Monday, 20 June 2011

Head Health and Hard Choices

By now most of you will be aware I'm bipolar. If not, I clearly haven't been banging the campaign drum hard enough for a while. Something I'll try to rectify this summer. I had a minor but rather debilitating low episode this March, and have begun to recognise some of the oncoming symptoms in recent weeks: the disjunction between headspace and reality, that rushing feeling that the world is moving too slowly, an increasing inward-looking slience as intrusive negative thoughts start to gnaw away and need time to be dealt with one by one, the slow tunneling of one's vision on the one hand and tuning up of other senses on the other.

So, at a ridiculously busy time, the only thing to do is pare back. But what do you cut? Work is always the last thing to go, because it's what pays the bills.

Following Amazon's so-called Sunshine Deal whatever (see this post on the effect), sales of my books have absolutely tanked. So, at a time when money is desperate, the last thing to go should be something that gives me the chance to perk up sales, right? OK, before I talk about my decision, I'll do the beggy buy my booky thing:

The Company of Fellows is still just 70p for Kindle here, and has spent over 3 months in the top 100 thrillers on Amazon, as well as being voted "favourite Oxford novel" in a Blackwell's poll. You can get the paperback at Blackwell's, or here. And remember, to read Kindle books you don't need a Kindle - just download the free app for your phone, Mac or PC.


Black Heart High is just 69p to download. It's the first in a 7-part series designed to be the literary equivalent of a classy HBO series. It's genre fiction (dark paranormal romance) but I think it's the best thing I've ever written.

So, what to cut back? The obvious choice would be for the one thing that could make me serious money to be the one thing that stays. I was recently asked to take part in the Kindle Summer Book Club. It's a super collaboration between some of the bestselling independent authors out there - the likes of HP Mallory, J Carson Black, Victorine Lieske, Saffina Desforges and the Mark Williams/Louise Voss combo behind not one but two books in the current top 5 on UK Kindle. It's an extraordinary honour, and an extraordinary opportunity.

And it's the thing I've cut. The main reason is simple. It's a venture in which 10 other people would be relying on me, and pulling out half way through if my health deteriorated would cause all kinds of chaos and be really unfair on everyone. Also, those things in which other people are relying on you are always the ones most likely to cause dangerous amounts of anxiety - most people I know care more about not letting other people down than they do about letting themselves down. It's one reason I get so stressed about my work at eight cuts gallery. Especially the publishing - there are people relying on me to come through for them. Not just people but dear friends whose work I consider the best to have graced the 21st Century. And sometimes I don't have the mental resources to do what I'd like for them. And that hurts me deeply.

But there's something else I've learned from years of experience, and from many many hours of advice from GPs and shrinks - mine, my wife's, and friends'. Sometimes for the sake of your long-term mental health you have to say no things that would be financially beneficial in favour of those that, for the want of a non-naff phrase I can't quite find, make your heart sing. And anyone who knows me at all knows that selling books doesn't make my heart sing. If it happens as an accidental by-product it's a godsend in keeping a roof over ur heads. But I went indie so I didn't have to think about selling books. I did it so I could write what I want to write and put it out there how and where and when was best, and sod whether anyone would pay.



It might feel some times as though the agonies of organisation are driving me nuts, but The New Libertines tour is a large part (not as large as an understanding and equally fruitcakish wife, of course) of how I've stayed sane these past few months. Creatively, I live to perform. If I quit a summer and Autumn that promises gigs in Covent Garden, Blackwell's, Birmingham and the Albion Beatnik as well as preparation for a now-definite run on Edinburgh next summer, then something would die. And to write whatever needs to be scraped from my head, be it sentimental or plain sick. At the moment that's a 7-part series of books about a teenage ghost who lives to take revenge on the people who took the love of her life away.

One of the particular aspects of my own bespoke customisation of bipolar is an extremely strong (we're talking scotch bonnet) side order of anxiety, which means letting people down in any way seems a way worse sin than protecting your own mental health (OK, there's a cayenne dish of self-loathing there to boot). But sometimes it's not possible to avoid letting people down. You can't please everyone all the time. And when you're in that position and every sound in your head is screaming to a crescendo telling you just to ignore the situation and hope it'll go away, actually the only thing that will make it go away is taking the hard decision knowing it'll leave people mad at you.

Which (and this is the banging the campaign drum bit) leads to the very reasonable question (which, thankfully, because they're great people as well as great writers - go on, go and support them - I don't think any of the Summer Book Club authors will put) - knowing I'm bipolar and susceptible to the vicissitudes of an unstable mind, shouldn't I just have declined when I was first invited? And by transference, shouldn't I avoid things I may need to pull out of later? I want to present a rational answer to that question based on taking equality seriously, based on valuing people, based on seeing what someone can do and not what they can't, based on the kind of society we want to claim to be part of. But that's not really how I feel about it. If people really think that, then my honest response is a request to please leave before I give them an even more honest response.

35 comments:

  1. Hang in there Dan - you have to rule your bipolar, don't let your bipolar rule you!

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  2. Thank you :)

    yes, that's the principple I was going on. The one thing that will definitely end in tears is carrying on and hoping it will go away. Taking action may well be wrong, but taking none will always be wrong. And just the act of *doing* something makes you feel as though you've got some of that control back, the control the illness takes away.

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  3. Look after yourself, Dan. Great to know that you can listen to the story of your condition well enough to respond as you need to. Know that there is a phallanx of us cheering you on from the sidelines.

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  4. GET WELL SOON, DAN! You always have my fullest support. You're one of the most amazing people I've known, and I'm lucky to count you as my friend and acquaintance and fellow writer/artist! btw that sucks what Amazon did, but I hope people continue to buy your book.

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  5. Hang in there, Dan. I empathise. I have a history of mental ill health too. And I understand well your anxiety at feeling unable to pull your weight within a collective endeavour. I admire your honesty and willingness to share. More recently, I found I have psoriasis, which flares up and rages when I get stressed.I'm still learning how to say 'no' and mean it. All the best.

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  6. Wow, thank you guys!

    Jo, thank you :) it's taken 25 years to get to the position where I can sense something amiss, and even then it's a huge problem that one of the symptoms of the hypomanic episodes is utter denial.

    Sabina, that goes the same to you - you've been one of my absolute inspirations for the past two years :)

    Haarlson, it's so hard, isn't it, saying no and not feeling like an absolute sod for doing it? I do hope you stay well :) People often don't realise just how physical the symptoms of mental ill health can be - interesting you mention psoriasis as my wife, who's much iller than me, gets very bad eczema during her depressions.

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  7. Hi Dan - firstly, really brave post: I know some of the stigma that silly people still attach to illnesses like this, so yes it is brave and I won't hear any humble protests from you otherwise.

    Secondly hang in there, and know there's plenty of people like me who you've never actually met but think you're a top guy from your writing, your blogs, and your general you-ness.

    Thirdly, and maybe inappropriately but what the hell: cool Kills t-shirt.

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  8. :)

    Ha ha!! Yeah, best gig I've ever been to when they came to Oxford this month. They were pretty amazing when I saw them in Coventry a couple of years ago too. It's a superstition that I always wear a Kills or Dead Weather T-shirt to perform - this was taken after our Oxfringe gig - that's Lucy Ayrton, Sophia Satchell-Baeza and anna Hobson - some of the most incredible writers you'll find, who will be part of our This is Oxford show. Talking of which - if you're around then come and read for us!!

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  9. Wishing you all the best, Dan xx

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  10. Hey Dan, I'd like to echo James really. Never met you but you've been an inspiration nonetheless. To lots of us - I was just talking about you to Marion today co-incidentally. Main priority is to take care of yourself so you can keep doing the awesome stuff.

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  11. Well done, Dan, for listening to what your own wisdom is telling you.

    I've seen most of the Summer Book Club authors on the Web, and without exception they strike me as the sort of people who'll fully support your decision.

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  12. To echo what I said on Twitter, I hope you get better as soon as possible. I've seen how tough this sort of thing can be on people so whatever you need to do to get through it is a good thing.

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  13. Wow, thank you all. Shayne, yes, they've been wonderful - they're a lovely and ridiculously talented group of writers.

    Joe, see you tomorrow at the Albion for the Dissocia launch if you're around - if you can get there tonight then Lucy's in the Oxford final of Hammer and Tongue at the Restore Cafe on Manzil Way from 7.30. I won't be there but if you go give her an extra cheer from me.

    Helen, it's been an absoluet delight reading with you this Spring, and Neil your work is one of the finds of the year

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  14. Hi Dan

    A great and brave post. Sounds to me like the right thing to do and will enable you to keep on doing what you want to. it is good you have spoken out.

    Best wishes

    Andy

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  15. Thanks, Andy. I want to talk more about mental health in the coming months. And this autumn eight cuts will be hosting an exhibition called Head Space, and I'll be hosting a 1-off show to make my 40th in the autumn to raise awareness.

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  16. A difficult balancing act, to do and not to overdo, to ensure as you say that you do things that are your joy while not creating situations that will provoke anxiety or stretch you too much physically thus precipitating psychological strain. You have it sussed and of course that won't always be enough but you do come across always as a person of integrity and it helps others enormously for you to share your story.

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  17. All the best, Dan. Lots of resonances for me in what you say - especially about anxiety. As Alison says you're integrity shines out. Keep well.

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  18. Alison, Anne thank you so much. I want to try and blog more and generally do more about mental health in the months coming up to the Head Space show on eight cuts - I've been inspired a lot by Andy's work, of course by Cody, and was particularly inspired after talking to Dave, my musician/writer friend who's devoting his Grey Children project to raising awareness for Pure-O OCD.

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  19. Well it is my good luck in real, as I was searching something else on health and I am here to your blog by chance and I must say i enjoyed reading that.

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  20. So sad dan, its really being painful for whats going on but still you have to stay brave against that.

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  21. I am a huge fan already, man. You have done a brilliant job making sure that people understand where you are coming from. And let me tell you, I get it. Great stuff and I cant wait to read more of your blogs.

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