I woke up with no anxiety and no feeling of dread. I felt okay.
Jumping out of bed, my walk to the bathroom may have resembled the opening scene from the Sound of Music, located inside a council flat in Falkirk, rather than a meadow in Austria, and with the words being sung, “I feel okay … I feel okay!”
Today I was meeting my literary agent, Jennifer Barclay in Edinburgh. I had planned on cycling to Edinburgh to meet Jen, but it was heavy snow, so I would catch a train instead.
Jen spends most of her time on a tiny Greek island with her dog Lisa. But last night, she was in Aberdeen giving a talk and was travelling down to Edinburgh today to meet me, before catching a flight to London. I thought this was super nice of her. We could easily have talked business over a Skype call, but she travelled all that way to see me in person. Jen studied at Oxford University, before becoming editorial and rights director for a UK publishing house, then a literary agent in Canada before branching out on her own as an agent. I like Jen. She reminds me of myself in some ways. There’s a wildness about her. An untameable aspect. Like she belongs to nature rather than the modern world. Both of us love travel and are completely owned by our dogs but neither will admit it.
Perhaps it’s our similarities that made it plausible for 45 minutes to pass, with Jen waiting for me in Costa Coffee, whilst I waited for her in the bus station … or perhaps it was the fact I didn’t have a mobile phone. Eventually Jen came to fetch me at the bus station and we both returned to the Costa Coffee. It was heaving. I stood in line with Jen, hopping around in anticipation for the hot chocolate with whipped cream, that Jen was treating me to. There have been many changes to my life since achieving a home, but one thing that has remained constant is that I’m skint, albeit from paying bills, rather than travelling the world.
We sat down and as we chatted, I sipped on my hot chocolate, like the cat that got the cream, then bang, out of nowhere I burst out crying. Now. I’ve cried a lot in public … all over the world in-fact. I can’t make myself cry, but when I’m in a situation with no way out, my stress response is to cry. I never give a damn that I’m crying. As a woman, travelling foreign countries on my own, crying always has great consequences in dire situations.
Like when my visa ran out and border patrol wouldn’t let me leave Bolivia without first paying a fine and I had no money to pay the fine. I cried so much I left Bolivia. Or when I wasn’t allowed on the Milan underground with my bike and I knew I would miss my flight. I cried so much, with rush-hour-city-suits, waltzing by, that I got a security escort straight to the terminal, on the very underground that they said I couldn’t use. Or when my bike broke in Brazil and after I kicked it, it still wouldn’t go, so I burst out crying at the side of the road. People who had witnessed this from their cars may have laughed but they also called a bike shop in another town and a van appeared with a mechanic to fix it.
But crying in the middle of this packed Costa Coffee, on a Saturday afternoon, in central Edinburgh, in front of my agent was different. Because I didn’t want to cry. And I was absolutely mortified.
I wiped the tears from my face, over and over with my hand, glancing around, hoping no one around me could see, but the tears kept coming … so in the end I just sat, in front of my agent, tears rolling down my face. Poor Jen! There to chat about new writing ventures and there’s me stuttering the words … “I even called the Samaritans”. I probably repeated it a few times because it was as much of a shock to me as anyone else. Nothing wrong with the Samaritans … they absolutely rock, but calling them was a sign to me of how shaky my mental health was and how desperate I was clinging onto the life I so wanted.
I told Jen everything, fully expecting her to offer some positive encouragement but expecting me to sense her mind sprinting away from my madness, with thoughts of God I’m not being her agent for another book. But I didn’t get that at all. Jen’s authentic, concerned and genuine response offered support and … unity.
I told Jen my fears of ending up getting signed off, unfit for work, that I wouldn’t be able to promote my book or do my public speaking. My dreams could slip away from me, so easily.
I didn’t let on my greatest fear though. My greatest fear is being put in a psychiatric ward and being apart from Maria. I was in a psychiatric ward many years before, because the police didn’t trust me not to kill myself. But with mental health you need to take one day at a time. Stay in the moment. Sure, my dreams could slip away from me, but they may not. Sure, I could end up in a psychiatric ward … but then again, I may not. I have enough to contend with, without becoming a fortune teller of the future!
All I have control of, is right now, this very minute, this very second. Well that last bit may be bollocks because I’m crying right now in a cafe and I don’t want to, but you get the idea.
We went through everything, with Jen offering to look after some media aspects that were causing me anxiety. What I loved though was Jen never judged my ability by my mental health. She gave me hope because she never changed the way she looked at me. We even brainstormed some ideas for new books.
Although I had cried for most of the meeting, I left feeling great. Jen probably needed a stiff drink! lol
It sure felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders by opening up and telling the world around me what I’m going through. Presenting myself, in all my fragility, yet with all my strength …. and still being accepted …. and still having the same dreams and the same goals as when I kept everything hidden from those around me, professionally and personally.
I got home and I sprayed my new Jo Loves perfume and breathed in. Everything is going to be okay Ishbel. Jo Malone was a fellow guest on Radio BBC 4’s Saturday Live programme with me. She built her famous perfume business from nothing, sold it to Estee Lauder and is now on a new business adventure with her Jo Loves brand. Her story really inspired me, especially listening to her speak about her recovery from breast cancer and yesterday I received a parcel in the post with a Jo Loves perfume and luxury candle with my name on it. The gift card read …
‘A little Jo Loves for you to enjoy. You are an inspiration and I have been telling everyone about your amazing story and your book. Love Jo x’
Every time I feel down, I’m going to spray my perfume and think of Jo’s kind words.
If you want to listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live it’s at 46 mins 30 secs via this link https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002ylc
Note: This blog is written 5 days before publishing to minimize people’s worry when reading posts when my mental health is low.