World Suicide Prevention Day – A personal story

I woke up with a banging headache that morning. My head hurt but my mind was calm. As I looked around the messy bedroom littered with old joints, underwear and cigarette papers I suddenly understood what had to happen. I had to die.

This might sound like the first chapter of a depressing new novel (it’ll probably win a Booker or something, the really depressing ones always win awards) but it actually describes the opening scenes to the morning my seventeen year old self decided to take her life. I use the third person because it feels like another lifetime ago. It also shows how I had detached from myself, from the reality. The whole experience felt like I had stepped outside my own body, an impartial observer in the corner of the room.

In the weeks leading up to that moment I had isolated myself from my support network. I was overwhelmed with fear, anger, and I now understand, shame. Thanks to Brene Brown and others, we now have a greater understanding of how a person carrying unspoken shame is more prone to depression, addiction and suicide.

Guilt says ‘I did a bad thing. Shame says ‘I am bad.’ Brene Brown in a Call to Courage, Netflix

I had been drowning this shame in alcohol, sex, cannabis and LSD but to no avail. With each sobering up, each morning after, each chemical come down the pain just came rushing back, always stronger than before. But this morning, this morning it was different. I woke calm. Pain free. Clear on what I had to do next. In that moment as you move from sleep to awake and the thoughts of the day come flooding in the first words that I heard were “I am going to die.”

I got out of bed, dressed, didn’t wash. I may have brushed my hair. I remember thinking that I had to look okay, it was important that people couldn’t tell. The other tenants of the shared house were out at work so there was no-one home to disturb my train of thought. The day seemed bright as I walked to the corner shop in the next street. I probably hadn’t been outside in the fresh air for days.

I’ve often wondered how I looked to the middle-aged shop assistant at the till. As I walked to the counter with nothing but boxes of paracetamol, paying with handfuls of change, knackered and unkempt. Nowadays you can only buy two boxes of pain relief in any one transaction, something I am convinced would have stopped me in my tracks.

I’m not going to describe my attempted overdose, except to say that by some miracle of human resilience I suddenly woke up to what I was doing and made myself vomit more times than I can count. This probably saved my life. Within days I had returned home to my parents. But I told no-one about the suicide attempt until a medical emergency forced me to admit that I may have inadvertently damaged my liver with paracetamol. It would take another 27 years for me to tell anyone why I was in so much pain. Another story that needs to be told, but not today.

My life has gone on to hold many more challenges, but has also been filled with love, family and enduring friendships. I have cried a lot, occasionally thrown things and have certainly used up my fair share of swear words. But I have also laughed until I couldn’t breath, felt a pride that I never thought I could, tasted food that made me cry with joy and been filled with awe at the natural world around us. I am forever grateful. Life isn’t always easy, but it is almost always worth living.

Why am I writing about this? I’m not entirely sure. Partly because I have learnt that many of us are living with depression, anxiety and self-hatred but are too embarrassed and ashamed to speak out. And as we have already established, shame kills. Particularly in the case of male mental health. So many times I have stood silently by while someone declares suicide a cowards way out, unable to form the words I need to show them otherwise. This then, is my response.

But I think that my main motivation is to give a voice to those who have survived suicide, and perhaps, a voice to those who have not. In the telling of our stories, as distressing as they are, maybe we can shine a light on how to tackle this issue going forward. After all, shame thrives in the darkness of silence. All we can do is keep talking and believe that we can find a way back. 

Shedding skins – Coming back to myself as a writer

Mr D and I just got back from a week in Portugal. Our first trip out of the country in fifteen years this was a beach, sun and food kinda week. It’s been so long because our mental fitness – and as a result, financial fitness – just wasn’t strong enough before now. Our first trip abroad since my heart transplant ten years ago, last week acted as a litmus test for more demanding holiday plans in the future.

With plentiful time by the pool and beach, my thoughts inevitably turned to my writing. A month ago I made the decision to step back from my commercial work and take a creative break. Actually, take a rest. What I needed more than anything was a rest. Following the words of more business and life coaches than I care to mention, I have been chasing around ‘achieving’ and ‘striving’ and ‘pushing boundaries’ since coming out of the starting blocks after my transplant and, quite frankly, it was getting me nowhere. Except perhaps exhausted and mentally unwell. And frustrated. And unfulfilled and purposeless. So I took the decision to take a rest. To write. Cook. Fill my time with all of the things that I never get the chance to do while I am chasing freelance ‘success’. Do a bit of bloody housework…

Anxiety is a creative block

But the writing never came. At first, I found myself doing more work, not less. Recognising a familiar pattern I made a conscious effort to put down existing work and start turning down new enquiries. Gradually, the workload petered out and I began to see the space that I had hoped for…only for my brain to go into full meltdown mode…

“AAGH WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO…YOU HAVE NO PURPOSE…WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE – TAKING TIME TO DO NOTHING…WHAT KIND OF PRIVILEGE IS THIS…WHY SHOULD YOU GET THIS WHEN OTHERS CAN ONLY DREAM OF TAKING TIME OUT…STOP BEING AN AIRY FAIRY NO GOOD AND GET BACK TO WORK…HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A WRITER…HA!”

Well, you get the drift. I was kind of looking forward to the holiday. With expectations of productivity temporarily put aside, I hoped it would give me the permission I so obviously needed to just relax and go with the flow. With very little wifi it also helped me to see that, despite making a conscious effort with social and other forms of media, I am still clogging me creative channels with a heavy diet of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s important to me to stay connected with issues that matter (poverty, inequality, climate change, the slow conversion to The Handmaid’s Tale that currently seems to be hitting America) but I need to find a way that doesn’t freak me out so much that the lump of fear in my throat stops me from finding my voice.

Shedding expectations

So here I am. At the computer, drinking the coffee we snook home in our hand luggage, in a vain attempt to capture the Laissez-faire mindset I found on holiday. Writing. Just writing. With no real marketing goal or social purpose other than to say hi, this how I have been feeling lately. Maybe you have been feeling the same?

Bit by bit I’m shedding the practical, planning, goal orientated skin of commercial writing. Just a little, I can see the fresh skin of creation hiding underneath, luminescent and fragile in the British spring sunshine. This excites me, but I worry about its survival. Perhaps my purpose for the next few months is simply to protect this new stage of growth, shield it from the expectations of a society that values nothing if it is not making money, building, moving onto the next goal with speed. Hopefully, I am shedding these expectations too, and slowly finding my way back to myself as a writer.

 

Historic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen – Noah’s Pudding

Asure

(Ash – oo – ray)

There are times when a new recipe develops through hours of research. Others flash into life from a simple word, smell or taste whilst I’m thinking of something completely unrelated. Then, like this one, inspiration visits me via someone else. Noah’s Pudding appeared in a novel my husband was reading, the main character prepared and served the dessert for dinner guests. The description included grains, pulses and dried fruits combined in a sweet, porridge-like consistency. John thought it sounded tasty and the name itself had me hooked.

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Things to do in York for 2019 – Get rid of those creative blocks

Happy 2019 folks!

How do you feel on the first productive day of this new year?

Raring to go? Are you bursting with ideas, or are you struggling to think through a haze of sugar, cheese and turkey sandwiches?

If you’re not really in the mood for setting life-changing resolutions then don’t worry, you are not alone. The zeitgeist seems to be shifting away from the new year, new you approach (who says I need fixing anyway, thank you very much) to a quieter, more reflective mood. This suits me very nicely. Rather than soul searching for things that I should be doing better, I like to spend this first week or so looking for ways to oil my creative cogs and crank up my imagination.

You may be interested to know that until 1752, we celebrated the start of a new year in March, not January. The weather has been kind to us so far, but winter is not a good time to deprive yourself of enjoyable treats or commit to flinging yourself around the gym in front of massive, unforgiving mirrors. I find that by indulging my natural curiosity, treading gently and perhaps discovering a new hobby – I am better prepared for a natural burst of energy come spring. Here are just a few of the things that I plan to do in early 2019.

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Claire Davies Consulting Narrative Strategy

Improve Your Copy – Write A Copy Brief

Whether you are hiring a copywriter or crafting your own copy, it is vital to lay out a clear copy brief of what you are trying to achieve, how, and why.

The majority of my clients are sole traders or operate within small, independent businesses. They have little experience of the copywriting process, or how to get the best out of the person who is writing their copy. 

To address this, I developed a process which enables me to collate all of the knowledge required to successfully complete a project. Today I want to share that process with you.

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Claire Davies Copywriter

Improve Your Copy – The So What Principle

Have you hired someone to help you build a shiny new website for your business? For many business owners, this means writing sparkling new copy to go with it. Many of my copywriting clients come to me with this very challenge, but not everyone can afford to hire a professional writer.

Whether you are writing copy for your services page, a blog post or a couple of sentences to go on a leaflet – there are a few simple tips that can help to make your copy engaging.

In this post, I want to talk about the importance of benefits over features, and how asking yourself So What? will make all the difference.

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Claire Davies Food Writer On Sofa

Getting Around Creative Blocks – Living a Creative Life

If you want to write but don’t know where to start, what do you do?

I write for a living. Or I’m paid to talk about writing.

Before writing became the way I paid my bills, it was one of many creative outlets. My need to be creative is as much part of me as my shaved hair and tendency to talk too much.

But.

Even the most productive among us face writer’s block. Overwhelmed with ideas, the fast-moving pace of a stressful age, even electric lighting and the faint buzz of technology that feels inescapable  – all can stifle our natural ability to be creative.

This has become such a popular topic of conversation that I’ve started asking people for their own tips on beating the block. Here are three of the most common, I hope you find them useful.

 

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Yorkshire Rarebit Recipe Yorkshire Day

A Rare Bit for a Yorkshire Day Supper

Happy Yorkshire Day fellow food lovers!

I’m not entirely sure how or when this day began or even why, but I’m willing to embrace anything if it gives me the excuse to tuck into a plate of local produce. Last week I received a parcel of dairy-related goodies from the excellent team at Wensleydale Creamery – prompting my search for a traditional Yorkshire recipe using cheese.

Without losing all reason and ending up in a world of cheese and chive Yorkshire puddings, the options are rather limited. I love experimenting with flavours as much as the next girl, but sometimes you can’t beat the basic elements of life – cheese, bread and – of course – beer. Plus, I’m married to a Welshman. Can you see where this is going?

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gooseberries and elderflower in the pan

Don’t forget the humble gooseberry – recipe

I’m going to start by coming clean – I absolutely love gooseberries. Every summer I get excited about seeing them on the supermarket shelves and can’t wait to grab the small crop from my local pick your own.

But it appears that I’m alone in my devotion to the prickly berry from even pricklier bushes. It’s true that they can’t be eaten raw and require some level of cooking. But the process doesn’t have to be complicated, and the reward is more than worth it.

With just a little sugar and half an hour of your time, the tart gooseberry develops a floral, nostalgic flavour that can’t be found elsewhere. They make a beautiful amethyst coloured jam that is delicious atop a plain scone. There’s something about their flavour and aroma that conjures up notions of Victorian ladies in white cotton gloves, gossiping about the comings and goings of Ms Simmons over a cream tea. Indeed, we have been eating them since at least the medieval era.

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