A Note On Productivity

Friday gone, the 26th June, saw the publication of my twelfth book, Just Like Jesus. The Friday before that saw Cutthroat be released. I’ve always strived to be described as ‘prolific’, and I think I’m succeeding. On that note, I wanted to write something on a personal level about my productivity.

I don’t tend to get into personal stuff too much. I’d rather just write my stories, find somewhere wiling to publish them, and just get on with things in my personal life privately. Maybe it’s because it’s after two in the morning and I’m unable to sleep, I don’t know, or maybe it’s because of stuff I’ve talked about recently which has brought back a lot of memories.

Anyway, so, I was talking with my girlfriend a couple of days ago and it occurred to me that I don’t remember much of what happened in my life for the majority of the years between 2004-2006, from roughly October of the former to June of the latter. My high school girlfriend and I broke up and, rather than handle things head-on in a mature and reasonable way, I decided to drop out and go into work. Months went by in a blur as I moved from job to job – potato factory, mechanic, carpet fitter, and then a three month period on the dole in the summer of 2006 before going back to mechanic, albeit in a different garage. I can’t say I enjoyed any of these jobs, but I had no qualifications and did whatever I could (laughably, at 32, I still don’t have any qualifications and still work on this basis).

I didn’t see much of friends during this time. For the most part I locked myself away, tired and miserable. Plus, they were still at school. On the weekends, they all went to the pub. I went with them a few times, but it was a dank and dingy pub, a waste of a Saturday, and, more than any of those things, it made me miserable. I resolved to stop going. I’d rather be miserable in my own room, where I could at least listen to The Doors, than in that dirty pub inhabited by sad, angry men. I’ve never been a drinker, either, so it wasn’t like I could just get drunk and ignore the surroundings. I’ve been teetotal pretty much all my life (for reasons I won’t go into here), and it was round that time I found out what Straight Edge was.

A lot of people who discover Straight Edge talk about the strength it gave them, how it made them feel like they were part of a community, part of something bigger. I had no community. For the longest time it was just me, and being Straight Edge just further cemented my status as an outsider.

I spent a lot of this time period sleeping. I wrote a bit, when I could, but for the most part I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t necessarily sleep because I was tired. I’d sleep my weekends away because I didn’t have anything better to do. I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be and there was no one I needed to see. I didn’t need to do anything until Monday, when I went back to work.

When I told my girlfriend this, she said something I’d never really considered before – ‘It sounds like you were depressed.’

It seems so obvious, but I’d never thought about it. I’d always just assumed I was sleeping because I didn’t have anything better to do and, as such, because I was lazy.

Maybe I was depressed. After saying it out loud, to a person, for the very first time, it certainly sounds like I was. I don’t want to throw that word around lightly. I’ve never seen a doctor about it and it’s never been diagnosed. I know I’m prone to bouts of melancholia, but they tend to pass, eventually. They tend to pass when I work, but I’ll get to that.

I mentioned that things started to look up in 2006. In the summer of that year, while I was on the dole, my friends all finished high school. We spent more time together. I met girls that they knew from school, who would prove to be important later on. In September things changed. People started jobs, or went off to university. I started at a new garage, in Cramlington. I hated it. I dreaded waking up in the morning. I longed for five o’clock every single day. I went back to sleeping away my weekends. I’ve never mentioned this before, and in the interest of the disclaimer at the front of the book that says ‘these characters are not based on anyone living or dead’ I won’t give too many details, but the most loathsome characters in my book Fatboy are based on people I worked for – I mean with – at this time.

I hated it, but like I’ve said, I’m not qualified for much else. Then, in December, I met a girl. She was a friend of the girls I’d met in the summer, while I was on the dole (I said they’d be important). She made things bearable. It strikes me now just how important she was. It strikes me now that, without her, I probably wouldn’t have survived the entirety of my tenure at that garage. It eroded at every fibre of my being. It wasn’t so much the job itself, but the people who ran the business. One of them in particular.

On top of that, I lived in a household that didn’t believe in the sincerity of mental health issues, that believed so long as I had a job, so long as I was working, so long as I could pay my board, that’s all that mattered. So I swallowed down any issues I had and pretended they weren’t there, but do you know what I couldn’t hide? Anger. I was angry all the time. Even when I was with the girl, the girl who made me happy, I was still seething inside. There was always something at the back of my head, some slight, some annoyance. I know I made her sad, sometimes. I know that sometimes I did it on purpose, though I didn’t realise it at the time. I was self destructive. There was a part of me that didn’t want to be happy, that wanted always to suffer, and I took it out on other people. I took it out on her. One of the most easygoing, patient, and generous people I’ve ever known, I would find a way to make her angry, press a button that would make her want to fight. She won’t read this, but I’m sorry.

Eventually, naturally, I drove her away. She got tired of my bullshit, or else she just wanted to see what else was out there for her without me – the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. So I was alone again. Without her, I sank into some kind of hole. I was fine, at first, but then my endless days stretched out before me. I’d awake in the morning and some days, as my alarm rang shrilly in my ears, I’d hear a voice say ‘Kill yourself.’ Other mornings I’d wake up and it wasn’t words, but images. A violent, bloody fantasy, in which I took one of the Stanley blades kept in storage at work, and sliced open the big juicy vein near the inside of my left elbow. In this fantasy I didn’t necessarily want to die. I don’t know what I wanted. It was a statement. An angry fucking statement that I wanted out, and the only way I could see to do it was through blood.

One day, I took one of those blades. I stood at my toolbox early one morning, the day barely begun, and I tested. I tried. I pressed that sharp blade to my left wrist. It wasn’t the single vicious stroke I had envisioned. I barely broke the skin at all, though I cut it in a few places, trying to get deeper, braver, each time. When they healed, they were thin red scabs, and I was embarrassed. I don’t think anyone saw me do this, it was a big garage. If they did, no one said anything. I covered them up as best I could. I taped kitchen roll to my wrist, same way I did when I got a new tattoo and needed to keep it clean while it healed. For what it’s worth, I’ve never cut myself since.

I had friends help me through this time. I never told them about the cutting, or the dark thoughts, but they were present, and that was enough. I’d watch and discuss cowboy movies with Pete (who I’ve barely seen in the last ten years). Calum and I would drive all through the night, just talking shit, no destination in mind. He’s my best friend. He’s my son’s godfather.

A few months after the break-up, I met someone new. Well, not new. I’d known her for a while. We ‘met’ in the Haymarket bus station the morning after I’d been to a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gig and I’d spent the night sleeping on Pete’s floor at his student accommodation. Anyway, we were together for a month or two, and one night she told me she wanted me to open up. She said I was a closed book, that I didn’t give anything away. I wasn’t sure what she wanted to know. She knew I liked her, wasn’t that enough? She wanted more, a connection perhaps, so I confided in her. We’d been spending a lot of time together. I’d met her daughter, spent time with her, too, the rest of her family. Maybe this all made me too confident. But I told her what I hadn’t told anyone else (and what I hadn’t told anyone since, until recently), about the depressive spells, and about the cutting.

The next day, while I was at work, she broke up with me via text.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel inclined to open up to anyone again for a very long time.

Fast forward a couple of years. My son is born. I try my hand at writing crime fiction. One of my earliest attempts at the genre, Red Eyed Richard, is published in issue three of Thuglit. I got paid for it. This began an addiction I didn’t at first realise I had acquired.

My writing remained sporadic. Juggling a job (the garage was far behind me now) trying to make ends meet while also struggling with a newborn didn’t exactly leave much time to write. I did what I could when I could. I wasn’t writing every day, and I found there were times I could be snappy or argumentative. About a year later, I made the commitment to, in at least some capacity, write every day. Early on, I was still prone to skipping days here and there. Those days I missed? I was irritable, and I always felt like there was something missing.

I write every day now, and I have done for the last few years. I’m not going to say I’m the picture of zen, because I’m not. I can still snap, I still get agitated, but I’m nowhere near as bad as I once was. I’m not as angry. I certainly don’t want to cut myself. I don’t sleep my days away, and if I do end up sneaking in a nap on an afternoon it’s usually because I got up at five am to write.

At this stage I’ve written twelve books and more than fifty short stories. Writing also afforded me the opportunity to interview Mark Lanegan, my favourite singer, but I’ve told those stories enough times already. Maybe I’ll go fully in depth some other time.

I’m loathe to say I have depression, as I can’t be sure that’s what I feel and I don’t want to minimise anyone who does, but for the point I want to make for all of this I’ll use the word for the sake of simplicity. My productivity is driven primarily by one thing: it keeps the depression at bay. I’m not saying it’s an  approach that will work for everyone, but it’s the one that works for me.

I’m a northerner, a Geordie, maybe that’s why I feel so awkward about being so personal in this post. I don’t talk about my feelings, not in public. If it wasn’t now four in the morning and I hadn’t been able to sleep, I doubt I’d have written this at all. If I manage to get any sleep tonight/this morning, I’ll probably remember what I’ve done, be overcome with embarrassment, and quickly come delete this post.

But, then again, maybe I’ll just leave it. It holds a lot of memories.

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