I’m losing days but I’m getting help …

Changing

It feels like every time I look at my iMac desktop two or three days have gone by and I’m not sure where I’ve put them. Being ill (as in a nasty head cold which is continuing to kick my arse) isn’t helping and neither is having to answer the question “Do you feel suicidal?” first thing on a Monday morning. It’s now Wednesday and I’m still trying to figure out how to answer it, yes or no, well it’s never as simple. The void is so dark and while I have things to ground me, on purpose, it doesn’t help. Depression teaches you that you can not want to die, but there comes a point where the misery is so all-encompassing that you forget how to live.

The annoying thing for me is I have so much to being doing: The Changing of the Sun is out in t-minus 21 days, and the Kickstarter for The Parting of the Waters will go live the same day*. I have a blog tour to finish setting up, posts to write, proof copies to unbox, music to listen too AND I’m now a submissions editor/slush unicorn for Uncanny Magazine, which is awesome. See I have strategies, I know keeping myself busy and occupied, and not drinking, is the way to go. But it’s not stopping the panic attacks, the anxiety which has just decided to go into high gear. That’s not how it works, it would be too simple if just ‘being busy’ cured the problem.

I’ve missed two months worth of newsletters (my apologies) and I’m pretty sure The Whispers in the Desert is on a Kindle Countdown Deal today (or it will be, when people wake up) so I have to PR that, I’ve started poking the local media with the ‘hey look here’s a nice news story with lots of lead time’ and that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not pitching myself though, I’m pitching the idealised version of me, the inspirational blind writer who fought adversity … that’s not me, not really. I just get on with stuff.

And wait for proofs … come on … i’m dreading this delivery but at the same time, proofs! It doesn’t help with the fear in the pit of my stomach but at some point I’ll remember this is an amazing achievement. I really hope that time is some point soon.

*Subject to external stuff, people needing a working link etc.

The world’s best guide dog

10646902_10204102235891692_6175179430709345926_nI freely admit someone broke the mould when they made Uni. She’s smart and gorgeous, a tart beloved of baristas and totally aware of the power she can command over people if she just flutters her eyes at small children/weak-willed adults. I’ve been having days, more of them recently, where I’ve wondered if keeping her is the best thing for either of us (the mind of a depressive person is anything but logical, trust me).

The number of people who’ve seen Uni working isn’t actually that large (particularly when you discount other GDO’s like Paul, Mhairi and Rob) and for most people her natural state is either a) being an adorable tart in Starbucks or b) lying on my floor being a dog rug.

I got to take my lovely friend Sophie to Starbucks today. We got off at M and S then walked down St. Stephen’s Street via Lakeland. Sophie got to see Uni at her best, as well as how to reacts when we go to Starbucks, how she moves just so and knows exactly where we are. I seldom get to see my guide dog through another’s eyes and this was revelatory.

It occurred, as she and Uni shared the back seat on the bus, that she’s never seen Uni working. She’s seen her in harness but normally in passing and there are times when a guide dog can be in harness but not actually guiding. Uni was completely confuzzled by the entire experience, resorting to starting at Sophie with this look of ‘WTF are you doing here? You’re supposed to take me for long runs, not coffee’ on her face. Uni is seldom bamboozled by anyone but today had her floored.

Sophie was stunned by how we work together. Uni might be a tart but she does know her job; she weaves through people and is constantly looking out for me, even when I’m not paying attention. Even better Sophie was actually complementary and considering most people who’ve met Uni have told me she’s a terrible guide dog (and this is down to not having seen her work or the mythical, stereotypical view of guide dogs seen in promotional literal, the perfect golden lab which is probably a monster at home). It was nice to know that I’ve actually not failed at breaking my most valuable possession.

This last week I’ve found myself increasingly irritated by Uni and she, in turn, has been stressed by my anxiety, both of us fuelling each other to the point where I can’t function. This is not Uni’s fault. My self-esteem has never been strong and I’ve been left with this feeling that I somehow don’t deserve her or just tricked Guide Dogs out of her (which is actually impossible; there are too many checks, too many tests for people just to scam a £64k dog). Today shone a light, reminding me that how I see things isn’t necessarily the truth. Every year Paul has to remind me, when I chat to him on Skype and berate my own existence, so close to ringing up Peterborough and begging them to take her off me, not to do it. I think, if it hadn’t been for him, I’d never have finished class with her and I’m profoundly grateful for that. Paul, having had three dogs, also knows that I might say I can’t cope but also that I’ll never go through with it. At her current age, Uni would likely be instantly retired and she’s got a few good years left yet. It’s not fair for me to punish her for my depression, not when she’s only trying to be there for me.

Anyway, the point which came up involved food. Uni is partial to anything she can get; she’s even been known (AT HOME) to empty the cats’ bowl on the kitchen table (and there’s a reason I put it there). Today we went to the nice all-you-can-eat Chinese place and I tied her up to a chair and told her to bed down under the table while I got my food. Around Sophie she seems to understand that when I say x, I expect her to do it and, much to my relief, she’s spent today on her best behaviour, sitting when told, settling and generally not being her usual self.

So I went to get my food and Sophie was stunned as Uni rested her head on the edge of the table while I went for a refill, part watching me and part waiting for my return. She never asked for a morsel and sat down more or less without complaint which is most unlike her. I snuck her a couple of pieces of chicken and a prawn cracker then told her that was it. She spent the rest of the meal, wide-eyed and soppy, but never made a move for any of the food on our plates. She knew we were in a restaurant and her ability to not give into her instincts (which I fail at totally) is the line which separates Uni the Working Guide Dog from Uni the food-obsessed tart.

To have Sophie watching her, to see that my dog is capable of such self-restrained behaviour, even after three years with me (the weak-willed first time GDO). It did me wonders to see what I’ve not actually got a defective model but a smart, brave and noble companion who enriches my life and stops me getting run down by cars. I love my dog, she does the world for me and I just need to remember that more often than I currently do.

WTB more spoons …

My anaemia is back with a vengeance. I’m waking up tired, I ache if I sit for too long and it’s not my joints. I had precisely three spoons today and I ran out half way home from Morrisons. So I ordered pizza and I feel guilty about it. I’m also too tired to plan a meal, much less make it.

I hate this, I hate my iron tablets and how crap they make me feel even as they make me feel better. That, however, takes weeks and I can only take them for a couple of days before the side-effects hit. Right now if I even think about more than a square of chocolate, I’m doubled up in pain and that I really hate. Fortunately chocolate delivered in cocoa/cake form seems easier for my digestion. I’m just so freaking tired, all I can actually do is type and rewatch The Walking Dead.

URGH.

Review: Lock In by John @Scalzi

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I’ve had this one on pre-order for months. I loved Redshirts, also narrated by Wil Wheaton, because the whole book took the piss, it was funny, it was a geek’s wonderland of Star Trek references and it was also short. I had a feeling Lock In was going to be a lot more serious. I was right.

The story is essentially a detective plot with a disabled protagonist who walks around in a body borrowed out of Star Wars (ironically I only got a mental image of what it looked at by listening to the full-cast recording of  Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome which was included as an awesome bonus at the end). The story itself is set in a world like our own but one twisted onto a tangent by a strain of flu which gives people meningitis and locks them into their bodies. Chris Shane is an FBI agent and sufferer, he’s also grown up as the rich kid poster-child for the disease.

Normally I hate rich-kid protagonists but Chris is a likeable guy. He’s down to Earth and doesn’t get pissed off with his new partner ordering him about (because he’s in a virtual body, he can download his consciousness anywhere, which safes on flights and time wasted but it does make him feel almost like a plot device). Because this is first person POV, it helps the narrative and progresses the plot but doesn’t quite break the suspension of disbelief, the reasons for Chris getting to go here and there (and once having to go rent his own Personal Transport, a Threep, out of his own pocket because the official one has been in storage so long it can’t actually move) … well as a disabled person I can empathise. However, if it was me, I probably would have hot someone by the end of he book, Chris does sometimes feel like the Errand Boy who does everything because his partner just can’t be arsed. It’s not that, she has her own problems and how they were handled was done particularly well as well as allowing another viewpoint to understand the main plot.

The only problem with the story is it didn’t go into as much depth about the virtual side of Hadens’ existence, the Agora, the online world where many of them live. But it did focus on some of the more mundane sides to a long-term disability (bedsores, not being able to eat) but with the added bonus that because Chris has a neural net in his head, he can dial down his senses. I can think of a dozen people with Fibromyalgia or Crohn’s who would love that particular ability. In the early sections of the book Chris goes looking for an apartment of his own and the one he looks at  … well it’s basically a closet. The argument is that he’s in a comatose state, how much room does he need to park his body when his threep will be out and about most of the time?

The other aspect of the book which interested me was the attitudes to Haden’s Syndrome sufferers. Hate crime is on the rise, even if the punishments are as severe for hitting/damaging a threep, as they are for actual assault. The prequel discusses this in more detail, looking at how businesses started asking for people in threeps to give up their chairs as they weren’t — being unable to ear to drink — actual patrons. Scalzi’s done his research here and it’s fascinating to see the every day experiences translated into a form that people who don’t have a disability will be able to understand. There were interesting subplots focusing on people without Hadens’ who wanted to use Threeps and arguments that the neural nets could be used in other circumstances aside from those locked in to their own bodies but they were left, hopefully we’ll get a bit more if there’s a second book or a series.

The narration remains top-notch. I went for the Wheaton version but there is a second edition narrated by Buffy actress and geek Amber Benson. The audio version is excellent and my personal dislike of the constant use of ‘said’ (Journalist and Author Me understand why Scalzi does it, he’s old school and that’s fine) is muted this time round. The dialogue is paced well the story flows well, the world-building is excellent and if Scalzi doesn’t write another book set in this universe, I shall be very unhappy. It’s one of the best books I’ve read (or, erm, listened to) this year and well worth the wait. What we see of this universe is enough and it’s so nice to have a strong disabled protagonist, who doesn’t actually seem to think of himself as disabled but acknowledges he’s not the traditional everyman either.

Awesomeness all round I think.

The Changing of the Sun: The paperback cover and the launch details!

Smith_CHANGING_OF_THE_SUN_PrintEdition

Words just can’t do this justice! Jason has done truly stupendous work!

The Changing of the Sun will come out on 7th October in paperback and Kindle. However while you can pre-order the e-book now, I’m asking people to instead wait and back my next Kickstarter, for The Parting of the Waters, instead. For the price of a print pledge, you’ll get the e-book for free and I’ll ship signed copies of Whispers and Changing as soon as the Kickstarter funds and concludes in November.

Here’s a closeup of the back … because it has the full blurb on it:

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So I got inked today …

Screenshot 2014-08-26 18.58.16I’ve been hankering after another tattoo for a couple of months. I’m making it a semi-annual thing to celebrate birthdays, wisdom and book launches (The Changing of the Sun is coming out on 7/10/14).  I went into Indigo last week, expecting a decent wait but, no, my usual tattooist (so apparently I have one of those now), Heather who did my first tattoo last year, was free this afternoon. A small deposit later and it was set in stone.

The tattoo is of the chemical formulae for serotonin and dopamine (lacking the first makes you depressed while the second makes you happy). Given my jumps between chronic depression and the odd, sweet ten days of mania (the last of which was in February, smack bang during my Kickstarter), the choice of tattoos seemed appropriate. The tattoo itself projects outward (so the formulae are read from my wrist towards my palm) which seemed right. I’m advertising my ability to survive dizzying highs and crushing lows and still be sane at the end of it. Or semi sane, anyhow.

These took twice as long as my first tattoo and they hurt. I have a lot of scar tissue on that wrist (a mix of some stupid people deciding to draw arterial blood and tubes shoved into my when I was a tiny, wee premie baby). Once Heather moved up my arm, away from the nerves and veins, it wasn’t so bad but I was still glad when it’s over. I’m already thinking about next year’s, possibly on the back of my neck, and I have my eye on an enso but not the traditional complete circle, more the semi-finished version (just not quite this big!).