Monday, 19 January 2015

Right in/on the Noggin

I'm very open about my mental health. It's not something I'm shy about discussing because I believe leaving this kind of thing in the dark is a sure way to compound the problem(s). Besides, it's a part of me, it's shaped and guided my life in some way for almost thirty years, and I own it because otherwise it would own me. This has not been an easy process, it's been a long road… it's not a place you can get to by a boat or train. It's far, far away… behind the moon… beyond the rain… Wait, I've gone all Wizard of Oz, where was I? 

Right, Darkness = Mushrooms, and everyone knows they're the devil's haemorrhoids, so I'm not embarrassed to talk about my "problems". However, I don't wish it to be a subject of levity for someone who doesn't understand what they're talking about. Ask me about it, but don't dismiss me or minimise my experience. That will get you on my shit list quicker than you can say "Ignorant Fuck Chops".  I've lost count of the number of times I've heard glorious variations on the following: "oh, you're all right though, aren't you?"; "...but it's nothing serious?"; "you're too cheery to be depressed"; or my absolute fucking favourite "you're life's so easy, so stress free, what do you have to be depressed about?". I've heard them all so often they ring in my ears at the best of times, but when I'm down, for want of a better word, they positively bellow at me. 

By my reckoning, for ten months of last year I was depressed. Seriously depressed. For days at a time I was unable to leave the apartment, my OCD was out of control (I'm neither a cleaner nor a checker, my problems are mainly intrusive thoughts and excessive worrying - and no, while you feel like you worry endlessly, it's probably not the same thing. Be grateful, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy), and I licked my wounds in private. I felt lost at times, more lost than I'd been in a very long time and it was frightening. Did many people notice? No. Not many. Why? Because I've learned to live with it and to hide the worst of my symptoms (plus sometimes people just don't want to see). This isn't purely to make myself fit for human consumption, it's also a coping mechanism. I pretend to be well to persuade myself of the fact as much as to persuade anyone else, probably more so. It's tiring to carry it with you all the time, so losing yourself in the moment and being a human again just for a while, if it's possible, can be liberating. Yet, so often I still feel like tearing my face off when I'm surrounded by people. It's not easy but I manage not to. I've taught myself how. 

So to explain to those of you who are surprised at my diagnosis, who don't really believe me when I tell them, this article is the closest to understanding me you'll probably come. Don't read it for my sake, although friends of mine might want to (I don't expect it, I gave up setting myself up for disappointment of that kind a long time ago - people don't always do well with you when they know you're a "mental" and many just don't care, alas), read it in case there's someone right under your nose who might need your help or, at the very least, your understanding.

11 Habits of People with Concealed Depression

These past few weeks though, they've been good. I feel clearer in my mind than I have for months. My mood is lifted, not the manic euphoria that can take me over after a down (which can last for moments, days or weeks), I have a genuine sense of well being and a positive frame of mind. You know why? Once again, I've survived myself. I did even better than that, in fact. Through it all I worked, I connected with others, I lived, breathed and enjoyed myself despite its ever present tyranny. So I win. I know how to live with it, I know how to function despite the despot sitting in my brain pan. Every time it comes and I live through it, I become stronger. Who knows? One day it might get tired of messing with me, one day it might realise it's not worth the effort anymore because I refuse to be broken.  With that in mind, I consider myself monumentally lucky and I refuse to take that shit for granted. There are too many of us who don't come through it, too many lives wasted by this measly shitkicker of an illness that too many people continue to pretend doesn't exist. 

Fuck you, Depression.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Ghost of Emails Past

Good lord. I got a bit zealous and decided to tidy up my email account. I went back about six years. I found some old emails. Some old emails that made my face turn inside out in horror. An exchange between me and an old friend that pretty much destroyed our friendship - although with the clarity of hindsight, I realise that it was disintegrating a long time before that, that it probably hadn't been what I thought it was in the first place. Anyway, back to the matter in hand - GOOD GOD! I sounded like a mad thing created by a very mad scientist, bashed out by a double mad machine. I barely recognise me in the writing even as I can't fail to acknowledge the echo of Past Me. My caveat here is that while I feel bad (or "off the charts crazy fandango Chloë, what the holy shit did you say that for?!") about what I wrote, a real friend would perhaps have read the emails and thought "HOT DANG! Something be VERY wrong with my FRIEND, maybe I should help rather than compound the problem or cut her off completely" Alas this was not the case, but Now Me sees it wasn't their responsibility to do so, it would have been nice (or even decent of them) if they had but life's not black and white, is it? And my shit was crazy as fuck.

Reading the emails, however, did something very good for me. Something very good indeed. That person? The one who wrote those emails, emails that alternately bleated ball-aching apologies and then bit with a ferocity I can rarely muster these days? She no longer exists. Parts of her do, of course, but I am a very different person to the one I was six years ago. My thought processes, reactions, expectations and ideas about the world have been almost entirely overhauled. And, even as I've been rubbing off (don't be dirty) my sharp edges, working hard on controlling those elements of myself I find most troubling - not to mention eradicating the shocking bouts of apparent lunacy as evidenced in some of those emails - I didn't really notice it happening. I think I'd just been hoping it would happen, and in the waiting I'd missed the change. In the missing of it, I've been repeating patterns of behaviour out of what I can only think of as muscle memory. Ridiculous laziness that has no place in my life because I'M NOT THAT PERSON ANYMORE. Those things no longer fit me.

I'm not the needy lost soul that I was, adrift in a foreign country, frightened. I see flashes of her, but only flashes. It's a liberating thing, to see me as I was and how I am now. I just didn't realise it had happened. Now I've seen it, I want to laugh until I pee my pants. Don't worry, I won't. Today. I will say this, however - the sins of your past, the person you were, who people thought you were? None of these things have to govern either your today or tomorrow. They do not define you, they do not even represent you. Not unless you either want them to or you allow them to. You can be the best version of yourself, but the other versions of yourself? They shouldn't be discarded or forgotten, they're templates, foundations, you can't move on without them. Just don't let them become the Bell Jar.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Kiki and Kitty

Happy Halloween folks! It's going to be a doozy because there's a double header coming at you - right between the eyes - from Fox Spirit Books: Drag Noir, edited by Kate Laity, and Wicked Women, edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber. What's more, to add the welcome insult to the joyous injury, there's a story by yours truly in each. Pick yourself up off the floor and check the links below to purchase yourself some anthology goodness. Both volumes are packed with excellent authors who I'm bloody chuffed to share space with. Prepare yourselves for a link fiesta and then a little explanation.

Fox Spirit announcement:

Wicked Women, featuring my story "How to be the Perfect Housewife":

Drag Noir, featuring "Kiki Le Shade":

My sources for these stories couldn't have been more different. I'd spent countless hours berating myself for not being able to come up with something for the Prof's third instalment of the Noir series (you can find Weird Noir, featuring my story "A Kick in the Head" here and "Madam Mafoutee's Bad Glass Eye" is in Noir Carnival which you can acquire thusly

Then, although I can't remember where, I saw the Scissor Sisters' video for their song "Let's Have a Kiki" The opening image of the story suddenly popped into my head - not that it had anything much to do with either the song or the video, but Kiki emerged, sitting on a plastic chair in the arse end of nowhere, two inches of ash on her smouldering cigarette, wig askew, waiting. I had no idea what came next until it twitched out of my mind and down my fingers like an unstoppable electric current. Who was I to say no? The question of masks is always raised when talking about Drag, but for me liberation is what's accessed via this art form, not concealment. It is an opportunity to reveal, to revel and to rail. Seeing it as a veiling negates its power - or it would if Drag Queens stood for that kind of nonsense. While Drag Queens have fascinated me since I was a child, I've never given much thought to Drag Kings and I don't know why, possibly it's because there has been so much more exposure for the former. There's a tickle at the back of my mind for a story.

As to Wicked Women, I pretty much embody the antithesis of the "perfect" housewife and I pity anyone that aspires to be such a thing - not because I think housewifery is beneath me or trivial, but because traditionally it's one of the most thankless jobs in the world. In all my narcissistic preenings (don't worry, I mostly do them in private), that's not for me. Any quest for perfection is fraught with pressure and unreasonable expectations because perfection simply does not and cannot exist in the splendour of human subjectivity. That way lies madness, friends. Just look what poor Kitty has to deal with. In my mind, juxtaposed to this idea of the perfect housewife is the keyword "wicked". It's been bastardised into meaning good in modern parlance thus lightening its severity but, by definition, something wicked is something evil, something sinful, something unjustifiable with a bad attitude. So I googled "Wicked Women" and found an absolute glut of atrocious ladies with a side dollop of inspiration. Not your kickass badasses - I figure they're becoming as stereotypical as the time worn tropes of Madonna and Whore - instead I wanted your demented, your callous,  your truly "wicked" women. I won't tell you who struck me (not with a blunt instrument) during my research, I wouldn't want to spoil the fun.


Thursday, 18 September 2014


Do you ever just want to scream and shout? Does it ever simply get too much and your head feels like it's going to explode even harder than your guts? The world around you is a shit pile of inequality, injustice and cruelty. You're punch drunk from the spite and venom bandied about like ever cheaper supermarket booze. It's appalling but you keep plodding on while idiots thrive, and you quietly seethe - because for your voice to be heard over the clamour of the ignorant would take a fucking miracle. You try to move forward but some folks just won't let you, they want to keep you in the predictable pigeonhole they've fashioned for you ("this is what you are, we have decided") and want to watch you slowly drown in their blinkered juice of judgement. Then someone goes and pisses you off but you know it doesn't really matter. After all, it says more about them than you, but you're still annoyed so what does that say about you if you can't just get over it and move on? Does it mean you're a nut job? In the wrong? WHAT?!

A few things have been playing on my mind for a while now. Trouble is, I don't really want to talk about them because they are totally self-indulgent and utterly pointless (and apparently a source of abundant adjectivity). I've been torturing myself about shit I should either have forgotten about by now (it's not like I do that all the time…) or not allowed to get to me because it's out of my hands… and yet… my brain doesn't work like that. Every slight and injustice imagined or otherwise plays on my mind like a stuck fucking record and I'm tired of it. Shining a light on them will give them a validity they have no right to, yet they remain, chipping at my temper like squirrelly little brain bastards. Well, I'm not going to take it anymore. That's right, Brain, you're getting purged, son! My good sense pipes aren't going to buckle, but some steam is going to be blown. I'm going to YELL. REALLY FUCKING LOUD. I'm allowed to do that on the internet, right?



Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. That was nice. You should try it. Most therapeutic. I feel a lot fucking better. Now, it's your turn...

Monday, 1 September 2014

OCD - it's not all cleaning your oven or checking your pegs...

Read this first

It drives me mad when people say "It's just my OCD acting up" - and there are so many of them. I have little real humour about OCD (which is odd because I'll laugh at most anything, not like a hyena or owt though…) and it's not  right that OCD has become something of a cultural joke, a denotative shorthand for "this chap's got problems"; FYI it's a real fucking thing that can cripple you.

My OCD isn't the same as the person's who wrote the article; mine's all inappropriate thoughts and having to control and rank thoughts etc (for want of a better explanation). It's internalised. It's one of the reasons I stare into space a lot, my mind's busy evening its shit up and making sure I'm not transgressing with my evil brain skills. I habitually have trouble sleeping and have done since I was a child because of the relentless thoughts and worries - and I mean "relentless". It never stops. I often feel quite nervous around people and that comes across via the glorious medium of Babble (imagine the creaking, straining seams of my mind machine when that happens!).

I've had a recurring nightmare since I was little (it probably started around 5 years old). In it my evil smile would kill people. I'd get out the pearly whites, intending to be nice to folks, but it would dazzle them into oblivion. The only way I could stop it was to control my thoughts really hard before I smiled and that's how I feel in real life. I'm constantly fighting to keep things the right way up, to stem my terrible influence and turn it into something people (including me) won't be hurt by. That's OCD. That's how long I've lived with it. It's why I haven't always been able to go out when people ask, to be who they want me to be, or bend with their plans and ideals just because they think I should (this is one of the good things about my OCD, if you ask me). I've had run ins about that and at no time have I had any understanding. They don't see it (they don't want to, I'm happy old Chlo who gets everything she wants, what problems do I have?) and it's exhausting. All that said, I'm winning. I've worked hard at it and I. Have. Control. I know how to work around my triggers and how to deal with my thoughts both compassionately and firmly. Something I once wasn't sure I'd ever learn how to do. I'm lucky. Surviving OCD has made me stronger, given me more backbone than I realise and made me want to kick life up the arse. NO APOLOGIES NO SURRENDER! In your face OCD, you dickless gonad.

Listening to people claim OCD as though it's an inconvenience and not a grinding burden is insulting. It makes light of something that has weighed many of us down for a very long time and has stopped me being the person I might have been. Mind you, saying that, it has made me the person I am and that person isn't so bad. It's taken a long time for me to say that… I will have to do a few "who do you think you ares" to even it out though. Everything costs something with OCD. Feel lucky that you don't have it, be happy you're a neat freak.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Don't Say What You See Because You're Probably Wrong, Fool.

Despite myself, I’m often curious about how others see me. I’m not sure if it matters to me if others like me or not - after all I don’t bend my walk to suit other people, I was born with this gait - but I’m nosey and in constant need of reassurance (I can admit that, m’lud. I just need to learn to reassure myself is all) Well, be careful what you wish for… Recently, someone told me, unsolicited, that I'm incredibly lucky because I, unlike them and others who chipped in, have no anxiety or stress in my life. Not one stitch. I don't have a job, no children, no responsibilities and a husband who does absolutely everything for me. It would seem that I am a happy-go-lucky dependent puff of cloud on a summer's day, a solar-powered duck sailing across the ever-sunny waters of life on the buoyancy aids of my husband (not his balls). 

I mean, look at me. A jolly airhead, bobbing merrily along while everyone else is out there making tough choices. What have I ever had to deal with? Easy Street Central, that’s my HQ, son. Heaven forfend that anyone should stop to consider that we’ve designed our lives so I can avoid as much stress and anxiety as I choose for very good reasons. Why should anyone believe for one second that our choices and decisions, although different from theirs, have been just as hard-fought and hard-won? Don't get me wrong, I know I'm lucky. I'm married to someone who loves me unconditionally and is the best friend I've ever had, but it's not a one-way street. I gave my dreams up twice for Mr Y. It's not something I regret, but it's not something I would happily recommend. It’s been hard, but it was my choice, I just didn't know it was going to rob me of what little self-esteem I had (don't worry folks, the barrels are refilling even as we speak). I made a choice, it had consequences, I dealt with them (mostly). So when people tell me I have it easy, I get offended. 

Assumptions. People make them and being offended by them isn’t useful, not one bit. Usually I’d be all “whatever, love”, but I’m surprised how much it’s bothered me this time. It’s far from the first time I’ve been labeled like this or been made to feel this way. I’ve encountered an awful lot of people, some from a perilously young age, who’ve wanted to impress upon me that I’m not as important as them, that while I have it easy they have to endure and battle through life and I’m “less” somehow because of that. I wonder what it is about me that makes other people want to quash me, to put me back in my box where I belong, to reinforce upon me that I should know my "place". Is it because I’m different and I need to be catalogued into the Great Library of Normality for the ease of others? Or is it that I am, in fact, simply GLORIOUS and they can’t handle that shit?

It’s both, isn’t it? ;)

It's true, I don't have a regular job. I don't have children (not entirely by choice either, so some sensitivity would be appreciated on occasion), and I married an absolutely splendid man. I couldn't ask for a better partner in life, but he is just that - a PARTNER. We're in it together, we make it work together. One oar and it's circles, baby. The fact is our lives are dictated by the choices and decisions we make. Just because my decisions have designed a life very different from my peers, doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable. Just because I don’t have children, doesn’t mean I don’t have responsibilities. Just because I don’t have a “job”, doesn’t mean I don’t work. People should take my self-deprecation and smart mouth a little less literally, perhaps. All this I know. So why am I so bothered? Is it because I'm sitting here, trying to force a novel and a book of stories out of my tiny recalcitrant brain onto the page but deep down I'm wondering why I have the cheek to think I can? That something in me is saying "yeah but it's YOU, Chloë. Why do you think you're entitled to even try? And who would read that shit anyway?" Then someone comes along and tells me how easy I've got it and my brain breaks a little. 

Maybe it's all that… or maybe it's that I'm tired of listening to this shit, both the outside voices and the inside one that makes me crazy. It's not my voice (it's not the voice of Ethel Merman either, so don't worry, I don't need those pills again) it's the cumulative voice of all those inconsiderate ballbags who are oblivious to the hurt their flippantly ill-considered and ill-informed assumptions can cause. Especially one ballbag, maybe two. Well, I've let them roll around in my head, dictating my humility, for far too fucking long. DON'T LISTEN, CHLOË! YOU KNOW YOU SHOULDN'T, SO DON'T (who said that? *looks around*)

Assumptions are dangerous and, along with their weapon, the sweeping statement, they can suck the chutzpah right out of a fella. Be careful with your assumptions, they'll not only hurt others but, in someone else's eyes, they make you look a right fucking tit. Listening to assumptions and thinking they matter is the only thing worse than righteously delivering your own, so FUCK THAT SHIT. Now. Right now. 

You may go.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Bloghopgasm! Three Things I Don’t Write (and Three Things I Do)

 My first BlogHop! The delightful Ruth Booth has kindly tagged me, along with Neil Williamson and Jennifer Williams, so that I can test the waters of this brave new world. Check out Ruth’s bloghoppy installment here: 
One wee caveat before we begin. Like Ruth I’m not entirely sure what I do or don’t write. I just write. When people ask me what I write, I reply “stories” and they think I’m being facetious. I’m not. I write whatever comes into the old brainpan and I’ll give pretty much anything a go. In fact, I’m currently thinking about some gothic Bunty/Enid Blyton Space Opera Erotica fan fiction… Onwards!

Three Things I Don’t Write.
1. Hard SF
It’s not because I don’t want to, I simply don’t know enough sciencey stuff to make it any good. I’ve not read a great deal of it either, so in many ways I’m ill-equipped. All that said, I am partial to a spot of Arthur C. Clarke and I was brought up by a pack of feral Astronomers, so the stars and the great dark depths of space have always been a fascination for me, so maybe one day…

2. Time Travel – I don’t know if this comes under the umbrella of Hard SF or not, but I’m guessing it doesn’t entirely. Time travel makes my brain hurt. Hurt, I tell you! Paradoxes and timelines and all that business panic the tiny goblins that operate my cerebral cogs and throw them into riot. And then they die. Bad times. There are so many possibilities and problems with time travel; when would you travel to? Would you go backwards or forwards in time? Wait though! Can you simply travel backwards or forwards, or is it more complicated than that? Hang on, what about diseases? Would you really want to go to Elizabethan England and catch a nice dose of the plague or smallpox? And what about where you wind up, geographically speaking? What if you land in the middle of an old building you didn’t know existed before and you get bricks up the wazoo? And then there’s the small (!) matter of paradoxes (I can’t even get my head around most of that business) and of the potential, not to mention multitudinous, consequences of changing even the tiniest thing. Lordy! I’m confused enough just getting up in the morning…

3. Children’s Fiction – I swear too much. I have to learn not to because I’d quite like to have a crack at children’s fiction and, indeed, some YA. Why not, I say? And then a fuck or a bollock trips out of my fingers and my hopes are dashed. One day, sensei, one day.

Three Things I Do Write.

1. My Own Worlds – I don’t set stories exclusively in invented worlds, but I confess that I prefer mine to the “real” one. I’m a control freak and live (at least part-time) in the delusion that I am The Mighty Warrior Empress-Mage of All Time and Space, so creating a world from the ground up appeases a little of my wannabe-megalomaniac tendencies. The characters are my minions and I their overlord… okay, maybe not that because my characters seem to do whatever the fuck they like. Quite rude.
In addition, it’s like Jake Chambers says, right before his second death in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, "Go, then. There are other worlds than these." There are. I’m sure of it and if I can’t visit them, I’m going to grow my own.

2. Mental Health – You drop the old MH bomb and people visibly quell. Still. Which is probably why it’s something I’d like to explore more. My story “Maggie and the Cat” was one of my favourites to write so far. I wrote it with the work of Leonora Carrington in mind (albeit very loosely). I wanted to convey the disconnection, confusion and uncertainty of something like depression, how it can cloud your actions and thoughts and how, furthermore, the selfish ballbaggery of others can compound the anxieties you are already dealing with. The absurdities and unexpected juxtapositions that are central facets to surrealism seem like ideal tools to blur those kinds of lines.
Mental health is a difficult subject to write about in a way that doesn’t overload the reader with sanctimonious solemnity. I’d like to write about the experience of having a mental health problem without it having to be an exemplar of inspirational dogma. Sometimes we can be crazy and just be crazy. We can’t be fixed, but we do deal. Sometimes the lesson, if there is one, is simply the experience itself.

3. Swear words – I like to swear and that’s a fact. Cursing instantly conveys visceral emotion that can lack punch with “ordinary” words.  Besides, swear words are as much a part of our language as any other kind of word – denying that denies a rich folk heritage of cussing. I like to be creative with my swearing – no word is ever thrown in just for the sake of it. I think about it hard and look for the right word at the right time. When I can’t find the right one, I make that shit up. Of course, I understand some people don’t like it, I’m not an idiot, but sticks and stones, baby. They’re just words. As long as they’re not directed at a real live someone in a vicious way, they’re not going to crush your soul or steal your sweets. There’s already plenty enough to get upset about in this world. (PS. Not every story I write is a cuss fest. Check them out for yourself and where you can get hold of them at

Right, that's enough of my blather. I’m tagging my fellow skulk members, Alec McQuay and James Bennett, who are both excellent writers and genuinely decent human beans.

Alec McQuay is a horror, fantasy and science fiction writer hailing from Cornwall in the south-west of England; an area renowned for natural outstanding beauty and the worst internet connections in the country. Capable of going off at odd tangents, bizarre flights of fantasy and generally being incapable of taking things like bio-writing seriously, Alec spends most of his time scribbling notes and ideas on his phone and talking the ears off his wife and friends about whatever mad-cap scheme he intends to write next. Alec’s novella  ‘Spares’ is already available and his debut novel, the steampunk adventure ‘Emily Nation’ will be released in 2014. You can find Alec’s blog at

James Bennett is a British writer of fantasy, horror and the odd contemporary fable. He and I shared our first public reading together last year and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion. For further information, and to find where and how you can read his work, check out James’s blog at