Twenty-Eight

Tomorrow is my 28th birthday.

And like I do every year, I am writing a birthday eve blog post. This is something that I like to do, to reflect on my life for the past 365 days. 28. Sometimes I feel like I fit into the mould of “old soul”, I have been through so much in my short life that I sometimes feel older than the number designated to me. I often feel like I have been here before and I know that I can be old fashioned in many ways. Other times I still feel like a girl playing grown-up, with a childhood whimsy in my heart that I has never left me and I don’t believe it ever will. Do we ever really “grow up” or is it just another social paradigm that we buy into like everything else? I think I believe the latter. It’s important for us to nurture our inner child and let go of the responsibilities of being an adult every once in a while.

Time is accelerating fast, I am heading towards 30 but it doesn’t scare me any more, not like it once did. Getting older has helped me to cement my ethics, morals, beliefs and perspective of the world. With age, comes wisdom, new experiences and memories – some that I will cherish and some that I would rather forget. In my life, I now have balance, calm, self-love, gratitude and purpose. All the things that I was searching to find in the chaos that was my early twenties.

So, there is no escaping the elephant in the room. The pandemic. 2020 was a crazy year. The world felt like a reversed magnet, everything felt wrong somehow and all humanity could do was adapt. So that’s what I did. I used the lockdown and isolation to get back to words. Pick up a pen and find my voice again. I had no excuses. There was no job or career to distract me. Just like the rest of the world, I spent my 27th year of life at home, staring at the same four walls.

This could have been detrimental for my mental health, I could have dwelled on something that I couldn’t control and spiralled into a state of anxiety but luckily, I have spent a long time healing and working on myself so that didn’t happen. What did happen was – I PUBLISHED A BOOK! I have dreamt of being a published author since the age of seven. Once I knew what a book was, I wanted to write one, see my name on the cover. Growing up, I dabbled in short story and novel writing, but poetry has always been the medium for me. So, I joined the Instagram writing community under the handle name @emmajanepoetry, used the support of the writers I met there to build my confidence and in November last year, I self-published Darkness & Light, my first poetry collection. You can buy it here.

Then something incredible happened! My book became an Amazon bestseller!!! Multiple times!!! It really was a dream come true and I am so proud of myself. Not only did I immerse myself in the Instagram writing community, but I created a collaborative poetry project called First Line Poets, 125 writers from across the world coming together to swap first lines to inspire poetry. The project is something that fills me with joy and I really love being the leader of this inspiring initiative I created.

There is a lot to be grateful for as my 28th year approaches. I have an amazing partner who is my world, I have great friends and family around me, I have just landed an amazing job as a Creative Consultant and I really enjoy it. Life is good. No matter what obstacles come my way, I know that I am strong enough to overcome them. My hopes for the upcoming year are that I continue to be happy, content and feel inspired to create. If there is anything that the year 2020 has taught the world and me, it is that everything you know can be gone in a second, so enjoy, live in the moment, let go of your need to control everything and focus only on the things that bring you joy. Life is unpredictable. And I have learned that no amount of wishing, organising with coloured post-it notes or filling planners with goals will change that. I am learning to let go of the need to know what is coming next. I spend more time in the present moment than I ever have. Sure, I think of the future. But this year has changed me, now I live with the philosophy of living my life – one day at a time.

Emma-Jane

wp-1592081690703.png
Two thousand and one,
summer roses, full bloom.
Locked hands, freckled faces,
young hearts in June.
Two thousand and four,
your name touched my lips,
reliving a memory, a passing eclipse.
Two thousand and nine,
I wished for a soul to love forever,
the universe smiled, thought of you,
the plan was always us - together.
Two thousand and ten,
the year my life forever changed.
Our love exploded like stardust,
sixteen, first kisses, exchanged.
Two thousand and twenty,
a decade with you by my side.
Our love blossomed like
summer roses, our hands,
forever entwined.
- EJ
©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
When the world explodes
with hues of rainbows,
roars with fireworks of thunder.
I seek solitude.
When notifications multiply,
bad news seeps through the cracks of my screen,
when the vulnerability of the planet’s future is exposed.
I seek solitude.
When riots commence,
words become weapons,
humans lock horns to
prepare for combat.
I seek solitude.
When sombre shadows
conceal my inner glow,
threaten to tear down
the bridge of hope,
I have bled to build.
I seek solitude.
Solitude is my remedy,
my refuge to find silence,
to be still, in the midst of a hurricane.
- EJ
©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.

The Truth About Living With Mental Illness.

woman-2609115_960_720

For a long time I used this blog as a platform to write about my life. It was a place of freedom. It was a space where I could write down the uncensored and vulnerable musings of my experiences, to share a little piece of my world with others. Then, last year, I had to step away. I had to stop sharing my opinions, views and experiences on this blog because of the profession I chose. I had to distance myself from the online world, due to my words being misconstrued and misinterpreted by others. My voice was silenced. But now I feel ready to share again. Starting with the truth about what it is really like living with a mental illness. If you are offended by swearing or uncomfortable about the topic of mental illness, then you better look away and find another blog to follow because shit is about to get real. 

If you break your leg, the immediate reaction you receive from others is sympathy, empathy and understanding. They want to know what happened, how long your recovery will be, is there anything that they can do and will your leg ever be the same again. You get a chorus of “Oh, you poor thing, it must really hurt.” People gather around to sign your cast, send you get well soon cards and hold on to you as you wobble your way through recovery.

If only mental illness was treated in the same way.

The shitty truth is. We still live in a world of stigma and denial, a world where people are forced to believe that the only way to deal with mental illness is to shut up, cheer up and take a pill that will numb how you feel. It is unbelievable that despite the fact that 1 in 4 human beings on the planet are suffering with a mental illness, it is still shunned as an unimportant inconvenience and the bottom of everyone’s priority list. Why is the idea of being mentally unwell so difficult for us to talk about?

Well, whether you like it or not, I’m going to talk about it.

I’m human. We are all human. We are supposed to feel, think, do and be. We are emotional creatures. We all cry, scream, smile and laugh. We all feel guilt, jealousy, happiness, anger, loneliness and sadness. We all want to love and be loved. Life is a mixture of darkness and light, good and bad times, achievement and failure, love and pain. We all struggle at some point in our lives. So why do we still fall silent when we hear the words ‘mental health?’ Why is there still a wall of secrecy that people feel they have to hide behind? Why do we still consider a connection to Wi-Fi more important than the connection to ourselves and others? Why, in this modern society, can we be surrounded by people but still feel alone?

Lets start at the beginning of my mental health journey… Anxiety came first. At the age of 18, I developed an anxiety disorder – GAD (general anxiety disorder). It was the beginning of a difficult journey for me, years of panic attacks, mental breakdowns but also many mental breakthroughs. Then, a few years later, my anxiety made a friend, called depression.

Living with two mental illnesses was like standing in the middle of a pair of scales, waiting to see which side tipped first.

I could feel hopeless, useless and unmotivated one day and stressed, manic and agitated the next. It can sometimes feel like I am fighting a losing battle but most days, I find the strength to win. It took me a long time to accept that I have two mental illnesses. No one wants to believe that they are sick. No one wants to be anything less than perfect in this fucked up society that we live in, I was no exception. Only when I actually accepted that what I had was an illness, something beyond my control, something that was universal and not only affecting me but millions of other people, that’s when I started to believe that no matter what, I would be okay.

I have found strength in knowing that I am not alone in my struggle. I surround myself with people I know won’t judge me, they hold me as I cry, listen as I pour my heart out and release the fears and worries that weigh me down. Those people know who they are and without them, I don’t think I would still be here.

Living with a mental illness is hard, living with two can sometimes be unbearable. There is no sugar-coating it. It’s fighting with yourself every single day. It’s trying to silence the negative voices in your head. It’s trying to get through the day without crying. It’s analysing every word of a conversation and worrying about it weeks later. It’s laying awake at night not sleeping or staying in bed and sleeping too much. It’s hoping and praying that things will get better.  It’s fighting for a reason to stay alive.

Do you want to know what the hardest part of living with mental illness is? Keeping it a secret.

When people ask how you are and you respond with ‘I’m fine.’ You’re not fine. You just don’t want to burden those around you with your pain. You don’t want people to judge you. You don’t want to feel the stigma of others. It shouldn’t be this way… but unfortunately it is.

Living with a mental illness is like living in a cage that you can’t escape. It’s messy and complicated. It’s also fucking painful. One day I can be on top of the world, smiling, laughing, sharing positive pictures on my Facebook feed and the next, I could be crying hysterically, clutching my chest, forgetting how to breathe.

My disorder is not a decision. I am not choosing to feel this way.

Sometimes it takes all of my strength to get through the day. My biggest achievement on a bad day might be having a shower and getting dressed. Over the years, I have learned that running away, hiding from my own feelings, smiling and pretending I am okay to please others, only makes my illness worse. The most important lesson I have learned is:

You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to ride them.

Now, I ride the wave, I feel every emotion no matter how strong it is and wait for the storm pass. I speak up and no longer feel ashamed. I am choosing to blog about my struggles, I am choosing to write poetry about it, I am choosing to be a mental health ambassador to not only help others but help myself.

The only way we will see change is if we fight for it. It was time for me to speak up. Be one voice among the many that will play a small part in that change. 

The Second Draft.

instagramcapture_dcc9662c-2c28-4e36-99ba-7bad49f84e29

I’ve finally finished editing the first draft of 1:58 and if there is anything I have learnt from this experience of using a red pen on my own work it is this – I can be brutal. Many writers say that they don’t like to ‘kill their darlings’ but I found it quite easy to use my inner-editor to cross out sections that didn’t work, be brutally honest about my use of clichés and accept that there were parts of my novel that just didn’t work.

I had a dream a few nights ago about my novel, when I woke up I realised all of the mistakes I was making with my story and I quickly jotted them down. I’m going to make some major changes, from the name of the novel to the events that take place in the narrative. It’s still the same story in many ways and I am keeping the characters that I have grown to love but the novel didn’t excite me when I read it back. If it doesn’t excite me, then it’s definitely not going to excite a reader.

This is the first time I have completed a novel and edited my own work, so it’s an entirely new process for me. I am excited to get started on the second draft, it may take three or four drafts before this novel is ready but I’m willing to put the hard work in to really create the best story I possibly can. No one said it would be easy. Ernest Hemmingway once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” A little dramatic but he definitely has the right idea.

 

 

 

 

Zest For Life: Autumn Issue

fourthissuefrontcover

When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m designing and making my own positive lifestyle magazine. Zest For Life has been going for nearly a year now and the fourth and final issue of 2016 has now been released!

There’s lots of great subjects discussed in this issue including what parents do that they don’t like to admit, what we can learn from children about happiness, why you shouldn’t put your dreams on hold and books to read this autumn. There is also some yummy recipes, positive news and winter horoscopes to read.

To download the magazine for free to all of your devices click on the front cover at the top of this article 🙂

Breathing New Life Into An Old Story…

WP_20160814_14_01_31_Pro

In 2014, when I was studying Creative Writing at university, I decided to take part in something called NaNoWriMo. A writing task to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Despite my lack of belief in myself, I managed to do it. I spent a few weeks beforehand writing a plan, I had detailed questionnaires on all of my characters, I was ready to go. I celebrated when I reached the word count. I actually completed a novel! Yay me!

Then, I left the story alone. It sat on my USB for two years, yes you heard right, TWO YEARS! I guess I didn’t have much faith in my story, I thought it was rubbish and didn’t want to read it ever again. Until one day. I don’t know what pushed me to do it but I decided to read my story to myself. As I scrolled through the pages, I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Although my inner editor had already started to rewrite the story in my head, I saw a few moments in the story that had true potential.

I printed off my manuscript and took out a red pen. I highlighted sentences that worked, crossed out sections that didn’t and scanned the manuscript for inconsistencies and spelling mistakes. I’m still in the process of editing the novel but once I’m done, I’m going to start my second draft of 1:58. I’m breathing new life into an old story and I couldn’t be happier about it 🙂

 

 

 

Maya Joelle

the stories are true

Ruth Anne Garcia

Author and Freelance Writer

deepak sharma writes

Short and Inspiring Stories, Travel Memoirs and Articles

The Poet's Resource

sharing what we know about poetry markets

Daily Poets

Find the Story Anywhere, Every Day. Or Don't, We're Not the Boss of You.

K Morris - Poet

Kevin Morris poet