Tuesday 21 May 2013

Depression, exercise and twitter.

Today, Louise Mensch tweeted a link to an exercise video, and her accompanying text was:

"Self-esteem: exercise is the best anti-depressant and ANYONE can do it. Try this: (link to mini-exercise video on her website)".

I took issue with this, and wanted more than 140 characters to explain why.

Depression has been a pretty major part of my life, especially recently. I'm lucky in that my own relationship with depression has been generally both mild and temporary. I'm certainly aware of my tendencies towards it, however. My partner has coped with severe depression for many years. I'm claiming no particular expertise in the subject, but I am saying that, for various reasons, it has been a feature in my life and that it's a subject I take very seriously.

As a result of this, I feel that Louise Mensch's statement was patronising, reductive and displayed an ignorant attitude towards mental health.

Can exercise help towards mental well-being? Yes, it can. Exercise is generally a good thing to do, and getting endorphins going may, at the very least, make you feel better than you were. I'm not arguing against that point.

The issue is in saying that it's "the best anti-depressant" and that "everyone can do it". Neither of these are true statements to make in that big, sweeping way.

When I was at my worst, I didn't want to move. A major relationship had come to an end the same week I had been made redundant, and I felt very alone and very miserable. I didn't want to sleep in my bed, because the bed had too many memories. I didn't want to sleep without noise or light, because I craved distraction. I was honestly scared of what would happen if my mind started wandering unchecked.

What this meant is that I spent a long time on the sofa. For a while, I slept there with the lamp on and the TV on a music video channel. Just white noise, to be honest, but something that meant I felt safe going to sleep. Eating took effort. Going to the shops took effort. Everything took effort other than lying there, not wanting to do anything. I watched a lot of television that I didn't like because even turning the channel was something I was putting off doing.

The point where I realised I needed help was when I had a glass of wine on a table that necessitated me putting the laptop aside and standing up to reach over for, and it took me almost two hours to do. I wanted that damn glass of wine as well, and not just for the alcohol - on a basic level, I was thirsty. I wanted to reach over. But I couldn't. That simple action was, for a period of time longer than a lot of movies, beyond me. The next day, I went to the Doctor.

I could have no more gone for a jog than I could have flapped my arms and flown to the moon.

That was part of the problem. My depression manifested in almost complete inability. And, for the record, I consider my own depression to have been mild in comparison with other people who I have spoken to.

The first issue that springs to mind with Louise Mensch's statement is that in cases like mine, it confuses causation with correlation. When I did start exercising again, it was much more a sign that I was getting better than it was the reason that I was getting better.

Another problem with depression is that once someone finds what works for them, a lot of the time, they think that will work for everyone. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. What worked for me doesn't work for my girlfriend, and what works for her probably wouldn't have worked for me. But that doesn't fit our internal narrative. Instead, we realise that we've overcome our problem, so this must be the right answer, be it a specific medication, God, meditation, a particular kind of therapy, aromatherapy, music, films, books or, yes, exercise.

And when someone evangalises about what worked for them, it can make the depressed person feel worse if it doesn't work for them, or even if they have already tried that and it didn't work then.

As an example, you often hear "you get out of it what you put in", with regards to something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In most cases, I think people say that in the sense that you have to actually engage with it and believe in it for it to be effective. However, this can come across as saying "if you don't get anything out of it, it must be because you didn't try hard enough". And even worse than that, sometimes it comes across as that because that's what is meant.

Mental health issues, along with other kinds of disabilities, are coming in for a lot of stick recently from the right wing. Words like 'scroungers' are being thrown around a lot more than they were a little while ago. The perception is not strong. And one of the most insiduous ways of demonising those on benefits is to suggest that they're lazy.

And while this isn't what I believe that Louise was intending to say, I do think that what she said was dangerously close in principle to saying that depressed people are so because they are lazy. After all, if exercise is the best anti-depressant, and everyone can do it, then those who are depressed are so because they aren't exercising. And we all know who doesn't exercise...

I'm not intending to misrepresent her. She didn't say that. But I do feel that what she said can feed that point of view, and that's a point of view that's getting a disturbing amount of play-time in the media at the moment, and I think that's dangerous.

Exercise will work for some people, and it may well help almost everyone to some degree or other. And if that was what was said, I wouldn't have thought of it any further than "Oh, Louise Mensch is plugging her site again". However, she said it was the BEST anti-depressant, and that ANYONE could do it.

No. For some people, it may be, but for others, the best anti-depressants are going to be actual anti-depressants, because not all depression is the same and not all treatments are the same.

You may as well try to treat depression by telling all sufferers that they should just cheer up. After all, cheering up is bound to help with depression, and we're all capable of being cheerfully happy.

Rather predictably, Mensch responded to those who criticised by portraying the anger she caused as 'sneering', and she also said that her critics were failing to differentiate between mild/moderate depression and severe depression, rather ignoring the point that it was actually her that failed to differentiate. That was the root of the problem, in fact. She also tried to paint her critics as denying that exercise could be effective. However, in the majority of responses that I saw, they were taking issue with her saying that it was "the best" anti-depressant.

She did clarify later that it didn't work for severe depression, and that it was 'the best' because it was freely available and had no negative side-effects. I hope that when she blogs on this later, that she does so in a more clear manner, because I don't think that it was the point that she was trying to make that was the problem, but the simplistic way in which she initially described it.

When you talk about depression in such a way that you make it sound like it is something very simple with a very simple solution, you are being reductive and patronising. But you are also reinforcing the dangerous stereotype that depressed people are just being lazy.

That doesn't help.

Instead, please, take the time to learn more about depression. It's an area that needs more research and more funding, because it isn't easy to treat - especially for those with long-term issues. And it's an issue that is killing people every day, and part of that is because of the stigma that surrounds it.

It isn't simple. It's complicated. That's the whole point.

Friday 17 May 2013

Poem - I preferred it when the world was ending

I preferred it when the world was ending.
When everything mattered.
When it all...

I believed. I believed with all I was.
I hoped.
I wanted.

When the world was ending
It made meaning.
Made my life important.
To be there for the end.
To know it was happening.

Now, the world continues.
It goes on. Every day.
Unfocused and dull.

No apocalypse. No reckoning.
No oblivion.
No end.

Instead, I go back to my job.
I wait.
I go home. And sleep. and start again.
And wait for a death
that nobody will mourn for.

I wanted to be one of the last.
Thousands of years of humanity.
Millions of years of life.
And I would be there for the finish line.
Last orders.
For once in my life, I would see the end of the party.

I preferred it when the world was ending.

Monday 13 May 2013

Magic Falls Part Nineteen

Gemma sat in the bar waiting. She felt a long way from Fleet Street, even if the pub wasn’t all that far away from her normal stomping ground.

The pub was dark, especially in the cellar rooms where she was sat. A little alcove around and away from the stairs. Someone would have to know where she was to see her as they walked in.

She looked at her phone. Damn. No signal. No way of letting her colleague David know what was happening. She checked the time instead on the display. Exactly when he should be getting here.

“Hello, Darling,” the man said walking towards her. He held a pint in his hand, and he put it down on the table, sitting down with a flourish of his leather jacket. He had a shaved head, alight blonde goatee, and was wearing dark glasses.


“Don’t recognise me, luv?” he said, with a smile that somehow managed to be both open and warm and tight and cruel at the same time.

“Quite the image change,” she said. “David said that trenchcoat of yours was practically a second skin.”

He laughed and took the glasses off. “He should have seen me years back. Nah, I just like to change my image every now and then. You know that old thing about how all your cells have completely changed every seven years or so?”

Gemma nodded. “Everyone’s heard that one.”

“It’s something like that. That appearance suited who I was then. Doesn’t suit who I am now.”

“And who are you now?” she asked.

“Who I need to be,” he replied, the smile gone. “Now, you called me. You screwed up with the fairy story…ha! The fairy story. I like that – and you wanted to call up Uncle Jamie to come and clean up after you.”

“We didn’t screw up the story.” She said, her hackles raised.

“That means I must have slipped into a coma and not realised. I thought I’d been asleep for just the one night, but it had obviously been a couple of days, because I figured a story about a bunch of little kiddies going missing and being found, and a whole load of magic crap around it might – just might – have constituted a story. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t Alex Ferguson retiring, I get that. But, y’know, I don’t think my journalistic radar is that – “

“Our editor wouldn’t run it.”

Jamie’s lip curled. “Really.”

“You burned us on the Shane Smith thing,” she said.

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I promised you an exclusive interview, and I arranged it exactly as I promised. I saw how many comments that thing received. I know exactly how popular that story was. I delivered exactly what I said I would.”

“You turned David into a laughing stock,” she said. “Everyone thinks he got played by Shane Smith’s PR department.”

He drank and looked at a poster behind her. “I can always take this elsewhere, you know.”

She waited for him to look back at her. “But you haven’t.”

He looked back at her, and for a  moment, she wondered if she had overstepped the mark. She was also very aware how isolated she felt. She suddenly felt like he was very dangerous. “No,” he said. “I haven’t.”

“Why not?”

The moment broke and he smiled, all charm again. But Gemma felt the danger remaining underneath, simmering under the surface of his skin. “Just a fan of the paper, obviously.”

“Well, whyever,” she said, as he returned his focus to his drink. “We still got burned. Smith’s story was just too unbelievable.”

“That’s because you had something that was one person’s word against another. You need something with verifiable facts, I reckon.”

“Facts are always good.” She said. “But we need something with dates, actual papers. Something like that.”

He sat back and drained the last of his pint. “You might be in luck, then.” He said.


“Our agendas might just be crossing.”

“What’s your agenda?”

“Messianic. What’s yours?”

“I just want the truth.”

“Okay, how about this. Look back at the lottery results for the last six months. Since January, anyway.”

“The lottery results? Are you kidding?”

“No. And then – “ he moved his hand over to her, turned it flatside up, then down again, and when he turned it up another time, there was a business card in it with a yin-yang inside a pentagram. “- and then check out what this woman was putting in magazines and online. Then do some cross-referencing.”

“That’s all you’re giving me?”

He laughed. “You want me to write the article for you? Or just hold your hand and mop your brow the entire time and tell you what a wonderful little writer you are?”

“Fine,” she said. “But this had better not be a wild goose chase.”

“Pass me your phone.” He said, standing up.


“You’ll see.”

She did so, and he held it for a moment, then gently kissed it and returned it to her.

She raised an eyebrow. “What was that?”

"Have you ever heard the saying that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?"


"Works both ways."


“You’ll work it out. Now, I’m a busy man. I have a lot to arrange, and it’s going to be a while until you see me again.” He stood up. “But when you do, it’ll be just in time.”

“For what?”

He smiled one last time. “For the coronation. The big one. Trust me, you’ll know.”

She looked down at her phone. “I don’t know what you’re – “  She glanced back up, but he was gone.

She drew out a small pattern on the screen to unlock it, and then saw it.

Full signal. She blinked a couple of times. 

Definitely full signal.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Magic Falls Part 18

“David, if I were you, I’d think long and hard about whether you want to remain a journalist,” Robert said, putting the papers down on the table and picking up a half-drunk pint of Guinness.

“That’s not fair,” Gemma said, looking at her downcast colleague. “The story’s true.”

“It’s not about the story being true,” Robert said.

“Then what is it about?” David asked, trying to conceal a scowl by reaching for his own drink.

“It’s about what I can actually publish in the paper,” the older man said. “This isn’t something the Sentinel can publish. Go to the Enquirer. Go to the Weekly World News. Hell, go to the News of the World if it was still publishing – “

“- the Sunday Sun might take it,” Gemma said with a grin.

“ – shut up, Gemma.” Robert said. “But you can’t bring me something like this. We’ve got way too many sceptics reading this paper. Christ, Richard bloody Dawkins has a subscription. You can’t expect me to run a story about a bunch of kids who say they were kidnapped by fairies.”

“They were gone for months, Robert.” David said angrily. “Their stories all match up exactly. They all went missing in the same place. I’ve taken photos of it, and there’s this scorched circle which is still smoking. The kids didn’t age a day. I know it’s insane, but – “

“So who was this guy who rescued them?”

“I don’t know.”

“You got the rest of the story, but some guy wanders in like Batman and saves them, but wonder reporter David Levy hasn’t got a clue who it was.”

“The kids didn’t age, Robert,” Gemma said. “I spoke to the families, and they all say the same thing. They look exhausted, and tired, but they look exactly the same as when they left.”

“We can’t run this story.”

“I’m not saying that there is a fairy ring in West Yorkshire,” David pointed out. “I’m saying that the kids say there’s one. That some of the adults say there’s one. That isn’t a story saying it’s happening. It’s a story saying that it’s a belief.”

“In which case,” Robert said, “the sodding story is about the guy! The guy who supposedly rescued him. You don’t think it’s far more likely he abducted them?”

“No.” David said.

“The families don’t think so either,” Gemma said. “They think he’s a hero.”

“Then why aren’t they saying who he is?”

“…” Gemma didn’t answer, and glanced at David instead. He just nodded.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

Gemma flicked  a curl of her long black hair behind her ear.“We think they’re protecting him.”

“The families?”

“Yes,” David said.

“What makes you say that?”

“Our… our source suggests so.”

“Your mysterious source,” Robert said sarcastically.

“He doesn’t want to be named.”

“Is this the same guy that put you in touch with Shane Smith and made us look like a pack of morons?”

“Shane hasn’t been discredited,” Gemma said quietly, unable to avoid mentioning it, even though she knew the reaction.

“He’s a bloody stage magician!” Robert shouted. “We ran one interview about how he supposedly outed a murderer, and we got – did you see the feedback? Did you? Did you read the letters? Did you?”


“Then you know what people thought!”

David shouted back. “And some of them believe him!”

“Including you,” Robert said quietly and dangerously.

“Yes. Including me.” David replied.

“Me too,” Gemma said. “I didn’t believe it at first, but the more we’ve looked into this – “

“A stage magician getting involved in a murder case. Bloody sick is what it was.”

“I know how it looks, but he… he really didn’t seem to be doing this as a publicity stunt.”

Robert snorted. “So it’s just coincidence he ends up doing a tour a couple of months later?”

Gemma shifted uncomfortably. “That was already booked.”

“You know how this sounds,” Robert said, standing up to go back to the bar. “Cover the story, but for God’s sake, don’t try and sell me on psychics, fairies….or any of that crap. Okay?”

The two reporters sat awkwardly for a moment, until David nodded like a sullen teenager. “Okay.”

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Robert said, and left.

“You okay?” Gemma asked David.

He nodded. “Yeah.”

“We could always take this elsewhere,” she said. “We both agreed. This is important.”

“I know.”

“I’m just saying it’s not the end of it all.”

“I know.”

“We’ll keep working on it.”


“This could have gone worse.”

“Could it?”

She smiled. “Well, we’re not fired.”

“Not yet.”

“Call him.”

David looked over at the bar, where Robert was ordering. “I’m a big nervous about doing that.”

“He’ll want to know what’s happening.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve been worried about it is all.”

“Then I’ll call him.”

“That’d probably be best. He seems to like you, anyway.” He passed her his phone.

She took it and put it in her handbag, then made her excuses and went into the ladies’ toilets.

Once she was there, she took the phone out and scrolled through the contacts until she found the one she was after. She kicked herself for not thinking to bring a pen with her, so she could take his number.

No matter.

She scrolled through the contacts, found the one she was looking for and dialled.


Sunday 5 May 2013

Writing a serial story - thoughts, confessions and begging.

The idea of a weekly serial was basically a New Year’s resolution. I’ve not really suffered from writer’s block, but I have gone through times where I lack the motivation to write. So I thought that a weekly deadline might help give me some good habits.

The rules I set myself were a minimum word count of 500 words (I usually hit around a thousand), I had to publish one a week (I’ve missed one due to an exceptionally busy week) and I can’t write ahead, so I have to start each entry the week it’s published (I’ve kept to that).

I had no idea what I was going to write when I came up with the idea. Magic Falls wasn’t a novel I’d had planned or anything like that. I came up with the idea a couple of days before I started writing it, and I’ve been more-or-less making it up as I’ve been going. I have rough ideas, and I know the idea for what the end will be, although not the details yet.

To give an example, the last seven parts have formed a story around Bretton Hall (my old Uni) involving fairies. I knew what the fairies wanted, but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to resolve it. I didn’t know that it would be Jack’s daughter until I came up with the idea at the last moment. Jamie Moore is a new character who’s now going to be a major part of the overall story, but I came up with him the same week I created him. But this is a different way of writing for me, that I’m enjoying a lot.

In terms of building habits, it’s working. I’m writing more than I used to, and I’m now more comfortable writing quickly than I used to be. It’s given me more trust in my own instincts than I had before. This has also been helped by the 30 Hour Novel Writing competition, which I’ll talk more about in a future blog post.

The main problem I have, and I suspect many others have when writing, is that I doubt everything that I do. I write part of something, then I end up with a decision to make with regards to what should happen next, and I freeze. I don’t want to do it wrong, so I’d put off doing it.

I don’t know that I’ve broken that, but I’m getting better at it. I have three major stories to go, and each will be around seven parts. But I only have rough ideas what two of them will be. The Knights will be part of it, and obviously we need to find out what’s going on with Nina. The Jamie Moore mystery may need to be explained. But while I know the destination, it’s a set of rough directions rather than a map.

I’m doing another two-part story while I plan the next major one, but we’re going in the right direction. And I know what the destination is, and it's killing me having to wait until I get there. I'm impatient and I want to tell you about it all now, but I'm not going to. Because then, there'd be no point in the serial. But I'll be shocked if anyone correctly guesses where this is all heading.

Now, a confession.

It’s scary writing a serial though, because it’s not always the kind of thing that engenders interaction and feedback, and sometimes it isn’t until I check the overall trends of page-hits to see that people are reading it. And when I’m feeling down on myself, that lack of interaction can be difficult sometimes, as it feels like nobody is reading it. And while my motivation is a lot better than it has been in the past, it's still a fragile youngling, peeking out at the scary world with big eyes.

So I’m going to ask for your help in regards to that. Firstly, if you haven’t read Magic Falls yet, please do – it’s mysterious, a little scary and it’s all building up to something major.

And if you have read it, and you’re enjoying it? I have a specific and huge favour to ask in return for a year’s worth of free story.

People have been reading it, and what feedback I have been getting has suggested that those that are sticking with it are enjoying it a lot. And readership is definitely growing, but it’s growing slowly, which means that I need help in getting the word out, because I’m not doing it well enough on my own.

So here’s my favour. Tell people about it. Please. Retweeting me talking about it is lovely, and it does help, but it’s still me asking people to read what I’ve written. It’ll be more likely to convince other people if you recommend it to them. If you think someone else would like it, please tell them why.

If you’re enjoying it enough to do so, you telling people about it would be the best way you could help me to keep doing it. It’s a weekly thing, so I’m not going to ask you to constantly cheerlead or anything – that would be asking way too much. But every now and then, if you could tell other people that you think they should check it out, it would mean a lot to me, and it would help what I’m doing considerably.

Thanks for reading, and if you've been following Magic Falls, I really appreciate it.