Children’s books: my story

Once upon a time, there was a little chap called Paul who loved books.

The pudgy-faced young lad, with his tufty blonde hair, would carry a new Mr Men book in his chubby hands for a whole day before allowing someone to read it to him.

As he grew older, slightly less tubby and slightly less blonde, the lad discovered Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Michael Bond’s Paddington books, Norman Hunter’s Professor Brainstawm stories, then progressed to adventures with the Hardy Boys and Swallows and Amazons, and mysteries with Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators.

That fiction-loving young whippersnapper was, of course, me, and, since my teens or possibly even earlier, I’ve wanted to write my own books for children. My fondness for my own childhood favourites has never gone away, and these days I read them to my own children. My daughter has just peered over my shoulder to see what I’m writing, having just enjoyed a chapter of Paddington Helps Out.

I wrote my first children’s book – Splot (a story about an alien who crash-lands in a garden pond) -as an assignment for my English language A Level, and revived it for a publishing assignment as part of my degree. I still have copies of it, and for several years have planned to re-work it.

Other stories have languished somewhere either in the back of my mind, partly sketched out in a notepad somewhere or lurking on my laptop, or long forgotten in a drawer or a box, and it occurred to me last week that I’d given up too easily on my ambition. I’ve entered some competitions, got nowhere, and admitted defeat.

Although all my jobs since I left college have involved writing and publishing to some extent, they haven’t allowed me to make things up using what my teacher at infant school called my ‘vivid imagination’.

I do, however, enjoy the freedom of writing this blog. Sometimes the story is sad, sometimes funny, but it’s my story, and I’m telling it my way.

So the former pudgy-faced, tufty-haired youngster, now bald, 37 and a father of two, sat up in bed one night and thought: “I know what – I’ll dig out a story I’ve written for children, and post it on this blog so that other people can read it to their children.” And that’s exactly what he did.

This is a short story I wrote fairly recently about a monkey toddler who has an unexpected adventure on the way to the banana shop. Tell me what you think, and, more importantly, what your children think.

Scampy Monk and the Bus Full of Babbits

It was the middle of a morning in May and Scampy Monk was bouncing on his bed, bellowing for bananas.

“Bla bla!” he shouted. “Bla bla!”

“A banana?” replied Mumsy Monk. “But you’ve eaten them all! We’ll have to go to the shop.”

Scampy Monk bounced with a big boing off his bed, bumped down the stairs on his bottom and gave his mum a big hug. “Bla bla,” he said, with a cheeky grin on his little monkey face.

He grabbed his yellow bus, put on his blue shoes and stood by the door of Monkey Treehouse.

“Bla bla,” he said again.

Five minutes later, Mumsy Monk, Dadsy Monk and Scampy Monk were swinging down the tree trunk and on their way to the banana shop.

Scampy Monk went bounding down the lane, busily brumming his bus.

He stopped, as he always did, by the broken bench, where he liked to peek at the sheep through the old, wooden fence.

“Zeep!” he said, pointing happily.

“Yes, a sheep,” said Dadsy Monk.

“Two zeep!” said Scampy Monk.

“That’s right, two sheep! Good counting!” said Dadsy Monk.

“Babbits!” squealed Scampy Monk suddenly. “Two babbits! More babbits!”

“Ooh yes, lots of rabbits,” said Mumsy Monk.

“Babbits go lellow bus?” asked Scampy Monk.

“I’m sure the rabbits would love a ride in your bus,” said Mumsy Monk, “but I think they’re a bit big. Let’s go and get you a banana.”

Scampy Monk called out “Bye bye, zeep! Bye bye, babbits!” and with a friendly wave he was off, carrying his yellow bus above his head as if it could fly.

They were just down the road from the banana shop when they heard the loud but cheerful “BEEP BEEP!” of a horn behind them.

As they turned round, Scampy Monk was surprised but thrilled to see a big, yellow bus.

“Lellow bus!” he cried in delight.

“That driver,” said Dadsy Monk, “looks just like a sheep.”

“It is a sheep!” gasped Mumsy Monk. “But sheep can’t drive buses!”

“Zeep!” squeaked Scampy Monk, bouncing with excitement.

The sheepy driver was not the only strange thing about the bus. Scampy Monk noticed something funny about the passengers too.

“Babbits!” he shrieked. “Babbits on lellow bus!”

All the passengers were rabbits. Some were brown, some were grey, some were black and some were white. Some were a mixture of colours. Some were chatting to each other. Some were playing games. Some were looking out of the window. Quite a lot of them were eating carrot crisps, and one or two were having a nap.

The sheepy driver leaned out of the open window.

“Would you like to join us?” she asked.

Scampy Monk had jumped onto the bus before his mum and dad could answer, so they followed him.

“Seatbelts on!” called the driver.

Everyone quickly fastened their seatbelts. Scampy Monk was extremely excited, especially when he heard the bus engine start.

He had a huge surprise when he looked out of the window.

“Bus flying!” he cheered.

“Oh!” said Dadsy Monk. “I wasn’t expecting that!”

Scampy Monk was amazed to see clouds drifting past the window as the bus flew higher and higher, and the sheep and rabbits he had seen in the field below got smaller and smaller. An owl looked in through the window and hooted.

The rabbits on the bus chattered loudly. Scampy Monk turned round and waved at them.

“Hello babbits!” he said.

The rabbits waved back and made rabbity noises.

“Hold on tight!” bleated the bus driver. “We’re going up!”

The bus engine made a loud, grumbling, rumbling sound – more like an aeroplane, or even a rocket, than a bus.

Then WHOOSH! The bus went zooming straight up through the clouds.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeee!” squeaked Scampy Monk.

For a few moments, the monkey family and the rabbits were in clear, blue sky, looking down on a bed of snowy white clouds. Then the sky became dark.

“Time for bed?” asked Scampy Monk.

“No, sweet pea,” said Mumsy Monk. “I think we’re in space.” And they were.

As they left Earth, looking like a green and blue bouncy ball far below them, Scampy Monk spotted something ahead of them that made his eyes goggle.

It was the Moon, and it looked just like a…

“Bla bla!” whooped Scampy Monk. “Big bla bla!”

“That’s not a banana, dear,” said Mumsy Monk. “It’s the Moon. It does look like a banana though, doesn’t it?”

“Moooooooon,” said Scampy Monk. He sat up as high as he could in his seat to get a better view.

“I wasn’t expecting this either,” said Dadsy Monk.

As the bus got closer and closer to the Moon, it slowed down. Slower and slower it crept, until it had pulled up next to the Moon.

“Everybody off!” called the driver.

Scampy Monk bounced up and down on his seat, waiting to walk on the Moon.

The sheep driver gave each passenger a space helmet to wear as they got off the yellow bus. Scampy Monk felt like his little head was in a great big bubble – but it was fun.

There were some steps on the banana-shaped Moon, which everyone climbed to the top. The sheep led the way, and handed out slippery mats. It was a giant slide! Scampy Monk watched the rabbits whizzing down.

“Me! Me!” he yelled, tugging on Mumsy and Dadsy Monk’s arm.

“Let’s all go together!” said Dadsy Monk, who was nearly as excited as his son.

Scampy Monk sat at the front of the mat, holding on to Mumsy Monk’s legs. Dadsy Monk, who had the longest legs, sat at the back.

“Are you ready?” asked the sheep.

“Yes!” shouted all three monkeys at the same time.

The sheep gave them a gentle push, and they were off, speeding down the steep slope.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” cried Scampy Monk, loving the ride.

When they got to the bottom, the three monkeys rolled off their mat onto a big, flat rock, laughing merrily.

“Again!” said Scampy Monk, straight away. “Again!”

They went on the slide another ten times, going faster each time.

“BEEP BEEP!” The sheep was sounding the horn.

“Everybody back on the bus please!” she called, as she drove the bus round to the end of the slide. “One last ride!”

Scampy Monk, Mumsy Monk and Dadsy Monk took their slippery mat to the top of the slide for the last time and went zipping down to the bottom, flying through the open bus door. The sheep took their space helmets and the rabbits all got on board.

“Off we go!” shouted the sheep, turning the bus round and driving off into space.

“Bye bye, Moon,” said Scampy Monk, waving as the Moon got smaller and smaller.

“Ball!” he chattered, looking at the Earth.

“No dear,” said Mumsy Monk. “That’s the Earth. That’s where we live.”

Soon the sky was blue again and Scampy Monk could see the clouds, then the fields and the trees.

“I wasn’t expecting any of that,” said Dadsy Monk, as the bus landed at the bus stop.

The bus door opened and the sheep stood up.

“Thank you all for coming,” she said, smiling. “I hope you enjoyed your trip.”

The passengers unfastened their seatbelts and, one by one, walked to the front of the bus and thanked the driver.

“Bye bye, zeep,” said Scampy Monk, hopping down the bus step. “Bye bye, babbits!”

“I bet you weren’t expecting that,” said the sheep to Dadsy Monk, with a wink.

Once everyone was off the bus, the driver closed the door, and with a wave of her hoof she was off down the lane.

“Right,” said Mumsy Monk. “What shall we do now?”

“Bla bla!” chirped Scampy Monk, with a big grin.

“Good idea,” said Dadsy Monk. “I’m a bit hungry after all that sliding.”

THE END 

 

 


The Hobbit and the unexpected journey through depression

I am quite like Gollum in some ways. Not only do we both lack hair, we’ve spent a fair bit of time in darkness and have arguments with ourselves.

I realised when watching the first of the Hobbit films the other night that there are several other parallels between this classic adventure story and my own epic battle with depression.

The film starts with the dwarves losing their home to a large and dangerous dragon, and that’s kind of how depression feels – an unstoppable force that takes control of your life and leaves you feeling lost and confused, with a permanent sense of doom, fear, paranoia and anger.

The mighty dwarf kingdom swiftly goes from domination to desolation, and they are cast out and obliterated, with just a small band clinging on for survival. That sounds familiar too.

The story follows their mission to claim back what is rightfully theirs, and that’s what the long road to recovery is like. There are dark forces and enemies to contend with on the way, steep and treacherous paths to navigate, many perils, threats and dangers to overcome – some that seem impossible to escape from – and countless twists and turns that throw up great challenges and battles.

Let’s go back to Gollum for a moment. He’s one of my favourite characters in any book or film – a disturbed creature, possessed by the power of a ring, in turn both playful and vicious, perky and tortured.

Everything the wretched creature does is accompanied by his own running commentary, and that’s where he reminds me most of myself. His head is full of conflicting thoughts and moods in a constantly shifting power struggle. Even now I am much better, there are times I find myself caught up in a Gollum-like argument with myself – often in the morning, and most commonly in my own company. The dark powers and over-thinking can take over for a while, but, like invading orcs, hungry trolls or sly goblins, they can be overcome.

And then there’s Bilbo Baggins, our unlikely little hero, plucked from his cosy home to go on a great adventure, which will change his life – and Bilbo himself – forever.

Maybe I’m a bit like Bilbo and the dwarves myself. Rather them than Gollum, anyway. Life now is about rediscovering what depression clouded or took away, and it’s about discovering new things.

It’s been an unexpected journey, but one I am determined to learn from.


Ten new Olympic sports for kids

If you’ve been missing extreme sports like ski cross, slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe since the Winter Olympics finished, here’s something you might enjoy.

These ten new sports – yet to be formally approved by the Olympic Committee but it’s surely only a matter of time – are well established on the children’s extreme sports scene, but have not hit the mainstream until now.

Could your toddler win gold? Is your baby a future Olympian? Is your five-year-old on the way to sporting greatness? Find out with this guide to ten new events that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Food splatting

There are medals in several categories of food splatting, awarded for distance, coverage (of people, carpet, walls and furniture) and quality of mess created (is the resultant staining beyond the capability of all good stain removers?).

Sleep disruption

A favourite among younger competitors, this event pits infants against each other in a bid to keep a judging panel awake for as many hours as possible. The judges will be looking for a combination of extended periods of awakeness and shorter bursts of sleep interruption. The first child to cause a judge to sob, scream or collapse is the winner.

Tantrum throwing

An extremely popular event, which is likely to prove highly competitive. Contestants will be judged on the volume of tears and wailing, the duration and persistence of the tantrum, and on physical manoeuvres such as the face-first lunge onto a bed, chair or floor. Bonus points are awarded to the child whose tantrum is most irrational.

Nagging

This fiercely fought sport sees children begging, harassing, haggling and haranguing for a range of items, starting at worthless plastic tat and working up through ‘Stuff seen in advert breaks on telly’ to something completely unattainable, like a fairy castle. Attempts to ban ‘puppy dog eyes’ have proved futile.

Time wasting

Another multi-disciplinary event, in which children must devise cunning ways of delaying bedtime, going to school, leaving playgrounds and finishing meals.

Inappropriate talk of poo

Children love to talk, joke and sing about poo, and it’s never more entertaining than when discussed in an inappropriate setting (a café, for example) or with the wrong people. In this event, kids score points for embarrassing their parents and upsetting guests and bystanders with loud, graphic and inventive descriptions of – and/or songs about – poo.

Doing a runner

A sport that requires daring and stamina. Competitors have to run as far away as they can when called by a parent, and can win extra points by dashing out of doors into a dangerous environment, like a busy main road.

Wee dancing

It’s extreme, it’s perilous and it’s one of the most celebrated of children’s sports. Olympic wee dancing glory awaits the contender who can jig, wiggle and hop most frenziedly without actually wetting themselves.

Ignoring

The kids who make it onto the Olympic podium in this sport will be those who can most convincingly and consistently deny having heard a clear instruction.

Gangnam Style dancing

Children are now born knowing Gangnam Style, and get frequent opportunities to perfect their dance techniques at parties and school discos. The winners will be those who show greatest enthusiasm, have the reddest and sweatiest faces, and deliver the loudest cry of ‘Heeeeeey, sexy lady’.

 


Antidepressants and me: the final chapter?

Coming off antidepressants has been like taking the stabilisers off a bike.

There have been wobbles – big at first, but smaller as I’ve got used to it – and numerous doubts and crises of confidence, but, through persistence and the passing of time, I’ve done it.

Three months ago, I took my last dose of Citalopram – my constant companion since early 2010.

Then off came the stabilisers and it was time for my brain to ride solo. At first, I noticed no real difference. It was something of an anti-climax. I’d been waiting a long time for this magical moment, when I would be free of the medication, but when it came, I felt pretty much the same. The world didn’t change colour. I didn’t suddenly discover the meaning of life.

The fact that I felt no difference was a good sign, really. But in the weeks that followed, I did start to feel a difference, and it wasn’t always good. I’d finished my antidepressants just in time for a busy spell at work, a nerve-racking performance as Elvis in a local cabaret event, and the build-up to my annual pantomime appearance. At times, the stress and my rapidly filling mind kept me awake at night, and it felt ominously reminiscent of the dark days of depression.

I made up my mind on four different occasions that I would go back on the tablets. Things just felt too hard, and I didn’t want to risk my recovery by stubbornly persisting without the pills when I so clearly needed them. But, unlike before, those moods lifted fairly quickly, and I never did go back to Citalopram.

I’ve learned a few things about life without antidepressants:

  • Don’t think while tired – most of my most negative thinking and worst worrying has happened first thing in the morning, often in the car on the way to work. Now if that sort of thinking starts to mess with me in the mornings, I turn on some music and drown it out. I also have to be careful not to get too tired, and to make sure I look after myself. When my memory starts to go again, I hear an alarm bell ringing and try to take things easier for a day or two.
  • I notice I’m more prone to anxiety and over-thinking than I was when I had the shield of Citalopram to blunt those feelings. I’m slowly learning to manage this, but it will take time.
  • My confidence has taken a hit in the last few years, and it is taking some time to build back up – but it’s gradually happening. Patience doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’ve got to work on that too. I’m keeping a diary of positive things that happen to me (compliments, achievements, good times etc) to keep reminding myself that I’m actually doing pretty well.

One of the reasons I’ve written this post is to take a while to reflect on where I’ve got to. Three months free of antidepressants feels like a nice milestone – and not one I even dared imagine for a long time.

These other posts tell the full story of my adventure with antidepressants – a story with a happy ending, all being well.

Antidepressants: friend or foe?

What happened when I reduced my antidepressants

Goodbye antidepressants

Play depression at its own game

 


A walk that gave depression the boot for a few hours

Clear, bright, calm – that’s the river and the weather in this photo, and the opposite of how I’d been feeling in the days before I took it.

Walk Oct 2011 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was October 2011 and I was off work with depression. A stressful couple of months had slowly, sneakily reversed the progress I’d made since having counselling for my first bout of the illness. One night it came back with a vengeance.

My brain felt so full that it might explode. I was angry, confused, miserable and shattered. This mental turbulence kept me awake at night and my tired brain couldn’t cope during the day – a cruel and exhausting cycle that trapped me in darkness.

I vowed to myself that I would get out of the house every day and go for a walk, partly to get some exercise and fresh air and partly for a change of scenery that might distract me from the cyclone in my brain. My dad must have recognised this was what I needed too, because he arranged to take me out for a hearty walk by a canal out in the countryside.

Looking back on that outing, there were a number of small things that helped me.

It was in a place I didn’t know, so there was a sense of exploration and discovery – a new experience and the best kind of distraction.

It was a bright, sunny autumn day – one of those crisp, cool days that makes you want to take deep breaths, which helps you relax and appreciate what’s around you.

Being a keen birdwatcher I had taken my binoculars, and remember some of the birds I saw that day, and where I saw them. As we got out of the car, there was a great-spotted woodpecker that flew from a tree and landed on a telegraph pole a few yards away. Further along the walk, near the river, we saw a sparrowhawk zipping low along a line of bushes. And we saw fieldfares, which had arrived from Scandinavia for the winter.

My memories of that autumn are otherwise pretty murky, but these images are crystal clear in my mind even now. I think that shows the value of trying to do something you enjoy, however small, if you can muster the energy.

The fact my dad had organised the day helped too. I didn’t have to think – just take it in. And the company certainly helped. Being able to talk to someone you trust and who understands you is so important, and the different setting took me away from my problems somehow, and gave me a boost that defied my weariness.

There’s a reason holidays are marketed as a chance to ‘get away from it all’. It’s because that chance is something we all need and crave. This walk wasn’t a holiday, of course, but the change and escape was what I really needed.

* I wrote this post for Time to Change. Read more about them here


Wee dancing – why kids would rather jiggle than piddle

In more than eight years of parenting, one thing has baffled me more than anything else – the wee dance.

This curious phenomenon seems to exist primarily among small boys, who seem to be in permanent denial about needing a wee.

Wee dancers perform their high-energy jig in the moments when they are most desperate for the toilet. Rather than making the logical decision to go to the toilet, they push that urge to the backs of their minds and go jumping and leaping.

The wee dance is a tell-tale sign that the child needs to get to the loo, and quickly. Parents need to recognise this as soon as possible to avoid potentially dire consequences.

Early warning signs include an inability to sit still and even greater distraction than usual. Given that small boys rarely sit still and can get distracted by anything from the TV to a breath of air or speck of dust, these can be difficult to detect. Extra grouchiness is another sign but again this is not unusual in small boys, who are prone to irrational outbursts at the best of times.

So why perform a wee dance?

I was a small boy once but even so I cannot get inside the mind of the wee dancer. I don’t know if I did the wee dance myself but it is entirely possible. What I can see, though, is that for children, going to the toilet is boring and everything else is far more exciting and crucial, no matter how full their bladders are.

The wee dance seems to be the final stage of wee denial – a way of expressing pent-up wee desperation and postponing a toilet trip for a few more seconds. Wee dancers even convince themselves they don’t need to go.

Often the only way to stop the wee dance is to take the child to the toilet yourself. Even under direct interrogation, wee dancers deny needing a wee until they cannot stand it any more.

A typical conversation with a wee dancer goes as follows:

Parent: Do you need the toilet?

Wee dancer (through clenched teeth): No.

Parent: Are you sure you don’t need a wee?

Wee dancer (frowning): Yes.

Parent: Are you totally sure?

Wee dancer: I really need a wee! 

There then follows a ludicrous sprint to the loo. The dance is not over, however. My five-year-old wee dancer will dance in front of the toilet, jigging so frenetically he is unable to lift the seat or pull his pants down.

The helpless parent just has to hope that the wee itself can be unleashed accurately into the bowl with minimal impact on clothing, the floor or the walls.

Wee dancers live life on the edge. Not for them, this boring ‘I need the toilet so I will go now’ logic. No, they will face great discomfort and peril to keep dancing. And why not? After all, it’s their hapless mums and dads who have to deal with the consequences.


Play depression at its own game

A little over two years ago, I was off work with depression.

One day or night, I sat and watched 8 Mile, the Eminem movie, and took some kind of small hope from the underdog rapper’s never-say-die determination and ultimate triumph over adversity. My own determination wasn’t putting in an appearance at the time, and triumphs seemed in short supply.

Here in the present, it’s more than a month since I took my last antidepressant and there’s a part of 8 Mile that now seems particularly significant.

The film’s climax is a rap battle between Eminem’s character, Rabbit, and his enemy, Papa Doc. Now, I am no battle rapper or gangsta MC – I’m more Yorkshire Tea than Ice T – but I do know that the basic gist of such battles is to brag about your own greatness and insult your opponent as wittily as possible.

Except in this contest, Rabbit catches his opponent off-guard by confessing to all his own flaws and secrets – all the things Doc was about to hurl at him. It leaves his nemesis impotently lacking ammunition. And then he exposes him for the coward and fraud that he is. You can read the full lyrics here.

So, what’s this got to do with me and depression?

  • Depression is a cowardly bully that skulks in the shadows and messes up your head – and it thrives on the shame and stigma that comes with it. It knows everything about you – all your flaws and weaknesses – and uses them against you. By talking to someone about what you’re going through, you expose it and weaken its power.
  • You can also get to know your enemy, through counselling, talking to others (either in person or online) or reading about it. This helps to arm you against its dirty tricks. Stopping my antidepressants has been like taking down my shield. At times in the last few weeks, members of depression’s gang have roughed me up – stress, anxiety and insomnia have all had a go – but I am better able to fend them off than I used to be, because I know what they’re up to.

I’m not naïve about this, and will have to keep a look-out for future attacks, but for now this underdog has triumphed. I celebrated my first medication-free month with a glass of bubbly that had been at the back of a cupboard since before I started taking Citalopram.

Recovery from depression is slow. Even when you feel well, coming off the medication is tough. For an impatient patient, it seems like a never-ending war. But liberation from depression is possible.


Top five children’s bedtime delaying tactics

Children are cunning creatures. They are particularly cunning when you are least capable of countering their cunning with craftiness of your own – at bedtime.

It’s been a long, hard day. You’re ready to collapse in a heap, but first you have various tedious jobs to do – stuff like washing up, sorting out washing, filling in umpteen forms to send back to school… Before that, however, there is the small matter of getting the kids to bed.

They know you want them to go to bed. You have told them several times already, in an increasingly loud and hysterical voice. It seems like they haven’t been listening, but they know.

Here’s the problem. They don’t want to go to bed. A battle of wills commences. They will get sudden urges to perform songs from their school play, reveal the forgotten homework, or choose this moment to tell you, in astounding detail, what they’ve been doing today – information previously forgotten or withheld.

Bedtime is the perfect time to wind you up. Tired, impatient and battle weary, you are no match for their devious bedtime delaying tactics. Here are the top five methods employed by my two children. I suspect parents across the land will recognise some, if not all, of these.

Another chapter

Ah, the bedtime story. A nice, cosy few minutes for you to share quality time with your little cherub. It’s also the perfect opportunity to catch you off guard with a delaying tactic. You’ve finished the chapter. “Right, time for bed,” you say, in a kindly yet determined fashion. “Can I have another chapter?” asks the cunning child, unleashing puppy-dog eyes. “Pleeeeeaaaaase?” And you find yourself thinking “Well, I did quite enjoy reading that and having a cuddle…” They sense this weakness and capitalise on it. You’re fair game for the expert bedtime delayer.

Drink

Kids never ask for a drink. Having a drink interferes with playing. Well, I say never, but that’s not quite true. They never ask for a drink EXCEPT at bedtime, when they a) realise they actually were thirsty all along and b) it buys them an extra few seconds of awake time.

Toilet

Often a side effect of the evening drink, “I need the toilet” is perhaps the most compelling bedtime phrase. It will get you leaping out of your chair or bed, abandoning the washing up and legging it to your stricken child’s side in seconds. Why? Because of the possible consequences. A wet bed. A nappy to change, perhaps. And let’s not even bring the fear of poo clear-up into this. Kids know this is a winning trick. They can always force out a paltry trickle of a wee if it means delaying bedtime.

Scared

Aw, poor ickle bubba is scared. Hmm, really? Or have they remembered that this means bonus cuddles, some extra attention and – top prize – the possible necessity to sleep in mummy and daddy’s bed. A moving shadow, a ghost in the wardrobe, a lingering memory of an episode of Scooby Doo… Real or imagined, this state of terror needs nipping in the bud as soon as possible, because it will otherwise lead to wailing, screaming and possibly even thrashing about.

Randomness

The best tactic of all, and a real speciality of my little angels, is to throw something completely unexpected into the mix. Two examples:

1)

Daughter: Dad, can you help me?

Me: Why, what is it?

Daughter reveals she has tied her tights together. In a knot. While wearing them.

2)

Me: Can you get ready for bed now, please?

Son: No. I’m dead.

If you liked this post you might also like Mummy, there’s a dwarf in the bath and Five unexpected ways children change your life.


Goodbye antidepressants

When you ask most people “What are the magic words?” they’ll answer “Please” or “Abracadabra!”

Not me. I’d say “I’ve come off my antidepressants!” Those are the magic words I’ve wanted to say for three-and-a-half years. Now, at last, I can – and the more I say it, the better it feels.

This is the Promised Land I’ve been trying to reach for a long time. So what’s it like? Am I spending every waking moment skipping carefree through sunlit meadows, revelling in the trill of singing larks?

Well, no. There’s been no great revelation. Life has not changed immediately for the better. In fact, the first couple of days free of the tablets have been rather underwhelming. Life carries on being busy in its usual way.

But what I have to try to remember is what has already changed.

It’s hard now to recall exactly what depression felt like at its very worst – perhaps because I don’t want to recall it because it’s just too upsetting, and perhaps because my memory is one of the things that was most affected.

What I do remember is that three-and-a-half years ago I was feeling beaten up by life and was picking up my first packet of Citalopram to try and help me cope with it. Since then, I’ve increased and reduced my dose a few times, but never come off the medication. I’ve had a second major bout of depression and two rounds of counselling.

If I try a bit harder to remember, these things come to mind:

  • a deadening feeling of wanting to do nothing – just drifting around like a zombie, feeling shrunken, grey and old, gaining no pleasure from my life
  • a brain full of negative thoughts, anger and worries that destroyed my concentration and memory and kept me awake at night
  • a demolition of my confidence and self-esteem

You can see why I don’t want to remember those things.

The combination of medication, counselling, the kindness and support of my family, friends and colleagues, learning about depression through books and other people, and writing about it myself, has finally come together to get me through it.

Recovery from depression is, I’ve found, grindingly slow, and full of twists and turns. Just coming off the medication can take months or even years, but you simply can’t rush it. I have found this to my cost a couple of times, where I’ve decreased the dose by slightly too much too quickly and been overcome with an urge to scream and smash things.

BUT…

… I have recovered. I’ve done it. My mind is sharper again – most of the time. I feel better about myself. I enjoy and look forward to things.

My hope is that depression’s occupation of my life is over, and I’ve emerged stronger and a better, more self-aware and compassionate person.

I will probably always have to be on my guard against my old nemesis, Paul Brookes, who will occasionally peek out from a shadowy recess to see if he can get at me.

But I am arming myself against him by constantly learning ways of handling stress, frustration and worry and preventing them from becoming anything more sinister and destructive.

And, starting with this blog, I will reflect on what I’ve achieved and celebrate my triumph over an evil adversary. Starting with my first beer since the pre-Citalopram era…

Samuel Adams Boston Lager, in case you were wondering...

Samuel Adams Boston Lager, in case you were wondering…

How a ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costume can be a force for good

First published by Time to Change

I’m really glad Asda and Tesco stocked those ‘mental patient’ and ‘psycho ward’ fancy dress outfits.

Let me explain myself. I like horror films, but that’s not the reason I’m glad. I like fancy dress, but that’s not the reason either. I like a laugh, and Halloween costumes are meant to be funny as well as scary, aren’t they? But that’s not the reason either.

No, I’m glad those outfits were made and sold for one reason – they have made a lot of people angry. And when that many people get angry about something, things change. People speak out, loudly and publicly. Their views get into the mainstream media. And suddenly, there is a powerful movement in society, united in anger and in a desire for change.

Things have changed today. Tesco and Asda have acted and removed the products from stock. How did they come to be stocked in the first place? I don’t know. Who made and marketed the appalling things in the first place? I don’t know that either.

What I do know is that no amount of positive blogs about mental health or courageous spokespeople have the same impact as collective fury, and today that fury made two of the biggest names in British retail change their actions – and you can bet they won’t let it happen again in a hurry.

There’s unquestionably a stigma to mental illness that lives on and manifests in unlikely ways and places – like a Halloween costume. The outpouring of anger at these costumes is not the same thing as ‘political correctness gone mad’ or ‘not being able to take a joke’. It’s a response to the belittling or stigmatising of people who are ill through no fault of their own. It’s an insult to one in four members of our population.

As someone who’s had counselling for depression and taken antidepressants for more than three years, I could be very upset about the demonization and stereotyping of people who need treatment for mental illness. But I’m not upset.

I’m glad that something high-profile and relatively easy to resolve has happened that shakes people up a bit and makes mental health a little bit easier for people to talk about.

Ends


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