I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at the horizon this week. It’s a happy side effect of being on holiday: the ability to lie on a beach and just be. Staring at the line where the sea and the sky meet sparks an excitement inside me which seems timeless. I imagine it’s the same excitement that caught the imagination of long ago explorers, ones who looked beyond the lives they had right there and then, and imagined ‘what if…’
The funny thing about horizons is they can both limit you or offer you endless possibilities, depending on your outlook. So many people probably looked at that same line and just accepted that was where the world ended. They didn’t question, didn’t wonder, just went about their day and lived within the limits of the land.
But then there were the dreamers. The brave people who had no idea what was beyond that infinite line, but hoisted up their sails and journeyed to find out anyway. For all they knew there was a cliff drop into nothingness, or a land of monsters that swallowed them whole. In spite of the dangers that lurked just beyond their sight, their need to know outweighed any peril. Their courage outweighed their fear.
And that’s what I try to do every day. In my writing, in my parenting, in my life, I try to push myself beyond the horizon. I try to venture into new lands, knowing that I may stumble and fall. But the endless possibilities draw me still, always so much more exciting than a life that is limited. It is definitely scary, and often perilous, but the rewards are always worth the risk.
So how about you? What things lie beyond your horizons? Are you brave enough to discover them too?
Today I’m featured on a blog tour that’s very close to my heart. Raising money for the MIND charity, the ‘They Say I’m Doing Well’ tour features a number of authors who are working together to raise awareness about mental health problems. I am privileged to be among this group.
According to statistics, in the UK in 2015 around 10% of the population suffered from either depression or anxiety. Sadly, I was one of those 10% last year. Read below to hear more of my story, and make sure you hop over to the ‘They Say I’m Doing Well’ site to read more posts.
Stress strɛs/ – a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Stress can be the most destructive of forces. Metal buckles beneath it. Walls crack, houses crumble, people disintegrate. When it hits you, it’s almost impossible to evade, and I’ve found that it always seems to come at the moment you’re least ready for it.
In my day job I see the effects of stress on a weekly basis. I’ve watched it turn distinguished, strong men into frightened children, and experienced the way it can spin peoples’ world on an axis. In its most iniquitous form it can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a dreadful affliction where people can be triggered back to that moment of fear, experiencing it over and over again.
Though I’ve seen it first hand, it wasn’t until early last year that I felt the full-blown effects of stress. That’s when I began to suffer from anxiety attacks, sleeplessness and severe reactions to triggers. Combined with depression, stress can cause you to stop functioning, and that’s exactly what happened to me. My entire life went into fight or flight mode.
The simplest things could cause my heart palpitations and breathlessness; images on television, a certain song, or even sleep. So I began to avoid sleeping, laying in bed frightened to let my eyes close, because I knew I’d wake up to a speeding heart and a lump in my throat that made it impossible to take in air. But it was a self-defeating gesture, because my lack of sleep only served to heighten the tension, making me even less able to fight off the anxiety attacks, and ensuring that I was regularly caught in a negative thought cycle, where I came to believe that my depression and anxiety were my fault.
Somehow, I managed to get some help. I found an amazing counselor who worked with me on two levels. Firstly to deal with the effects of the anxiety, and secondly to deal with the underlying causes. She introduced me to Mindfulness – a useful tool to help you deal with negative thoughts and being hung up on the past. Mindfulness, according to the dictionary, is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Through this I discovered there are a large number of Mindfulness Podcasts out there—many available for free—and I listen to these and use the techniques on a daily basis.
I am one of the lucky ones. In the UK, counseling is hard to come by on the NHS, and private sessions can run upwards from £40 per hour. Stress and Depression are hugely destructive to individuals and families, but unless you have available cash, it’s hard to find a way to get the therapy needed to deal with them. As I discovered, by their nature, mental illnesses are difficult to deal with on your own. Having a trained person to lead you through the path of healing is necessary, and unfortunately so many people don’t have access to this kind of help.
Considering stress is now the number one reason for long-term absence from work, it’s hard to believe why treatments are so under-funded. The sad fact is, that unless you are either rich, have a wonderfully tenacious GP or have a job where you get benefits such as medical care, you’ll think you have to deal with stress and depression on your own.
Except you’re not alone. Once I was on the road to recovery I discovered an amazing plethora of help online. From support boards, to blogs to practitioners willing to offer pro-bono advice, I discovered that help is only a Google search away. By being honest about my issues, and seeking out those who are going through something similar, I’ve found healing. I’ve also found friendship and encouragement.
One of the most important things to understand if you’re going through something similar is that you don’t have to do this on your own. Even if you haven’t yet suffered from depression or anxiety yourself, reach out to those who have. A kind word, a smile, or the results of a Google search could go a long way to making the world a better place.
They say I’m doing well. I’m now in recovery (I don’t think anybody is truly cured). But I’m more aware of myself and my triggers than ever, and if I feel myself getting low, I’m sure to let my husband or my family know. I still practice Mindfulness—it’s something I think I’ll always do—and I’m very grateful to be alive and well in this beautiful world. But I’m also aware that so many more people than ever are out there suffering, and if that’s you, I promise, you aren’t alone.
Carrie Elks lives near London, England and writes contemporary romance with a dash of intrigue. At the age of twenty-one she left college with a political science degree, a healthy overdraft and a soon-to-be husband. She loves to travel and meet new people, and has lived in the USA and Switzerland as well as the UK. When she isn’t reading or writing, she can usually be found baking, drinking wine or working out how to combine the two. http://www.carrieelks.com
I’ve just come back from 11 days in Turkey – a blissful break where I spent a lot of time lying on a beach, reading a book and having fun with the family. Having had a stressful 6 months, I was ready to kick back, relax and let the sun do her thing.
Then I had that horrible feeling that many women of a certain age get… what on earth am I going to wear on the beach? My body image has never been perfect, whose is? But it’s not helped by the plethora of adverts like the one below that have been hitting the magazines and billboards in the UK this summer. I could work hard for the next 40 years and still not be ‘beach ready’ by the standards of that ad.
That got me to thinking, though. Am I really so swayed by media expectations that I’m going to let them decide what I wear when I walk into the sea? Do I really believe that some bodies are better than others, and if my body isn’t then it’s my responsibility to keep it covered up? As the mother of a teenage girl, whose body image is amazing in spite of a disability, I feel it’s my duty to show her that our bodies are wonderful things, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them.
Reader, I wore a bikini.
Yep, you heard it right. At 41 years old, it’s been at least 5 years since I donned the two-piece. But I’m proud of my body, it has kept me well, carried two beautiful babies, and allows me to live life to the fullest. If I hide it away, what am I saying to it?
Even better, I’ve decided to share that body with you. As you’ll see from the photo (credit to the husband) I’m almost certainly not ‘beach ready’ by Protein World standards. I have stretch marks and a softness in the middle that wasn’t there in my twenties, and yet I’m not going to let anybody, let alone some misguided ad company, decide what I can wear when I go on holiday.
The boost I got from finally being proud of the body I have, allowed me to be brave enough to try other new things too. I went down slides at the Aqua Park that a year ago I may have baulked at. I rode a giant inflatable pulled through the water by a speedboat, and I found myself wandering to the snack bar in only my bikini, not feeling worried about how I compared to other people standing there.
In short, I had a great time.
So that’s my post about how I conquered one of my fears this summer. Let me know what you’ve been doing, and whether you’ve been having as good a time as I have!
This piece on romance and love was originally published on Blinkbox in December 2014. After the sad demise of that venerable site, I thought it was a shame to lose these words forever.
Why I Love Love by Carrie Elks
I’m a romance junkie. There, I’ve said it. I adore reading stories where love overcomes all the obstacles, spanning time and distance, and bringing together couples who – at first sight – seem to have nothing in common at all.
In my new novel, Fix You, Hanna Vincent falls in love with a man who not only lives thousands of miles away from her, but is also on another level when it comes to social status. Though the odds are stacked against them (not to mention the plot twists) over a period of years she is drawn against her will to the handsome, successful American who has captured her heart.
Theirs is a relationship that shouldn’t work, and in fact it doesn’t for a long time. Hanna has a job and a life in London, while Richard is tied to New York by a combination of loyalty and dedication, not to mention a multi-million dollar corporation that takes up all of his time. From a purely intellectual point of view they should both cut their losses.
Of course they don’t, and that’s the beauty of love. It doesn’t always make sense. It’s messy and emotional and can get in the way of all your best laid plans.
It certainly did for me. Falling for the funny, gorgeous boy who lived down the road when I was at university didn’t make sense at all. I was there to study, to make connections, and to start working on the political career I always thought I’d have. Instead I spent most of my time with the clever, crazy physics student who twenty years later is still the love of my life.
We’ve had our share of obstacles. For two years we lived on different sides of the country, trying to keep our relationship going at a time when mobile phones and social networking were still in their infancy. But love can act like a glue, sticking things together when you feel like everything is falling apart. It breaches barriers and crosses borders, and couldn’t give a damn whether you’re ready for it or not.
I think that’s why love is so much fun to write about. You can take two characters who think their lives are going in a certain direction then turn them upside down with a simple chemical attraction. It’s exciting to watch the fall out, to see them try to deny their feelings, and pretend that love isn’t going to make them change their paths. Some characters struggle more than others, but in a perfect romance, eventually they have to give in to the inevitable.
For me, that’s the happiest ending of all.
Fix You is available from the following retailers:
So this post is going to be a bit different to my others. Not only because it is about something other than books, but because it’s personal and really tells the story of where I am today. And it started on a vacation last summer, when we went on holiday with friends to Spain with our families.
At that time my daughter was 14. She’s a beautiful girl–of course any mother thinks that about their child–but in this case it’s true 😉 She’s also becoming a woman, where once she was up and down she’s developed curves, and in her small bikini it became apparent just how strong some of those curves were.
“Is it me or is one of her hips curvier than the other?” I asked my husband, my friend, even my daughter. It was my daughter who told me that her hip had been like that for a while, and that she’d mentioned it to me before. I have no recollection of her mentioning it, although later down the line I truly wished I had.
A couple of weeks later, having returned from our holiday, I took her to our family doctor. She examined her, making her bend over, lean to the left and to the right and immediately sent her for x-rays. Of course we live in the UK, so immediately was actually two weeks later, but at the time we were unconcerned.
That lack of concern only lasted a few days, right until we went back to the doctor. That’s when the diagnosis of Scoliosis was given. For those who don’t know what Scoliosis is, it’s a curve in the spine. It can come in many forms; c-shape, s-shape, it can be a small bend or a large one.
I’d heard of Scoliosis before, and even this is down to my bookworm ways. Back when I was a teenager myself I was a Judy Blume freak, and remembered her book ‘Deenie’ which heart wrenchingly portrayed the journey the protagonist took from learning she had scoliosis to having to wear a disfiguring brace during her teenage years.
Before the appointment I did some research. The best case scenario was being monitored–this would mean that the curve wasn’t too big and that it would hopefully get no bigger. After that the options were bracing (for those who were still growing) which wouldn’t make the curve get any better, but also would ensure it didn’t get any worse.
And for those who had curves of 50% or more–open back surgery was really the only remedy.
Of course we hoped for monitoring.
The night before her specialist appointment we stayed in a hotel near Cambridge. The appointment was at Addenbrooke’s, a university hospital, commonly known as one of the best centres for scoliosis in the country. So we got up nice and early on the day and made our way through the busy streets of the city.
Once we’d checked in, our first stop was the x-ray department. Expecting to be waiting for a while, I sent my husband to get us both a coffee. While he was gone, we were called into the x-ray room, and I stood behind the screens and watched the x-ray photo slowly upload onto the computer. This is what I saw:
X-ray showing her 45 degree curve
I was shocked. Not only was it glaringly curved, I could tell it was worst than the last x-ray. Her s-shaped spine was getting worse.
An hour later we were sitting with the specialist, who told us that back surgery was really the only option. We listened as he explained this would involve around a 5 hour operation followed by a night in intensive care, a week in hospital and around 2 to 3 months of recuperation at home. All at a time when she will be taking her exams, applying for colleges and trying to be the thing she really wants to be–a normal teenager.
I was hit for six. My daughter, however, took it all in her stride. She’s always been amazingly strong, but her reaction surprised even me. She agreed that the operation was the best choice, in spite of the limitations it would put on her in the short term, and immediately started planning how she would manage to study for two months while lying at 45 degrees. And all the while I was trying to hold the tears back (which I managed to do until we got home and I could hide in the bathroom).
So that’s where we are at the moment; waiting for pre-op assessments and for a date for her surgery. Once those are done we should get a date for surgery, and that’s when the real worrying begins.
In the meantime the heroine of my next book just happens to have scoliosis. She’s an adult–not a teenager–and she’s also a surprisingly strong survivor. Which I know my daughter will also be. Writing can not only be cathartic it can also be healing, it can reveal both our fears and our hopes for the future. And I have every hope that my daughter–like my heroine–will grow up to be a survivor.