How To Slay A Psychic Vampire

Have you ever met a psychic vampire? They are the people who always leave you feeling drained, who want your time and attention incessantly, but offer nothing in return. I’m an empath, and a softie, and when I was younger this made me especially delicious, and vulnerable, to such folk. I’m older now, and I’ve learnt how to protect myself better. Maybe reading this can help you too.

My most notable encounter with an energy feeder happened about fifteen years ago. For the sake of decency, I shall protect the vampire’s identity and call her Elaine. That was not her name. I met her when I was at a difficult point in my life. I was single, after an emotionally unhealthy relationship ended, and both of my best friend’s had moved away over the previous year or so. I was working in an emotionally exhausting job supporting newly arrived refugees to settle into the country, under the brutal and inhumane NASS system. There is not a more vulnerable and desperate, yet hated and reviled client group in the country. Most people who asked me what I did for work would respond with Daily Mail fuelled vitriol when I told them, and I was listening to soul destroying accounts of rape, violence, and war every day. It was exhausting, and I was a prime victim for a hunting vampire. They circle like a shark, scenting for the blood of the wounded.

I was working late one evening, desperately trying to find accommodation for a pregnant girl who was punch drunk with exhaustion and despair. I had just placed her, and was finally locking up ready to trudge home when the phone rang. The temptation to let the answer machine answer was high, but I was standing next to the handset and a sense of responsibility and obedience caused me to answer it. The caller was a woman, Elaine, who had been a doctor with Medicine Sans Frontiers in Bosnia. She was planning to set up a counselling service for survivors of the trauma of war. She wanted to liaise with our agency to ensure she set up the best possible provision. I explained the office was closed, took her details, and assured her someone would be in touch soon to discuss it further. And so began the most bizarre episode of my life.

I can’t remember if I told my directors about the call, or just decided to follow it up on my own anyway. We didn’t have a team leader, and the charity directors were under investigation for fraud, so we dealt with most things within our team. This is another sign of vulnerability to attack- being a hero.

Anyone who has studied counselling in any form will know about the transactional analysis drama triangle, devised by Stephen Karpman to demonstrate the roles we take when we play games with each other instead of acting transparently and with self- awareness and responsibility. The triangle, with hero, victim and abuser, one on each point, offers a clear visual aid to the theory that if you will allow yourself to play one role; you will end up playing all three. The role to aspire to is the role set to one side, away from the sliding sides of the triangle. That’s the role of the reasonable adult, who refuses to play games.

I didn’t know any of this then, and regularly flung myself into the role of hero/ rescuer, and so slid into the role of victim just as easily. I like to think I never became abuser, other than to myself, but maybe I’m kidding myself, made I did harm I don’t recognise. If I did it was never intentional, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with! (I love this picture by Amy Garner that shows how we can play out each role at once)

So, the wounded, widowed doctor, who wanted to rescue me from the corrupted charity to help her do real good, just as soon as she received her compensation, was irresistible to me. Phone calls became chats over coffee, and we quickly became friends. She showered me with compliments, heralding me as someone she trusted in a world of people she didn’t. That’s a warning sign to watch out for, a slavering of praise, intermingled with dependence. It is very attractive initially, but becomes a tightening noose over time.

Insidiously our friendship became suffocating. She took me to Brussels with her to give her evidence at the war crimes tribunal, but only left the room for half an hour, so could not possibly have attended the meeting she spoke about. She showed my reams of paperwork from doctors and hospitals cataloguing her injuries, but a little voice in the back of my head reminded me of when my friend and I created letter on headed paper for her over controlling parents. Clever photocopying allowed us to create realistic letters about essential courses she had to attend, on selected dates when we wanted a night out. Don’t ever ignore your inner voice- it’s singing up for a reason, and let’s be honest, has it ever been wrong?

I hushed the voice, reminding it that she hadn’t looked for me, hadn’t been seeking help. She’d phoned the charity offering help; this was just a rough patch, just a flare up of her PTSD. This is another thing prey don’t realise about the hunters- they are fishing all the time, they bait their hooks with tantalising morsels and dangle them in fertile hunting grounds. After-hours at a charity is a good bet, anyone still there is likely to have a bit of a helper/ hero complex.

Next, she started to use me to back up her stories, and add believability to her background. I started to get suicide threat phone calls, and I’d rush round, and then I would be the one to call the out of hours doctor, to describe her situation and pain, so they would come out and inject her with super strength painkillers. Then she would send me away again. She had a hundred reasons why other people couldn’t help her, and her demands on me became worse and worse. By now I’d handed in my notice to the charity. The terrible conditions had turned the staff against each other, and I’d tried to straddle both camps, unwilling to take sides which had resulted in my isolation from both. She had not been interested in any of this, and had disappeared on the days I needed support. I had started a new job with an agency after four weeks out of work that left me terrified I would not be able to pay my mortgage. There’d been no sign of her during my dark night of the soul. Classic psychic vampire, only interested in someone when there’s energy to extract, attention to garner, once that’s drained they lose all interest.

I met the man who would become my husband, and she had no interest in meeting him, but being loved and having a new job where I was appreciated had restored me, and she was interested in that. She started demanding my time and attention again, but I was wary now. A clearer mind had stacked up the evidence against her, and I was starting to listen to the alarm bells that were sounding, the defence of her approach to the charity had worn thin. She started to text me as her own friend from a different number, pleading with me to continue to support Elaine, but she muddled up which phone she was texting me from. This playing helpers off against each other, or the threat of it is another key warning signal, it’s a form of control.

I didn’t abandon her.

I phoned her G.P and told her all my concerns so professional help could be put in place, if it was required. Then I text both the phone numbers what I had done. I did not hear anything from her again.

That is the biggest warning flag of all, anyone who will not engage with the help and support available, but expects you to do it all for them. You see professional support will have been trained to avoid feeding the psychic vampire. They will construct the support offered around the basic remit that the supported individual takes responsibility for themselves. A genuine individual, who is going through a tough time and needs assistance will welcome this, indeed insist on it. A psychic vampire will want others to do everything for them, while claiming their victim is the only one who understands them, the only one with the exceptional skills to help them. The vampire will use your own vanity and kindness against you. Don’t let them.

This was when I started my counselling training and learned about transactional analysis, and so learned how to protect myself from further predation. I don’t rush to offer help anymore, I sign post to professionals who are paid to assist. If someone is receptive to this, then I support them to engage. I do not make myself available day and night anymore, my phone is kept on silent, and I only respond to texts. I can send these on my terms. I talk about my own needs and if the friend does not respect these, or offer care in response, then I stop responding to them. I only want friends who offer in return as much as I offer them. I still have to be wary and take care, my first instinct is still to rush in, but I have experienced total burn out now, and I am determined to never reach that point again, and that means looking after me first.

dark blessings jpg

Dark Blessings?

dark blessings jpgI’ve discovered that there are many, many unpleasant factors involved in suffering from anxiety and depression. Nowadays, my brain can betray my trust, my brain has always been one of my best features. I thought quickly, able to assess a situation faster than most; I remembered things (apart from names, always been useless with names); and I could multi task. Indeed, my brain allowed me to coast through my degree. I sat, and passed exams on anthropology books I hadn’t read (I’d quickly realised the introduction and conclusion contained the vital information needed to pass), I wrote essays on the day they needed to be handed in, chattered through lectures, and only revised minimally. My nigh on photographic memory saw me through, and my ability to blag did the rest.

Suddenly, I can’t believe my own assessment of a situation. In the past if my brain told me I’d forgotten something, I had. If it kept worrying over a situation, it meant there was something wrong, and something horrible was actually about to happen. If I was startled awake, with adrenalin flooding my system, to go over and over a small detail of the day, it meant there was something about that detail I had failed to notice at the time. It meant if I re-examined that memory, something important would reveal itself. That’s no longer the case.

There’s other delightful symptoms to my anxiety too, and they all feed into each other wonderfully. My brain has acquired the new habit of waking me up with a non-existent text, a middle of the night alarm, or an imaginary doorbell, when I don’t even have a doorbell any more. It’s just to make sure my heart is pounding and I’m thoroughly attentive, ready for the magician’s show to start, when my brain produces an array of unrequested magic tricks- creating worries out of nowhere, and disappearing all normal logic up its sleeve.

Next is the vomiting, I was never sick before. I hate being sick, I went years and years without vomiting. Now I puke when I clean my teeth, when I cough too hard, when I’m sat minding my own business, even when I’m fast asleep. I’m lurched into wakefulness with milliseconds to get to the loo before I turn myself inside out.

I hate the brain function slow down. I hate the way I can’t learn properly anymore. My brain used to be so quick, I was the one who would explain a concept to other people. Now I have blank spots when my concentration vanishes and it feels like trying to squeeze a huge marshmallow into a tiny jar when I’m trying to shepherd my thoughts back into cohesion. Bits keep escaping.

There’s the exhaustion, every bit of my body hurting for no reason; and the headaches that start in my shoulders and slowly paralyse me. Or in my forehead and become all I can think of.

However, the worst symptom, the absolute worst, is that happy excitement, anticipation of a long awaited delight, or pleasure in a hard won achievement brings exactly the same up surge in symptoms as negative stress. So when I launched my first novel online last Hallow’een, I was sat on the sofa, clutching my laptop and my sick bowl, sleep deprived and delicate.

Accepting there was a problem, seeing my G.P, and finding out that my fears are illogical was such a relief. I’d been taking all these extra terrors seriously, and life had become extraordinarily scary as I tried to make sense of the messages of danger. However, it was equally horrifying to discover the deception; I couldn’t trust me anymore.

I won’t let it defeat me though. I am more than the sum of my ills, I am nothing if not stubborn, and that grit will see me through. So what do I do? Do I curl up, retreating from the world? It’s very tempting, God, it’s so bloody tempting. Do I give up all together, bereft of all hope for a future free from pain and exhaustion? Do I make a ‘special’ cup of cocoa, I’ll never wake up from? I can see the temptation there too.

No, what I do is I stick out my chin, I grit my teeth, and I look up. I keep moving, no matter how little. I accept that some days I won’t be able to do much, and those days I filter my To Do list down to one, easily manageable point. That way I don’t get lost in self-hatred for not achieving anything. I accept that on PMT week I will need one day of doing absolutely nothing- my To Do item for that day will be ‘survive’.

I make sure that I appreciate something beautiful at least once every day, the green of a leaf against the blue sky, the daring silence at the centre of a song, the first sip of filter coffee my husband has made me with love. And do you know what? I love myself and my life far more now than I ever did before, so thank you anxiety for centring me back to me.

You see, that’s what’s amazing. After a lifetime of putting other people’s needs before my own, of tying myself in knots to people please, I just can’t anymore. It’s not a choice, the physical consequences of ignoring my own needs, are so awful that I won’t do it anymore. Even considering an action that isn’t in my own best interests, like applying a job that job that pays better but would chew my soul again causes a resurgence of symptoms, and guides me towards a happier work /life balance. I may be broke, but I’m happy.

For everyone’s benefit, I have to look after myself, which is bizarrely liberating. The outcome is that I’ve got to know myself better, and I rather like me. I’ve shed some extra pounds, and become much physically fitter, which I also like, I enjoy feeling ‘in’ my body again. I’ve realised that I was living in a tiny corner of my brain, not in my whole body at all. Dancing is fun again.

Writing isn’t an option, it’s no longer something I delay until a mythical, perfect tomorrow. I have to do it, my creativity is my saviour. I live in the moment more, and I’m softer for it, kinder, more fun. So, I smile my secret smile, armed my strange weapon, and face life bravely, with my dark blessings to guide me.

My House Is Trying To Kill Me

houseNo, really it is. You see, we had to sell our massive old house- the big six bed Victorian, where Being Human was filmed when a heart attack forced my husband to accept we weren’t going to foster anymore, and we weren’t moving to France either. Which had been our two year plan, to buy two houses, live in one, rent the other out once my writing had taken off and we could support ourselves between these two incomes.

So with those dreams in tatters round our ankles, and a mortgage we couldn’t afford anymore, we sold to an utterly delightful family and bought a sweet like red brick thirties semi came onto the market. We were the first and only people to view it, it was perfect with 3 double bedrooms, a kitchen that could take an island and dining table, and a lounge that was big enough for a T.V end, and a desk end, and sweeping sea views. The whole house was light and golden, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders as soon as we walked through the door. All it would need to be perfect was a bit of repainting in nautical colours.

Downsizing was hard, even though we’d included a lot of the furniture in the sale of the old house, we still had an awful lot of stuff to fit into little house. The immediate solution was to store stuff in the attic so we had some space to move and sort things out. We needed a larger attic hatch and the attic boarding to allow it to be used for storage. Which is when we discovered the asbestos. No I hadn’t bothered with a full survey- a surveyor won’t move furniture or carpet, what would have been the point of wasting £1,000+ that we didn’t have? So we couldn’t fit a large attic hatch ourselves. We needed specialists. Expensive specialists.

Which is when we found that the electrics in the bathroom weren’t earthed. What a wonderful combination, unearthed electrics and water, my favourite. Because of the asbestos the electrics needed to be replaced by the specialist team, and if the bathroom electrics were in that state I didn’t fancy taking a chance on the rest of the house! So we had to pay for a complete rewire. While everything was pulled apart for the electrics to be restored, it made sense to move the boiler out of my bedroom- it was VERY noisy- and into the utility area. A far more sensible place for a boiler surely? This meant rebuilding the rear wall of the utility space though, another expensive job, and while all the other turmoil went on, we may as well move the radiators in each room to where we actually wanted them, and reskim the walls so we could paint them afterwards and finally have our perfect little home.

Everything took much longer than we expected, and we were without heating until December. The house is lovely and warm- it’s well insulated and has its cavity walls filled (See why we thought it was a safe buy?), but not having the heating on made it damp. First I got the snuffles, then my hubby got a bad case of man flu. Only it wasn’t man flu, it was pneumonia. Not on house, not on.

We had a little break then, we were out of money and patience for sharing our house with builders. Come May though, we couldn’t bear being carpetless with hacked up walls any longer. We found a new team of builders and ran up a horrible debt to get the bulk of the house and gardens finished. Two weeks they estimated to get the interior work done. Maximum. How our little house must have chuckled.

Hubby’s room went smoothly, (we have separate rooms because he’s a lark, and I’m an owl, and he snores like a steam train, also, I’m messy and he’s finicky. He has visiting rights.). With his room finished, I packed enough clothes for a week into a bag and decamped to the sofa, while all my belongings were crammed into the spare room, which will eventually become my writing room.

My room ceiling couldn’t just be skimmed though, it was sagging and needed to be pulled down and completely replaced. That was going to mean an extra couple of hundred pounds and an extra couple of nights on the sofa. Only the house had bigger plans than just a few extra nights poor sleep. Once the plaster was off the ceiling we discovered that the beams were far too thin and widely spaced. It was a miracle that the contents of the attic had not fallen through and landed on me.

This is when I started to suspect the house had it in for us. The beams were sagging so badly they’d dropped several inches and couldn’t be repaired, they had to be replaced. And the wood had to be specially ordered in. You don’t want to know how much extra that cost, and by the end of my third week of sleeping on the sofa I was seriously suffering from sleep deprivation. I was accepting night shifts at the hostel where I used to work the hope of better sleep, not just because I was so desperate for the extra money to cover our spiralling costs.

The day I moved back into my room was lovely. The colour I’d chosen is the softest grey, I can’t remember its real name, but I call it Wistful Sigh. The thick soft carpet is scrumptious under my toes, and the extra money we spent on the quality underlay was worth every penny. I don’t have curtains yet, just a blanket over the window, but you know, after the lounge, it really is luxury to have my own space and all my belongings in one place.

Phew, the end was finally in sight, they just needed to give the hall, stairs and landing a second coat of the glorious New England blue I’d chosen, while Hubby and I packed up the lounge so everything could be moved into the kitchen for a couple of days while the lounge ceiling was skimmed to get rid of the awful aertex, and it was painted a slightly greyer shade of blue than the hall. We wouldn’t have a lounge or kitchen for a few days, but that’s ok it wouldn’t take long. Can you hear the house laughing? I didn’t, I am an eternal optimist.

I did hear the worry in the builder’s voice though, as he called downstairs, he looked sad as he showed me the water running off the new electric socket box when he pulled it out of the wall. Ah, electricity and water, my favourite combination. Our new electrics, fitted less than six months had rusting metal boxes in an interior wall. We frantically looked for exterior causes. There weren’t any.

‘What’s under the laminate?’ the builder asked in a worried voice.

‘Oh, it’s concrete,’ I replied confidently. ‘I asked the seller when we viewed’.

I’d hoped there might still be the lovely original thirties parquet wooden floor to restore. The builder suggested I may have been lied to. He explained that houses from this era were sometimes built with floors tiled straight onto earth, which damp could then rise through. I didn’t need him to pull up the laminate, or show me the foil backed polystyrene to know what he’d find underneath. The only possible solution was to dig up the pantry, which was where the water seemed to be accessing the house, and lay a damp-proof course, and hope that resolved the problem. The original black and white tiles are a lovely find. It’s just a shame there’s a thick layer of black adhesive over them which is going to be a bugger to remove.

Well, there went the budget for the side garden. The one we wanted to slab for us, so we had a lovely space for barbeques and parties with our friends. All the things we’d planned to be doing now we weren’t tied down to fostering. And the couple of days we were spending without a lounge or kitchen was stretched by another five days. We were a little fraught, you know, just a smidge. Finally the pantry was finished, although it would take a month to dry, so nothing could go back into it, but that’s ok, the builder only had the lounge ceiling to skim, would only take a day or two.

Ah ha ha ha. I know! Hubby and I had a rare day off together when I heard that scared tone the builder had developed when he had to tell me there was a problem. The leak we’d discovered and fixed from the bathroom was only one of three, and they were long term problems. You know where this is going don’t you? The ceiling was completely rotten at one end, and needed replacing. We decided to bite the bullet and replace the whole thing, insulating for sound while he was at it. Hubby’s telly watching at half six in the morning would wake me now more. They also discovered that some genius had cut the beam the feet of the bath sat on down to just a couple of inches to fit in the bath waste. So the heaviest thing in the whole house was balancing on a flimsy bit of damp wood. Really house? Wasn’t that stooping a bit low? My marvellous builder saved the day though, strapping some steel strips either side to reinforce it, and fixing the other two leaks.

Which is when the house seemed to take against him instead, the one who was foiling all her fatal plans. First his wife had to be rushed into hospital with a suspected heart attack, which turned out to be fluid on the lung from here she was kicked in work. A scary experience that delayed work by another five days, but we weren’t complaining, we’d been there far too recently. Then, the day he was due back, his lovely two year old dog had to be put to sleep after having massive fits.

It was still essential that the rear garden was slabbed for the dogs. They’d turned the pretty lawned area at the back of the house into a dug up Somme within a matter of days of us moving in. The next day the scalpings and other such builderly things which had been ordered for the remaining garden works were dumped on the pavement at a completely random address, on a completely random day, so the poor man had to spend the hottest day of the year shovelling several tons of scalpings (gravel sort of stuff) into bags to be transported back to the depo.

Then the decorator went AWOL for a weekend. I’m a very sanguine person, Hubby is not so much. Since his heart attack my cheerful laughing man has become much more negative and short tempered. This was about the point he became really ratty. It was also the time the house seemed to decide we were here to stay, and give up fighting us. Not before she’d passed the baton onto the car though, so the gears all failed as he drove me to work. We had to manage without a car for a week. Hubby decided he wanted to sell that one after such a betrayal, so we bought a smaller car, with lower running costs, and somehow, she got passed the baton too! Battery faults meant we were another week without a car. During this time I badly damaged my back in work, and as that got better, developed a virus.

I think what I’m trying to say is, sorry I’m late with my blog posts and newsletter, and sorry I haven’t made better progress with Book 2 of The Darkly Vampire Trilogy, but there has been a series of unfortunate events! It’s been four whole days now since anything untoward has happened. They start the garden tomorrow.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

So, what made me decide to write about the paranormal, vampires, ghosts, zombies and horror? Why does my writing have a dark and gothic twist? I thought that today I could share some of my real life paranormal experiences with you, so you can understand my inspiration for choosing to write in the dark fantasy genre, or how it chose me?

First of all let us consider the definition of Dark Fantasy. There are many different definitions out there, but my interpretation is that Dark Fantasy is a novel where the world seems the same as our own, but with a super natural / paranormal twist. The story will have a dark, gothic feel, and the monsters with be sympathetic, while the humans may well be worse.

How did I decide to write in this style? Well, it came naturally to me. As well as twenty years as a support worker meaning that I met many human monstrosities, and helped to heal their victims, I grew up in haunted houses.

It wasn’t actually me who noticed the ghosts in the first old Welsh mining cottage we lived in. It was my little brother who complained of the woman in white who woke him up at night. Apart from her nightly walks, she seemed peaceful enough. That house was only rented though, and we had to move quickly when we were given notice. The house my parents chose was actually a collection of three old cottages, one was habitable, one was a wreck, but recognisably a cottage, and the other had burnt down, and been rebuilt as storage. It didn’t take me long to realise it was very haunted. From my bedroom window I could look out at the raised plateau of grass where our swing set stood, and I could lie in bed and watch the swings move. First the two outer flat swings would swing, and then the middle baby seat would start, swing, brief stop in mid-air, swing, exactly like it did when I pushed my little sister, catching her on each upwards arc.

These children were friendly, and would help me find things I’d lost. If I told them what I was looking for, I’d quickly find it nearby. One night I left them a charm bracelet, telling them it was a gift, and the next day near the bracelet I found a perfectly round pebble, which I later found out was a Victorian marble. The man who bought the old wreck of a cottage to restore told us about being visited by a woman while he worked. He was not a man taken to fancy, and was very shaken up by the whole experience.

The next house we moved to though was not such a positive experience. There was a thick pine forest around the edge of our rear field, and there was a feeling of such malevolence from that woodland that I hated to go outside at night. Animals behaved skittishly near the woods, and my sister and I had the same nightmares at night of a laughing male face and the river filled with lashing eels.

The worst happened when I moved away to University. One morning as I woke up, I felt the bed sink behind me, as if someone had leant their elbow on the bed, to bend closer to my ear, and then a harsh male voice, right next to my ear said: ‘So you thought you could get away, and laughed. My sister developed Fibromyalgia while we lived in that house, and my Step-Father was diagnosed with M.E after he moved in, although he hadn’t had it before. My first boyfriend became ill soon after he started seeing me. Not long after that morning visitation I was finally diagnosed with Glandular Fever and Toxoplasmosis, which eked all the colour and joy out of my world, and plagued my right into my thirties.

It plagued me, in fact until I became friends with a Shaman, who I had approached for accountancy help. She taught me how to protect myself, state my intentions to only communicate with positive energies, as well as telling me that an energy cannot haunt you if you refuse it permission. I learnt that all I had to do with anything unpleasant that I felt approach was tell it firmly to go away, and it had to.
The very first time I meditated the blue bubble of protection around me, a furious male figure tore it open with clawed hands, and screamed at me in fury, but with my new knowledge I was able to tell it to leave, and close my bubble. Since then the Glandular Fever symptoms have gone. I’ve used the skills I was taught to help the curious child ghost in our old house move on with a feeling of love and acceptance, and whoever it was shaking my bed in the night to stop and go away.

In the hostel where I used to work, a hostel for homeless, and therefore unhappy teenagers, they often told me about a ghost. Year after year different tenants would do an Ouija board, or have bad dreams about a female who played the piano. The details were startlingly consistent. I always told them they were imagining it, because I didn’t want them to be scared, but I felt a malicious presence too. One that thrived on the discord and unhappiness of so many damaged young lives.

I hated to be left on my own there, and would hear footsteps stamp downstairs, linger in the office doorway, and then move across the room to where I worked at the computer. Then it would fiddle with papers besides me while I refused to look at it, or acknowledge it. Other times it would hurl into the room with an unhappy service-user, and swing letters pinned on the noticeboard around in semi-circles behind their heads, while I tried to smile and pretend everything was fine.

Once I had met the Shaman though, I knew how to tackle the malevolence, and so one night, when all the tenants were in bed, I stopped avoiding it, and met its energy head on. Like most bullies it cringed at confrontation. I told it sternly it had to leave, it could not be here anymore. I immediately felt the atmosphere lighten, and after that none of the subsequent service users ever complained of ghosts again.

monster picture

Loving A Monster

monster pictureLoving A Monster

I read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine the other day, about the effect of being snubbed or bullied by others, and it drew on research that has been carried out recently and confirms that emotional rejection or abuse hurts every bit as much as physical pain, indeed it stimulates exactly the same place in the brain. Only it lasts longer, much, much longer. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense. We evolved our pain response to avoid situations that put us in danger, and being ostracised from our herd is about as dangerous as it gets for a weak, soft creature without built in weapons like a human. Our only strength is in numbers and co-operation.

A week or so later I watched a documentary about the police trying to assist women fleeing domestic violence. Two of the women had been in long term relationships with their violent partners before they were arrested for violently beating them. One of them was unable to resist having ongoing contact with him, which meant he kept avoiding jail, and the other collapsed at court when she saw her ex, and sobbed and cried, and promised to wait for him to serve his prison term.

I know from experience, when I supported people- male and female- in abusive relationships that this is when people lose patience and understanding with the survivors and stop helping them. I can understand this frustration, but we need to see it differently from ending an unsatisfactory relationship. We have a name for people who are kidnapped and form a bond with their abuser- Stockholm syndrome, and we recognise that Cults brainwash people so it is incredibly difficult to leave. There are experts that specialise in intense therapy to help them rebuild their sense of self enough to leave. Yet we cannot see that both these factors have been at play for anyone, male or female that has been in an abusive relationship.

The abuser doesn’t choose just anyone. Different abusers have different favourite types- some like the feisty ones- they enjoy grinding the spirit out of them, some like the quiet ones- they’re less likely to face much competition, and others like the kind ones- easier to syphon off their energy. So they use different ‘hooks’ while they are out ‘fishing’, maybe it’s negative comments, or insults, or maybe it’s a sob story. The grooming starts at that very first meeting, then the victim’s sense of self is slowly undermined, and replaced with the abusers rules. Usually while the abuser remains utterly delightful and charming to everyone else.

Once it reaches the point where help is sought, the victim, and the support they seek is up against a corruption that has influenced every area of their lives, undermined every relationship, and was only been made to feel better when the abuser chose to be in a good mood. It is hard to outweigh this sort of damage, and while we as a society allow the abuser to get away with it if they wear the victim down to the point where they have contact with them again, what hope is there?

We need to recognise that these people are breaking the laws of our whole society, not laws made by their victims. It is not up to the survivors to enforce the rules, it is up to rest of us, who aren’t crippled with carefully crafted self-doubt. If someone hits someone, they have broken the law. It should not matter if they speak to them again or not. Simple.

And if you are someone who is fleeing abuse of any kind, be kind to yourself. The temptation will be to ignore the part of you that wants that person back, who misses them, who still believes that if you’d just tried a bit harder, been a bit better, they would have always been that amazing person you first met, but don’t. Acknowledge yourself, don’t you reject that hurt bit of you too, open your arms and love that part of yourself that has been so damaged, pity them for not believing they are worth better than that. Reassure them that they are, and then show them. And get expert help, there are support services available. Use them, and good luck, and much love.

 

Being A Plus Size Author

Blog Pic 2Being A Plus Size Author

Sadly, my size has influenced my whole life, until recently. I vividly remember crying to my Mum because one of her friends had said I was fat. I was a very little girl- three or four years old. I was not fat, I’ve looked at the photos, and I was a normal healthy little girl. I don’t know what I did to piss her friend off, but she chose the insult well. My mother hated her body, and was permanently on a diet, and that barb meant it became my problem too. The next clear memory I have of my size being an issue for me was maybe a year later, when I was sitting on the loo, I looked down and saw my little girl thighs spread on the toilet seat and was filled with hatred, they looked fat and boyish to my already fractured view.

After that, it was just a background issue humming in my subconscious as I changed schools twice while my family moved around. At the age ten my family disintergrated. While my mother was pregnant she discovered my father gambled on fruit machines, a lot, which led to their divorce three years later. When my sister arrived she had very severe colic, and screamed almost continually for about a year. Which is a very long time when you’re ten.

I was unhappy at home, and being bullied at school, and at this time I caught sight of myself in a full length mirror in a shop. The curve of my little girl tummy repulsed me. I decided I was the fattest, ugliest girl in the world, and put myself on my first diet. I was remarkably sensible and just cut out sugary treats. It didn’t last long, but that was the start of thirty years of starting and falling off diets. The majority of which were nowhere near as sensible. A cycle of hope and determination, followed by guilt and disappointment.

I wasted my adolescence, twenties, and thirties waiting to be slim. Everything was always: I’ll try that when I’m slim enough, I’ll do it when I like how I look. I had an entire separate wardrobe of lovely clothes that I have bought at the start of each diet, ready for when I was slimmer, clothes that filled me with guilt and misery every time I saw them.

The most horrible thing of all is that when I look back at photos of myself I really wasn’t that big. I’m five foot seven, and very voluptuous, so a UK 14-16 was not disproportionate. But at seventeen, when I went to the G.P and mentioned something about being fat, she checked me on the table and confirmed I was a stone overweight. So I spent the next twenty years trying to lose that stone, and got bigger with every failed diet.

When my life fell apart a couple of years ago anxiety and depression started and I started taking medication. For the first time ever I didn’t hide from my problems by over eating, and then losing myself in all engulfing over-eaters hatred. In the past, while I was full of that, I couldn’t worry about anything else: terrified of failing my A’levels- eat loads of chocolate and cry about my weight instead, had a row with a boyfriend, eat the words back down my throat. I don’t know if it’s the medication which has helped, or if the terrifying twists my life took after the diagnosis. When my husband faced a false allegation from a foster child, and had a heart attack as a result of all the stress, then lost his brother and uncle in quick succession, while we desperately tried to sell our house before it could be repossessed. Was it the medication? Did my weight fall into insignificance in comparison to real terror? Or was it the writing? I had finally, after decades of planning to do it tomorrow, started writing again.

It may have been all of the above. All I know is that it finally stopped being the biggest factor about me in my own mind. (And therefore in everyone else’s minds, as far as I was concerned) I also stumbled across a plus size support group on Facebook that supports plus sized women to just be who they are without being throttled by self- hatred. The positivity, and cooperative support these women offer and share is life affirming.

And because of Sods Law- you know, the one that always makes you want to roar with frustration, I’ve lost weight. I don’t know how much, I don’t know how much I weighed before, and I don’t know how much I weigh now. I do know that some of those clothes I’d stock piled for when I was slimmer have come back out of my ebay boxes. It’s not a total surprise, I’m doing a job which involves standing up and walking around for up to eight hours a day, rather than mainly sitting at a computer. It is a job that involves pushing people’s shopping over a barcode scanner while I chat happily about their purchases, so when I leave I am not worried about suicides, self-harm, or girls being battered and raped by their partners.

I don’t need to sweeten my day with enough sugar to send me into a stupor anymore. I am also taking Raspberry Ketones, because they have made my periods bearable, and combined with massive doses of vitamin B and Kelp have helped me increase my energy levels, so that I have entire days without the suffocating mental fog of exhaustion and depression.

I am still plus sized. I have accepted now that I always will be, and do you know what? It’s ok. I have shed enough excess fat to improve my health radically. I don’t have permanent heartburn, or suffer a bad back or sore knees anymore, and walking has become a pleasure again. Best of all, when I dance I feel connected to my whole body again, so it fills me with delight to bounce around the kitchen with my dogs, or wriggle my funky stuff at my slightly disgusted cat (if I’m not feeding her, or being her cushion I am just a nuisance). I missed that when it hurt too much, and I felt frozen in my head, disconnected from my body.

How has this impacted on my writing? When I started writing I was the biggest and unhealthiest I had ever been. I used these experiences to write about Rae’s misery, and originally wrote about her losing a great deal of weight, and only leaving her husband and starting her new life once she was slim. I could only imagine being happy when slim, but with my maturing attitude, I have amended that. Rae drops some weight as she becomes more self-aware, and less unhappy, and as a vampire she is as firm and sleek as a dolphin, as all the vampires are. But she is tall, and strapping, dancer fit, Amazonian. My beautiful, plus size heroine.

Chloe and husband

A Tall Poppy Chats

Chloe and husbandA Tall Poppy Chats

I thought a good way to introduce myself to you, my dear readers (Gosh, that’s lovely to type!) would be to invite questions, so I posted the invitation on Facebook and Twitter, Rich Blackett from the exciting Folk Horror Facebook page responded with some deceptively devious questions for me. I have answered them below.

I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions, so I have decided to permanently invite questions from you- either here through the contact me form, or via Facebook or Twitter, and when I have enough questions to make an interesting post, I’ll do that months blog on the questions- so get thinking about what you would like to know.

1-Biggest influence on your writing from childhood TV?
I didn’t have a T.V growing up. Not until I was thirteen. I only saw a very few programmes when we visited friends or family. The only thing I can really say that has had a lasting impact on me was a documentary about people deep fat frying alive snakes. I saw it when I was very small, and apparently very impressionable. The snakes coiling and writing in agony with their mouths gaping left me with a deep rooted disgust of snakes. Which is unfortunate, because I can challenge fears, and overcome them; but apparently that level of repulsion is stuck. I’ve tried standing in the big aquarium in Berlin, and telling myself not to be so stupid, they can’t hurt me. Which was when I realised I’m not scared of them hurting me, it’s just a deep repulsion, which has spread to other legless things that writhe, like maggots and worms. Yuk.

2-What you’ll never write about? Probably.
What won’t I write about? Well, I know a sensible person would keep away from politics and contentious issues. That’s not me. I’m the person who can’t make small talk at parties or the hairdressers. I’m the person strangers find themselves telling their life story to. My own background, and working twenty years with the vulnerable, the frightened, the brave, has given me an unerring ability to ask the questions people didn’t know they wanted asking. I can see what they’re smiling through, and I can bear their answers. I am very opinionated, but I do not judge. Some people love that, some absolutely hate it.

I know that to appeal to a wider audience I would benefit from steering clear from society’s ills, and ‘issues’, but if I did that I would be lying, that wouldn’t be me. You know that saying: ‘Tall poppies get their head’s chopped off’? Well, it’s true, but if you try to live with your knees bent, you get ill. So be prepared for contentious issued both on my blog, and in my novels. I want to make people think, I want to be engaged with you, so ask me questions, or tell me things that make you cross, hurt or happy and we’ll be tall poppies together.

3-What you’ll realistically be doing in 5 years time?
I really can’t tell you. I had my future very clearly planned out. I already had anxiety and depression, and knew I was reaching burn out, and wanted a total change of life style. My husband and I had a plan. We were selling our big Victorian house, the one where Being Human was filmed, selling the majority of our belongings, and moving into a smaller rental property for long enough to get the current foster children through to adulthood. While we waited for them to finish their last couple of years of adolescence we would buy 2 properties in France, and spend all our holidays over there with the kids, doing them up and getting to know the area. Then we’d move over there and live in one house, renting a room out as a writers retreat, and let the other one as a family gite.

Everything was trundling along nicely to plan until September 2014. I had started writing, and was promoting Darkly Dreaming. We had the huge house we’d bought in a very rundown state finished finally, and on the market. We spent the last two 2 weeks of September in Charente, and fell in love with the whole sunflower coloured region. We managed to hone our search area down to a small vineyard stripped region right on the coast. We even fell in love with a beautiful house to be our gite, about 2 miles through leafy lanes from a tiny port. As well as a fisherman’s cottage right on a slightly larger port, for us to live in. We returned home full of excitement, sure we had made the right decision.

The day after we got back we found out a foster child had made an allegation. Our world fell apart. We didn’t know who was accused, or what they were accused of. It took three days to find out that it was my husband who had had the allegation made, and to be told that the police would be investigating. We fostered teenagers with higher support needs, and had always known that this was a daily risk, as angry teenagers often lash out with lies. We had always assumed we would be told what the allegation was. Six weeks we waited, frozen, only knowing that whatever the allegation was, it was a lie. Which meant we assumed the worse, my husband was the main carer, and so we were terrified he had been accused of sexual assault. Our supporting Social Worker did not phone us once.

My husband was finally interviewed, and we were relieved to find out the allegation was an outright lie we could easily disprove. I was able to give a witness statement and highlight the other, similar allegations, the young person had made to us, about every other adult who had looked after them. Finally, two weeks later we were told that the police were not taking any action. Two weeks after that Social Services met to agree they also wouldn’t be pursing the situation.

It was just before Christmas by then, and we were supposed to available to take children again, but I was very reluctant. My issues were not with the child, strangely I can understand why they did what they did, poor broken thing. However, I was completely disillusioned by how we had been treated. We had been left far too long without being told what the accusation was. And my husband was supported better by my manager at the charity I worked for than he was by our supporting Social Worker, who still had not been in touch.

It was agreed that we would take a break over Christmas, and come back to it fresh in the New Year. Only my husband had a heart attack at the start of January, and that was the end of that. Once he was home we quickly realised that neither of us could bear the idea of fostering anymore. We also realised that we wouldn’t be able to go to France. The week immediately after the heart attack had been completely surreal for me, and I’d needed all of my friends and family close to help me through. The thought of trying to do it alone would be unbearable, and the medical terminology was difficult enough, without trying to do it in French. I speak quite a lot of French, but Hubby’s classes had only got him as far as hello and counting.

Since then I’ve been living day by day, moving away from what I could not bear anymore, and towards a more peaceful, creative life. We finally got the house sold, and moved to a lovely little house a few streets over, with lovely views. Hubby has found a new job he enjoys, and despite two massive bereavements, and grieving for the loss of his plans for a life in the sun, he’s slowly coming to terms with our life now. His mood dips erratically, but I was warned to expect that, and try hard not to respond.

I’ve stopped working with homeless teenagers, and started a job in a wholesalers, which I really enjoy. I’ve self-published my first book, and found an online group of writers I love and admire, and I contribute writing to their charity anthologies. I’ve started writing book 2, but it’s sluggish. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m still struggling a bit. We went through a lot for a long time, so it’s probably normal to still be so tired now. Isn’t it?

I can’t tell you what I will be doing in five years, but I can tell you what I want to be doing. I want to be writing full time, I want my time to spent travelling to sunny places to write and promote my novels, or at home with the pets, seeing friends and family, and writing. Every day I take another step in that direction, I’m not running there yet, but I am walking as fast as I can.