Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Don't Go Mental...Go Exercise For Your Mental Health!

This post is an extension of an article written by myself for The Blide Trust Orkney's weekly newsletter #323 15th January 2018. 

Yeah, for sure, this would be me when I go to the gym...
 It's been a while, hasn't it? Things got a wee bit derailed last September, what with me catching bacterial pneumonia and having to be knocked out and put on a ventilator to be flown by the Emergency Retrieval Team to Intensive Care on the mainland and all that. Bit of a drama, yeah, and the episode took a bite out of me, physically and mentally. I'm pretty sure it would have taken a bigger bite had it not been for my having gained that extra bit of strength and fitness over the previous 18 months or so, a situation which came about because someone said something small but kind to me and gave me the inspiration to try to better myself.

As someone who couldn't have been more surprised by my own conversion to the benefits and joys of sports and exercise had I woken up with my head sewn to the carpet, I'm an unlikely advocate for such things, but there you go. We've all heard it said that “exercise is good for your mental health” but, if you are anything like me, you have to experience it for yourself to believe it. I did a lot of research before I started, in books and online ( where there is a virtual ocean of fitness websites, blogs and YouTube channels to explore ), bought some basic equipment, and created a beginner’s exercise program for myself. It was tough, at first, and I didn’t even start to see real results for about 6-8 weeks, but sticking with it was worth it: not just for the gaining of better physical strength, but for the surprising ‘lift’ it gave to my mood and confidence. I began to attend some of The Blide’s Friday morning sports activities - lawn bowls, boxercise class etc. All of these helped me to get out of the house and into new places and situations. Amazing, too, how much I enjoyed activities as diverse as lawn bowls ( civilized and sedate ) and boxercise ( punching things, fuck yeah! ) I even attempted horse riding for the first time since I was, um, a helluva lot younger than I am now, although on that particular day my bad hip had ideas other than me getting on a horse. Since I was also only a few weeks out of hospital, just getting there and attempting to sit on anything more than a chair was probably an achievement!

Of course, 'exercise’ doesn't have to mean anything as big and scary as getting on a horse. Well, okay, a pony, as it was in my case...but hey, she was still fourteen hands and I'm only five-feet-nowt, remember! It can mean anything from walking to weight training, becoming a keen kickboxer or a gentle gardener. You can exercise at home, without any pricey equipment ( your own household items can be your equipment with some creative thought ), or you can go along to a local leisure center to do something there. Most of those have good deals on memberships. There is no ‘holy grail’ of exercise either: don't believe any of those so-called 'fitness gurus' who try to flog you a different story at just $99.99 for their two-minute video and piece-of-shit patented equipment. The point should be to do what makes you feel good, to whatever level you feel comfortable with, and stick at it. Up your game at a pace that you can handle. Give the benefits - physical and mental - time to kick in. Don’t be discouraged by prejudices ( your own or those of others ) or setbacks. And there will be setbacks - such is the perverse fucking nature of life! Well, it is mine anyway. For some the mental health benefits may derive from the social side of joining in a team sport or a class, for others it may be the literal working out of tension in the gym. For me, it was the realization that if I could make these positive changes to myself physically, then I could make other changes to my life involving aspects of my mental health. I've spent a lot of time in my life dependent on others due to chronic physical illness and it has driven me batshit insane many times. Feeling stronger physically has helped me to feel stronger mentally. It has given me the confidence to do things that I have never done before, and to start again doing things I haven't done in a long time.

So give it a shot. You never know, do you? With luck, and continuing health, in future I'll be getting into everything from archery ( yeah yeah, imagine giving me a goddamned bow and arrow to play with! ) to racquetball, and maybe there will even be the opportunity to try getting on that horse again...Fine, pony, whatever! Fuck me. You get the point.

No, we are not going to be racing Clydesdales along the beach at Scapa...

Friday, 28 July 2017

I'd Hit That!

Oh come on, what do you think this post is about really? You don't know me yet? Boxing, people, boxing, and Boxercise, that's what it's about! Boxing, as a sport, is something that not everyone gets along with, and that's understandable. Boxing as exercise, however, is very good indeed. It can be used by almost anyone, of most physical ability levels, and it ticks all the boxes ( pun intended! ) for fitness: great cardio, strength, flexibility, and coordination training; and it's some seriously terrific stress relief.

Okay, let's get this clear: I never used to be an active advocate for sports or working out ( unless bending your elbow at the bar counted? ) and I'm still certainly not the poster child for healthy living. You who know me can all just stop fucking laughing right now, thank you. Yeah, I still like a drink, or six, seven, eight...one beer, two beer, five beer...vodka!...and I smoke. And although I probably eat prettily healthily most of the time, I do like the occasional Danish pastry, bit of pizza, and chocolate. And I can't fucking resist an Irish coffee. But in June 2016, after a bad reaction to some medication made worse by my relative physical weakness, I seriously began to look after my diet and fitness more. I did a shit load of research first, on the Internet and in books, found ways that I could safely adapt exercises to my abilities, and to certain medical limitations, and built up what I was doing slowly and steadily. I bought just a few reasonably priced bits of equipment - except for one large purchase which has been worth every penny and more, the WonderCore Smart, which I discovered whilst watching one of those 5am 'informercials' on TV that actually made some fucking sense for once. I concentrated on building up my muscle strength, particularly my core muscles, and my flexibility. It took between 6 to 8 weeks for me to really begin to feel a difference, which might seem a long time but it was worth sticking with it. I went from barely being able to get down on the floor without pain to doing push-ups, sit-ups, weights, and even holding a 'plank' for 2-3 minutes, depending on how good a day it is. Good for 70+ Cher that she can do 5 minutes but still a wee bit weird that she had to announce it at some music awards, or whatever?.Anyway, I found my leg muscles strengthening too with cycling and scissor kick exercises, which has helped me to cope with the utterly mind-fucking chronic pain in my left hip. My body shape has also changed, for the better, and my digestion has improved too.

I also took up 'boxing exercise', with a jab pad, punchball, and some mitts. The jab pad helps to build up strength and speed, the punchball flexibility and coordination, and both give you a good cardio workout. Not to mention that working out of the stresses and the irritations of life. Jimmy at the office bugged you yesterday? Angela at the Post Office pissed you off two weeks ago and you just can't get her smug face out of your head? Hit a heavy bag! Throw some jabs and hooks at a pad. Pretend it's Jimmy and Angela that you're smacking in the mug! Then you have the exercises associated with boxing and martial arts...these are excellent, even for me ( with a few exceptions and adaptations ). The warm-ups and -downs are good exercise in themselves, especially helpful for your muscle and joint strength and flexibility.

Some things I will likely never be able to do again - running, for instance. Not that I ever really did running...unless something was chasing me, like a nasty-tempered horse in a field, but that's another story entirely for another time. Others I'm medically advised against no matter how much I might want to do it. I loved trampolining as a kid, but then they gave me a transplant kidney and advised me never to do that again because it could cause some serious bloody damage to said organ. Although contact sports, including boxing, are also on this 'banned' list for me, at least as far as actual 'bodily contact' goes, the associated exercise, and bag and pad use are fine, common sense applied of course. Encouraged even for all the above reasons. Helps to keep my yo-yo blood pressure down too. Which my doctors bloody love.

Recently, I went to a Boxercise Class at our local sports and leisure center. I suspect our lovely instructor Dean was going easier on us than he would have a regular class ( it was an especial outing with an especial group ), but it was a good workout that he gave us nonetheless. Even Housemate, who had never donned a boxing mitt in her life before that morning, found it invigorating and enjoyable. She was a little concerned about hurting her fingers ( being a musician and all ) but if you're doing it right then you aren't hitting with your fingers, you're hitting with the second set of knuckles, the hardest part of the human hand. And if you remember to throw from the shoulder and hip, imagine that you were trying to punch 'through the target', and to keep your elbow straight but not tensed ( for a jab anyway - the hook and uppercut involve a bent elbow ), then you shouldn't hurt your wrists. I had to do a 'walk' rather than a run for at least one of the routines Dean gave us, but even doing that helped to loosen up my hip some. Neither is my footwork is as good yet as I'd like to see it become. As for the force of my hitting the focus pads, well, I was holding back a wee bit that day... Okay, I was holding back quite a bit. After 18 months of hitting at home, I can throw a damn sight harder than that. However, I have no interest in knocking some unwary person backward. There's no fun in that, and fun - overall - is what this particular day was about. Having enough fun to get people interested in their physical fitness. Believe me, when you're anxious or depressed, or both, that's a massive damn chore more than usual, getting interested in your physical fitness. Nothing says "Nah, just sit here on the couch, with the crisps and the chocolate, and stare mindlessly at the TV" like depression does.

I would say don't be afraid of boxing as an exercise. Even if you don't care for it as a sport. It's not about being a Mike Tyson or a Muhammed Ali. It's not about committing violence or spilling blood. It's about doing a physical activity that builds both your physical and mental fitness, and your confidence too. If someone like me, with multiple physical difficulties and who was never interested in fitness before, can get themselves even a bit fitter, then anyone can do it! No, really, any fucker can do it. If you're interested in fitness in general, I would recommend the book 'Fitness For Dummies' for a start ( the 'For Dummies' books are a good starting place for many things ) and for boxing in particular you could try 'Boxing Fitness' by Ian Oliver. He's 'old-skool' but very equal opportunity! There are also countless websites, and instructional videos on YouTube.

So stick on some music ( whatever you fancy, rock is good, but I find rock good for many things - also Billy Idol is a favorite of mine for Boxercising to ) and a pair of mitts, and get punching for fitness and stress-relief! Also stick a picture of Jimmy or Angela, or whatever annoying troll is is your life, up there and aim at that. And smile as you hit...

Not me. Come on people, fuck off and behave yourselves!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Free Puppy Cuddles For Anyone Who Reads This...

And now that I have your attention... Hi there. Welcome back. Been a long time. Yadda yadda yadda. Whatever. Read on.

Main thing to say is, there will be some changes to this blog in future.

To explain, there came a point a while back when I realized that writing - of any kind - was not doing my mental health one blind bit of good. I brought out a couple collections of short stories and The Horseman's Daughter, but it still wasn't working. Although I did enjoy writing the latter at the time, there was none of the ongoing joy, the escape, that writing had once brought me. Quite the opposite, in fact. So I stopped. Walked away. Did other things. Concentrated on what was important to me, and to my mental health.

I've had mental health issues for a long time. I have experienced - and continue to do so at varying times and to varying degrees - depression, anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia. I have come so close to suicidal it has been scary. I've had periods of depression so bad that I have spent hours just sitting on the couch, staring into space and crying for no damned good reason that I could fathom, unable to conjure even the slightest interest or care in most things. At these times the only thing which has kept me going has been my dog and the kind of unending, unconditional love that a dog can bring to your life. When I could not raise a smile for anything or anyone else, The Dog, by simply nudging my cheek with her nose and sitting quietly beside me, could bring a genuine smile and flicker of actual happiness to my otherwise apparently frozen heart. All the same, I refuse to use the word suffer in regard to this because the degree of suffering varies so much, as anyone with these issues can tell you. There are good days, bad days, good months, bad months, good years, bad years...sometimes there are good and bad hours in a single fucking day ( no, my use of occasional 'language' on this blog won't change - for fuck's sake don't expect miracles! )...and even at its worst you aren't always actively 'suffering', although sometimes you are - Christ, it's complicated, okay? So, suffer is not the right word, not for me. If I find the right word, I'll let you know...'endure' perhaps?

Anyway, doing other things has helped...with my mental health anyway. Inspiration to write, well, maybe not so much. Yet. It's getting there. Slowly. Very slowly. But I've learned to stop pushing for something that isn't ready to be yet. Doing that just increases anxiety, and increased anxiety leads to more depression, and around and around we unhappily go. Instead I have enjoyed becoming able to do other things - spend time among other people, get on a ferry to one of the many gorgeous Outer Isles in Orkney, learn new skills. And in doing these things and just enjoying them for the sake of themselves, I also find a certain creative inspiration. Perhaps not for anything that can be written right now, but for future writing. The desire to write is still there, the urge to act upon that desire is just not fully present yet.

So, back to the changes in this blog.

There will be posts about mental health. If you don't like that idea, well, fuck off right now, please and thank you.

There will be posts about Orkney. If you don't like that idea, well, fuck off right now, please and thank you.

There will be humor and sometimes swearing. And other random shit I may feel like. If you don't like that idea...you know the rest. Don't fucking make me repeat myself!

Now and again I may post something related to writing - however vaguely so - and you can be sure those posts will be particularly liberally peppered with salty language.

And finally, I will post whenever I feel like it. That may be three days from now, or three months from now. Whatever. Meantime, enjoy the new background design. That's Hoy, by the way. Taken from Warbeth, Stromness, on a fine but stormy afternoon late in the year. I may change the background from time to time. One of those new skills that I have learned... yay me, eh?

Oh yeah, many ( but completely insincere ) apologies for the 'free puppy cuddles' thing... I lied about that. In case you hadn't figured that out already. If not, what kind of fucking moron are you???

So no puppies...but here is The Dog. Count yourselves lucky for this much.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Out Now, With A Changing Perspective

As some people will know, last year my beloved Mum passed suddenly and unexpectedly, and although something about myself had been changing before that, her death acted as a kind of catalyst to those changes, some of which have come as no greater surprise to anyone than me! Anyway, moving forward and a little while ago I read something in an online psychology article ( damned if I can remember where or what the article was - I read a lot online and IRL, okay? ) and it struck a new chord in me.

The article basically concerned the belief that human beings get all the information they need about a person within the first few moments of an initial encounter, and that these ‘first impressions’ do indeed last and matter. Trouble is, this information tends to enter our minds on a subconscious level, and by the time we bring it to our conscious thinking it has passed through and been colored by several rinse cycles of everything from social expectations to self-criticism, the result being we start to doubt our own gut instinct. This made me think in general about whether that thing we term “love at first sight” really can happen and if so, why and how exactly does it happen? It also made me think specifically about my own first impressions of someone a very long time ago.

Long story short, I met someone and was struck for the first time in my life by an instant and overwhelming attraction, a total “Oh wow!” reaction. And yet…in that same moment of meeting her for the first time, my gut instinct about her all but screamed “This one is dangerously egotistical!” However, yes, it went through all those rinse cycles with the upshot being that I wasted time and energy on someone only to discover that my ‘first impression’ had indeed been completely and devastatingly on point. Since then I have tended to listen to my gut instincts more about people, and where love and relationships have been concerned, to err on the side of caution. Not extreme caution, but let’s just say I’m not the sort who has ever been comfortable with a blunt, in-your-face “Hi, fancy a shag?” approach. Nothing horrifies me more than the thought of taking that approach to someone myself - it’ll just never happen. And, if you want to be instantly and forever relegated to the ‘friend zone’ then just try taking that approach with me. I might handle your bluntness with humor but you’ll never get it taken seriously by me either. I may not be the quickest person to pick up on hints, you might need to be a wee bit more direct, but please, there is being too subtle and then there is taking a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

In my latest novel, ‘The Horseman’s Daughter’, a lesbian romance with a little touch of the supernatural ( see below for where to find details of that. ), I have written of an analyst friend of the main character, Kit, who subscribes to this theory of first impressions. Kit finds herself struggling with the self-doubts of just such an instant and overwhelming attraction to a woman she has just met, Ashley, who is very different from her and a bit of a mystery to her. Although the outline of the novel was written some two years ago and shelved, the subsequent first draft was written in just about two weeks of February 2016, and influenced by the online article and my own more recent experiences, both of which have made me re-think my stance on love, relationships, and human interactions in general. Of course we have always been able to find out a certain amount about the people we meet and take an interest in, but now we live in a time of instant and often extreme access to personal information ( assuming a person has an online presence which some do not ). Bearing this in mind and thinking about the psychology article, some of the more interesting, and personally revealing, questions that have come up in my mind are: is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you know very little or next-to-nothing about? And how do we ‘choose love’ anyway? Do we even ‘choose’ it at all? How much does all of that readily available information over-shade our own gut instincts - to the point where we perhaps dismiss people because they don’t meet some checklist of criteria and thus miss out on the possibility of falling for someone who is different from us? I had a romantic relationship with someone whom I knew very well and who was very similar to me in a lot of ways and, although we have remained best friends, the romance was ill-starred from the start and didn’t last terribly long. We were too familiar, too similar; there was no room for growth, either personal or together, no room for new and surprising discoveries about each other, and not enough room for compromise on differences either.

I have come to realize that there is such a thing as an instant ‘chemistry’ between people. A connection, spark, or rapport, or whatever label you wish to put on it. And it comes as a direct result of the first impressions garnered within the initial moments of meeting. However, I do still believe that the interpretation of these first impressions need some logic and reason applied, especially when there is a romantic or sexual attraction: is it love? is it lust? is it mutual? Or is it something that would simply form the basis of a friendship but nothing more? Also, there is the question of will it sustain? I’ve explored these questions in Kit’s story but the conclusions and outcomes for her are very much hers, and I won’t spoil the story by giving those away. As for me, as much as I may have opened my mind - and my life - to possibilities that I scoffed at before, I suspect that I’ll remain someone who subsequently applies logic and reasoning, and a certain amount of caution, in all matters romantic.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

New Stories Out And Coming Out

So, after several years of a complete lack of production of writing and intense dislike of even putting pen to paper, it seems that The Muse has made a return and I have made a return to, well, putting pen to paper. Without dislike. Two collections of general fiction short stories and novellas, A Night At Castle Kozlak & Other Stories, and Down At Pomba Gira’s & Other Stories, have been completed and are active on Kindle at Amazon, and a new LGBT supernatural romance, The Horseman’s Daughter, has just gone to be formatted and should be available within a couple weeks.

I’m particularly happy with the latter as I really, really got sick and tired for a long time of everything and anything LGBT. No need to take the rake to that pile again, suffice it to say my general feelings about the ‘les-fic community’ have not changed. I’m simply relieved to have my personal writing ability back despite it.
The short story/novella collections are general fiction, mainly culled from stories written years ago, some of which were published in small press magazines, and a few new ones. There is some humor, some horror, some folklore and mythology, and even a wee bit of romance. The Nuckelavee and The Magic Of Tradition are both based on local Orcadian tales, and the collection is dedicated to my late Mum because The Magic Of Tradition was one of my few ‘nice’ stories that she read and liked. You know mums when your preferred genre is horror…“Why can’t you write more nice stories?” “Because I have a dark mind, Mum” is generally not the best answer to that.

The Horseman’s Daughter, my first Orkney-based novel, takes the legend of the sea-monster the Nuckelavee and expands on that, but it is mainly a romance, something which took me by complete surprise. The basic outline and characters were sketched out over two years ago and then shelved along with pretty much everything else, until earlier this year when the first draft practically wrote itself in a couple of weeks! Blurb and cover can be viewed on my website if you want an idea of what you’ll be getting. Otherwise, I’m working on something completely new for my publishers, Untreed Reads, a general fiction romance also with a supernatural tint and also Orkney-based. I have begun work again on Book 3 of the Vampires of Hollywood series but, sorry, no idea at all of when that will be complete. Ditto for the New Orleans Mysteries series.

Patience, Grasshoppers.

The creative ghosts and demons have been worked out