the problems above here are some places you can get support...

Eczema - British Skin Foundation - Click Here
PGP - Pelvic Girdle Pain - The Pelvic Partnership -  Click Here 

29 comments:

  1. Wow Sally, I am so glad that your daughter is healthy now. That was a pretty tough start for her in life. It's great to hear that writing has helped you along the way, hopefully it will continue.

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    1. Hi Catherine, thanks for reading, i don't usually share person stuff, put i felt compelled. Yes she is very bonny and healthy now. Craetivity can be a very powerful remedy!

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  2. What a brave woman you are Sally!Writing helped me in my life too.

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    1. Hi Rita, thanks for stopping by, glad to hear that writing has helped you too. Words and creativity can very healing.

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  3. Sally, thank you for sharing this post! I really admire your strength in the face of so many difficulties, and how wonderful that reading and writing helped get you through them. Hurrah for YA!

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    1. Hi Emma, thank you. I've never really felt ready to share this story before, but recently I felt that it was important to tell people just how much reading and writing helped me, and how powerful it can be.

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  4. I'm struggling to know what to write that doesn't sound like a platitude. 'What doesn't kill us makes us stronger?' Urgh. 'These things are sent to try us.' Well, why?

    So I'm settling for 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going.' At least you can sing that. Thank you so much for sharing, Sally. I wish you well.

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    1. Thanks Maureen, guess what I'll be singing all day!

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  5. Thanks for being so open and sharing such a painful and yet beautiful experience. I'm glad both your children are healthy and happy and that you're coping with your pain. Chronic pain is really tough. You're a trooper to find a positive outlet for coping with it all.

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    1. Hi Colleen, Thanks! Pain is tough, but when I'm happier in myself I find it much easier to cope with, and I'm happiest whilst writing, so it's win win!

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  6. Oh my gosh, Sally! I think you'd mentioned before that your daughter had had health difficulties when she was younger but I had no idea it was so severe. Thanks for sharing this. I admire your positive attitude!

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    1. Thanks Paula, to see her now you'd have no idea! Writing was a well timed gift!

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  7. Yikes, Sally! I'm amazed you can even get up in the morning after all this, let alone write a book. Here's hoping everyone stays well and that you're on a steadily upward curve from hereon. I guess we'll be able to tell by the scenes you bring to critique...

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    1. Hi Nick, yeah if my submissions start getting darker then it's time to worry! :)

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  8. Thanks for sharing, Sally - your story-words are powerful and inspiring.

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    1. Thanks Malaika! By the way my son is loving your book, he shares the protagonist's name!

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  9. Wow, thank you for sharing this with us. How inspiring to hear this. I am glad your children are healthy and happy.

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  10. Well I am really glad you did start writing, even though the circumstances were so grim. Your lovely children will be so proud of you when you get that first book published. Keep going - hope the writing circumstances are somewhat happier these days!

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    1. Thanks Nicki, here's hoping for us both *fingers crossed*

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  11. Jane Hardstaff1 February 2013 12:48

    Sally, really inspiring to read your story. Very glad your lovely children are ok. Pain, I guess, has the power to make us stronger. All the same, I hope you are without pain soon. Fingers crossed for Times Chicken House!

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  12. Oh my, Sally you've been through the mill. I read this with bated breath, worried that it would end in tragedy. Whew! That girl! She is gorgeous and precious. You are the luckiest - and to have discovered writing too! Blessings in the end and big hugs from me.

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    1. Hi Candy, I'll pass your hug along to small people - it'll make them very happy!

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  13. Inspiring stuff, Sally. It is beyond tough when both you and your children have health issues. Thank God both your lovely children are now well, just you to go! Best of luck for the Times/Chicken House Comp - I'm keeping everything crossed for you (and Nicki)!

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    1. Hi Gabby, Yes my recovery is all down to exercise, just need to stop avoiding the gym! :)

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  14. Hi Sally,

    Thank you for sharing - your story is so inspiring.When times are tough, I find immersing myself in work is a brilliant escape but I've had nothing as bad as you've had to cope with. I'm so glad your beautiful daughter is better, and I do hope they can help you more with your pain. I am so full of admiration for you, for your spirit and positive attitude. Keep up with the writing - please pass on hugs from me to little ones - and to your hubbie who's been through it all with you.

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    1. Hi Elizabeth, Thanks so such much for stopping by, reading my story and commenting! I will pass on hugs to my small people!

      Funny, but when in hospital with my daughter last year we read one of your books in the waiting room! She loved it too.

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  15. Your story makes me think of burr-walnut.You know, that beautiful wood they use for very posh car dashboards and the like? The reason it has all those amazing squiggles and turns is damage. You have been through a hell of a lot but then turned it into something wonderful.
    Carry on growing my friend - and though you're a rival, I do wish you luck with Times/Chicken House.

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