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Black Dog February 4, 2011

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In previous blog posts I have included parts of the book I will be publishing but thought I should share with you the main story of the book – my battle with depression. It’s not my intention to make this blog all about depression but the book will track my journey of identifying the signs, dealing with the day to day management of it and how I can live a normal life now.  I go far back in time to some early childhood memories to explore some of the possible triggers of this debilitating disease in the hope that I can finally put the whole episode to rest and also help others to understand the inner battle, pain and destruction depression can bring.

When I first started to realise I suffered from this, and when it was later confirmed by my doctor, I started doing lots (and lots) of research on the subject. I desperately wanted it to be something else;  a condition I could talk to friends and family about without having their pitiful looks or them trying awkwardly to make me happy again (a common misconception of non-depression sufferers is that if you can make the person laugh, they will forget about being depressed. Whilst laughing is a great medicine, sadly it doesn’t always cut it). I’m not saying I wanted to be sick or have some other horrible disease, I just couldn’t believe that I had depression. What was wrong with me? To any outsider, or even those close to me, I had a great life – a loving partner, decent job, good group of friends, physically fit, average intelligence. Unfortunately depression is not picky who its victims are.

My research led me to several sites and a constant image which kept recurring was that of a black dog. Not a physical black dog but a metaphor used for experiencing depression.  This term originated in the 1780’s when English writer Samuel Johnson used it to describe his own depression and was later popularised by former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. Since that time, many books have been written using this imagery depicting a lurking and dark presence of a black dog, indicating a heavy burden for the carrier to bear.   It is like waking up one day to an all encompassing darkness around and within you.  Often it comes without warning and is always an uninvited guest. The fact that it’s a dog, and I absolutely love dogs, does not take away from the fact that this image completely resonates with me and is one I have used to cope with the days where depression creeps upon me, although they are fewer of late I am happy to note 🙂

You might think it is hard for me to write about it but it’s actually therapeutic, especially now that I am able to recognise the symptoms, take immediate action and mitigate the results. If my book can help one other person cope with this misunderstood and under publicised condition, it will all have been worth it.

As always, thanks for reading and Happy Lunar/Chinese New Year – the Year of the Rabbit is here!

Until next time…

Peaks and Troughs January 24, 2011

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I guess I already know the answer to this but does anyone else feel like it’s always up and down in this writing business? Good, I’m not alone then!  On the one hand, I know what I want to do, which is to write of course, and then on the other it’s just getting that first step made and getting something actually written, which seems to be the problem right now.

I’m trying to become full time freelance – that’s my goal within the next 12 months. In order to reach this I am:

– Applying for jobs on various websites (elance, freelancer, worldwidefreelance). These are mainly bidding sites and the price can vary massively. elance is by far the most professional and it’s worth taking the time setting up your profile as it seems to be quite high end jobs. The freelancer site has a lot of spammers by the looks of it so there are often 50 or more people bidding for the same job.

– Offering to work for free for local writing companies. This has led to one paid job which was great experience as it included lots of mini articles for a magazine as well as an interview for a feature length piece.

– Writing this blog. It’s a start in building up my portfolio where I can guide potential clients to view and see my writing style. It also allows me to test the water with readers for small chunks of my book.

– Completing a copywriting course from the UK Writer’s Bureau.  The course is going well so far and I have completed 4 modules and about to start the first assignment. They have posted my materials to me twice and still no sign of them so I really hope they arrive soon so I can get on with the rest of the course.

However, I am quite tough on myself and this isn’t enough. I’m not getting enough jobs or work and although I’m holding down a full time job, I need to get more writing experience to make that shift from the corporate to the freelance world. What else should I be doing?

– All of the above but more of it – more applying for jobs, using more websites, reaching out to more companies to get more work, and more studying so I can finish the course and maybe do some others.

Watch this space as I feel a peak coming!

As always any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

Second Installment January 10, 2011

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First of all Happy New Year! I took a little longer break than I had anticipated from my blog, but it’s great to be back. So here is more of the stuff I have been writing notes about for years and which one day I hope to see in a published book. The excerpts are in no particular order right now.

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Some of the happiest memories I have from those years have now become some of the saddest too because looking back I know they weren’t really mine. I adored my best friend, Lilly. I wanted to be with her whenever I could, playing outside or in the park. But my favourite thing to do was to spend time with her family, in their house down the street from ours. Even now, whenever I go home to visit, the sight and smells of that house generate so many wonderful memories for me.

I knew I was always on borrowed time; I would have to go back to my own house eventually. And while it wasn’t too bad for the most part, I definitely always preferred to stay at Lilly’s house. What was so great about this house and the people inside it? To me it was heaven. It was the absolute opposite of what I was used to at home. To me, Lilly’s house was a normal one. There was no shouting or arguments except the usual sibling fighting between Lilly and her older brother. I’m sure if I asked her now she would say they were serious arguments but it all just seemed so much fun to me, to have a brother to fight with, I couldn’t understand how anyone could see it differently.

I loved every minute of being at Lilly’s house and would pray that my mum would get delayed in picking me up or Lilly would persuade her mum to let me stay over; that was always the hope anyway so that I could feel completely immersed into this pretend world for a little while longer. I could see my mum had missed me when she came to pick me up but when we got home it would be back to our ‘normal’ again. More arguing, more threats, more shouting matches. This is probably where my total fear of being left out began. I would always leave Lilly’s feeling like I was missing out on something, leaving something I wanted behind me. The family would probably just be watching a movie together or playing games; but this was the kind of thing we never did. I would crave for that kind of inclusion.

At times in my life since those days, I’ve often thought that my insecurities and paranoia had disappeared. But that familiar old feeling of not being accepted by my peers often creeps back. Sometimes it’s a brief passing, othertimes it’s a bit more lingering. I hate missing out on things and feeling like people are purposefully leaving me out of things because I’m not good or ‘normal’ enough – that damn word just keeps cropping up!

I realise most kids want to spend time with their friends and rarely want to go home when they’re told; there’s nothing unusual in that. I guess I felt it was a bit more than that, I actually wanted to live there forever and ever and never have to cope with going home. It felt like I was on a mini holiday from all the usual strife, and like all holidays, I never wanted it to end.

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I know there are people reading this regularly so I am seeking your advice / comments / feedback on the style and content of what I am writing. Please be open and honest, do these small pieces leave you wanting more? Would it be a story you would be interested in reading in full??

As always, thanks for reading.

Testing the Water December 20, 2010

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As promised last week, here’s a small selection of the handwritten notes I have been collecting which one day will make up my book. The story is mainly fictional but based on some real-life experiences and events.  Although I remain anonymous, I have changed names and locations.

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Some of my earliest childhood memories are always surrounding two things; me being alone and my parents arguing. I remember spending hours at a time alone in my bedroom, acting out parts in stories – make believe, to escape the reality. To block out what was happening downstairs, outside, in the bedroom next door – yelling, screaming, slamming doors, threats of divorce, incest, theft.

It was all ignored by me pretending to be a teacher in front of a classroom full of children, or pretending I was performing a solo dance on the West End stage. That was until one or the other of them came into my room, entered the classroom or marched onto the West End stage unannounced. Could they not see I was busy teaching or dancing?? No, obviously they couldn’t. At that point, all the make believe would come crashing down around me and I was back to being in the middle of a battlefield in my own bedroom, and this time there was no pretending.

If it was my dad who came into my room, it was with an apologetic, sad and confused look on his face whispering that he was sorry for mum yelling and what was I up to? Well dad, you just interrupted me teaching a class of kids how to spell ‘spontaneous’ and ‘abundance.’  In reality, I shrugged, made myself look busy by tidying my collection of teddy bears or face my wardrobe and not say anything.  I would hardly ever get involved in a discussion with him about mum or their argument.  It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I could start dishing out the advice to my parents; at six years of age I thought I might be a bit young and would only be told I didn’t understand anyway.

Dad would stay for a while looking awkward and disappointed then make some stupid comment to try and make me laugh and then he’d leave. Not before I’d said I was fine a few more times though.

If it was mum who came into my room though, it would be a whole different story.  She would continue with the argument whilst looking over at me every so often. For my approval? Maybe. For my opinion? Doubtful.  In later years, when I was old enough to have more of an input, it wasn’t listened to anyway, not by mum.  I was dragged into the argument but wasn’t allowed an opinion; not one that went against mum’s. It was when mum came into my room that the threats of separation, running away and splitting up came into conversation; it was as if by me being in the room at the same time made it all the more dramatic. Time and again I expected to come home from school and have my bags packed ready to go with mum. I dreaded it and even remember screaming ‘no’ whenever mum mentioned it mid argument. She would cover my ears up tightly with her hands, so tightly it would feel like a vacuum. But I could still hear the shouting.  The moment never came, not even to this day, and I’m still not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.

I came from what I guess you would class as a ‘normal’ working class family; on the outside anyway. And maybe even on the inside. Defining normal is something I struggled with at an early age, and still provides me with a challenge even now. Who defines normal? What is normal? Does a ‘normal’ family even exist? I have come to believe that normal is always an internal feeling; we can define it ourselves. What is normal to one person might be completely abnormal to someone else. I knew that my family were not normal in my own definition, and so as a child whose own perception is their reality I always felt ‘abnormal’.  It’s something which never truly leaves you. It can fade and even disappear for long periods of time but it always lingers, just beneath the surface.  I don’t know if mum and dad saw themselves as normal. I guess they must have to some extent otherwise they would have done something about it, wouldn’t they? The main thing for me is that I know it wasn’t normal because I didn’t feel it was normal on the inside. I knew exactly what normal was because it was all around me…

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Thanks for reading and stay tuned next week for more installments.

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever you are 🙂

 

 

Where to next? December 12, 2010

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I was just signing into WordPress to write my next blog (well more like stare at the screen as I hadn’t yet decided on the topic I should write about) when I saw this in Freshly Pressed and had a quick read of Kristen Lamb’s blog – Writer’s Reality Check

The writer is correct in many of the things she highlights and specifically for me is not to document the writing process as much as just writing content.
While I know the topic of my first book and I have a vague idea of how it will span out, I need to start testing the water in my blog with small excerpts, to see what they look like in print and more importantly to have other people read it, rather than just have it all my notebook where it has been for the past couple of years.

Update from last week – I’m still working on the article submissions and copyediting for my first job, and still loving it. So far I’ve had good feedback from the freelance company about the work I’ve already done and they keep sending me more, including going out to interview someone for one of the pieces – why didn’t I realise this is what I wanted to do earlier?? Ah well, better late than never I guess!

I still haven’t completed my first assignment for the copywriting course (Writer’s Bureau) – shame on me.

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Anyway, for this week, I thought I needed to counter the balance somewhat on last week’s blog and discuss all the good (even great) things about being an expat.

Weather – obviously this doesn’t apply to every expat but certainly in Asia, where I am currently, I have no complaints about trains breaking down due to the cold weather, slippery ice, hot water boilers breaking and not having enough thermals to last the winter. I have to feel sorry for those in the colder climates right now, my friends and family included. It’s amazing how a weather situation can cause so much chaos – just this week I’ve heard about kids having to sleep in their school because the snow was too high up the doors, lorry drivers sleeping in their trucks on major motorways and people literally freezing to death in their own homes. It still astounds me that we can send people into outer space but still not cope with extreme weather on earth. As a child I loved the ‘snow days’ where the school was closed for a few days at a time and all you could was have snowball fights in the street with your friends, great fun! But nowadays, give me sunshine and warmth any day (everyday in fact!). For the five years I have lived out of the UK I have always wanted to go home for a white Christmas but I know that after a day of being back I would be cursing the eight layers of clothing I had to put on just to go to the end of the street. I was definitely built for warmer climates thank you 🙂

Food – yes we all know that England isn’t top of the world culinary destinations so this is kind of an easy one but seriously, I love trying the wider variety of food on offer in Asia. I can walk to any street food stall, spend less than $5 and have a delicious, tasty and freshly cooked meal within minutes. Of course I still miss certain English delicacies (mushy peas, Cadbury chocolate, ‘proper’ fish n chips and mash potato) but if you look hard enough you can find them in other countries too for when that craving just gets too much to bear. I find myself craving any form of potato, bread and cheese the most.

Like-minded people – as an expat you tend to be drawn (or thrown) towards other expats. No matter how strongly you believe you will integrate into the local community there will inevitably come a time when you just want to have a conversation with people who are in the same situation as you and understand homesickness / deciding when to go home / missing out on certain events back home. But this can be a blessing too because chances are they are very similar people to you – you have both taken the plunge to leave home and are both probably experiencing the same things in your new environment. These are often the types of people you might not necessarily have classed as ‘your type’ back home, but now you are both in the same boat you tend to see your friendship group widens and you meet a whole range of different people to broaden your horizons, which is fabulous and only helps to enrich your life.

I love being an expat!

See you next week for the first ‘sharing’ of the book.

Thanks for reading.

First Job! December 5, 2010

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A quick post this week as I have been working on a job for a local company – and they’re paying me to do it – first milestone achieved!

A couple of months ago I approached several freelance writing companies asking if I could do some free assignments for them to build up my portfolio. I completed one short piece of copywriting last month for a local company and never heard anything since.

Then, out of the blue I got an email this week asking if I could do 4 mini articles and 6 pieces of copyediting in a small residents magazine for a local condominium, and they’re paying me for it.  I immediately accepted and have spent time before and after my ‘proper job’ writing, editing and re-editing the sections. It’s been a busy week but I’ve loved the challenge.  I can’t wait to see the final version in print – my name won’t appear in it obviously, but I will know I did it – I’m so happy!

So, for anyone else out there trying to get that first paid job – don’t give up.  Offer to do small pieces of work for free and it might lead to more (paid) work.

Right, back to the grindstone 🙂

To be or not to be an expat? November 27, 2010

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OK, so since the last one what’s happened? In a nutshell:

I have done a writing job (free of charge) for a local company, which will hopefully lead to more jobs I can add to my portfolio. I found the course at www.writersbureau.com.

I’ve completed two modules of my online writing course, another 7 to go!

I joined an online company who distribute writing jobs. Although I did go against most opinion I could find online, I paid a small subscription for this. However, in my defence, I wanted the additional writing tools which came free. At this stage in my career I figured I needed all the help I could get – http://www.realwritingjobs.com/

I joined a (free) worldwide freelance website which has listings for all kind of freelance writing jobs all over the world. http://www.worldwidefreelance.com/

I’m also investigating the possibility of setting up a fan page on Facebook to get my message and writing into the wider community.

How did I do? Well, I definitely made some progress but nowhere near enough if this is really going to take off for me. No more excuses, just need to keep taking massive action.

I’m also going to use this blog to track my progress and also start writing mini articles so I can showcase my work to readers and prospective job opportunities.
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To be or not to be an expat?

I’ve just spent several weeks travelling for work, to a place where I have quite a few friends and I wish I’d taken a portable voice recorder with me because I seemed to repeat myself over again. I was hit with the same questions about life in Asia – how do you cope with the heat? (Air con) Do you like the food? (Yes, although having a few days without rice and noodles is nice occasionally). What do you do on weekends? (The same as I did anywhere else I’ve lived – sleep in, dinner with friends, catch up on TV, oh and lounge by the pool – that one might be different!).

I can’t blame people for asking, I would be doing the same. Heck, I do the same when I meet someone who lives in a foreign, exotic land, before I remember that I live in one too! One phrase I never get sick of saying is “Being an expat in Asia means you lead a very pampered life.” And it’s true. We are very spoilt. But apart from the pools, maids, and awesome food, it got me thinking – what does it take for someone to leave behind their home, friends and family to live thousands of miles away in a new and strange land?

According to the Office for National Statistics, despite seeing a reduction on previous years, 368,000 people left the UK for 12 months or more in 2009, citing better job opportunities, studying abroad, a warmer climate and an improved financial economy as the main reasons. It all sounds great but the actual decision to leave the country you’ve grown up in and probably spent most of your life can be more difficult than simply picking a country on a map and booking a flight. Far from it in fact.

It can often be underestimated how difficult moving overseas can be. Some of the major things people will immediately question and worry about, depending on their situation – Will I make friends? Will I stay in touch with friends and family back home? Will I get homesick? What if I don’t like the food/people/climate? Will I need to learn a new language? Will I get a job? Sometimes the decision is made easier by the prospect of a new, and better, career opportunity but often, we get so wrapped up in the excitement of it, planning for the ‘big move’ as if it were more of a holiday than a life change, that we forget what a massive upheaval it is; not just for us as the ones leaving, but also those we are leaving behind.

Once that decision has been made (and don’t underestimate the days, weeks, even months of mulling it over and sleepless nights), the next step is to tell everyone. Who to tell first? If you tell one set of friends will they announce it on Facebook and upset other friends? And what about the family, how do you break it them that you won’t be seeing them for months? When it was time for us to tell people, we tried to coordinate both sets of parents finding out around the same time, then tried to meet with each of our closest friends to tell them individually and then naturally other people found out, such is the way of social networking these days. Some friends thought we were going to announce we were pregnant (maybe also due to the fact I was in a bar and only drinking juice – taking different sets of friends out for drinks over the course of a week to tell them our news meant I had to lay off the alcohol occasionally!). Others took it in their stride and that maybe says more about us than them – we weren’t telling them something so out of the blue for us as a couple. We are adventurous, love travelling and hate the cold weather. Plus our jobs meant there was always the opportunity for overseas travel.

The planning and preparation for the big move can often feel like a whirlwind and before you know it, you’re on the plane on the way to your new life. The whole experience for us seemed to go by in the blink of an eye; one moment we were making the decision whether to stay or go, the next our whole lives were being packed away into boxes, not to be seen for 6-8 weeks. Trying to decide what you would and wouldn’t need for the next two months can be a stress on its own (ask any woman!) and then trying to fit as much as you can into your baggage allowance can often cause more strain on a couple’s relationship than anything else related to the expatriation.

Then comes the big goodbye. Personally I’m not a fan of the big airport goodbyes; tears, crying and lingering embraces; it all gets a bit too much for me and I prefer to head to the airport safe in the knowledge that I have said all my goodbyes in private and can fully concentrate on getting on the plane and starting the adventure. But that’s just me and I know some people wouldn’t have it any other way than the teary, emotion filled send off through the departure gate.

There are a whole host of ways people set up when they move overseas; sometimes one partner has a job to go to, sometimes both do. For women, this can often be a massive change to give up their jobs to effectively become housewives (and I’ve heard of it the other way around too, where the man doesn’t work but the woman does). I had a period of 7 weeks without working and they were both the best and worst. Best because I could completely devote myself to finding us a nice new home, get acquainted with the new areas (and shopping facilities!) and also to be able to completely concentrate on my partner’s new job and support him in the first few weeks instead of us both being in the throes of a new working environment. But also I felt very detached from life at first, not having an instant social network from work and there’s only so much day time TV (especially in a foreign country) and shopping a girl can do (honestly!)

The first few weeks go by quite quickly and there is all the ‘business’ side of things to take care of – bank accounts, mobile phones, finding an apartment, setting up the utilities etc. Just like the initial stages of the move can be a whirlwind, so too can the first few weeks in your new home. Homesickness is not often felt until a few weeks or even months into it. The first time you call (or Skype) home can be the most difficult. You still remember everything exactly from home and still have an involvement, to some degree, in the day-to-day life there – whether it’s catching up on your friends’ gossip or talking about that TV show you’re addicted to – you still feel a part of your old life, but you’re still not completely ‘at home’ in your new environment either. Some people throw themselves completely into their new life and try to detach from their previous routines, often as a protection mechanism. Others, however, try to live two lives and end up living a half life in both countries. I’m afraid I fell into the second category for our first overseas move and it did nothing to help me integrate into my new life. I constantly checked Facebook and emails for any news from home, felt pangs of sadness whenever I was missing a night out with old friends, or even worse a wedding, christening, family get together etc. I would pore over pictures from friends and wondered what on earth I was doing removing myself from this network of people who I cared about and who loved me?

Whilst doing this, it also meant that I wasn’t devoting enough time to my new life and making new friends. The result? One miserable person! Luckily though I learnt my lesson and when we uprooted and moved the second time, I made a conscious effort to make the most of my new home and the opportunities which awaited me; and I can honestly say I had the best time (and still am). It doesn’t mean you forget about people back home, and nor do they forget you, but everyone has to move on and live their own lives – not try to live in two different places at once.

Of course, this doesn’t explain all the positive, exciting and funny experiences you can have when moving overseas.

But I’ll save that for another time.

Thanks for reading and I promise not to leave it so long next time…

Hello World! October 16, 2010

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Welcome to my blog!

After several years of trying to claw my way up the corporate ladder, experiencing office politics at their very worst and generally realising that working in an office for the rest of my life just isn’t for me (better late than never, hey!) I have finally decided to follow my dream of becoming a freelance writer. This was never something I seriously considered as a full time job before due to certain limiting beliefs (I won’t be good enough, no one will want to read or pay for my written word and what my family and friends would say, blah blah blah).  But, I am slowly putting those demons to rest and taking the first, albeit small steps to becoming a writer and most importantly being able to work to my own schedule, and in my own surroundings.  Just making this life changing decision has been a breath of fresh air in my life so far!

Apart from providing you with observations of daily life, anecdotes and comments on news stories, the aim of this (daily, weekly, monthly?) blog is to track my career move from a fast-paced corporate environment to being able to support myself purely by freelance writing, proofreading and editing.  I will offer insight into how I’m progressing, tips for other people with similar aspirations along with links to useful resources, any pitfalls I encounter and hopefully, in the not too distant future, snippets of work I get published.

Along with this, there will be the inevitable detour from time to time when there isn’t much of interest to report – in such hard times I promise to bring as much humour and thought provoking insight into my ‘normal’ life as possible – after all, living as an expat in Asia provides a wonderful source of inspiration for writing and now I finally have an outlet for such stories – be warned!

Whilst doing some research on becoming a freelance writer and where to start (and yes I did literally type into Google “how to become a writer”), I have already found some amazing resources. The most inspirational one so far though has to be the blog / website / ebook by Tom Colvin (http://becoming-a-writer-seriously.com/wordpress), who at 67 years of age realised that despite being a teacher as a profession for most of his life, his passion was in fact writing and he had little time to waste in publishing his works. I am still trawling through the hundreds of useful links from his site and have joined his blog subscription to keep up to date with what’s happening in the world of writing and publishing (his blog entry on ‘Products I can’t live without as a writer‘ is a great way for any new writer to get organised). The thing that grabbed me the most about this guy is that at his more mature age, he has not let the daunting world of technology stop him from pursuing his dream – in fact he has embraced it in such a way that it seems to have made him all the more determined. So if he can do it, someone like me who is (just) the right side of 30 certainly can. Good work Tom!

I’d welcome any tips or advice from other bloggers and writers as well as any suggestions for stories or topics you’d like to see here. I have some ideas on the kind of things I’d like to write about but, as the readers, I’d like to hear your feedback too.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you back here again soon.

Goodbye to all, whoever and wherever you are…

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