Friday, 19 December 2014


      Email subject header: Put up with mane, you have a new follower on twitter!

     Oh, do I? I wonder who tha… Oh. It’s you. Again.

     Twitter’s a funny old place. I much prefer it to facebook if I’m honest, because of the fact that you can choose who to follow (or not) and you get followers who are funny, clever, thoughtful, kind, silly, interesting, and unbelievably sexy (you know who you are).  But then you also get followers that, well, don’t seem to entirely grasp the concept and possibilities of it.

     Why me? They’re new. Probably still an egg in the profile pic, with no bio either. They’re following thirty-odd accounts, almost all of which are blue ticked news, sport, official celebrity accounts. And me. They never tweet. They never interact with anyone. They’re just there. Why are they following me? Why me? Do I know them in real life? Don’t think so, although obviously it’s hard to tell with no further information to go on.  They make me slightly nervous, as though they know something about me that I don’t.

     Not for longers. Someone you follow retweets something. You retweet it. The original tweeter sees you’ve retweeted it, and follows you. You check out their twitter feed to see if you want to follow them back. Within seconds, you know that within a day or two, one of your sweary/silly/KITCHEN DISCO tweets will cause them to think ‘Oh. Not the person I thought she was.’ And quietly unfollow you.

     The bots. You know. Mention Shakespeare, cats, Stalin, horoscopes, Norwich, politics, cats, exercise, cocktails, photography, cats, heritage, Kim Kardashian, parenting, crowdsourcing, or cats, and within a day, you’ll gain at least five new follower bots, who only ever tweet Motivational Quotes In Which The First Letter Of Every Word Will Be Capitalised For No Reason. They tend to drop off after about a week or so, a bit like a scab.

     Making a hash of things. They’re probably quite nice people. But they do like a #hashtag. They #LoveHashtags #Everything #is #Hashtagged #LikeThis #HashtagEverything #LikeHashtags #HashtagLove #Love Hashtags #TheyLoveHashtags #LivingTheHashtagDream #ItIsABitMuchHashtagging #IfYouLikeItThenYouShouldaPutAHashtagOnIt #Hashtags #Hashtagging #HashtagIsQuiteAnOddWordWhenYouWriteItOverAndOverAgain #JustOneOrTwoHashtagsWillDo #PleaseStopUsingHashtagsSoMuch #ForSomeReasonOverdoingHashtagsAnnoysMe

     And then. The type of follower that really, really grinds on me. And I don’t think I am alone in this.

     Clickteasers. You know. They follow you. You look at their profile. They’re following 14.5k tweeters. They have 20k followers. You see their feed is a lot of hashtags, links to That Type Of Motivational Quote That Is Bollocks over a picture of a sunset, a few retweets of people saying nice things about them, and them saying ‘Thanks! We do our best!’ And absolutely no real interaction with anyone. At all. Ever. Just constant selfpromotion. ‘Urgh.’ You think. ‘Not for me.’ And that’s it. Until ten days later. ‘Put up with mane, you have a new follower on twitter!’ Do I? Ooh. Who’s that? Oh. It’s that person who followed me ten days ago. Bit odd. Still not going to follow them. Ten days later, ‘Put up with mane, you have a new follower on twitter!’ I wonder who has discovered me, and my witty, clever, and inspiring tweets? Oh for the love of… it’s them. Again. Right… And it goes on and on and on. Unless you block them. But, and I guarantee this, if you then unblock them, within minutes, they will follow you again. And again. And again.

     It’s ridiculous, it’s pathetic, it’s really annoying. They’re repeatedly following and unfollowing in the hope of drawing you into following them. Guess what? Not gonna. It’s not really helping their cause, because it’s quite clearly telling you that they see twitter not as a tool for communication, interaction, and discovery, but as some kind of popularity contest where the person with the most followers somehow ‘wins’.  No. The clue is in the name ‘Social media’. You know, social. Getting to know people, to find out things, to promote things you care about, to provide support, humour, whatever you like. I would rather have ten followers who *get* me, than 10,000 who couldn’t give a monkey’s. And if I didn’t follow you the first time you followed me, then it’s unlikely that I will on the eleventh time either.

      So please. If you suspect you might be a clickteaser, please. Step away from twitter, and reflect. Is continually annoying a large swathe of tweeters really the best way to promote yourself? Or might it be a better strategy to be slightly more selective, slightly more targeted in your output, and ever so slightly less of a complete and utter click?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Scary Movie

     A few weeks ago, I had to face up to something that I’d had been doing my utter best to avoid confronting. The Black Dog had returned. The fucker.

     All the signs had been there. Not sleeping. Not eating. No motivation. Moodswings. Getting poisonously furious over trifling upsets. But what finally bounded out of the mist, smacked me over, and savaged my throat were the intrusive thoughts.

     This is always the worst part. Naturally cynical and pessimistic as a default, when the Black Dog takes over, my mind is set to catastrophe mode. It’s not so much that I expect the worst, I suspect it, I imagine it, I believe it to be happening. So I behave as if it is. Even when the wafer thin mint of sanity that remains tries to reason with me.

     It’s like when you’re five years old, and your elder siblings force you to watch a horror film rated 18. The quiet, quiet… BANG of a horrible jolting thought. You squeeze your eyes closed, turn your head away, hands gripping the sides of your chair, your face a rictus of trepidation and fear. It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s just a film, it’s not real, that’s just tomato ketchup, after this scene was filmed they all went and had lunch together, it’s not real, if I open my eyes, it’ll be a different scene that isn’t scary, I’m not scared, I’m not, I’m going to look again now… Your face twisted in a grimace, head not facing the telly, risk opening one eye a teeny tiny bit and OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE PEOPLE BEING KILLED FOR REAL

     For this reason, I never watch scary films. The effect lingers on a bit too long. But obviously, that’s fine. I can just not watch scary films. But life… can’t be avoided, although I’ve done my best at times. And when the intrusive thoughts start up, it becomes very difficult to shut up the voice in my head that makes me suspicious and doubtful.

     It’s horrible. Just URGH. The worst interpretation is applied to everything. If someone puts an inappropriate wink in a message, I become instantly paranoid. If someone says they’ll do something and doesn’t do it, I know they’re trying to hurt me. If someone says they won’t do something, and they do, I know they are deliberately fucking with my head. Messages that I don’t get an answer to? I’m being deliberately ignored.

      And it’s not just interacting with others. It’s the potential for things to go wrong. If Alistair’s out longer than I expected him to be, I think ‘Hmm. Hope he’s ok.’ And then WHAM that’s it. My head merrily projects a horror film of a twisted lump of metal that was our car, his mangled body, the knock on the door from two Policemen, me having to tell The Blondies, the funeral (would I be capable of delivering the eulogy? What would I say? Could I write it, but ask someone else to deliver it? Who would carry the coffin in?) grief, loss, me, a single mum raising two fatherless children, birthdays, Christmas, important life events, facing all of them alone. Would I meet someone else eventually? Or stay faithful to his memory? How the Blondies turn out, growing up without a father? If I became a grandmother, how sad would I feel, knowing that Alistair would never meet his grandchildren? Would a grandson have Alistair’s name?... Yes.   An entire alternative reality, delivered in as much time as it takes for me to wonder why he’s later than normal. And all because the queue to get out of Sainsbury’s car park was a bit longer than usual.

     There’s no reason for it. None at all. But it’s there. Like an infection. Brain wanker.

      And it’s horrible, because you never know where it’s going to come from. Life is all fine, happy happy joy joy, then OOF. A thought hits you and you can’t shift it. Believe me, if I could, I would. It’s not pleasant to feel you’re teetering on the brink of disaster. And what is most damaging is that you can’t anticipate. Some thoughts… meh. Shrug. Something relatively minor comes along and that’s it. Your mind cracks in half, and you’re left reeling, angry, hurt, paranoid.

      Happily, there is something I can do about it. I can (eventually) get my unwilling arse to the GP, get a temporary upgrade in anti-depressants, wait for them to kick in, and smooth over the rumpled sheets of my brain’s misfiring chemicals. It’s not burying anything. It’s not refusing to deal with life. It’s not a placebo. It’s me fixing the faulty wiring of my mind. It’s me not letting the Black Dog pull too hard on the lead.

     It’s me getting up, turning off the telly, and forgetting about the scary film. It’s me not having nightmares.

EDIT: I really ought to explain that I wrote this several weeks ago, but knew I wasn't ready to blog it. The fact that I have means I'm feeling a whole lot better. The Black Dog has disappeared.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Clouds that won't pass

      He delights in torture, but he holds my hand, and never shields me. Because the best shield is to accept the pain. Then what can really destroy me? Let me close my eyes and lie invisible, and perhaps the clouds will pass through me.

     But they’re not. The clouds aren’t passing through. I am in the fog, the fog of The Boy, and trying to understand how I can make him happy again. Because at the moment, every day is a struggle, and although there are brief shards of light and laughter, they only throw the dark clouds into greater relief.

     He doesn’t want to go to school. Every morning, it’s the same. The moodiness, the sulkiness, the deliberately slow act of getting dressed, sniping at The Girl, storming ahead of us up the driveway. Silence most of the way to school. Once The Girl’s been dropped off, I try and talk to him, to try and cheer him up. Sometimes it works. Some days he goes in happily. More often it doesn’t, and so I embrace him at the school gates, feeling the sense of resignation coming from him in waves, my heart heavy with unconditional love as he trudges slowly into the playground, looking back at me just before he goes round the corner, and making the heart gesture with his hands.

     I’ve tried talking to him. The school have tried talking to him. I’ve tried talking to the school. But there’s nothing, no obvious cause. He’s not being bullied, he’s popular, his work is good, he seems happy in class. He’s eating normally, sleeping normally. But the hour before we say goodbye is the longest hour of the day. And once home, any reminder of school sets him off into either a silent sulk, or an explosion of temper. Sometimes he leaves notes for me to find ‘I’m not going to school tomorrow Mum, please don’t make me, I love you, I miss you too much when I’m at school so I’m not going.’ He’ll talk to me openly about it, when no one else is around, which I tell myself is a good thing. At least he’s talking. At least he’s being honest. At least he’s not ashamed of feeling how he does. He’s not trying to keep dark thoughts hidden.

    But I can’t help him. I can support. I can alleviate. I can distract. I can reassure. But I can’t help him; I can’t fix what’s going on in his head. I can’t change the way his mind works.  And what I see is me. My failings, my flaws, my fears writ large that I see reflected in him. Because I know I felt the same way when I was his age. The only difference is that I kept my thoughts to myself.

     And it terrifies me. If he’s thinking this way, feeling this way, just as I did, then what does the future hold for him? My beautiful boy, the baby who would turn his head when he heard someone laugh, assuming that anything funny somehow involved him? The toddler who would reach out and gently touch every child he passed, as a sign of affection, friendship, warmth? The Boy who falls over laughing at some of my terrible jokes? The Boy who cried last week because he accidentally tripped his sister up and she hurt herself? The Boy who told me he was crying because he felt stupid and useless…

     It doesn’t seem to matter what I say or do, or how much I keep telling him of his good qualities. That he’s kind, gentle, thoughtful, caring, polite. Every teacher he’s ever had has praised him again and again for his sensitivity. ‘He’s such a nice boy.’    Even a stranger on a plane this summer praised me for my good fortune in having such a sweet and funny boy. Every day I tell him to believe in himself, that I believe in him, that I love him, that he matters, not just to me, but to plenty of other people too. But none of it seems to make any difference.

     I’m his mother. I should be able to make things better for him. But I can’t. All I can do is be there and hold his hand for as long as he wants me to. And it breaks me. On a daily basis. To see my son hurting, to see him struggle with the fear inside him. I do so much to help. But I can only do so much. And so much is not enough.