NaNoWriMo is done – now what?

Wow, I can’t believe it, I actually did it! I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. On the 30th of November I believe I actually did a little jig in my hotel room (I happened to be away for work that week) before pouring a celebratory glass of wine. It was totally called for.

The most amazing thing to me was that at the end of it all, there was a coherent story there, one that had plenty going on and even a twist at the end that I hadn’t even planned for! Because I was mostly pantsing it, there were things that happened in the story that surprised even me. I found myself sitting there at one point, actually thinking, ‘did I just kill that character? Did that character seriously just die on me?’ I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but the story took on a life of it’s own. Scenes that I had written in desperation to get my word count up, ended up being really important later on.

I came up with the idea for this story back when I was a teenager, and it has sat in the back of my head for years. I guess this was just the time for the story to be told, as it mostly just flowed out of me.

I learnt a lot about writing first drafts with this, and the NaNo timeline was really helpful in just getting me to keep writing and not look back at what I’d written. I did make notes as I went to tell myself to go back and change certain details as the story evolved.

Now that it’s finished, I will let the draft sit for about a month to get some distance from it. Then I can go back to it in January with fresh eyes and actually see all the craziness of a story as it really is! I can just imagine myself thinking, ‘what on earth was I thinking?! This doesn’t even make sense!’  But I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the second draft!

Happy writing!

Halfway through NaNoWriMo, over the hump!

So I’m at 25,000+ words now on my novel for NaNoWriMo! It’s a great feeling to know I’ve been disciplined enough to write that many words in only a couple of weeks. I’ve never written so much so fast. With a full time job and other social commitments, somehow I’ve managed to stay on track.

Getting up at 6am every morning has been a big part of the success so far. I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a morning person, but that time has been invaluable. It cannot be impeached on by friends dropping in, (cos that totally happens all the time… lol) appointments, social commitments etc. It’s my time. Except when I decide I need sleep more than writing. That hasn’t happened often, but when it has I’ve made time later to catch up. So far, I’m on track!

The story has flowed fairly well, and I’m pretty happy with it so far. It’s not winning any literary prizes at this point (being the first draft, so pretty shitty really) but I’m pleased with the progress. You can’t mold a piece of pottery until the clay is on the wheel!

NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

Who’s signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year?  I signed up for it a few months back, and suddenly the time has crept up on me! This is the point where many of us start feeling the panic. Only a few days to November 1, and I don’t have a story outlined! Aah!

Not to worry, all in good time. I decided to pick up an old story I came up with when I was in my teens. It came from a dream I had. (Most of my stories did back then) It’s a SciFi, and I’ve never written one before, but here goes! I bought a book on writing Science Fiction, and am madly reading through it, trying to pick out some good tips. I figure if I have a strong character, a fairly good sense of the world she lives in, and an idea of where the story is going, I’m doing ok. I can wing the rest. I’m a converted Plotter, but I have a Pantsing background, so I guess that makes me a Plantser.

The hardest thing for me is showing up each day to actually do the writing. I’m not the most disciplined person in the world, especially when it comes to getting up early, but I’m going to give it a go. Usually after a day of work, I don’t want to do any writing, so I want to avoid that. I’ll see how I go.

This is my first year doing NaNoWriMo, so for those veterans of this most sacred of months, what are your tips? What’s worked for you? How did you get through it? Let me know in the comments.

Now off to more planning…



I was an addict, but of a different kind

Trigger warning: This post talks about self-harm. If this is an issue for you,
please be aware that this post may be triggering for you.

I self-harmed for five years in total. By that I mean that for five years of my life I was actively harming myself. There were years in between where I was in ‘remissdrink-428310_640ion’ but it’s like the old saying about alcoholics: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic; but not always a drunk.” I will always have the penchant to turn to self-harm. It is my weakness now.

In the years that I was actively self-harming, I cut, burnt, hit (tried to break bones) and poisoned myself. Mostly it was cutting though. Back when I started, not many people knew about self-harm. They thought it was attention seeking or suicide attempts. It was neither. There are many reasons people cut, but if someone is doing it, it needs to be taken seriously. I mostly self-harmed because I didn’t know how to deal with the emotional pain inside, and physical pain is easier to deal with.

I only found out much later that self-harm is extremely addictive.

Little did I know that each time I hurt myself, a very powerful chemical was being released into my brain. The endogenous opioid system is triggered, which regulates pain perception and levels of the body’s pain-relieving chemicals: endorphins, dynorphins and enkephalins. These are all opiates. The word endorphin was coined by combining the words morphine and endogenous (naturally occurring in the body). But the body’s opioids are eight to ten times stronger than morphine.

The physical release in the body when someone self-harms is like a drug addict getting a fix. After a while, the body craves it. Ergo, a self-harmer becomes an addict. Unfortunately, this was and still is not widely known, even among the medical profession.

When I would present to A&E with self-harm injuries, I was not treated well. I was told I was stupid, I was wasting their time, and was even made to wait hours and hours, even though I had an open vein. Very rareldoctor-563428_640y was I treated with compassion. I hated going there, but I knew I had
to have treatment or I could get infections. I just couldn’t stop.

It also didn’t help that I was on a
certain antidepressant that was making the impulsive and suicidal tendencies worse. I didn’t find that out until after being on it for two years. I knew my mind was not my own, and each time the doctors increased the medication, I got worse. In the end, after waking up in the hospital after a massive overdose, with no idea why I was there or how I got there, I knew I had to stop taking it.

This was just in my particular case, although the medication was known to increase impulsivity and suicidal tendencies. If you feel this is also happening to you, please talk to your doctor first before doing anything.

I am much better now, and have not self-harmed for years, but there are still times when it is a temptation. The only thing is – unlike an alcoholic – I can’t just remove all the bottles from my house. I had to learn to use sharp objects without associating them with self-harm again. The only way I did that is with practice. I can now use a box-cutter with no thoughts of cutting in my mind. The brain can be retrained!

This post has been long enough. I hope you all have a great week!

J.A. Gates

It’s not my shame. It’s theirs.

I didn’t post last night because I was helping to host a screening of a documentary about trafficking. It’s something that is close to my heart, and has been for many years. Did you know that there are more slaves now than there ever was when slavery was legal? The slave trade is second in profit only to the drug trade. And that gap is closing fast. What is this world coming to, when someone decides that buying a woman or girl is a better business deal than selling drugs?chains-19176_640

I spoke at this event, sharing my story. The voices in my head tried to tell me
that my story is not worth sharing. That it was nothing in comparison to what these women and children go through. That it’s not even relevant. To those voices I say, then why do you care?”

If I decide to keep quiet about my story, then the men who abused me win. The more I keep it in the dark, the more power it has over me – to control me. To make me feel shame. It’s not my shame. It’s theirs.

I may never know whose lives I will touch by me sharing, but I know I feel lighter afterwards. When it is brought out in the open, its power lessens. I feel freer. If you have a story, I encourage you to tell it. It is extremely cathartic, and it will help. Maybe even help someone else.

My cat is not afraid of much

My cat is not afraid of much. He’s pretty weird for a cat actually. He likes going for walks (without the lead thankyou very much, he does not like being controlled!), taking rides in the car (it actually calms him down), visiting new places and new people, and even playing with big dogs (which has gotten him into trouble in the past). But those odd things he is afraid of (other cats is about the only thing I’ve found), he just sits there and hisses at it occasionally. He doesn’t run away, he doesn’t try to pick a fight with it. I like to think he’s being assertive. And he looks it right in the eye and tells it he doesn’t like it.

2016-07-27 21.30.17

We can learn something from my cat. A lot of us live in fear. But it is a vital response to physical and emotional danger. We need to feel it to protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear things that are far from life-or-death. Traumas and bad experiences can trigger a fear response in us that can leave us paralyzed, running or fighting for no good reason.

There are 5 types of fear:

Extinction – the fear of death, of ceasing to exist. Think about when you had a near miss in a car, or felt that horrible feeling when looking over the edge of a tall building.

Mutilation – The fear of losing any part of our bodies. Anxiety about creepy crawlies arises from this fear.

Loss of autonomy – the fear of being paralysed, immobilised, trapped, or controlled by circumstances beyond our control. The physical side of it is called claustrophobia, but it extends to social interactions and relationships as well.

Separation – the fear of abandonment, rejection and loss of connection with people.

Ego-death – the fear of humiliation and shame.

Can you identify which of these fits your fear(s)?

President Roosevelt once said “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”. Often we end up fearing the fear, and not the actual situation. We remember when we felt that fear, and so when we come up on a similar situation, we are afraid to feel that again. When put like that, it sounds less scary, right? We are fearing fear itself.

The first step in overcoming this is to identify it. Break it down to it’s basest parts. Identify one of the above 5 fears and name it. Even say it out loud. Say it like Shakespeare would have: “I see you fear of separation, you loggerheaded toad-spotted clotpole, and I am not afraid of you!” If nothing else, you’ll be in fits of laughter, which always helps.

The next step is to face it. Yes, go at it head on until you find that you are no longer afraid of it. It actually truly works. I’ve done this many times with trigger points. Things that bring up those bad memories. I keep doing them, or visiting those places, or talking to those people, until it no longer scares me. I now have very few flashbacks because of this.

We don’t need to live our lives in fear. There is much to be enjoyed out there. Like Beenut butter – it’s peanut butter crossed with honey. Yes, you can actually buy this here!

J.A. Gates

Distraction Queen

Depression is something that is very hard to escape from. It has infected your mind, and how do you get away from your own mind? It follows you everywhere, whispering lies to you. You’re alone. You’re useless. No one cares. It’s an incredibly isolating and confusing experience. No wonder we lose so many people to it every day.

So how do we get through each day when this is going on in our brains? For some people, medication helps. I found that for me drugs didn’t help, they just made me worse. I tried many different types of antidepressant and anti-anxieties, but none of them helped me. Some made it worse, but that’s a whole other story. But I do know that they work for a lot of people, it’s just a matter of finding a good doctor who can monitor you well and find the right drug. Be mindful of the possible side effects as well, as there are many and some can cause suicidal ideation. Contact your doctor straight away if you experience this.

Without medication to help me, I’ve had to turn to other things to keep my mind from killing me. I am the queen of distraction. Distractions are awesome. I read a lot. Entering another world to live in someone else’s head for a while is the ultimate escape. If my head is too chaotic and I can’t focus enough to read, I play computer games. Yep, I’m a gamer. I find them extremely immersive, and I have control over the environment. I can run through the streets of Victorian London being an Assassin, or hunt monsters on my trusty steed Roach in The Witcher, explore ancient tombs as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, or just be Batman. The possibilities are endless. After a long day at work, particularly a frustrating one, swinging a sword around and killing something gets it all out of my system. Judge me if you like, but it works. And no one gets hurt.

Another great thing to do to help with depression is exercise. Now, I’m not much into going for a run, or getting into the gym and jumping on a cross-fit machine. I hate that, it’s boring. So I found martial arts. I had always wanted to learn, but didn’t think I could do it, until I realised that in order to get some confidence, particularly around men, I needed to change something. So I found a trainer. My trainer works with a mixed martial art, comprising of Jeet Kune Do, Philipino Kali and Muay Thai Kickboxing. It’s a discipline that is designed for self-defense, not just fighting in the ring. I do two sessions a week, for 30 minutes at a time, and boy has it increased my self-confidence! I’m fitter, I’ve lost weight, and I don’t live in fear any more! Also, if I’m at home and feel those old feelings and anxieties again, I just drop to the floor and do pushups until the feeling goes away. You see, when you exercise, happy chemicals are released into the brain. Instant anti-depressant!

Other great things to do:
Having an animal to pat (lowers blood pressure)
Colouring in
Watching TV shows and movies
Hanging out with good friends
Eating a special treat
Going for a walk
Listening to music

Don’t forget though, that you can’t distract yourself forever. At some point, you will have to face your fears, and only then will you find yourself released from them. Find a counselor that you connect with and work through the root causes of your depression. The sooner the better. It can take time, but it is possible. Don’t tell yourself you’re not strong enough, you don’t know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.

Things I’ve learnt from depression

It’s been over 3 and a half years since I’ve been on antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. I take that as a win. I’ve been pretty well, really. Being in full time employment has helped heaps with that. On days when I’ve woken up and felt like crap and felt like hurting myself (old habits die hard), I’ve just forced myself to go to work and by the end of the day the feeling has gone because I’ve been hanging with funny people and had my mind focused on others instead of myself. I’ve had a reason to get up in the morning, so it has gotten easier and easier. Trust me. I’ve had fewer and fewer of those days as the years have gone by.

I also try to be mindful of what I’m thinking. If I’ve had a weird day, I often find myself pulling it apart at the end of the day. What was I thinking about? What did I tell myself at the time? What triggered that response? How could I have responded better to that? Sometimes I will have the littlest social gaffe, and I find myself in the bathroom crying, telling myself I’m useless and broken. That’s always a bad idea. It takes me ages to calm back down again from an incident like that.

But I always make sure I try and learn something from the experience. I think that’s just my personality. I’m always trying to better myself. That can be a curse too, because I don’t stop to celebrate the little victories. I know I’m getting better though. It is possible to change those little negative inner voices. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of practice, but it can be done. For me, I had to start identifying the lies that I believed about myself. Obviously, I had the help of a counselor to identify these things, otherwise how would I know? Then I had to write down the truth about myself. I believed I was ugly, so I had to write the truth, which is that I am actually beautiful. God doesn’t make ugly things. It’s just insulting otherwise. So, I would write these truths down in a notebook, and every day I read them out loud to myself. When I first started, I would roll my eyes at reading them, because I didn’t believe them yet. After a while of doing this, speaking out the words started to take hold in my mind. I actually started to live out these truths. This is when I started taking selfies for the first time ever. I started celebrating me. Because I had learnt that it didn’t mean I was up myself.

It meant I appreciated someone else’s art.

Welcome to my world

So this blog is called ‘No Cupcakes and Curtains’ because of a conversation I had with my old therapist a few years ago. I told him I hated small talk. Can’t stand it. I can do it, but I prefer to skip it. I don’t get it. He referred to small talk as ‘Cupcakes and Curtains’. I’m not sure if this is an established saying, or whether he was just putting together random words. I tried to Google it, but there was no urban dictionary meaning for it, so I don’t know. Hence I decided this blog was definitely not about the small talk, so NoCupcakesAndCurtains was born.

I love to write. I have been spinning stories since I was about six years old. I used to think it was since I was 10 years old, but then I found my first ever diary in a box the other day, which was just a hard bound notebook and found the words ‘I am 7 years old. I like writing books.’ So I figure it’s meant to be. Even in that diary I was creating an imaginary family around me, and living in weird and wonderful imaginary houses. They were usually underground or floating in the sky. Never just an ordinary house. I seemed to have a fascination with underground things. Not sure why.

I also had a fascination with secret things. It was my favourite word. I had secrets. Secrets I kept, even from myself until I was 18 years old. Those secrets were the ones that would fuck me up. You know the ones. The ones that strange adults told you were secret from everyone else. And I believed them. Even my brain believed them, and in the end, not knowing what to do with that secret, hid it from my own consciousness. That dissociation kept me slightly saner for those formative years, although I still had a lot of the side effects.

When it all came back to me in my later teen years, my mind broke a little. A little bit more, anyway. I went off the deep end. My brain now wanted to kill me. It told me to walk in front of cars, take pills, walk off high things, etc. I only partially listened to it. Eventually, after wanting to shut it up, I decided downing some sleeping pills with vodka was a good idea. Not so much. A stay in the hospital overnight was the result of that. The funny thing is, I was released the next morning with no more than a “don’t do it again” and a see ya later. No follow up. Interesting.

The next few years were a rinse, repeat of that episode. I’m sure my long suffering family were getting pretty sick of it. I was self-harming on a daily basis, and also a work-aholic. I tried to stay as busy as possible. I didn’t sleep much, so I just used to go to work instead. Eventually, I ended up signing myself into a full-time rehabilitation unit to try and get myself well. I knew I was fucked, and if I carried on the way I was going, I would be dead in a couple of years. So I gave it all I had.

I came out 15 months later a very different person. I now wore colours. I smiled. I took selfies. I dressed girly. Ish. People didn’t recognise me. I was happy. I had found who I was, I had learnt to love myself, despite my quirks. It had been a hard journey, but well-won. I was 22 years old.

This post has been long enough and sobering enough. I’ll let you go. We can pick this up next time.

Because kittens
Because kittens