The Glass Painter’s Daughter, Rachel Hore

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The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore tells the story of a young woman, called home to London from her international travels as a tuba player after her father falls ill. Her journey to reconciling her strained relationship with her father is supported by the journal of a woman a hundred years earlier, whose life reflects that of Fran, the protagonist.

I’m not really sure what genre to put this book into – popular fiction feels wrong, but it doesn’t slot into anything else except for possibly a romance, but then that doesn’t do it justice. It seems strange thinking of something set in 1998 as historical fiction, but then it also hits that genre through the use of Laura’s journal, which is based in the Victorian era. So it’s a bit of mish mash. The book was bought for me by my future mother-in-law, who when I stayed with them after spraining my ankle was given the impossible task of ‘choosing a book for me to read on the train’, since I didn’t have any reading with me! She did well in choosing something that isn’t quite in my usual genre but that I did enjoy.

Reading this I frequently asked myself why I was reading it… it was all well and good, but it was so normal, based around events that could happen to everyone and told in a very realistic manner. There wasn’t a sense of disbelief having to be held at any point, it all just felt very normal. Perhaps my love of fantasy is what is causing the problem here, but to me, fiction is only really worth reading if there is a sense of the unbelievable, or if I’m truly learning something from it, like with fiction based around war, or believable but tense… I don’t know, there was just something missing from this book that would have really drawn me in. There wasn’t really tension – even the small crimes that did take place were mellow and controlled, and the characters were well thought through but there wasn’t really anything interesting about them. The whole thing felt a little disappointing in that sense. I was able to leave the book sitting for days and felt no draw to read it… not sure I’m really making sense at all here, it was just lacking!

However, Hore is clearly passionate about her writing and the subject. The characters were well thought through and extremely realistic, complete with flaws and unreasonable behaviour that you could truly see someone enacting. The knowledge of creating stain glassed windows and the clear interest Hore had in this procedure came through, and the fact that I learned about the process without even really knowing that I was means that Hore not only did her research thoroughly but portrayed it organically throughout the novel.

Fran was a likeable enough protagonist with an interesting background. Her character developed throughout the novel very naturally, but this was tempered by her commenting on it herself (‘the past three months had changed everything’), which is something I always dislike because it makes the narrative too self conscious.

I enjoyed Laura’s narrative, and how Hore used the tool of the journal without making it boring, transforming Laura’s journal into a third person story instead. This made for an interesting parallel as the two very different women explored their feelings and dedication to their families. I feel like Hore rushed over some of the emotion Laura could have shared – she didn’t feel real, too martyr like and pragmatic in the face of a lot of tragedy, but she was the highlight of the story for me.

Overall the book was fine, there was just no spark about it that really made me passionate about finishing it, and then writing about it. Perhaps this is a reflection of my depression, that I rarely get excited about anything at the moment… but I wouldn’t seek Hore out again actively. Maybe we’ve finally found a genre (whatever it is!) that doesn’t really interest me…

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Moving Day

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So, I know I’ve just started writing my blog daily, however, I am moving house tomorrow! And we don’t have wifi set up yet. So I might got get the chance to for a little while.

Tomorrow I am leaving Coventry, where I currently live, and moving in with my fiance Jack in a flat that we have rented together! It’s the first time we’ve lived together, and the first time either of us have rented an unfurnished apartment. So we’ve already gone bed shopping and bought a brand new bed for ourselves, but we really have a mish-mash of furniture between us and nothing that useful (like a sofa or chairs) so it’s going to be a bit of an adventure that we’re happy to take together, of course.

As you can imagine, moving with anxiety and fatigue (and depression) is a bit of an issue. I had melt down in Wilkos today because I couldn’t find boxes… I literally walked out the store, leaving Jack holding what we had already picked up to buy, and had to sit on a bench to settle down. It made me very stressed and anxious. Jack’s been amazing – he’s done a lot of the cleaning and packing all day today and the flat is looking ready to leave. I just feel really out of control, and really tired and really stressed.

So… bring on moving day!

“Maybe you should go to bed earlier”

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The last time I went to my doctor, before I had the appointment that had me signed off work, I told them this:

“I don’t think I’m really suicidal. Like, I don’t think I actually want to die. But I’m so incredibly tired, exhausted, just tired all the time, that it makes me want to kill myself, because I don’t understand how I am supposed to be alive and be this depth of tired all the time.”

My Head of Department and mentor at the school I was working at understood that I was ill, but she kept telling that ‘everyone is tired‘ and ‘welcome to your first year of teaching’. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that everyone gets tired, and of course anyone on any teaching training programme is tired beyond imagining. The problem is, I’m tired beyond imagining when I’m not doing anything. Adding work on top of that, especially the intensity and number of hours that teaching requires, and maybe I can start to see where things started going wrong.

My constant tiredness is still being explored medically, with an appointment at a rheumatology clinic in the near future being the next step. I’ve had blood test after blood test, examination after appointment and several different doctors, and no one can tell me what’s wrong with me. The only thing that keeps being repeated is this idea of ‘chronic fatigue’, but everyone is so reluctant to diagnose it – it’s next to impossible to pin it down at the moment. But something is wrong with me, and until I have a better name for it, chronic fatigue is all I have.

Let me tell you a bit about what that’s like.

I’m tired. All the time. I can sleep for 6 hours, 8 hours, 10 hours, I can take naps or not take them, I can be out in the fresh air or resting inside all day, and there is not a single moment where I am not TIRED. It’s just constant, relentless tiredness. It often starts in my legs, where lifting one leg up and putting it in front of the other one is a really conscious effort because they’re so heavy. Like when you wake up from deep sleep and you have mild sleep paralysis and they feel heavy to lift. My legs feel like that during the day. I feel weak, so weak that I can’t even lift my bag to take it home, or struggle to open the door. My commute to school was 20 minutes – sometimes I’d be so tired I’d have to take a break after 10 to make sure I was safe to drive. My eyes will feel like I’m having to force them open – whereas we normally use our eye muscles to blink, I feel like I’m having to actively engage them to keep them open. My head gets foggy, I can’t form proper sentences.

Then comes the pain. Just pain all over my body. My legs aren’t just heavy, they hurt. My back aches, like a serious muscle ache. Now, I do have a historically bad back with ongoing problems and a slipped disc, but this isn’t always to do with that. My whole body aches, like a recovering twisted ankle. It hurts so much. Sometimes, my nerve endings get so sensitive I have to strip all my clothes off and find a way to lie that aggravates the least number of nerves and just lie there still. Those are the times where Jack can’t even snuggle me to make me feel better because I hurt too much, and those are the times where the depression really starts to kick in because even Jack, with all his sensitivity and gentleness, cannot help me.

Sometimes I feel like this by 10am. Sometimes I go a day or two without it getting that bad. But I repeat, I am tired all the time. There is never a waking or sleeping moment where I’m not. Even in my dreams now, whatever character I am is tired, too tired to go on.

It feels like it’s never going to end. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t like this – I’ve been told that I wasn’t, but I can’t remember it.

Being tired like this creates a vicious cycle – several in fact. Tiredness feeds anxiety and depression, and they in turn feed the tiredness. There are often several days in a row where I can’t even leave the house, and I eat because I’m a comfort eater and I gain weight because I can’t exercise because I’m too tired to leave the house. When I was working, I ate drive through McDonald’s at home far too much because I wasn’t up for cooking. This tiredness, this depth of exhaustion, impacts every waking and sleeping moment of my life and never in a good way.

And trust me when I tell you I’ve tried all the advice. I’ve tried eating well. I’ve tried setting a regular schedule. I’ve tried more sleep, less sleep. I’ve tried naps and resting and specific concoctions of vitamins and minerals that are supposed to help and nothing does. Nothing helps this tiredness.

It is endless. And I feel like it is killing me.

Oh Brave Warrior

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Today has been a heavy day for reasons that aren’t mine to share. So I don’t have much to say. Instead, I thought I’d share with you the feature image of this post, which I will also insert below so you don’t have to do the constantly scrolling thing!

My fiance Jack drew this for me last year when things were really bad. He tried to capture the demons that afflict me, and the battle I face every day to combat them. It was the first time I had ever seen my fight with depression through someone else’s eyes and I always return to it when things are really bad. This is the first time I’ve shared it in a public place.

Depression breaks down your soul until you don’t feel like a fighter anymore. Until you’re tired, so tired, and the only thing you look forwards to is the end. I always undermine how I feel because ‘it’s not as bad as someone elses’ experience’ or ‘I get to work’ or ‘I wake up in the morning’. But what I fight is real, as tangible as the demons Jack painted. And to see myself as a warrior…

Well, it helps me to fight another day.

(find and add my gorgeous artist on instagram @narrativejack)

https://www.instagram.com/narrativejack/

“You can’t cure depression with ice cream”

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This post is inspired by and its quotes (including the title) are taken from Bill Bernat’s Ted Talk “How to connect with depressed friends” available here:

 

I have a friend who for several years dated a man with diabetes. I may be slightly biased when I say this, but she was phenomenal. She went away and researched the condition immediately. She learned more about it than I even thought possible. Over the course of a couple of months she became an expert, supporting her partner in managing his condition, keeping the ‘right’ foods and supplies in the house and helping him as he pursued different routes to manage his condition better. She went from knowing nothing, to being the most caring, supportive and knowledgeable partner this man could have had, because she was able to understand the condition and its treatments.

I bring this up, because I thought of it today when I was looking for an image for my blog. How many pictures have you seen out there like the feature image used in this post that are needed to explain diabetes? I did a quick google search, and most of the images that came up were practical ways to combat the disease (the implements used to measure blood sugar and the needles or pumps used to deliver insulin). Depression needs more because there is no simple way to understand it.

As much as I relate to the feature image of this post and find the artwork beautiful and pertinent, I think that such pictures can sometimes cause anxiety in the healthy, especially those who have no experience with depression except for the fact that their friend has just told them that they are suffering. Depression is so individualised that there is no way to truly understand it. There are hundreds of different treatments, and they might work for 100 people, but there are another 100 people out there that they will do nothing for whatsoever. So we turn to art work and poetry and creativity to express our illness, which I think can sometimes be isolating for those who don’t suffer. I’m not criticising, I’m just reflecting (and up pops the anxiety!) because I am one of those people who finds this type of artwork helpful in expressing how I am feeling and I appreciate those who create it.

Bernat’s talk offers some chance for reflection on my own depression, some ideas for those who might struggle to connect with sufferers of depression and some comedy – all wrapped up in 13 neat minutes. His definition of depression – “The absence of the ability to ‘just get over it’ is depression” – is especially heart wrenching, because if there is something I want more than anything in the world, it is simply to get over this.

One of the things that really stood out to me was this advice to friends of the depressed:

“don’t take a negative response personally”

One of the things that I love about Jack is that when I’m having a bad day, he’ll suggest a bunch of stuff that might make me feel better, then he’ll take his cue from my response. There are some days where a bath seems possible, and some days where it doesn’t. There are some days where eating chocolate seems okay, and some days where it doesn’t. What I love is that Jack respects my limits no matter how I express them (and sometimes I come across as angry/defensive). He still looks after me though. If I refuse food/drink, for example, he’ll hug me for a bit so I feel safe, then he’ll emerge later with some food. Something that I need, sustenance that he knows will help but that I can’t even face thinking about. It isn’t until it’s in front of me that I know that it’s what I need. Even then, sometimes I can’t eat it all, and he never gets angry at that.

Alternatively, he knows that sometimes I’ve said no because I can’t manage all the steps – going upstairs, running a bath, getting into it, getting out of it, getting changed… and he’ll take control and take some of those steps out of my hand. I’ll go upstairs and find a bath already running, with towels laid out ready for the end of it, and sometimes, if we need to go out, I go downstairs afterwards and he’ll have laid out my clothes for me so I don’t have to make too many choices at one time. Things like that help to make the bad days bearable. But he never, ever, gets angry at me if I can’t do something. He might get upset and frustrated at the situation, or angry that I’m suffering, but he holds no anger towards me. I hope that everyone has someone in their lives like that.

One thing that I think is really not understood by the masses is this:

“we feel it (depression) in our bodies. It’s a physical thing for us.”

Depression is about so much than just feeling sad. I get a really bad pain in my side on really bad days. It’s like a muscle pain, but deeper, almost like I’m being stabbed constantly. It’s like when you’ve laid on one side too long and then it won’t stretch out… I don’t really know how to describe it. I get tooth ache or ear ache which will disappear the next day. My depression doesn’t just control my mind, it takes over my body too, making putting one foot in front of the other too painful. My limbs get heavy, to the extent that I have to crawl up the stairs because I can’t walk. It’s a painful experience and when you feel like you’re losing yourself to this illness already mentally, it is just a cruel trick of fate that it impacts you so severely physically as well. It was reassuring to hear someone else confirm that this is a part of the illness, because I feel so broken so constantly, I feel like it must just be me.

Today is a bed day for me. I’ll probably mostly just binge watch Criminal Minds and move only when necessary. My brain is too tired to read, too active to sleep. This is why I was signed off work, to give me the space to rest like this, yet I find it so hard to do – to rest and ‘recover’. Because unlike when I fell down the stairs at my friend’s flat and sprained my Achilles tendon 2 weeks ago, I can’t see or feel any difference to my ‘injury’, no matter how much rest I get. I just feel like I’m sinking, trudging my way through a life that doesn’t feel worth living, exhausted and sad all the time.

Depression isn’t a cloud hanging over me, or a veil colouring my sight. Depression is deeply rooted inside me. And I’m not sure how to get it out.

A Change of Pace

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To date, this has been primarily a book-review blog with the occasional nod to its other namesake (exercise), mostly in a ‘I might do it sometime’ way, with one post about anxiety. But I think it’s time to take this blog in another direction. Don’t worry, I’ll still criticise and praise, moan about and celebrate every book that I read. But it’s time that I was more honest with myself, and as a result, I want to use this blog to support what I think is going to be a long road to recovery.

I got a shock last week when I went to the doctor for some help, and the help they gave was to sign me off work for a month, citing ‘stress and depression’ as the main causes. I knew things had been bad – I hadn’t read a whole book in a while, and my health has been constantly bad since October. But I’ve spent a long time blaming the colds, viruses and tonsillitis for the growing exhaustion, anxiety and depression that I’ve been feeling. Those who know me will know that I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression back in 2016, and that I’ve been dealing with it mostly on my own ever since (with support from close friends and my wonderful fiance Jack). Added to the top of that is this suggestion of Chronic Fatigue – the chasing down of a diagnosis for what is actually wrong with me is still ongoing as no one seems to want to pin it down and make it official. Anyway, I’ll leave that for another day. What’s been getting consistently worse is the anxiety, even about leaving bed some mornings. The dark thoughts and depression – and dare I admit it, the suicidal rushes that come and go. This deep and bone weary exhaustion that never seems to go away and is eating me from the inside out. The pain I feel in my body all the time – sometimes so sensitive that even Jack isn’t allowed to touch me. These are the things that aren’t stopping and that I need to really address. I need to get myself better. This was brought home to me on a recent visit from my best friend Aislinn, who reminded me that I haven’t always been like this. That at university I was lively and happy and full of life. The girl she described doesn’t exist anymore, and I want her back.

So, with the doctor’s note as a wake up call, I’ve done the only thing I have left to do – I’ve given up. I have resigned from Teach First and my job at the school. I am relocating to Cheltenham to live with Jack earlier than expected. I am exhausted, run down, and about done with life. Now, this isn’t a defeatist ‘giving up’, don’t worry. What I’m doing is something I haven’t done for a very long time. I’m about to put myself first. Instead of trying to work 60 hour weeks in the few hours a day that I actually feel capable, instead of forcing myself out to work everyday and ignoring the warning signs, instead of prioritising everyone else and putting myself last, I’m taking stock and I’m listening to my body, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Enabled by the pure love and dedication of my other half, I am stopping. I am resting. On days where I can’t get out of bed, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’m going to create a weekly timetable of activites, based around research into my conditions. I’m going to eat better. I’m going to go out in the air and just enjoy it, whenever I can. I’m going to soak myself in the unconditional love of Jack, my fiance, who is working extremely hard to make this happen, and giving up a lot to help me.

I want to use this blog to be honest about what is going on. I want to share my journey with you – the highs and lows, the struggles and the victories, however small. I want to be able to look at this website this time next year and see that the bleak despair that colours my every moment is at least lightening a little bit. I want to be accountable to you, my friends and the strangers who might read this. So it’s time to be a little honest.

I hate my body
I hate my health
I hate being in pain all the time
I hate wanting to die
I hate panic attacks
I hate feeling so incredibly alone all the time
I hate my personality
I hate feeling like a burden all the time

I want to run again
I want to write – fiction, poetry, this blog
I want to smile for real
I want to know what’s wrong with me
I want to find my faith in God again
I want to feel real joy

So there it is… on paper (well, on the screen), and out there for real – the things I feel like I can’t stand for another day, and the things that I don’t feel I experience any more – at all. It’s not going to be easy, I know that. I want to commit to writing here every day, but at the moment I can’t even promise that. But what I can promise is that I am going to start working at making myself better. And maybe, just maybe, it might work this time.

Before I Go To Sleep, S J Watson

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CAUTION – THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS

Christine wakes up every morning with no recollection of the past almost 30 years of her life. She wakes up expecting to be a child, but is in fact a middle aged woman with a husband and a incurable diagnosis of amnesia – a unique kind that not only wipes out memories from her past but prevents her from moving memories from the short term into the long term. She is meeting, without telling her husband, with Dr Nash, to test her memory. When she meets him at the start of the novel he gives her a journal that she has been keeping, and she reads the entries that she made but has no memory of. Who is lying to her? And what are their real secrets?

Review

I love reading debut novels because there is no expectation put on them to perform – they are simply a person’s first expression and if they’re good then great, but if they’re not then it isn’t too hurtful (not like when a certain author uses time travel and ruins a perfectly good trilogy (Erika Johansen)). SJ Watson writes with the skill of a practised author, leaving clues and hints reminiscent of a mystery or crime novel throughout the story, and wrapping it up with a thriller coating, many of that foreshadowing so subtle that even I, an experienced reader who prides herself on always knowing what’s coming next, didn’t actually work out the twist until it was blatantly obvious!

Watson’s characterisation of Christine is complex and thorough. It is an impossible task to set yourself, writing a character who remembers nothing but needs to remember something in order for the story to make sense. I think that Watson relied too heavily on the journal which told most of the story, and could have built in more time with Christine feeling confused and disorientated. Too much would be boring, but too little meant that I didn’t really feel like I was experiencing the novel from her perspective like the first person narrative should have enabled me to do, because Watson didn’t build in enough realistic experience for me. The amnesia was used purely as a story telling tool, rather than a real part of a real person. It’s hard to tell the difference, I know, and it’s a picky criticism, but when illnesses like that are written well, you know about it!

Watson’s greatest skill is in his hint dropping and keeping the secret to the end. On reflection, throughout the novel there are aspects which, with the knowledge of the ending that I have now, I can see were there to guide me to that conclusion, but I missed most of them! That might be partly due to the fact that I read the first 200 pages in A&E whilst waiting for a diagnosis on a sprained achilles, but also they are so embedded and natural that you take them for granted. The experience I had with the twist at the end made me feel like I was Christine – like I had taken every word written as the truth because that was the only information I had, and actually the basic truth that I had accepted from the blurb WAS A LIE! It was an impressive and daring move, and it worked really well.

It is unfortunate that from that moment onwards, Watson falls into the familiar trope of a jealous lover spurned by their other half who not only attacks them but then stalks and cares for them until the truth comes out. This is an overused, overplayed storyline and one which perhaps Watson should have done without. There were other ways to keep the thriller moving without making (MASSIVE SPOILER) the man we all assumed was Christine’s husband into the jealous ex-lover. I would like to see Watson moving out of that comfort and towards a more innovative twist next time, because with his skill at keeping secrets, this is something he could excel at!

Overall, this was a good read, and a nice distraction from pain an injury. Definitely an author I would read again, though I would be worried that now he has found a strategy that works he might stick to it. But Watson’s writing style, descriptions and characterisation have a lot of potential.