Monthly Archives: January 2015


I never really had anxiety until I became a teacher. I’d always been quite confident at what I was doing. Even when I wasn’t writing very well, I knew I was capable of doing it. I, and others, had an assumption of competence. I could actually do it. That confidence meant I relaxed. That relaxation meant I did better. It meant I could improve because I didn’t worry about how I was doing; I just did.

Becoming a teacher wasn’t easy. It uses all kinds of things I’m not massively comfortable with. (Why do it? Because I wanted to try. I knew I could learn. I wanted to see what I could do.)

I’m still not massively comfortable. And I don’t believe in epiphanies. But what’s happened over the past two or three weeks is amazing.

It was only when I found myself ripped out of the fulltime job I’d been doing that I found I could start again. Forced back into supply teaching, I began to realise that, actually, I can do stuff. Do it well. Effectively. And enjoy it.

Enjoyment, bloody hell. I’d missed that. Work and teaching had become something I’d dreaded. It was a thick black cloud hovering over my days and weekends and nights. There was no fun, only failure, only constantly being told it was all going wrong and it was all my fault.

I found a tightness in the chest. A shortness of breath. A pain in the arms. A tightness in the face. “what’s wrong with you?” people would ask. I’ve never been much good at hiding how I’m feeling. It was obvious. And also: why hide? Panic. Panic everywhere. Worry. Stress. Failure.

Then I noticed something. The things I’d been trying, which hadn’t been working, started to work, once I was somewhere else. Once I found myself in places where there was that assumption of competence – and the ability to go home without three hours of exhausting work that still was never enough – I could do what I was supposed to do.

There’s a lot to be said for starting again. Sometimes you just have to break away from the things that made you sad, and release that anxiety. If you can, do. Do it now. You won’t look back. Never look back.

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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Uncategorized



Someone once said – and I took it as a compliment – “not many people are as good as you at articulating despair”.

There isn’t any perverse enjoyment or pleasure in feeling low; it’s just that it seems the natural way of being for there to be changes. Not necessarily ups and downs, but contractions and expansions. Someone once described mood to me as being like an expanding and contracting sphere, moving in and out like breathing, where it wasn’t a good thing to be either to spaced out or squashed in.

Contentment is an odd, alien feeling. You have to feel comfortable in your body, and for your body to do the things you want it to – and when it doesn’t, for you to be able to manage everything around that. You have to be able to have some kind of expectation that can be met. You have to feel that the things you’re doing are possible.

All you can do is all you can do. You can’t do more, even if you want to.

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


Don’t do what you don’t want to do

Every now and then I like to write about depression, and how I’m living with it. I have five minutes or so now, so I thought I would.

I’ve got five minutes or so now because I don’t have a full-time job anymore. I walked away last week. Just like that other job I left back in 2012, or the other one back in 2011 (though that wasn’t really my choice), or that one in 2007, or 2004, or 2003, or… well, you get the idea.

I have these two competing feelings inside me. One goes like this: you need to work to be happy. You might disagree and you might think that working doesn’t make you happy – you might be sitting there reading this thinking work and happiness can’t ever really go together – but I know that working keeps me busy, gives me a purpose, gives me a routine, gives me money and motivation, gives me a reason. I remember being unemployed. It wasn’t the boredom so much of the lack of direction, the lack of purpose, that slowly clasped its fingers around me. But there: that’s thought one. You need to work to be happy. I do. I need to be doing something – not anything, but something I really believe in – in order to keep myself floating above everything.

Then I have this other feeling, which goes like this: but work also makes me sad. Not the work itself, because you do work you choose to do, if you’re lucky enough – and I know I am lucky enough – that reflects something about you. It’s not the job itself. It’s never about the job itself: it’s always about the periphery around it, those other things that you have to do, all those other plates you have to keep spinning.

You start a job, and it’s wonderful, then, weeks or months later, comes the creeping disappointment. Not in the work itself – it’s never been about the work itself – but about all those other issues. The being forced to do things a certain way. The lack of agency. The importance of compliance. Endless compliance. It must be like this, never like that, because this is the only way, because I said so, and no, your opinion is of no importance, just shut up and get on with it. You must do that, even though you don’t want to. You must do this, not for anyone’s benefit, nor for any greater good, but because I say you should.

Don’t do what you don’t want to do. That’s the mantra I have nowadays, at the moment. It’s the only thing that makes sense sometimes. I know other people have made endless careers from doing what they don’t want to do. Or doing things that aren’t perfect. We don’t get a Goldilocks career – no one does. There are compromises that turn up along the way. And I know that’s important: it’s a huge part of life to compromise, to get through, to choose the least worst option, sometimes.

But sometimes, that least worst option is to make sure that you don’t end up doing something that’s making you unhappy. If it’s making you unhappy, what good is it doing? It just chips away at you, eats you away. It breaks you down from the inside, until all that’s left is an empty grey husk in some clothes sitting in front of a screen. That person who started working there, who had your face and your smile, has gone: all that’s left is stress, and pressure, and pain.

Don’t do what you don’t want to do. More important when you’ve got responsibility than when you haven’t. You need to be happy, to have some semblance of control and enjoyment in life, if you’re going to have a chance of looking after other people. So when I saw, flickering, on a screen, last week, a tiny human life that somehow I had been a tiny part of making, I thought to myself: you need to do everything. Everything. Make yourselves happy first. Then you can help this other little person.

Life is too short to waste on jobs that don’t make you happy. Pressure and stress might be acceptable or somehow tolerable when it’s just you – although I never found them so – but when you need to be the best person you can be, you can’t spend most of your day doing something that makes you sad.

I’m still working. I’m still going to work, and doing something that I’m good at. It’s just that it doesn’t feel, at the end of every day, like there’s a giant looming darkness in the near distance; it doesn’t feel like I’m unable to breathe. Sometimes you have to step back to jump forwards. Sometimes you just have to step back. I can’t explain the release any better than that. You can’t, and shouldn’t, always do what you want to do. But don’t do what you don’t.

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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


Some people said something

I’ve seen this retweeted a few times on Twitter today:


and I’ve thought to myself: oh, that’s awful. This film seems to have brought out racist feelings in these people.

But then I’ve thought: hang on, it’s not that awful. These are only four people. Why do people go around making a big deal about four people saying something? I’m pretty sure you can find four people who’ll show terrible humanity about anything. Sometimes they’re the people who end up tweeting sick jokes in the wake of a tragedy; sometimes they’re the ones hurling abuse at people for no good reason.

What about the other thousands of people who’ve seen the film, and who might have come to different conclusions? If you were anti the Iraq war, would seeing American Sniper have changed your mind about it? Has this propaganda really served to achieve anything other than to entrench people’s existing views?

If it’s made some racists feel racist, that does add an air of legitimacy, of course. If a multi-million-dollar product tells you that your prejudice is right, that’s a powerful tool. But I wondered if the retweets were doing something else: if they were giving these racists and idiots more of a platform than they might already have had.

So some people said something on Twitter, so what? People say things on Twitter all the time. If you go looking, you can find it. I wonder if “a cursory search on Twitter to back up the point I’m making” is really the best way of making your point. Because I can find people on Twitter who saw American Sniper and hated it.

sniper1 sniper2 sniper3

I found those by searching for “American sniper racist”. If you go searching for “American sniper raghead” you get something else. What conclusion can we draw? That the film is racist? That it’s made people feel more comfortable about their racism? That it’s made other people notice its inherent racism? That it polarises audiences? I don’t know.

And then I thought: I’m part of the problem. By writing this, right now, I’m doing exactly the same sort of thing I’m complaining about. I’m using “some people said something on Twitter” as a basis to try and make a point. Who am I to try and work out what motivation everyone had when they retweeted this picture? How do I know they’ve all decided that the film has made the people racist?

I think the only point I can make, if there even is one in there, is that “some people said something” isn’t quite good enough. Some people are always saying something. I’m saying something now. It doesn’t mean it’s of any value. Trawling Twitter to find people saying the thing you disagree with will always yield results – but it might not prove your point at all.

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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized