I love 🥰 having the opportunity to tell you something new, bright and positive. It’s no secret that I have a lot going on…as I saw in a meme recently, my brain has too many tabs open.
But it’s actually a testament to everything I’m trying to prove by sharing this hobby and promoting this website, that I have this good news.
Ok Steph, prove it!
I remember well a couple of weeks ago that I was making a deliberate effort to block out the distractions that have caused me to lose more than half my hair recently (yes that’s true – post coming soon), to urge myself to stop the itching caused by anxiety and nervousness and to ignore the impending and urgent issues of the moment. Everything in my brain was stressful and important, but I desperately needed to take some time to do what I love – be creative.
This website, my blog, drawing and writing take a back seat when I have more pressing issues such as my declining health, a concern for our daughter or a worry for my partner. These things rightly take over our brain power. When that happens to me it doesn’t seem important to write a funny, light-hearted, cockle-warming tale when I could be on the phone to the solicitor, or a doctor, or the school…as usual, the list goes on. I know if you’re reading this it’s likely you understand how that drowning style of stress feels. Maybe you’re feeling it right now – trying to find some calm in a storm. Thank you for coming here to look for it. In return, I’d like to offer the sequence of events that helped me (eventually).
The fact is when I’m anxious or worried about something (at present I think we have 5 or 6 serious issues at home and they are hard to turn away from), hobbies like this don’t just lose their importance, sometimes they stop being possible. My creative juices run dry because by its nature, finding frivolity or fun somewhere in my grey matter at a difficult time seems pretty impossible and then becomes unappealing. Why struggle to be creative when I can struggle to fix important problems?
Let me tell you why…
In a short-lived moment of clarity, after a prolongued period of just staring in to space, desperate to force stress away, I eventually had some unusual luck and my head reminded me of my hearts goal – to reach people who are struggling (adults, children and the family dog 🐶 if needed) and help them out, show them a light at the end of the tunnel. I remembered there was a light for myself in that moment. I needed to become creative, to become ‘Creative Steph’. Maybe it’s my superpower! And you, yes you, have one too.
“You blundering hypocrite, Steph” My brain started it’s common rhetoric, berating my idiocy and reminding me of my own promise. “You need to write. You need to draw. You need to stop this anger and frustration and create something pointless and stupid because that, THAT thing, that kind of creativity you’ve found – that’s your saving grace. You tell other people to ‘be creative’ all the time. Why don’t you just take your own bloody advice?”
As usual, my brain was right.
Joking aside, and just to labour the point, this is what I’m trying to promote – survival through creativity, a method of managing your darkness by finding something relaxing that YOU love, a distraction. And what? I can’t do the same thing for myself when I’m sliding down another shit-covered pole towards what feels like an unavoidable disaster? I’ve stupidly forgotten the whole point of my hard work, and I’m unable to locate (or even TRY to locate) the thing that helps me.
In real life mental health is always a struggle, a constant battle, and for me (like so many others) I know I’m going to have this ‘battle’ for the rest of my life, so I have to find a way of managing in the worst moments. I call it ‘living positively around my difficulties’.
My support worker is the wonderful woman who actively promotes distractions to me. We talk about them at every meeting and in every phone call. She reminds me of the distractions that I’ve used in the past that worked. She remembers the successful strategies that my own brain forgets…constantly.
So if you aren’t lucky enough to have a support worker like mine (it took me 8 years within the system to find someone so perfect and supportive, so I honestly know how lucky I am right now), and you’re in the midst of a crisis, looking for something to help (just like I was 2 weeks ago), talk to someone first (always – some numbers are waiting at the bottom of my Mental Health page) and in the following numb, empty, silently-questioning-yourself minutes, I recommend creativity. And it comes in many forms. The things I do, drawing and writing, are perched on the tip of an iceberg that also houses mindfulness, yoga, dance, music, singing, woodwork, doodling, journaling, reading, letter writing, picture framing, colouring, creative competitions or you can just move your teddy bears and cushions around until it feels like you’ve made a desirably new place to get some shut-eye.
Going back to the story I was, once again, sat right here (my side of the bed with a cuppa, drowsy from prescribed pain relief, hot water bottle, vape and podcast primed and ready), and I stared at the screen. For minutes, maybe hours. I won’t lie, in those stressed out moments when emotions are high and the world rests on your shoulders, it’s bloody difficult to find some inspiration or have a eureka ❗ moment. I fully acknowledge that. It’s probably the reason so many people haven’t found something blissful to aid their mental health – it’s incredibly hard to do when we’re are all so busy.
But I can honestly say that once you’ve taken some time (you might need to persevere with the yo-yoing when you’re distracted back to the stress and unable to forget the worry), once you find some silence and allow yourself to let it go (temporarily, yes, but you can and will go back to it) there are huge benefits to doing SOMETHING ELSE for a while.
How long should you take? That’s up to you and obviously, if you have an issue that needs attention then don’t ignore that in place of a distraction. In those cases do the troubleshooting first, fire fight until it’s safe and once the flames are out, plan some time to be with your bliss. Pay your battered, tired brain back by giving yourself time to do what you love. In the long run the liklihood is you’ll be better equipped to deal with further infernos having rested properly. You’ll feel more ready and more able to take things on in a level-headed, focussed, positive way.
Distraction has real, genuine, (sometimes) life -changing benefits.
So I allowed myself to (reluctantly) take my own advice and on a quiet Sunday afternoon I drafted the majority of a story that I lovingly called ‘Finding Bliss’.
Right now, I’m doing it again. I’m taking some time out from the stress I seem to be drowning in to bring you some light in the darkness with this story. I still have fires burning, but it’s time for a distraction. As a result, I’m choosing to write this post with my fire hose next to me, ready for when I’m done.
To end the story with some even brighter positivity, unbelievably ‘Finding Bliss’ managed to win. Ha ha! And it wasn’t just a flash, it was a short story – nearly 1500 words. The narration, style and structure was completely out of character for me and the ending was too. My forced time staring at this laptop created a story that, when I believed in it enough to submit it for the competition, I thought may have been the best I’d ever written. The best. EVER.
Thankfully it seemed the judges agreed with my secret pride, which isn’t always correctly placed, sometimes even convinced a story with no merit at all will receive the same praise as a Pulitzer Prize winner.
But as I say, the judges agreed with me.
A summary of this convulted crap…
I was, and still am, living in difficult times. We all are. The world is. I needed a distration so I could be mindful. To stop, sit and breathe. I found a writing competition to enter and took a quiet moment on a Sunday afternoon to perch at this laptop and look at nothing but a blank Word document that gradually morphed in to my own written invention. It took hours, but I was engrossed and those stresses that waited for me just melted away. Forgotten. Although I had to persevere, when I eventually found some enjoyment and let the juices flow again, I came up with something that was actually pretty good. The result of that moment is a winning fictional story to share with you, along with a winning personal story that proves this whole crusade has merit. It proves that if you’re looking for a distraction right now then trying something creative could work for you too. In my experience anything that aids genuine calm is worth trying.
The winning story!
‘Finding Bliss’ is below for you to take a look at and (hopefully) enjoy. Hand on heart, I really did work hard on this one. If you want an overview, it’s a journey for a woman through various relationships. There’s surprise, humour and memories of my own friendships that saved me many years ago. It was nice to be able to translate those old, almost forgotten moments in this way. They live on, along with all my other brain dumps💩, here on this website.
For balance and honesty (which is also incredibly important for me and my work here) I’m still living in the stress, the concerns our family has about various things remain just as strong and in some ways seem to get worse. I often wonder if it will ever end. I know most of my readers are experiencing anxious circumstances that in many cases are far worse than my own, that’s probably why you are here. I’m writing this because the stresses aren’t the end, there is light waiting, but sometimes we have to force it to appear.
And let me reassure you – I don’t sing, so it ain’t over.
Reading ‘Finding Bliss’ will take around 5 minutes, but as it’s a winner I’m hopeful you’ll find it a worthwhile 5 minutes from your day. Proof of my WIN 🏆 in the Secret Attic monthly Short Story competition can be seen here, and full details of all their competitions can be found on the Secret Attic website.
Remember though – the Picture This judge is a hard ass 😜.
As always I’m going to give an overview of the picture, but really you need to read ‘Finding Bliss’ below for it to make sense in relation to this post.
Everyone who knows ‘Creative Steph’ knows that I LOVE 💜 making new kawaii illustrations. The story mentions pastries and I wanted to focus on that important element. Combining my love of kawaii and my desire to eat french delicacies with Procreate and my iPad, I ended up with a selection of cute characters that together have made this pretty, satisfyingly patterened collage.
I deliberately wanted to create something different to my norm. Hopefully this breaks the mould and maybe even draws a couple of smiles 😁😁.
Sunday morning. Our favourite day of the week because we got to be alone. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and any devices that barked at us (except Andrew’s dog, Bruno) were banned.
I waited until that moment to tell him because I knew that work, deadlines, relatives, and other unimportant drivel wouldn’t get in the way. No disturbances, no chatter, no unapologetic sloping off to the office. A relaxed, private, glorious surprise.
“Pass me the Express Magazine babe – it’s crossword time”
I remember feeling smug because he failed every week, despite picking it up and putting it down throughout the day. I usually finished it for him after he fell asleep watching ‘Friends’ reruns. But that Sunday the crossword remained unanswered.
“Um, hang on. I’ve got something for you”
Andrew smiled without saying anything because, in HIS materialistic mind, he’s about to receive a Rolex.
“Close your eyes and put your hands out”
I remember the grin, his anticipation of a gift since my promotion had always been silently present, reminding me that ‘I owe him one’.
I placed the stick in his hands and watched the confusion spread over his 40-year-old face.
“Babe, it’s ok. It’s a pregnancy test. I’m pregnant”
“Christ! You’ve pissed on this???”
He threw the stick on the bed and the cap flew off with it. Naturally, the urine-soaked end tucked itself perfectly between his pillow and our new Egyptian cotton sheets. I managed to remove it, then found Bruno licking the lid, desperately trying to ingest the remaining droplets of my pee.
This was the start of my pregnancy journey, and I wish I could sugar coat it, but it isn’t the fairy-tale spouted by our parents.
They. Are. Lying.
Andrew took months to leave denial town and accept reality city. As a result, he snored through my tiredness, missed the first check-up, and failed to help me with the relentless morning sickness. That’s right – morning sickness can keep going THROUGHOUT the pregnancy. Some women are puking long after nappies are soiled, and nipples are sore.
It was when I left the hospital with a scan that things changed. A picture, even though it’s a grayscale, blurred image with the vague outline of a mole rat, can make things very real.
I’d spent the morning alone waiting for the sonographer, having cold gelatinous wallpaper paste squirted on my abdomen, watching a fuzzy image on a television teleported from Moscow during the Soviet Union. I desperately needed Andrew to reflect my expectant happiness. So I took the picture, believing in its power and clutching it carefully like Frodo holding The Ring within Mordor, to Andrews office. His choice of words offered no comfort.
“Jesus. Is it a boy? Tell me it’s a boy.”
Andrews face in anticipation of what he believed was the correct answer is my parting memory of the idiot who fathered my baby. The picture remained in his hands, but his preference was throwing The Ring into the lava below.
I scarpered. My hospital bag had been packed for weeks, waiting on my side of the bed under the guise that it was needed ‘in case of emergencies’. Looking back, I knew I was going to leave the day he asked why Pain aux Chocolat tasted like croissants with chocolate inside. I realise now I should have feared for the intellect of our child. Inheriting Andrews incapable, misogynistic, uneducated ideals would be the biggest mountain they’d ever have to climb. As I walked out of our comfortable, IKEA-disguised-as-Harrods home, I wondered if choosing him as a father would constitute child abuse.
I knew we’d never speak again without the conduit of a solicitor. Being married, it turns out, is child’s play to rectify. Separating after conceiving a child, on the other hand, required an arsenal of legal bods that I couldn’t afford. Did he suddenly need them because he cared? No. But his busy-body, devoutly religious, desperate grandparent of a mother cared ALOT.
Vera had always been disproving of our relationship, and she loved making it known. Her regular coffee mornings were her opportunity to tell the other grandmothers about town how Andrew and I weren’t giving her and Graham (her long-suffering incredibly pleasant husband) the wedding and bundle of joy they deserved. Naively I’d thought when my expectant news came everyone would be happy, but it turned out Vera’s pack of hungry law-men had been readied the day we met, dividing assets the second we acquired them, lying in wait for the inevitable breakdown. The stress of Vera and her onslaught of motherly hate was more difficult than the relationship breakdown itself and ultimately fed the disaster ahead.
At 26 weeks I moved in with my best friend. Ryan is gay and the perfect antidote to the politically incorrect baby daddy and mother-in-law duo I’d left behind. I knew that moving in with him would make Andrews blood burn, skin itch and concentration fail throughout his working day. The only way to hurt him was in his pocket. Not making sales, failing to close the deal would leave him struggling to keep his National Geographic subscription at the end of each month. He only looked at the pictures anyway.
Ryan was the baby-daddy I’d dreamed about. No sexual relationship, complicated romance, or family feuds meant we could just have fun whilst knowing that eventually, it would be 3 rather than 2.
By now the baby was impersonating my homosexual bestie in a Beefeater. Kicking to protest its incarceration, unimpressed by the menu offered and desperate to leave by any means possible. My morning sickness turned to all-day sickness, my pain increased, and it became impossible to live normally, despite my militant midwife telling me otherwise.
“Mothers should work until they are full-term. You’ll regret giving up so soon.” She made it sound like the closing sets of a tennis match, with my second-rate Venus Williams up against her perfect-journey Serena. Ryan developed that analogy.
But even with all the questions and stress, Ryan did everything to keep the rest of the pregnancy manageably fun and suitably calm. He was the only one who saw the damage they’d done and tried to rectify it.
He was happy visiting IKEA and admitted openly to owning and constructing their affordable baby furniture. He displayed no preference to its sex, only that it secretly liked ABBA and grew up understanding that Crocs were fashions roadkill. I often wistfully wondered if a new age ‘marriage’, a blissful relationship without the usual complications, could be in our future. Trailblazing a new idea of the traditional family unit. I was certain he’d never ask questions about pastries and his pet cat was trained only to lick its well-groomed paws.
But Vera wouldn’t allow us that bliss and her barrage of accusations about the forward-thinking home we were trying to build meant that our friendship often felt like an illicit affair that was doomed to failure. She was resolute in making my decision to leave Andrew the worst one of my life, but we pushed on, believing it was the right path to follow.
Ryan and I slept in the same bed out of choice. There was nothing romantic about it – our evening rituals were as anxious and sexless as the elderly couple going down with the Titanic. But having him by my side was comforting, having me by his side warmed his nylon sheets. He told me immediately on waking that he was concerned about my missing eyelash infills and visible roots. He was a man of standards regardless of who lay beside him.
Another Sunday, this time 3 am, something was different. Don’t ask me to explain it, I can’t. Ryan woke without my input. He sensed the atmosphere in his sleep and silently, without even checking his pores in the mirror, grabbed the hospital bags, my hand, and his emergency face care (lip balm, moisturiser, foundation) and bundled us all in the car, heading straight for Neonatal Care.
Hope was born at 32 weeks and 2 days. She was nearly 8 weeks premature and weighed just 4lbs. I’m sitting next to her now, she’s in an incubator, with Ryan steadfastly by our side. He’s immaculately groomed and drooling in a desperately deep sleep, having nightmares about his first sighting of a vagina.
Flowers, teddies, and balloons will follow. Andrew will arrive with the car seat I can’t afford and French pastries for everyone’s tired, empty bellies to devour. Thankfully he’ll have no questions about their origin and his mother and her pack of wolves will fall silent.
Love and concern for our miracle baby will unite our misfit group and a successful upbringing combining the ideals, security, and happiness of everyone (including her grandparents), is in her future.
I’m only sad that I endured my worst fear to get my unconventional, blissful family.
And now, as a mother, I’m comforted in the knowledge that there’s always Hope.