A Battle on Four Fronts – Grief, Pain, Anxiety and Illness

At this moment, there are countless people across the world struggling with mental health problems, living with physical illnesses and disabilities, dealing with the grief of losing someone they loved, and living daily with the fear of losing someone else. At the same time, there are people facing all four of these struggles at once. I wish I wasn’t one of them.

This year:

My mother, the person I love most in the world, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My granny, who helped raise me and was more like a mother than a grandmother, died of leukaemia only 5 months after her diagnosis.

My own health, which has gotten steadily worse over the last 14 years, threw me another curveball and added more medication, hospital visits and potential surgery to my already long list.

My mental health, which I have struggled with since I was a child growing up with a violent autistic brother, has made every day a fight between extreme anxiety and crippling despondency.

These events have been overwhelming and frightening, but they have also taught me very valuable lessons.

When I was receiving treatment for my mental illnesses as a teenager, I discovered that writing was the key to my recovery. During my final session, my psychologist asked if he could keep some of my poems to help other patients. That helped me realise that writing about my experiences could help others.

I want to do that again. I want to make all this mean something.

When I think about what I would say to someone struggling with the same things I am, the following comes to mind.

Grief is not linear or logical.

It will strike at unexpected moments. One of mine was when I walked up the front steps to my house for the first time after granny died. It suddenly hit me that I would never take her arm to help her climb those steps again when she came to visit. I cried for almost an hour.

Guilt and grief tend to go hand in hand, and there may be times when you feel guilty for NOT crying. I didn’t cry at my granny’s funeral. Instead, I stood up and recited a poem I had written for her. Afterwards, a number of people expressed their admiration of how I had kept my composure, to which I hastily replied that I was sure to be an emotional wreck later that day. At the time, I worried that my apparent lack of emotion would lead them to assume that I wasn’t feeling my granny’s loss as deeply as I was.

I realise now that there was no need to justify my way of dealing with things. Grief is a process unique to the individual, and comparing yourself to others is both unhealthy and counterproductive. Do what you need to do, not what you think you should do.

You don’t have to feel guilty for not handling a loved one’s illness as well as they are.

Watching someone you love dealing with an illness is often harder than going through it yourself. My mum has been telling me for years how hard it is for her to watch me in pain every day, and now I know how she feels.

She is handling her cancer with grace, strength and determination and I’m incredibly proud of her. One of the things I admire most is her ability to focus on one stage of her treatment at a time, without wasting her energy on worrying about the future.

I simply cannot do that. For me, her cancer presents a minefield of anxiety, fear and endless terrifying questions. What if she reacts badly to the next chemo drug? What if she doesn’t wake up from the surgery? What if she gets an infection? What if the cancer comes back one day? What if I lose her like I lost granny?

When I’m having a really bad day and the endless cycle of questions pushes me into a panic attack or makes me so despondent that I just sit and watch reruns of Star Trek, I always find myself apologising to her. I feel like I’m letting her down if I’m not constantly upbeat and pushing aside my own problems to help her deal with hers. So what if my stomach hurts so much I can’t stand up straight? My mum has cancer, my problems are nothing compared to that, right? Wrong.

Just because I’m not the one with cancer, doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to be struggling, too. The effects of illness and injury are felt by more than just the person suffering from them. They ripple out and touch everyone who loves them.

You are not weak if you are not coping and your loved one is.

You are not selfish if you are ill or in pain yourself.

Your fears and struggles are just as valid as theirs.

Be honest and keep talking. You can get through it together.

Anxiety doesn’t always have to be a handicap.

I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t banish my anxiety disorder if could. Of course I would. It can be incredibly debilitating, isolating and frustrating, but that doesn’t mean that all that anxious energy can’t be redirected towards something positive.

Your mind insists on running at 100 miles an hour, analysing in microscopic detail every facet and nuance of your life? Fine. Make it work for you. That over-analytical way you have of looking at the world? It doesn’t have to be a handicap. Even a quick glance at job advertisements will tell you that the ability to be organised and analytical are highly sought after traits by employers. Your mind can conjure up worst case scenarios at impressive speeds? That means you have the ability to anticipate problems and head them off before they happen. Another very useful trait.

If you’re anything like me, your anxiety will drive you to organise everything, with ease and accuracy, because that is the way your mind attempts to bring order to the chaotic state it exists in. I have become renowned at work for my lists and spreadsheets, and there’s nothing I like more than being given free rein to get stuck into organising a new project. My work gives me focus and allows me to channel my anxiety into something productive.

I’ve written more about this in a previous post, which you can find here.

Wanting to move forward and actually being able to are two different things.

One of the worst things about mental illness and grief is that, while you desperately want things to get better, you have been robbed of the motivation and confidence to make any positive changes. It can make you feel pathetic and weak. It’s amazing how things like filling out a job application or making that long-overdue trip to the bank can seem like climbing Mount Everest, (never mind things like trying to buy a house – my current Everest).

At the moment, the only time I feel truly productive and useful is when I’m at work. My job gives me achievable goals and a daily sense of accomplishment, not to mention a great social atmosphere (laughter is the eternal panacea).

Those feelings are vital and we all need them. If you can’t find them at work, look at the other areas of your life. Are you creative? Enjoy being in the garden or the kitchen? Volunteering your time to help others? There are a great number of ways you can give yourself the opportunity to feel accomplished and productive, and it’s important to keep trying until you do. Your mind will have more trouble fixating on negative thoughts if you’re busy arranging a flower bed or perfecting a new recipe.

That being said…

The days when you do next to nothing are not wasted days.

Those days when you can’t muster the will to leave the house or do much more than stare at the television are your mind’s way of telling you that it needs a break. That’s perfectly reasonable, especially considering the energy it takes to generate a constant stream of anxious thoughts, process grief or cope with depression. The mind can only take so much.

My granny’s leukaemia entered its final stage in the same week as my mum ended up in hospital after a bad reaction to her first round of chemo. I couldn’t sleep. I felt sick with grief and anxiety. My physical pain levels shot up to the point that I had to check with my doctor if it was safe to increase my dose of painkillers to the level I needed just to get through the day.

Initially, I tried to cope by burying myself in work. I only accepted how much I was struggling when I realised that I couldn’t even do that anymore. That was incredibly hard to admit to, not just because my anxiety used the opportunity to make me feel like a failure, but because I am not a person who feels comfortable walking away from her responsibilities.

Reluctantly, I went on compassionate leave until after granny’s funeral. In hindsight, I can see how absolutely necessary that was, and I will always be grateful for the incredible support I received from my colleagues (and continue to receive).

Needing a break does not make you weak or unreliable. On the contrary, being able to admit that you need one is a strength in itself, and you should never feel guilty for it. Neither should you feel guilty that your biggest accomplishment for the day was getting out of bed. When your own mind is trying to sabotage everything you do, a small achievement is still an achievement.


For those of you who believe there is no hope in your future, that you are weak and worthless and the world would be better off without you – I understand that. I’ve had those thoughts and I’ll never forget them. But I would urge you to remember this:

If you jump off that bridge, or swallow those pills, or use that razor – there are no more possibilities. No more chances for the extraordinary and unexpected twists of fate to change your circumstances and the way you feel. A single moment of random serendipity changed mine 13 years ago, and I’m still here because of it (you can read about that here).

My granny knew about my mental and physical health problems, and one of the last things she said to me was ‘thank you for being everything that you are.’ She didn’t see me as weak. She was proud of me just the way I am. She said her life had been a journey, and I will carry her words with me for the rest of mine.

If you had told me a year ago that all these things were going to happen, I would have bet every penny I had that they would have sent me spiralling back into the cycle of clinical depression, severe OCD and suicidal thoughts that defined my teenage years.

That hasn’t happened. I am still here.

Anxiety and Editing – The Perfect Combination

Editing Marks

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but a few things have happened this week that have made me decide to write it now.

Some background before I get to the main point.

I grew up with a severely autistic brother, whose violent outbursts and unpredictable behaviour made my childhood home a frightening and dangerous place to be. He’s my only sibling and I’m the eldest, and my parents unwittingly placed a great burden of responsibility on me that I was too young to bear. I became fearful, withdrawn and terrified of telling my parents how I felt because I thought they couldn’t cope. I wanted to be the strong one, because, from where I was standing at 11 years old and ignorant of the strength of my parents’ marriage, I believed that if I showed any weakness, my family would fall apart.

A few years later, after my brother had been moved to a specialist residential care facility, I developed health problems. It’s a complicated story but, in a nutshell, an undiagnosed autoimmune disease left me with permanent damage to my digestive system and significant problems with my nervous system. When it all began the physical pain only added to the emotional pain and eventually it all got too much. I became depressed, horribly anxious, and, eventually, suicidal.

I got the treatment I needed, and, 13 years later, I’m a completely different person than I was then. My physical health has gotten worse, but my mental health has improved enormously. Unfortunately, although I have beaten back the depression and suicidal thoughts, I still have an anxiety disorder.

Because of this, I worried for years that, despite my academic achievements and ambition, I would never find a profession that would suit me. Then I found publishing, specifically, editing.

To my great surprise, this turned out to be the perfect job for someone with an anxious mind.

I work as a Publishing Quality Controller, and my main responsibility is to ensure that our books are as consistent and error-free as possible before they go to print. I LOVE my job, and I have found that it has allowed me to turn my anxiety into an asset.

It sharpens my focus and causes me to hone in on errors by instinct as well as by skill and experience. I’ll run my eyes over a page and think, something is wrong here, and I won’t stop until I find and correct it (or grudgingly convince myself to leave it alone if necessary – some authors are very stubborn!). It also makes me highly organised, and I use spreadsheets, checklists, folders and a ridiculous number of post-it notes to make sure nothing is missed or forgotten.

I don’t have a very laidback attitude when it comes to my work. When I send a top priority job to our typesetters, I’m slightly on edge until they acknowledge receipt of it. When an important deadline is unexpectedly brought forward, I’ll work as much overtime as it takes so that I don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of getting it done on time. My anxiety has a hard time letting me cut corners, even if I know the readers would likely never notice the errors I don’t fix. I know they’re there, and that’s all the motivation I need to keep working.

I have been known to be in bed about to fall asleep, suddenly remember a detail about a book I’m working on, then get up again and write it on one of my ever-present post-it note pads so that I can follow it up the next day. Crazy? Maybe. But it means that I don’t have to worry about it and I can get to sleep. The same goes for checking my emails out of office hours. I’m a ‘forewarned is forearmed’ kind of person, and if having knowledge of a new job the night before means I can hit the ground running the next morning, then I’m happy to keep an eye on them.

To a lot of people, this way of doing things might seem very unhealthy, but it works for me, and has the added benefit of taking my mind off the physical pain I deal with every day.

I am incredibly fortunate to work in a very supportive and sociable environment with seriously awesome colleagues, and I have the best manager I could possibly ask for. So many people face stigma in the workplace because of their mental health issues, and, while I don’t go about discussing mine at work, it doesn’t bother me that there’s a chance a few of my colleagues might read this. I trust them not to judge me for it or look at me any differently, and that’s a rare gift that I’m very grateful for.

Earlier this week, I had an upsetting conversation with someone close to me, and while I lay awake that night unable to sleep for worrying about it, all I wanted was for it to be morning so that I could go to work and plough my nervous energy into something worthwhile that would focus my mind and help me feel better. It worked, and that day I managed to send a series of 5 books to our typesetters and beat the deadline I had set for myself.

Sure, having an anxiety disorder means that I spend a lot of time worrying about small things (or what other people might consider to be small things), and even things that never actually happen. My anxious mind can conjure up the worst case scenario from any situation faster than my rational mind can stop it. That’s hard sometimes, but it also allows me to anticipate potential problems at work and head them off before they jeopardise the quality or deadline of a book.

After being treated by 5 psychologists in 15 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that my state of mind as it is now may be as good as it’s going to get. Rather than being upset by that, I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve accepted it. There are times that it still gets the better of me, but those times get less and less as the years go by, and, for the most part, I am able to control it enough to allow me to live the life I want to.

Rather than fighting with my anxiety and trying to change the person it has led me to become, I’m using it to my advantage. I haven’t figured out yet how that’s going to work in other areas of my life (where it still tends to cause problems), but I’ve certainly figured out how to use it to make me the best Publishing Quality Controller I can be.

I would never have wished to go through the things I have and to have been left with this anxiety, but it’s a part of me now, and it doesn’t have to be a weakness. For me, it has become a strength, and I think, if he could be, my brother would be proud of me for that.

8 Ways Reading Can Help With Depression and Anxiety

Me glaring at monsterWe all perceive depression and anxiety in different ways. Maybe for you they are dark clouds obscuring the sun; maybe they are demons who follow you in your dreams and promise to haunt you for the rest of your life; maybe they are monsters who pop up everywhere and look like they were drawn by a 10-year-old, like the one that I made for this post (I apologise for my mediocre artistic skills, words are more my game).

Whatever they feel like to you, it can be difficult to find anything that offers some relief and breaks the cycle of negative thoughts. Since this blog is mostly about books, I wanted to write a post about how reading helps me on the difficult days, and how I hope it might help you.

1) A rapid heartrate and racing thoughts are common effects of anxiety. Reading can help slow these down. Well written prose and poetry have a natural rhythm that can lull your thoughts and breathing into slowing down without you even noticing.

2) An interesting story will pull you in and help you to push your difficult thoughts and feelings aside. Even a short break from them can be mentally and emotionally rejuvenating and give you much needed strength to get through the day.

3) Books contain some seriously awesome weird and wonderful things dreamed up by the impressive imaginations of their writers – hidden magical worlds, futuristic realities, fascinating fictional cultures and characters. The human mind is a powerful thing; powerful enough to fight back against depression and anxiety.

My bookworm is not afraid of the monster.

My bookworm is not afraid of the monster.

4) Depression and anxiety can make you feel very alone and like no one understands you. Given the wealth of characters found in books, you’re bound to find some who are just like you who you can relate to. Reading about their struggles can help you better understand your own and give you ideas about how to cope.

5) Can’t find the words to explain your feelings to others? Find a book with a character who is going through the same thing and ask your friends or family to read it, or just pick out some quotes which speak to your feelings. I would recommend It’s Kind of a Funny Story (fiction) by Ned Vizzini and Reasons to Stay Alive (non-fiction) by Matt Haig. There are loads of others out there and you can find great lists on sites like Goodreads.

6) Books can be a great way of connecting with other people, whether online or in person. Depression and anxiety can make it very difficult to talk to others, but discussing a book you both enjoyed can provide a safe and interesting conversation topic.

7) Reading can inspire you to write yourself, which can be very therapeutic. You don’t have to let anyone else read it, but letting your thoughts flow from your mind into the outside world can really help to put them into perspective.

And finally …

8) Reading connects you to the world beyond the confines of your own mind. That’s where the hope is. Books can beat monsters (and squash their cardboard representations).

Monster squashed in book

Borders Book Festival Part 2 – Matt Haig

Festival Sign 2

This is the second post I’m writing about the Borders Book Festival which took place last weekend (11th – 14th June) in Melrose, Scotland. You can find my first post about the talk I attended by author Kirsty Logan here.

On Sunday night I attended a talk by Matt Haig about his latest book Reasons to Stay Alive. This post took me longer to write than I thought it would – partly because I haven’t had a lot of time this week and partly because the subject of the talk is difficult for me to discuss.

Reasons to Stay Alive is a candid and emotional account of Matt Haig’s struggle with the ‘black dog’ of depression and anxiety. If you’ve read one of my previous blog posts, you’ll know I’ve struggled with this myself and would likely not be here today if it hadn’t been for a particularly serendipitous moment 12 years ago involving Star Trek: Voyager and the wonderful Kate Mulgrew. Over the years I have found ways of reading and talking about depression without having it trigger a response within myself (I have plenty of other triggers to make up for those), but somehow listening to Matt talk about his experiences in person made me feel … something. It’s difficult to articulate exactly what that something was.

Matt Haig Talk

Firstly, the setting, though very nice, threw me off and felt incongruous with the nature of the event. All the round tables with red velvet chairs, white table cloths and flower centre pieces made me feel like I was at a formal dinner rather than a book festival event (the set up for Kirsty’s event was completely different).

But then, why shouldn’t depression be discussed in an open, bright, well decorated public forum? Keeping it hidden away only serves to fuel the stigma and feed into the idea that depression is the unique affliction of those with so-called ‘troubled pasts’ and ‘hard lives’. The truth is depression can hit anyone, at any time, for no discernible reason. Of course, sometimes the reasons are painfully obvious, as they were with me, but like any illness depression doesn’t necessarily need a reason to strike – it can just appear one day and change your life without your permission.

While I was listening to Matt speak very honestly and bravely about his own experiences, I found myself analysing the way he was talking and the reactions of the other audience members. This, of course, being easier than analysing my own reactions and the subsequent avoidance easily justified by the fact that I knew I would be writing about the event for this blog.

I noticed two main things: Matt talks very fast when he’s discussing depression, and he skilfully uses humour to get his point across.

I certainly didn’t have trouble following what he was saying, and it didn’t look like anyone else was either, so it wasn’t a problem, just something I noticed. Matt talked about how his depression, coupled with anxiety, made his thoughts race and everything feel like it was moving very fast. In his own words:

‘It’s like a fast-forward depression — you’re having a lot of racing thoughts. It was never boring, it was horrendous but it wasn’t that slow, flat plane which you think of as the archetypal case of depression.’ (I couldn’t remember his exact words from the event, so I found this quote in an interview he did here).

I found myself wondering if he talked so fast in order to try and keep up with the pace of his thoughts. I often wonder that about myself, too, especially when I’m walking anywhere. I have no concept of a leisurely stroll and, as I have been told countless times by friends and family who try in vain to catch my attention when they pass me in the street (this even happened once today), I’m always ‘charging off’ somewhere like I’m on a mission and seem to be completely in my own head.

They’re absolutely right. I rarely ever notice what’s going on around me when I’m out running errands, heading to an appointment, etc. I notice enough not to bump into things or get run over by a car, but that’s about it. My thoughts never stop and the anxiety that I still struggle with on a daily basis is always lingering in the side lines even when I am not consciously aware of having anything to actually be anxious about. I think maybe my feet move so fast because I’m trying to keep up with my own thoughts. Sometimes I can’t stand to be still, and being on the move helps me feel better, like pacing when I’m feeling particularly anxious. Seriously, my footprints should be visible in my carpet by now.

I’m rambling now. Back to Matt.

The second thing I noticed was his use of humour, both in the talk and in the book itself. He got a lot of laughs from the audience and therefore made depression feel like a more approachable and less intimidating subject for people either not familiar with it or not sure how to engage with the topic. My favourite part was when he described himself as an ‘agoraphobic, neurotic weirdo’, which he said isn’t great for many professions but could sit right at the top of a CV (resumé) for a writer! Good thing he’s a fantastic writer then!

After the event I went to get my book signed. While I was walking towards the signing tent (okay, striding, my thoughts were hurrying my feet along pretty fast by this point), I was thinking that I would mention to Matt about my own depression and near suicide attempt, about how I wrote myself out of my depression and how inspirational I thought he was. But when I got to the signing tent all those thoughts coalesced into … not a lot. He asked for my name and I made some comment about how I don’t like my full name (I’m Jo, not Joanne, dammit!) and he mentioned that he’s not too fond of Matthew either. I thanked him for signing my book and wandered away, instantly feeling annoyed with myself for missing an opportunity.

Reasons to Stay Alive - signed

Had there not been other people in line behind me (or if I hadn’t been very aware of a former school classmate’s mother standing nearby), things might have been different. Or not. I don’t know, but maybe this explains why I’ve turned what was supposed to be a write up of the event into a post that probably would have been better off in my journal rather than here. Oh well.

Depression should be spoken about – it needs to be – and for that reason I’m going to ignore the part of my brain that’s telling me to delete this post and start over, and hit the publish button instead.

‘Be brave. Be strong. Breathe, and keep going. You will thank yourself later.’ – Reasons to Stay Alive

Thank you to Matt for writing this book, and thank you to everyone who has read this post.

Kate Mulgrew’s ‘Born with Teeth’ and the impact she has had on my life

Born With Teeth CoverI was going to write a regular review of Kate Mulgrew’s Born with Teeth: A Memoir, but then I read it, and a simple review is not enough to express how I feel. This will be the most personal post I’ve ever written and I’m very nervous about it, but it feels like the right thing to do.

If you know me or are a regular reader of my blog, then you know I have been a fan of Kate and her work since I was 8 years old when I saw my first episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in which she played Captain Kathryn Janeway. I’m 27 now and my admiration and appreciation for her has grown exponentially over the years. She is an exceptionally talented actress; a wonderful orator; incredibly gracious towards her fans (I speak from experience); and a true joy to watch in any role she plays.

She is also, as it turns out, a beautifully gifted writer. Her lyrical eloquence weaves a tale so vivid and engaging that I could see it all playing out in my mind as if it were a movie. Kate lays out in unapologetic honesty a life filled with adventure, grief, trauma, and, above all, a tremendous passion for her work and her family. As she shares the intimate details of the pain of giving up her daughter for adoption, surviving a rape, losing two sisters and the kind of heartbreak only true love can bring, we are also treated to riveting stories of romance, travel and the drama of stage and screen. Kate is an astute observer of human nature and she uses this skill to craft dynamic and colourful depictions of the variety of interesting people she has encountered throughout her fascinating life.

Being the massive Star Trek fan that I am, the chapters about Kate’s time on Voyager were a real treat and I’m certainly delighted that she included them, but even if they hadn’t been there I would still have absolutely loved the book. At times intensely passionate and at others desperately sad, this was a memoir that had me completely hooked from beginning to end and left me with a profound sense of gratitude towards, and a greater understanding of, a woman I have admired for most of my life.

I love and look up to Kate for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, but there is one other reason that I have never spoken of because it was too painful and I didn’t think I was strong enough to give voice to it. But then I read Kate’s memoir, and the courage and bravery of her words gave me the confidence to find my own, and reminded me that there are some things which should not be kept hidden.

I grew up with a severely autistic younger brother whose inability to speak and frequent violent outbursts made for a very frightening and isolating environment in which to grow up. In their struggle to cope my parents inadvertently placed a tremendous burden of responsibility on me at a time when I was far too young to deal with it. I operated under the misguided belief that if I told them how terrified I was of my brother, how often he attacked me and how much I wished I could just go out and play with my friends, that my family would fall apart. I’m from a rural area in Scotland where there are few resources for special needs children, and with such little support our lives became subject entirely to my brother’s needs.

Eventually, the situation became untenable and my brother was moved to a specialist residential care facility where he could have the quality of life that we could not provide. By then I had become terribly withdrawn, fearful and anxious and struggled to relate to my family and friends. I was already a huge fan of Star Trek: Voyager and Captain Janeway was my favourite character. To help with my anxiety I took a Janeway action figure to school with me. It made me feel protected and gave me courage to get through the day; a tangible reminder of the strength and fortitude of the character herself.

This figure was far from a good likeness of Kate to begin with, made worse by its many paint-scraping trips in and out of my schoolbag!

This figure was far from a good likeness of Kate to begin with, made worse by its many paint-scraping trips in and out of my schoolbag!

A few years later I started to develop health problems. It’s a long and complicated story but, in a nutshell, an undiagnosed autoimmune disease left me with permanent damage to my digestive system and significant problems with my nervous system. When it all began the physical pain only added to the emotional pain I had been feeling for years and eventually it all got too much. One night, while I was watching an episode of Voyager, as I often did to make myself feel better, I was sitting with a pile of prescription medications and my mind started to wander.

What would happen if I took them all at once? Would I have time to sneak into my parents’ drinks cabinet and knock back a few bottles as well before they found me?

I have heard many people refer to suicide as a selfish act. It’s not. It’s an act of pure desperation. You don’t think about the devastating impact it will have on the people who love you. All you can think about is making it stop, about silencing the storm inside you, because how can life be worth living if every day, every second, feels like this? How can you possibly be of any use to anyone? There is no hope in that moment that it will ever get better, there is only the crippling fear and pain which has brought you there.

I took the first few pills. I don’t remember what they were, little pink, innocuous looking things, and just as I was about to reach for more, I heard a powerful and authoritative voice projecting from the television:

“In command school, they taught us to always remember that manoeuvring a starship is a very delicate process, but over the years, I’ve learned that, sometimes, you just have to punch your way through.”

It was Kate Mulgrew speaking as Captain Janeway, and in that moment of sheer hopelessness that line was like a bolt of lightning illuminating a very long and dark night. In this episode, (‘Parallax’, the second episode of Season One), Voyager is trapped in the event horizon of a quantum singularity. Their only escape route is closing fast and the situation looks hopeless. As I continued to watch the scene unfold, Voyager’s struggle suddenly became a metaphor for my own. My hand remained suspended over the pills as I watched Janeway urge her helmsman to “keep it together” as the ship was rocked by turbulence and structural damage.

When Voyager burst triumphantly from the quantum singularity, a surge of hope rushed through me as I began to believe for the first time that maybe I could escape too. I spoke to my parents and within a week my doctor had diagnosed me with clinical depression and OCD and I soon began treatment at a centre specialising in adolescent mental health.

As well as supporting me through my recovery, the psychologists there helped me to realise that creativity was the means by which I could find my way back to myself. I discovered that I could write poetry, and over the months that followed I crafted a path for myself made out of words and metaphors that personified my depression into a force I could fight. When I came to the end of my treatment, the lead psychologist asked if he could keep some of my poems to help the other patients, which I very happily agreed to.

Now, 12 years later, I have a job in the industry I love (publishing), two university degrees, and, most importantly, wonderful relationships with my hugely supportive family and friends. I write as often as I can and also run an online support group for siblings of those with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Down’s Syndrome, in an effort to provide the kind of help I so desperately needed when I was young.

In 2012 I had the incredible experience of meeting Kate at a Star Trek convention in London. Living in Scotland and finding travel quite a challenge I had assumed that I would never get the chance to meet her, so when I did it was like a dream and I still feel so happy whenever I think about it. My mother kindly made the trip to London with me to give me support and said that she had never seen me as happy as I was after I met Kate, who was as kind, gracious and generous in person as I had always imagined her to be.

Kate and I

Whenever I find myself dealing with difficult emotions, trying to adjust to the side effects of a new medication or struggling with the physical pain and fatigue that are my constant companions, I see Kate as Janeway standing on the bridge of Voyager, telling her crew that sometimes you just have to punch your way through. And I do.


Kate now stars as Galina “Red” Reznikov on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and she’s absolutely terrific, as is the show itself. You can read my review of the book the show is based on here.

The following are links to some great interviews and reviews of Born with Teeth. Read it. Seriously. Kate Autograph 1

The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

LA Times

The Mary Sue

CBS interview

One last thing, a shout out to my dear friend Stefani, who very kindly sent me Kate’s book across the Atlantic from Mississippi to Scotland. She has an awesome blog over at Caught Read Handed that I would encourage you to check out if you love books and nerdy things!