Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Dealing with depression

I posted a very short version of this on Saturday and then took it down. I've added some helpful tips, now, so here it is...

For the first two weeks of January I felt as though I was walking around with a lump of dark grey dread hovering just behind my head. It got worse. It turned to fuzzy-headedness and tears that came out of nowhere. I wasn't clinically depressed. I was on the dark side of 'fed up.' 

I gave up reading the news and I told one or two people how I felt. They were sweet and supportive and said just the right things:
 'I love you,' 'be gentle with yourself,' 'treat yourself,' 'take it easy.'

I took their advice and have felt a bit lighter, more able to cope. I've been out for exercise in the fresh air, even when it's been cold and grey and I've had to force myself to do it. The sunny Wednesday we had was wonderful, but it didn't last. I got the SAD light down from the attic. I'd been trying to manage without it this winter because it's old and huge and ugly.

The thing that helped the most was being told I was loved. I'm not yet back to my normal bouncy self 

but I'm getting there.

In 1820, Sidney Smith, an essayist and clergyman, wrote a letter to a friend who was suffering from depression, and it's very helpful:

Dear Lady Georgiana,
Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done—so I feel for you.
1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75° or 80°.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don't expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy sentimental people, and every thing likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don't be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Georgiana, your devoted servant, Sydney Smith

I've also come across a letter that Stephen Fry wrote to one of his fans who was suffering from depression, and had asked him for help. Here is some of what he said:

I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one's moods and feelings about the world as being similar to the weather.

Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one's control as to when the sun sun comes out but come out it will. One day. 
It really is the same with one's moods I think.The wrong approach is to think that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness – these are as real as the weather – and equally NOT UNDER ONE'S CONTROL. Not one’s fault.


They will pass: they really well.

In the same way that one has to accept the weather, so one has to accept how one feels about life sometimes. 'Today is a crap day' is a perfectly realistic approach. It’s all about finding a kind of mental umbrella. 'Hey Ho it’s raining inside: it isn’t my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when it does, I shall take full advantage.'

A long time ago I wrote a piece when someone I loved was depressed, and at the end I offered a to-do list. I'm posting it now in case someone somewhere needs it.

How to help someone with depression
·         Encourage them to consult their GP.
·         Don’t forget that depression is an illness, and they cannot help suffering from it.
·         If they will talk to you, listen to what they say.
·         Don’t tell them about all the things they have to be glad about: it doesn’t help.
·         Don’t tell them to pull up their socks and make the best of things.
·         Tell them, on a daily basis, that you care about them.
·         Help to build up their self esteem, by praising minor successes as well as big ones.
·         Encourage them to take exercise, and to eat a balanced diet.
·         Find out about available support services, both local and online.

How to help yourself
·         Remember that even though your support doesn’t seem to help them, it is helping.
·         Accept that no matter how much you care for the person, you are not 100% responsible for them, and you can’t cure them.
·         Make time for yourself and the things that you enjoy. Going out and having your own life is not just OK, it's vital for your well-being.
·         Look after yourself.
·         Don’t live through the depression with them. You would wear yourself out if you were continually moved by their misery, and then you would be no good to them anyway. Depression is very infectious, but don’t succumb to it.
·         Remember that the person isn't seeing things from a normal perspective, so you can't engage with them in the way you normally would.
·         Think twice before getting upset at anything they say: they may be oblivious to the fact  that they can hurt you because they themselves feel so powerless.
·         Confide in a good friend: you need support, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

'What fresh hell is this?'

How do you answer your phone? Our landline is ancient and doesn't have caller-ID, so we never know who's on the line. Usually I answer 'Sue Hepworth?' in a rising tone, as I used to do when I worked as a researcher. Sometimes I just say 'Hello?' If I'm in a frivolous mood I say 'Hepworth Towers?'

The husband of a friend of mine - a lovely man who was polite and friendly in person - often worked at home, like her, and if I rang her during the day and he picked up the phone he would say in a tone of undisguised annoyance 'Oh! It's you.' It always creased me up. (However, I once blurted out the same thing to a member of the family when I was expecting an urgent phone call from someone else, and my response did not go down too well.) 

I loved that episode of Friends where Phoebe is trading in stocks and shares and is really hyper and answers her phone: 'Go!'

Dave and I are watching an old TV series on dvd this week in which a particular character, when stressed, answers his office phone by picking it up and barking: 'What?'

It makes me laugh every single time. I really, really want to answer my phone like that, just once. So if you ever ring me and that's how I answer you'll know what's going on.

 A friend just rang me up hoping to hear me say 'What?'
So I told her to ring me back, and slammed down the phone, and she did, and I did. 
I'm so easily amused.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Letter from home

I hope I can write to the end of what I want to say. I lose enthusiasm and energy so quickly at the moment. Yesterday, after watching a quilting programme that Jenetta sent me I was so inspired, I got out my fabrics to think about making something beautiful, and only got as far as this:

before I let out a huge sigh, and slumped and said to Dave, 'I can't do it.' 

But then I noticed the fabrics I used for Lux and Cece's aprons, 


and remembered they've grown out of them and I'd promised to make them new ones. So that's what I'm doing today.

Thank you - so much - to all of you who sent me kind messages after my last post, and for your suggestions about blogs I might like. I need bits and pieces to read when I'm avoiding the news. It's been really interesting seeing how other people present and write their blogs, quite apart from what they have to say. But more than the content and the ideas, the very fact that you responded so sympathetically to my request was wonderful.

I've felt loved by other people too this week, and it's helped.

I've been trying and failing to write a synopsis of the novel to send to agents, and despairing that I will ever get it done. Reducing 90,000 words to 500 and capturing the reader with the style as well as the content is the hardest part of the novelist's job. I've left it until I feel better. 

I've been trying to do nice things instead. 

The sun came out on Wednesday and I went for a walk above the village and loved it. 

There's something very calming and reassuring about being near tall trees in winter.

I went to see Stan and Ollie and that was good. Really good. I still don't find Laurel and Hardy funny but that's beside the point.

I had a sax lesson and was bad tempered and Mel loves me anyway. 

And I managed to stretch the whole of Series 5 of Grace and Frankie out over a week, which is impressive when it's my favourite programme and I've been waiting for it for aeons. 

For those of you who don't know the programme, it's about an odd couple: two women of 80 who live together. This morning I looked on Twitter to see what people are saying about the new series, and was surprised at the suggestion that Grace and Frankie are in love with each other, and that the next series should have them coming out and admitting it. Personally, I think it's a shame if a programme cannot be about a deep friendship without sexuality entering into it.

And now I'm done. Thank you, dear friends, for keeping on coming back. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


I'm feeling very low, and unable to blog. 

I'd love it if you'd suggest some blogs I could read that might cheer me up. The only blogs I have read (apart from Chrissie's) were Megan's 'The Scent of Water' and Lynne's 'I prefer reading' but they both gave up blogging two years ago.

tip: I like to read about the day-to-day.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, one of my favourite poets, died this week. 

Here she is, reading the poem of hers which I return to again and again - 

Wild Geese.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The flesh is weak

A friend said to me in an email yesterday: Don’t know about you, but endless political turmoil is so very unsettling in almost every aspect of daily life. No matter how much you try to keep it at arm’s length, there’s an underlying agitation. 

That's exactly how I feel this week. I can't settle. 

But let's try to think about something else...

How do you feel about veganism? The only time I've considered it in the past has been when I've heard the cows in the adjacent field crying for their calves. 

Things are different now. We've had a couple of vegans in the family for a year now, and every time I have thought about cooking for them I've felt annoyed. I know, I know, this is most uncivil of me. It's not as though I eat a lot of meat. And it's only a step further than cooking for vegetarians, which I've been doing since 1971.[sic]  It's just...what the hell do you do for flavour when you can't use cheese?

You recall that fruit cake I was having trouble with before Christmas? It was a vegan Christmas cake I was making as a present for said vegans. One liked it, the other could taste the baking powder. I'm going to use chia seeds gloop as the raising agent next time, if there is a next time.

Anyway, two weeks ago I heard a short radio programme about sustainability and saving the planet, and it made such a good case for veganism that I was completely persuaded that it was the right way to eat. I have not become a vegan - come on, I was brought up on a mixed farm in the 50s - but it has made me completely sympathetic to their requirements. I still feel irritated by the things I can't use in recipes, but I don't feel cross with the vegans themselves. I admire them for doing the right thing.

I decided that although I'm not willing to be a vegan myself yet, I would move towards it and cook some vegan meals for myself every week. (I don't cook for Dave. His aspergers makes him graze, and anyway most of his diet consists of yoghurt. And before you ask, I'd rather not answer questions about his diet right now. It's not relevant.) 

I started the new regime by making some beanburgers which were easy to make from store cupboard ingredients, but they were tasteless.

This week I tried again. I saw I had four large flat mushrooms languishing in the fridge salad drawer that needed eating, and I made some mushroom and nut burgers. I made up the recipe. They were amazingly tasty, but then I had found  a small lump of vegan 'parmesan' cheese in the fridge, left there by a vegan at Christmas, and I'd grated that into the mix. I also added soy sauce. They tasted great, and something I might even choose on a menu. 

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and wondering what I would try to make next, and maybe I could be a vegan one day, when I popped into the Co-op to buy some hummus and came out with said hummus and a ribeye steak. 

I ate it last night. It was delicious. 

But I'm not giving up. I'll try more vegan stuff next week. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A book for every mood

Guess what? My two readers - one in New Zealand and one in California - have read the latest draft of my novel and said they enjoyed it, it's good, it's done, bar a few minor edits. So I did the tweaks and the edits and that's why my desk looks like this:

I wish I'd taken a 'before' shot on Sunday. You'll just have to trust me that it only looks this bare and this tidy when I've just finished writing a book. Now I have to get one last person to read it, someone who doesn't know me, and who has not seen the book in any of its previous incarnations. 

In the meantime I'm seeking distraction from this week's desperate, nailbiting, wrist-slitting, footchewing politics by reading a gripping novel by Louise Doughty called Apple Tree Yard, which for several years has been sitting waiting for the right moment on the Kindle app on my iPad. Its time has come and I'm hooked.

I have books I read when I'm ill...

And books I read for comfort in the middle of a sleepless night...

And books to read when the 360 degree greyness of a British winter is getting me down...

And books I re-read when I'm ready for a new book, but can't find something that exactly suits my mood...(this pile below is merely a quick selection)...

And I'll admit to you that I do on occasion (every few years?) reread my own books, when I'm feeling very low...

Which books do you return to, over and over?

Friday, January 11, 2019

A rant about a rom-com

Impatiently waiting for the new series of Grace and Frankie which begins next week, and too tired to read, I needed something to watch on Netflix, so I turned to a rom-com that one of my brothers had recommended. I'd come across it previously but spurned it because of its bad reviews.

The reviews were justified. It was terrible. It was the kind of rom-com that gets rom-coms a bad name, and this makes me cross. It's not as if there aren't some good ones out there. My two recent favourites have been The Big Sick (which sounds revolting, I know, but don't let the title put you off) and one for teenagers called To All the Boys I've Loved Before (also recommended by my brother.)

The one I watched was an hour too long and needed a rewrite by someone like the late great Nora Ephron, who understood romantic comedy and knew how to write intelligent funny dialogue. I watched this film in three bursts because I was so tired and because is was sooooo loooonnnngggg. Ugh. 

So why, you ask, did I keep watching? 

Because of Jude Law, who I have heard of but never seen before, and who was so yummy I couldn't believe he was real. I was in a swoon the whole time he was on screen. 

But I kept puzzling why four such successful actors had agreed to be in such awful codswallop. The money, I guess. They were Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black (an unappealing romantic lead) and Cameron Diaz. Ms Diaz had the opposite effect on me that Jude Law had, which was a big problem as these two were paired up, so every time JL had a scene, the awful ditzy and unconvincing character played by CD was also on screen. I don't know if she is always like that, but I couldn't stand her. She was the human equivalent of sugar pink. 

The film? It's called The Holiday. There was probably a decent film in there somewhere, but it needed ruthless cutting and a complete rewrite of the dialogue between CD and JL, and actually, CD's character needed transforming. And for my personal taste I'd replace CD with another actress (sic) and replace Jack Black with someone attractive because he is just not romantic lead material. 

You may think I'm being harsh, but as a genuine aficionado of the rom-com genre, and as a writer who has been wrestling with the writing of a recalcitrant novel for two years (my fifth novel), and who has also tried her best at screenwriting, I do know what I'm talking about. The last time I trashed a film on the blog was in June 2010, so I think I can be forgiven. Of course, I'm really cross about something else, but I'm sure you have sufficient political angst in your life already, and don't need any more from me.

Here's a list of rom-coms I approve of 

Top Hat

The Philadelphia Story


When Harry Met Sally

Sleepless in Seattle


Crossing Delancey

Pretty Woman 

Four Weddings and a Funeral

My Best Friend's Wedding


While You Were Sleeping

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

The Big Sick

Finding Your Feet  (though it has its faults)

It's Complicated

All the Boys I've Loved Before

I'm sure I've left something out.  Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The sign of good writing

I've just read Anne Tyler's A Patchwork Planet for the third time in twenty years. I wanted to remind myself how a beautifully crafted novel works, in terms of structure, character and plot. Plot and structure are things I struggle with in every novel I write, and the current one (now entitled Even When They Know You) has been even more difficult to whip into line than my earlier ones. 

I know why. It's because it's the only one I started writing with no clear plan. I wanted to simply start writing and see where it took me. I dread writing the first few chapters of a new book, and I thought this method would circumvent the horror. It did, but it transferred the awfulness to later on - having characters and themes and scenes and no clear structure. Structure may sound dull and irrelevant to you, but sound structure and plot provide the narrative drive - the thing that keeps us turning the pages to see what's going to happen next. 

Anyway....the trouble with reading this particular Anne Tyler novel as an example is that whereas I started reading and making mental notes - ah yes, there's the inciting incident; ah yes, there's the plot point at the end of act one - it is so brilliantly written that I was soon so engrossed in the world of the story and wanting to know what happened next, that I lost all sight of the mechanics. 

Isn't that remarkable? This is a book I have already read twice. Age-related memory loss can be such a blessing. 

Friday, January 04, 2019

Woolgathering (you have been warned)

I've been fighting off the winter blues. This New Year I've felt nothing but dread for the coming year. What new horrors did this government have in store for us? Right on cue, the Home Secretary whips up a 'crisis' over a couple of dozen refugees arriving in boats across the English Channel. Not only does he label them 'illegal migrants' he suggests we should deter asylum seekers arriving this way in order to discourage others, despite the fact that under the 1951 refugee convention, refugees have a right to claim asylum and to enter countries through irregular routes. The desperate people in question were Iranians, and statistics show that three quarters of Iranians seeking asylum here win their claims.

And you know what? I wasn't going to write about politics today. The dreadfulness is always in the back of my mind and it just popped out.

On New Year's Day I posted an article entitled 'When you're dead I'll read in bed.' Some of you may have been shocked by the title, but you need to know that thanks to Dave,  death is always in the air at Hepworth Towers. Every night the last thing he says to me is: 'Good night. See you in the morning, if we're spared.'

As a break from reading Michelle Obama's Becoming in the evenings, he leafs through the Screwfix catalogue, and last night he said 'This is what we need!'

'It would make a handy spare bed, and it would make transporting cadavers really easy.' 
(Yes, dear readers, he means mine or his.)

Last night we also watched The Big Sick - a film with an unfortunate title, but which we both enjoyed. I've been paying a lot of attention lately to structure in both screenplays and novels, and I look out for plot points in films. I said to Dave last night, five sixths of the way through the film when something sad happened, 'This is what they call 'the dark moment.'' 

'Oh yes,' he said, 'they used to have that in Sooty and Sweep, right at the end, when everything had gone to pot and Harry Corbett said 'Bye, bye, everyone. Bye bye.'

'No, Dave. It's not the same thing...'

Meanwhile, I have been continuing the rewrite of the novel - Friends, Lovers and Trees, which now has the possible new title - Even When They Know You. I have reworked the text so much that yesterday I felt like Mr Earbrass:
“Not only is it [the book] repulsive to the eye and hand…but its contents are, by this time, boring to the point of madness.”

I have sent it off to two good friends, who are going to give me feedback. Bless them.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year's Resolutions for others

Happy New Year, dear readers! 2019 is not for the fainthearted, but in the history of the world I'm sure there have been worse.

Here, to give you a boost, is a piece I had in the Times some years ago...

When you're dead I'll read in bed

At the beginning of January three things happen with an unfortunate synchronicity.
First, you get a desire to purge domestic detritus.
Second, peri-Christmas pressures make trivial niggles with your partner get out of proportion, leading you to consider clearing the domestic decks in a rather more drastic way.
Third, there is a problem that links the two above – that of wanting to throw something away but your partner saying that you can do it only over his/her dead body.
I have no neat solution to the problematic intersection of the above. However, my husband Dave and I have devised a game to dispel some of the tension it engenders. It is based on the idea that no matter how happy and settled you are with a person there will still be some things that you look forward to when they are no longer around.
The best time to play the game is when the winter seems interminable, and family members are getting chronically fractious, like schoolchildren after two weeks of wet playtimes. We have found it especially invigorating on those gloomy January afternoons when we have attempted a post-prandial walk and only managed to get as far as the end of the road before an icy downpour has propelled us back home with our dripping anoraks stuck to our soaking jeans, which are stuck to our cold wet legs.
We call the game When you are dead, but if you find this title in poor taste you can always re-name it (less pithily) In my next life I shall marry someone who.
'When you die,' says Dave, 'I’ll rip out the phone.'
'When you die,' I respond, 'your 25-year-old cycling jersey will be the first thing to go.' It has more runs than the Australian cricket team and is now more mends than original. Yet before putting it on for a bike ride he stretches the darned thing out on the kitchen table to show me the latest holes and pulled threads, and says pathetically 'Couldn’t you mend it, just one more time?' A less indulgent woman would have made the “mistake” long ago of mixing it up with the bag of jumble bound for recycling.
'In my next life' say I, 'I shall marry someone who doesn’t complain when I want to read in bed.'
'In my next life,' says he, 'I shall marry someone who doesn’t rush off to answer the phone when they’re in the middle of talking to me.'
Another version of the game is New Year Resolutions for others. Thus Dave’s resolution for me would be that I would throw away old food rather than leaving it to skulk in the back of the fridge. Last week he thought he saw a novelty fabric cucumber behind the egg box, because the mould on it had the texture and sheen of velour.
He would also like me to desist from clearing away his tools from the kitchen when he hasn’t finished a job, and to restrain myself from returning his half read books to the bookshelves in random order. Also to do some mending – starting with his cycling jumper.
My first resolution for him would be to take off his muddy shoes at the door - as the children do – rather than keeping them on, forgetting to wipe them, and then treading mud all over the carpet, followed by his saying in a puzzled tone, as if the effect were as mystifying as the marks on the Turin Shroud,  'I seem to have got some mud on the carpet.'
I would like him to stop soaking his bicycle chain in paraffin on the draining board in one of my Pyrex dishes; to finish off an item of food before starting on a new one - loaf of bread, bottle of milk, cucumber, whatever; and to stop using the answering machine to screen every single telephone call – even when it’s a bank holiday and the only person we are expecting to ring is my sister.
You may see recurrent themes emerging from all this dissent, and that explains the intractable nature of the problems, and why the game is such a boon. Living with someone long-term is like Dr Seuss’s Crumple-horn, Web-footed, Green-bearded Schlottz, 'whose tail is entailed with un-solvable knots.'
And I still think the original name of the game is best  - When you are dead. I felt a great sympathy with Lady Longford, who, when she was asked if she’d ever thought of divorcing her husband, said  – 'Divorce never, murder often.'

At someone else's wedding, 1970

 ©            Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2019
published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers