I don’t know how to start this. I’ve started it and deleted it and started it again six times and nothing feels right so I’m just going to go for it and trust that it’ll come out OK. I’ve always liked the number seven. It’s a long post, it’s all text and there are no pretty pictures to make it more palatable. So it goes.
The last couple of years have been…interesting. I can’t think of a better word for a period of intense self-discovery, complete with all the highs and lows that kind of self-discovery entails. In 2016, I left a job and social community that had been wonderful, inspirational, exciting, painful, destructive and deeply damaging. I’ve always been doubtful of my worth as a person beyond my ability to work insanely hard and be useful, so being part of an intense, all-encompassing work and social situation where I was constantly reminded that my value was intrinsically linked to being not only hard-working and useful, but also compliant to the point of consistently prioritising everyone else’s wants above my own needs, broke me in ways that I’ve only recently begun to truly make peace with. It’s in the past as much as anything ever is. It was what it was.
At the end of 2016, I finally, finally, realised that I needed to write. I’ve always written, whether it’s been poetry or blog posts, autobiographical slices of life or marketing copy, but throwing my world up in the air helped me to understand that I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to write books. So 2017 became the year I started doing the writing thing for real. In case you’re expecting me to say that’s in the past too, it isn’t. I’m still writing and I honestly can’t imagine ever not writing, but I’ve begun to understand that my love-hate-mostly-hate relationship with selling my creative output means that while I will always write and publish my stories somehow, and while I might put the next book or the one after that or whatever on a platform that enables people to buy it, hurling myself fully into the industry of writing and publishing probably isn’t for me. It definitely isn’t for me right now or for the foreseeable future (although, as with all things, that’s subject to change).
I have discovered a wonderful, supportive community of writers on Twitter and I started sharing my writing on DeviantArt, which had previously been a photography-only, or at least a photography-mostly, place for me. I fell in love with a surreal, vibrant version of nature photography that I’ve been sharing on Instagram, and I’ve been connecting with a passionate community there of visual artists in love with the natural world. But. BUT. I didn’t feel like any of that was enough and I kept arriving at the same (mistaken) conclusion as to why I was lacking fulfilment – I wasn’t being useful enough, I wasn’t proving my worth, I wasn’t doing enough for other people. I’d like to take this opportunity to call bullshit on myself here. Seriously. BULLSHIT.
I believed no-one would want to read my books or look at my photos if they weren’t also learning something from me, if I wasn’t also proving my value through useful output, so because I’m passionate about creative living, I decided that obviously what I needed to be doing was writing about that on my blog, somehow providing a service in a space where there was absolutely no requirement for me to provide a service, figuring out how it could be A Thing I Could Do beyond all the ways in which I was already doing it just by being me in the creative spaces I inhabit.
That sounds pretty harmless, except it wasn’t when it was combined with a wildly fluctuating sense of self-worth. Instead of posting here when I felt like I had something to say, instead of Tweeting when I had something to say in 280 characters or less, instead of posting to my Instagram Story when I had a cute cat video to share, instead of imagining a future where I felt fulfilled and happy doing something I cared about, I started thinking of everything even more in terms of how I could give, how I could provide, how I could be useful, how I could convince people I was worth something. It was all rooted in the feeling of never doing enough, never being enough and, in a few thousand different ways, not being a valid human.
It hurts to say that out loud. And by saying that out loud I mean writing it. But still, it hurts. It feels fucking horrible to even think about. I’m not going to get all sadfeels about it, but the realisation that I had completely and utterly forgotten how to consider my own happiness hit me hard. The realisation that I wasn’t actually sure anymore what my own happiness even was hit me harder. I’m not laying all that at the feet of things that happened over the last couple of years. I’ve been living with a hugely debilitating chronic illness (read about it here and here) for almost a decade and a half, so intense physical pain and a body that runs on persistently low power affects how I navigate the world, which is a massive complication in itself and impossible to separate from the rest of my experience of existing.
Spending years living at crisis point, desperately trying to figure out how to make enough money to survive, working myself to the point of complete physical and mental collapse, over and over again, meant that any concept I had of what I wanted was drowned out by the only things that mattered at the time – what I had to do and what I could survive. I might have been a useful, productive, creative, insightful mess but I was still a mess. Was. Am. Whatever. Thankfully my financial situation is no longer as dire as it had been for most of my adult life, so I get to experience something other than survival mode. It’s still a novelty. I’m still figuring out what it means and who I am when I’m not tearing myself apart trying to throw numbers together to reach a total they will never reach.
So alongside writing a book and taking pictures of flowers and trying to figure out how to be useful, I recently had a small crisis. I cried a lot. I went days without eating. I spent a lot of time telling people I was fine because I didn’t know how to do anything else and I was pretty sure no-one would give a shit anyway because I wasn’t earning their compassion by being useful. Needless to say, I was not fine.
Then I got an email from the Open University, though which I had been studying for a degree in forensic psychology a few years ago. I’d completed two out of six years of part time study by 2016. I got distinctions in both of those modules. But since studying was getting in the way of being able to do what I had to do (work, make enough money to survive) and being useful, I set it aside. I know a lot of people study part time while working, but the aforementioned chronic illness meant that was, and currently is, not an option for me. Anyway. I got an email from the Open University. It said that my results in the two modules I’d already done may have earned me a qualification already – a Certificate of Higher Education in Psychology.
I logged in to the OU website and it did indeed appear that I already had a CertHE, so I called the psychology team at the local office to ask if there was anything else I had to do to confirm that. And then synchronicity stepped in, because that’s what synchronicity does. I’d been pushing away feelings about wanting to go back to uni because it didn’t feel like a realistic option, because it felt life a selfish thing to do. I know right? Imagine doing something that mattered to me, something for the betterment of my own existence, that didn’t involve simply surviving or being useful to other people! The person I spoke to on the phone asked what my plans were and I said I didn’t know and then we talked. And we talked. I could feel something shifting in my head and it felt like possibility. Potential. More than survival. Happiness that I was allowed to have without having to earn it through the completion of obligations.
Later that day, I registered for the next module of the BSc (Hons) Forensic Psychology degree and posted off my funding application. I worked through the initial fear of not being able to do All The Things by reminding myself that I could still do the things that mattered to me and I could do them on my own terms. There is no deadline for my current book being written, edited or published, although I’m aiming to have a first draft finished by the time uni starts in October (but if I don’t, that’s fine too). I can write and edit at my own pace and that can all be fitted in around studying. I can still take photos because I always do and I always will but I don’t have to post pictures on Instagram every day or on my blog every week or every month. I can still do my Community Volunteer work with DeviantArt (and yes, I know this is technically useful but it’s different) because it’s scalable. I might not be able to spend as much time sharing my work or my existence or my usefulness online but that’s OK because I am under no obligation to be super active or prolific or to bust my head growing my audience, which started as a thing I felt I should do because I had to promote my writing and ended up feeling like a fucking noose around my neck.
I created a category called Articles on this site (you can find it under the My Writing menu section) and I put existing useful posts I’d written there because there’s no point in destroying things I’ve already written that actually might help people. I got rid of a bunch of blog posts that bugged me for whatever reason or no longer felt relevant. While Make Art, Be Magic is something I will absolutely always stand behind as a concept and a way of life (there’s a tattoo in the works) I realised I am under no obligation to manage a hashtag or administrate a project or a movement just because it might be useful. I deleted all the public boards on my Pinterest account because they literally only existed to share things that might be useful to other people and it didn’t even interest or excite me in the slightest to curate them.
I will post here when I have something to post about. My intention at the moment is to continue to share stuff related to my writing, photography and life-in-general, but I will not work to a self-imposed timetable or put pressure on myself to write useful things, unless I genuinely want to write something that happens to be useful. I will write my book(s) and take my photos and actually look after my body and mind. I will, when I am able to, spend time with the people I want to spend time with, who understand that I am not always able to do what they’re doing and that I might just be worth giving a shit about anyway. I will study and work and earn my degree, even though I have no idea where that might lead beyond a vague interest in violent crime research.
I will not make decisions based solely on what I have to do and what I can survive.
I will obliterate the residual pollution of compulsive obligation.
I will be passionate and joyful and focused and grateful and creative and productive and obsessive and enthusiastic and excited because those things are all integral parts of who I am as a person.
And I probably won’t be useful.
But I don’t have to be.
Because I’m fine just the way I am ❤