52 Weeks of Writing: Week 46—How do I tell the story of how I got here?

52 Weeks of Writing: Week 46—How do I tell the story of how I got here?
Photo by Andrew Neel / Unsplash

I have a story to tell you. It's a story I've been meaning to tell for a long time.

No, wait. That's not how it goes. This is a story I never wanted to tell and I never planned to tell. It was a story I fully intended to keep secret. Or at least, I'd never really tell the whole of it.

It's really the story of how I got here. Not the "first, there was a Big Bang"-type story, but the one where I explain why I wrote seven (or nine) books over two years between 2003–2006, then... [insert events here] and it's 2023.

Does that even make any sense whatsoever? No. It probably doesn't. The story of how I planned to write and publish a whole fantasy series but then didn't, and why that happened. Or at least, why I currently think that happened.

I'd planned on not telling this particular tale, at least not in any significant detail, because it's so personal, so traumatic, and hurts so damned much. When I'm asked how come I did a PhD and then somehow ended up doing another PhD I gloss over this long period of my life like I'm laying out epoxy resin.

It's all smooth and shiny and doesn't give away any of it. Maybe occasionally I'll throw in a hint of trouble—I might mention that I got sick, or I "didn't like" the life I found beyond academia—but wow, that doesn't tell you the half of it, not even one percent.

I don't actually know where to start this story. In my head, when I have a bit of mental air to plan blog posts, I try out openings and approaches, but I have no idea where to start. Because I could go back to the beginning of the books, but then that needs a bit of an explanation. Somehow, I end up right back at my own physical start with "I was born, and it all kind of got messy from there."

I could attempt to carry on not telling the story of what happened between 2006 and now, but it feels as though that story needs to be told in order for anyone reading me to understand me, who I am, what happened, and how I came to end up here. The fiction I write is influenced heavily by all of this, I could tell you, but I think the truth of the matter is that this story of what happened to me is sitting between me and the fictional stories I want to write.

So I guess this is what I have to do.

This isn't a one-and-done blog, either. At least, I don't think it is. I wasn't even really thinking about this until the last three weeks of therapy brought it up. I've been writing journals to my therapist and, over that time, I've been writing more and more about the gap years between finishing Amnar (The Original Series), getting that first PhD and now.

Anyone reading this with any experience of long-term mental health issues (isn't that most of us, now?), might guess that after the end of a big cycle, you tend to get a fallout, an emotional reckoning. I thought it'd happen after I submitted in December last year.

It didn't.

Then I thought it'd happen when I found out I'd got the PhD. Didn't. Graduate? Nope. No, what really opened the floodgates, apparently, was the week at the end of October when I'd been working three days a week as an adjunct teacher at university and it looked like I probably wasn't going to get paid.

I was awake all night, one night, having struggled to cope with the noise and the rush of buses and traffic, after a month with a severe cold, followed by a migraine that broke me, followed by more teaching, running to campus to avoid the buses and fuss, and and and

Endless emails back and forth. I'd just received yet another email from HR misunderstanding me and assuming I was teaching on two, not three, courses. I had no access to the Virtual Learning Environment for another course. I was exhausted from the cold, the migraine, the running. From the perimenopause and the hot flushes.


It was rough. I got paid for two of the courses and the problems got fixed (thanks to the head of department). And that's when I found myself really digging into the dirt at the back of my brain, thinking about the years in the darkness, the years when I didn't have any money at all.

Jenny—my first subscriber, and I will email you back, I promise!—was there for some of it, and knew a bit of it. But aside from one burst of online confessional in 2009 I didn't talk about it. I didn't talk about what I went through in the years before 2009 and definitely not the years after, when everything got so very, very much worse.

I haven't even started telling the story. This is me working up to being able to write this out, maybe over the next few weeks. I also want to tell the story because things are rough in this country right now. The poorest and the most vulnerable are being blamed for conditions created by the rich. I can't understand why anyone would consider even skating that thin ice, or falling through it altogether, a "lifestyle choice".

I kept it all secret for a long time because I was frightened of what might happen to me if I told. If I talked about it at all, ever, somebody might hunt me down and make things worse. I was holding on so tight to the scraps of life I was able to grasp, and that grasp was always slipping.

I'm still scared of that happening, you know? The paranoia that goes with living that life, the one where you fall through the social security net of life, or even getting near to falling through it, doesn't ever go away. I was immensely lucky, and was able to find a way out. But that wasn't something I did on my own, and it was only because I have some incredible privileges and advantages that I got to be here.

I wake up scared it's all going to get taken away. I don't like this way we've set up this life. I think about that a lot. It hurts and blames the most vulnerable. This doesn't seem right to me.

So that I think is what I'm going to be doing for the next few weeks.