Life · Mental Health

The Truth About Living With Mental Illness.

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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. 

Life · milestones

Twenty-Six

Tomorrow is my 26th Birthday.

For the last six years I have been posting on this blog, the day before my birthday, reflecting on the year that has passed. In the 365 days that have flown by since my last post, a lot in my life has changed.

In my post ’25’, I was nearly at the end of my teacher training and I was celebrating that I had secured a permanent teaching job in a primary school. I claimed in that post, that training to become a primary school teacher was the best decision I have ever made. A year later, I think leaving the profession was the best decision I have ever made.

In the year that has passed, there have been highs and lows. Life lessons and life-changing moments. In the eight months of my short teaching career, I learned an important life lesson about what I value most in my life. I spent a long time focusing on the wrong things, I allowed stress to consume my life, it reached a point where I didn’t recognise myself any more. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was neglecting my health, physically and mentally and as a result, I experienced a mental breakdown. It’s only when I hit rock bottom that I gained the perspective I really needed.

Losing family members this year has also made me come to terms with the fact that nothing in life is permanent. I was under the illusion that many young people are, that we have nothing but time. But the inevitable reality is, we don’t know how much time we actually have to live this life. This realisation woke me up. It dawned on me that for the last few years of my life I have been asleep. Going through the motions of my life, a victim of ‘destination happiness’, I was lost and uncertain about where I was going and what I was searching to find. Something had to change.

I gave myself the time to make this change. When I left my job, I knew that I needed to give myself some time to heal, some time to get back to my old self again. I needed to do things that I enjoyed doing, time to be still, to be in the present moment. During this time for myself, I have found a healthy life balance again. I started taking care of myself by eating healthier, practising yoga and meditation, being creative and expressing gratitude for the wonderful things in my life.

Now, as I enter the twenty-sixth year of my life, I feel fulfilled. I have realised that everything I need is already within me. I am learning to let go of my need to control the future by embracing the present moment with gratitude. I am learning to be still and listen to what I need rather than chase what I think I want. I am learning to take each day as it comes and enjoy every new chapter I am blessed with in my life.

Experience

Cross-Stitch To Calm

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Two months ago, I decided to start doing a craft. I’ve always wanted to cross-stitching, so I bought myself a sewing box, a selection of threads and material, I was ready to get started. For someone who hasn’t done cross-stitching before, I found it a little overwhelming. The patterns I found were too complicated and I didn’t know the difference between a cross stitch and a back stitch.

That was when I found a brilliant book for beginners. Cross-stitch to Calm by Leah Lintz. The simple designs and easy instructions allowed me to start stitching straight away. It took me a few weeks, and I completed my first cross-stitch picture of a sun. Something I had discovered from the experience of cross-stitching was not only the sense of achievement I had when I completed a picture, but the calm that rushed over me when I was doing it.

There were two reasons that I wanted to start cross-stitching, one because my Nanna was a seamstress and made clothes. It inspired me to learn how to sew and cross-stitching was a good first step towards this. The second reason I took up cross-stitching was due to an article I read about the positive benefits of doing a craft. The article explored the link between spending some time doing an activity such as cross-stitching improved mental health. The repetitive action of stitching decreases stress levels and can have a positive effect on those suffering with anxiety and depression.

After starting the craft myself, I found myself agreeing with everything I read. Not only did I find myself sitting for hours, concentrating on each stitch and losing myself in creating a picture, personally, I felt a similar transcendence doing cross-stitching that I do whilst meditating, it’s that powerful. We live in a fast-paced world and sometimes, we think that we are resting when we’re watching TV with our feet up after a long, hard day, the honest truth is… we are not switching off. Doing any type of craft, a few times a week can have some amazing advantages on our overall health and wellbeing. Give it a try!

milestones

Twenty Five

Tomorrow I turn 25.

I like to reflect on my life when it’s my birthday. It’s the perfect time to see how my life has changed in one year and it also gives me a chance to express my gratitude for the amazing things in my life.

When I wrote my last birthday post, I was just about to start my journey to becoming a teacher. It’s 365 days later and I am now coming to the end of my training, I will be qualified in just two short months. I have secured my first teaching job, a permanent position in year five and I am over the moon about it. Just as I predicted, it wasn’t easy but I can say for certain that training to be a teacher was the best decision of my life.

This year I have learned to find balance in every part of my life. I have learned to accept and let go of certain feelings and thoughts that were holding me back. I still have a long way to to before I am free from my anxiety but as time passes by, I am conquering it with confidence and learning different ways to reduce stress and manage my emotions.

The thought of the next year scares me a little but I am excited for the changes that I know are going to come and the little moments in life that will surprise me. I am ready for me and the people I love the most to move forward, to succeed, to love and to live a happy and fulfilling life. I am ready for the challenges that await me in the next 365 days, and I hope to share some happy memories and new life lessons with you all in my birthday post next year.

Lists

24 Life Lessons In 24 Years

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Life is full of lessons. Some of them we learn early on in our lives whilst others take a certain amount of time, a varied amount of experiences or many mistakes to accomplish. During my twenty-four years of life I have realised that there is still so much to learn about this crazy thing we call life. However, I can also confidently say I have already starting to create a long list of lessons that I have already learned and will continue to use throughout my life.

1. Life is too short to be unhappy.
If you are unhappy with something in your life, it doesn’t matter if it is a relationship, a job or even the place you live, change it. One day, you will look back on your life and realise you wasted a lot of time doing things that you don’t enjoy. Only create space in your life for the things that matter and the things that make you happy.

2. Travel if you can
Now I haven’t even started on my long list of places I want to travel to around the world but external circumstances have prevented me from doing so. Once I am able, I will travel to India, Thailand, Spain, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, New York and all of the other amazing places on my list. Despite the lack of funds in the last few years, I still managed to visit Dublin, Edinburgh and Vienna. I can’t wait to travel the world with the one I love and one day it will, I just know it.

3. Surround yourself with the right people
This is an important one. I have had many people leave my life as quick as they entered it because I didn’t want to be surrounded by negative people. It’s hard to push away family members or friends but if they don’t support, respect and love you in the way they should, you will be better off without them. Your happiness comes first. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, not tear you down.

4. Believe in the impossible
Remember when you were five and you believed that the moon was made of cheese and fairies really did live at the bottom of your garden? Who says you still can’t believe what you want to believe? When we grow up and become adults, we kill this part of our brains. We start to only believe what other people tell us to believe and we no longer have our own individual beliefs. I believe in mermaids, magic and aliens. Laugh at me all you want, say I’m acting like a child or that I need to grow up but it’s what I believe. I want to believe in a world where anything is possible, this mentality definitely helps me make decisions in my everyday life.

5. You only get one body, look after it
I sometimes reach for the doughnut instead of the apple and I really should go to more than one exercise class a week but I never give up on trying to live a healthier life. I want to be fit and healthy, not to look good but to really take care of my body. As the years pass and I get older, I’m starting to realise the importance of looking after myself physically. It may take me a while to reach my goal of eating healthy and exercising three times a week, but I’ll get there.

6. Don’t neglect your mental health
I have had many issues with my mental health in the past few years and I know how hard it is to accept the fact that you might need help. But your mental wellbeing is just as important as your physical wellbeing. I’m never going to get rid of my anxiety disorder, it’s part of me. I just have to hope that in time, I learn new ways to manage it. I now know the signs to look for when it’s time to seek help from others.

7. Learn to laugh
Life can feel pretty serious when you’re an adult. Bills, work, families and money. It’s an endless stream of stress and responsibility. It’s easy to get caught up in it but don’t forget to smile. Laugh until your stomach hurts. Pull funny faces. Learn to have fun and really enjoy yourself.

8. A good cup of tea can solve most things
Bad day at work? Cup of tea. Problems with your family? Cup of tea. Feeling a little unwell? Cup of tea. Now, I know there is no magic in a cup of tea but it somehow makes you feel better. It feels comforting to hold a hot mug of tea when you are tired, stressed or sad. Look for the smaller things in life that bring you comfort.

9. Find time in your life for peace
It’s a hectic life and sometimes we forget to be still and enjoy some real alone time. Meditating has been life-changing for me. Whenever everything starts to build up, a few moments of meditation can bring me back to earth, make me calm and in control again. You don’t have to meditate to find peace in your day, read a book, have a long bubble bath or do some yoga.

10. Set yourself goals and work hard everyday to reach them
It’s important to set yourself goals in life, it gives you something to focus on and work towards. I like to set myself big dreams that will take years of hard work to achieve but I also give myself mini goals every day. It could be something simple such as: exercise twice a week, eat three portions of fruit a day or read more books. Goals and dreams are the foundations of a good life. Never lose your ambition, you are never too old to dream a new dream or learn something new. Remember that failure is a big part of success and if you do fail, pick yourself up and start again.

11. Find the beauty in life
It’s easy to race through life without noticing the small and beautiful things that happen every single day. No matter how bad my day is, I try my best to take a moment to appreciate my beautiful surroundings. Enjoy the colour of the sky, the trees, flowers, sunrises and sunsets.

12. A negative attitude will give a negative life
I have struggled with a negative mindset for most of my life. It’s hard to think positive and see the good in every situation, it’s taken me years or practice and sometimes no matter how hard I try, negativity wins. I try to surround myself with positive people, positive messages and regularly watch inspiring videos and listen to inspiring speeches to lift me up when I’m feeling down.

13. Don’t compare yourself to others
One of the many negative ideas that social media presents us with is that other people lead perfect lives. People only share the good moments in their lives and when your newsfeed is bombarded with happy families, holiday snaps and promotions, it can make you feel bitter about the lack of stability or progression in your own life. I have experienced this many times but I am learning to focus on myself and ignore everything I see on Facebook.

14. Love is happiness
Love is the most beautiful thing in this life. When the perfect person walks into your life, cherish them and tell them you love them every single day. I met the love of my life and my best friend when I was just eight years old. Years later we started dating and we’ve been together even since. Every day we tell each other how much we love one another and I never take him for granted. There are so many forms of love in life: relationships, friendships, family. Grab every opportunity to love and to be loved.

15. Don’t live with regrets
You don’t want to reach the end of your life and look back at all of the things you wish you had done with your time. Regret nothing. Always do what you want to do. Ignore what other people think and embrace your authentic self. Life is far too short to be hesitant. Do whatever it takes to be happy and successful, your future self will thank you for it.

16. Always learn something new
Education doesn’t end when you take off your school uniform. Life is a classroom, never stop learning and always encourage yourself to try something new. Travel the world, learn new languages, learn to paint and draw, learn to play the trumpet or the guitar, buy some books and learn about Greek mythology or Astrology. You’ll never know whether you’ll like something until you try it.

17. Not everyone in life is going to like you and that’s okay
You can’t please everyone, no mater how hard you try. I have this uncontrollable need to please people and sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone in this life is going to like me and I have to accept that. Not everyone will have the same heart as me, I’ve come across many selfish and narcissistic people in my life that don’t see the world the same way that I do. We’re not all the same, that’s what makes life interesting. Just remind yourself that if people don’t like you, that’s their problem, not yours.

18. Plans don’t always work out
Life is unpredictable. I have learned to accept that things don’t always go my way. Unexpected things happen that I have no control over, the best thing to do when this happens is to deal with it and learn from the experience. Sometimes things happen for a reason and failure leads you to another path to success. I learnt that after years of rejection, that I was chasing the wrong dream, picking the wrong career for myself. This experience lead me to discover my passion for teaching.

19. Stand up for what you believe in
When we’re young, we think that our voice doesn’t matter and what we have to say is invalid because of our lack of life experience, this isn’t true. If you have a strong opinion about something, speak loud and proud. Stand up for what you believe in and don’t let anyone make you feel inferior. Be yourself and never let anyone negatively influence your faith, your opinions or your perspective on life.

20. Learn to forgive others and yourself
A lesson I have definitely learned in the last few years is that forgiveness never comes easy. Holding onto poisonous emotions such as hate, anger and resentment can send you spiralling down a road of unhappiness. As well as learning to forgive others for the way they have mistreated us, we must also learn in this life to forgive ourselves and be at peace with our past mistakes.

21. Enjoy the journey
It’s so easy to live in the past or focus on the future but if you don’t live in the moment, you miss all the wonderful things that are happening in your life. It’s good to focus on your big dreams and goals but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. I am learning that giving myself a few moments during the day to take a deep cleansing breath and allow myself to be in the present moment really helps me to focus on the journey, rather than the destination.

22. Believe in yourself, no matter what
If you don’t believe in yourself, then nobody will. People will treat you based on what you think about yourself. If you have no confidence in your abilities to succeed, then no one will give you the opportunity to reach your full potential. If you don’t believe that you are worthy of a good and happy life, then you will never achieve one.

23. Good things take time
I’ve learned in the last few years that good things take time and that patience really is a virtue. It’s frustrating when you life isn’t going the way you planned or the goals you want to achieve are still our of reach. However, timing is everything. Sometimes things happen for a reason and we are actually where we need to be, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I have to admit, it has taken me a long time to accept that the timeline of my life isn’t going to be how I imagined it. But I have to trust myself and know that if I want something badly enough, it will happen.

24. Gratitude is the key to happiness
When you don’t have a lot in life, it’s easy to feel bitter about it and shout from the rooftops that ‘life isn’t fair.’ However, there are a lot of things to be thankful for in your life; having a home, a wardrobe full of clothes, fresh food and clean water. If you think of a three things you are grateful for every day, it will enrich your life and bring you more happiness. The more you express your gratitude, the more things you will have to be grateful for. I believe in the law of attraction, that it is up to us what we choose to focus our attention on, think of the negatives and you will life a negative life. Choose positivity!

 

Writer's Life

Writer’s Block Or Life Block?

typewriterrrr.jpgI was reading Writing Magazine a few days ago and came across an article about writer’s block. It’s something I have always struggled with. I go through phases of no writing at all and I always blame it on writer’s block, I either have too many ideas and can’t seem to pick one or unfortunately, sometimes, I have no ideas at all.

I’m sure all writer’s can relate to this, the ongoing struggle to get the beautiful poetic voice in your head to somehow find its way to the page, to find the right words and put them in the right order and to finally turn an idea into an actual story. However, I’m starting to realize, after reading this article mainly, that it may not be writer’s block.

Every writer has their ‘perfect mood’ to write. Some wait until the world is falling apart around them to finally get a poem on the page and some have to be in a happy state of mind to even consider putting pen to paper. I am the latter. I’ve been through a lot of personal struggles and during this time, I haven’t been writing. Now I feel I am moving away from the shadows and finally feel myself again, I want to write.

Strange isn’t it? Maybe I was intentionally choosing to let life block my writing muse? The events of my life were forcing me to ignore the writer in me. I was so focused on just getting through each day and understand the range of emotions I was feeling. I was failing to do the one thing that helps me get through almost anything and that is to write about it.

I feel like my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety has not only killed my happiness, but my confidence too. I had no belief in myself that I could write anything good, so I didn’t write at all. Silly really. I shouldn’t care if my writing is good or not, I should do it because it’s what I love to do. Only now that I am on the other side of a long, dark tunnel, do I actually see what I have been doing all of this time.

Now, I don’t know if this feeling of being myself will last. So I’m going to make the most of it. My typewriter is sitting on my desk, waiting for me to carve words from my mind and piece together something beautiful. I’m going to do what I do best, I’m going to write and no amount of self-doubt is going to stop me, not this time!

Opinion

The Danger Of High Expectations.

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We spend a lot of time waiting for things from other people.We’re told from a very young age that we should treat others in the same way that we expect to be treated but sometimes, despite your best efforts with someone, you get nothing in return. In this situation, some people walk away and never look back. Then there are the people that don’t give up, that carry on trying with people because they want to believe that everyone has the same heart as them, I fall into this category.

I know that I’m a nice person, I’m kind, caring and thoughtful. I’m empathetic towards everyone around me and unfortunately, this leaves me open to getting hurt. The biggest problem with being a highly sensitive person is sometimes you give so much to others, that you neglect to take care of yourself. However, I’m learning that even my heart has a limit and I have reached a point where I have to let go.

The image in my mind of how I think certain relationships in my life should be and how my family should look was leaving me emotionally empty. I was going down a path that had no end, searching for a picture-perfect life that wasn’t there. Now, I feel like I am finally at a pinnacle of acceptance. I’m moving on from the childlike family portrait idea that clouded my judgement for so long. Sometimes families fall apart, sometimes it’s people that are in no relation to you that become your family and they show you that blood is not thicker than water after all. Relationships can change over time and not always for the better.

I now know that having high expectations of other people only leads to disappointment. The only expectations I should really have in my life are those of myself. I am the creator of my own life and I should work on improving myself as a person, instead of hoping that those around me fit into a mould of unrealistic expectations. I can’t change another person, no matter how hard I try. We are who we are. We can only change ourselves. Some of us learn from our mistakes but many of us never do.

I’ve learned to accept that I will never have the relationship I wish to have with some members of my family. I’ve realised that I should focus on the good relationships I already have. My life may look a little different to what I originally imagined but there is no reason why I can’t embrace this and be happy.

 

 

Writer's Life

The Second Draft.

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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.

 

 

 

 

milestones

Zest For Life: Autumn Issue

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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 🙂

Writer's Life

Breathing New Life Into An Old Story…

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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 🙂