The last few weeks have been tough mentally and physically, with depression kicking in and leaving me tired and emotional. I’ve had issues with oversleeping, then being awake until the early hours.

Today looked like it was shaping up to be another heavy day, as after I’d dropped my wife off in the morning, I thought I’d be retreating back under the duvet until she needed picking up later in the afternoon. It seems to be my default setting at the moment.

Imagine my surprise when I got home and walked our lovely dog, Breeze, cut some firewood, before settling down with 2000AD and a cuppa. Then, I managed to scrub the bathroom, unload and reload the dishwasher, before sorting the broadband and having lunch. No sign of needing a nap or hiding away from life.

And then, get this, I headed out early to go for a skate. I’ve been wanting to skate for weeks, but my depression has been stopping me by making my tired or scared. I was almost too scared to skate today, as when I got to the skatepark, there were two other people there. I have anxiety about doing stuff when other folks are around, as I worry about showing my self up. I got out of the car, almost bottled it, then picked up my board and wondered what was the worst that could happen.

So, the two at the park where younger than me, and even though they could skate better than me, they were okay, and I did my best, and managed to flow round well, getting some kick turns and fakie rolls in, feeling better with each turn on the ramp. I stayed for about 30 minutes, then went back to the car to read some Ruby Wax, feeling much better.


Taking a leap…

I’ve taken a big leap into the unknown today, and had my first ever zine published. It’s the first  time I’ve actually paid to have my work printed pin this way with the aim of selling it to the public.

Not only have I had Milk Stains printed, but I have launched an Etsy store to sell it too! I don’t want to bombard you with plugs for my wares, as that’s not what this site is about. There won’t be masses of posts pleading with you to buy my stuff, but I’m darn proud of what I’ve done.

You can go to the store here: 

I plan on making more zines in the future, and my second one is already planned out, but for now enjoy the heavy metal kitty mayhem that is Milk Stains issue 1!

A fanfare for harmonicas… 

After struggling with depression and anxiety this morning, I planned to spend some time this evening playing my harmonicas, just seeing where the music took me.

My default setting for the harmonica is the blues, I mean, harmonicas just make me think blues straight away. Most of my favourite harmonica players are blues musicians, and slow blues and heavy rock seem to be the kids of sounds I make.

Making music is great therapy, whether alone or with others. Playing music gives me a great lift, and the upset of this morning was blown away like autumn leaves whilst I came up with riffs and solos today. I am much calmer and happier now.

I came up with a couple of pieces this evening, one a more rolling bluesy track, the other riffing on my favourite composer, Aaron Copland, and his wonderful piece ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. Copland is a family favourite, our mum loved Copland, and we played some of his ‘Appalachian Spring’ at her funeral earlier this year. Copland also scored the 1930s film version of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece ‘Of Mice and Men’ (another of mine and mum’s favourites – I still have her copy). Lots of connections.

I plan returning to ‘Fanfare’ later, blending Copland’s score with a bluesy touch, but for now, here is my first take, I hope you like it… 

Skateboarding is good for your health…

I’d planned on going skating early this morning, whilst the park was quiet, hoping to have it to myself. Skating solo is good for me whilst I’m learning the basics again, and I didn’t fancy swimming against a tide of scooters. There’s a really nice feeling being on your own at the park, especially early.

Well, I overslept, and wondered if l would actually go skating at all, with the call of artwork and life in general tugging at my sleeve. After a tasty breakfast (my wife and I take turns making breakfast on Sundays), chilling seem  in order, but after a chat, I decided to get up and get to the park after all.

Pleasantly surprised by finding the park empty, I set to learning how to flow more, and relax on the board again. (My biggest issue last week was being too stiff.) Rolling in, I started to carve more naturally almost immediately, and began to loosen up, standing lower, and feeling at home on the board once more. I’ve still not quite managed t flow all the way around the park, but I’m close.

Sitting atop the funbox, I was aware of nothing but my breath and the wind around me. Calm, centred and happy, I picked up my board again, and began to put in more circuits of the park. Still not reaching a full circle, the flow was definitely coming back, and I felt more relaxed than I have for quite some time. Rather than worrying about tricks and speed, the feeling of flowing seems more important to me now. Everything else will come with time.

Keep rolling…

Tripped up…

Mental health is a tricky bugger. One day you can be fine and on top of the world, the next, down in the dumps wondering how you will ever get through the day. 

I am fortunate to know that my depression and anxiety aren’t so bad that I cannot function at all, but my brain will sometimes get caught in a negative spiral, with logic and illogic chasing each other’s tails, making concentration and happiness elusive. On the whole, I am okay most of the time, but small worries can easily mutate interest ever larger ones, and depression and anxiety can take hold.

Take returning to college, for example. On the day my mum died earlier this year, I made a decision to get back to my counselling course, get qualified and become a really good counsellor, working preferably with children. There are certain things that need to be in place before returning to college, BACP membership, insurance, and most importantly, placements. I knew about these things, of course, but this year has been tough, and getting my act together has been hard. So, when my return interview didn’t happen last week, my brain spiralled down into panic overload, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get things sorted and return to my studies. 

Stepping back, making a list, and taking some time has allowed me to overcome my anxiety, and I have now got a referee in place; drafted my letter asking for placements; and have applied for my insurance. I also have someone in mind for my sponsor, and feel more positive about my return to college in September. 

As I write this, I am calm, centred and focused. Onwards…

Back on board

Has it really been over a year? Gosh. Mental health really battered me last year, and its only now that I feel more myself than I have for a long time.

A lot has happened in the last year, which I’m sure I’ll talk about later, but for now, let’s talk about skateboarding…

I’ve skated on and off since my mid teens, with the last big blast around my 40th birthday. Now, at 47, I’m taking skating on again, having just bought a new board last  week.

I’m happy to say that my basic skills on a board haven’t deserted me, having rolled around my local park, pulling kickturns and rolls, and today have started conquering my fear of dropping in, which has always been the big one for me.

I found a really good video which went through the basics, and that really helped me today, as I can now drop in from the small fun box… still a way to go, but it’s a great start after not skating for years.

Cue happy face!


Gone fishing

Hello again folks, I didn’t realise how long it was since I last posted here. Our business has been working really well, and alongside studying counselling (I passed Level 3, and am now on Level 4…), life has got in the way, but in the best of ways…

So, back to the blog. This weekend I’ve been visiting my dear friends and their children in Hampshire. I shared a house with my friend after his partner left him, and my first wife had left me. We had a true bachelor pad, and life was like an episode of  ‘Men Behaving Badly’ at times, but it was a wonderful time, and we looked out for each other.

Fast forward many years, and we’re still best friends, and I go down to Hampshire to visit when I can… it’s nice being back in a place I loved living and was happy (even with a marriage break-up and depression), happy days.

On Friday, we went fishing. My friend had booked 24 hours of carp fishing at Willow Park Fishery, which I was really looking forwards to. We were up at ‘Sparrow’s Fart’, which meant being at the gates just before 7:00am. We got the kit loaded into the ‘Tackle Taxi’, sorted my rod licence for the day, and headed off to our swim, ‘Pig Pen’. First things first, we got the rods and nets set up,then baited our swim, then pitched our bivvy (sort of an open tent…), before getting bacon and coffee on!

I only caught my first carp last summer, and it was a fantastic buzz. I’m a bit squeamish about handling fish and slimy stuff, but that will change. Back to the weekend… I learnt so much. How to bait a rig, cast long and short, which baits work, how to tie rigs…

The last few weeks have been quite stressful with work and studying, so spending time with friends at the lakes was a wonderful way to unwind. Being in a beautiful setting with good weather was so calming, even with an A road behind us (partially obscured by trees and fences). The sound of heavy traffic was quickly tuned out, as I simply lost myself in being outdoors, relaxing and seeing if we would catch anything. All of the pressure and worries of the last few weeks evaporated, and I was just being. I was completely in the moment. Such a beautiful feeling.

Later, my friend’s wife and kids came to visit us (after school…), which was lovely, as he had not long caught his first fish of the weekend, a beautiful 19lb 7oz carp, so we could all celebrate together. Our fellow angler also joined us after finishing work for the week, and we could relax again, crack open a beer or two and order pizza! (Luxury fishing, I tell you!) As the gates were locked at 7:00pm, a lovely hush descended upon the lakes, and we settled in for the night, hoping for another catch, but it was not to be… Good company, food and conversation made up for it though. I think we all crashed out around 10:00pm, bivvy doors open to the elements, rod alarm lights twinkling in the night. Bliss.

The following morning was bright and breezy. We were up early, and I got breakfast on, plenty of bacon, sausages and eggs on the stove in a BIG pan, whilst I went off to get my rod licence for the day. Walking around the lakes in the early morning was so good. Quiet, peaceful and relaxing, just being around nature. The morning passed peacefully until it was time to pack up. The rods are always the last thing to get packed, and as my friend was bringing his rods in, a swan caught his line around its leg. The swan was distressed but uninjured, as my friend cares for the wildlife above and below the water, and we didn’t leave the lake until we knew the swan was okay. It was funny seeing folks on the other bank run to get their rods out as the swan cruised around!

We wended our weary way home, but returned a little later as we still had some time left on our day tickets. We headed for the small lake so I could practice short casting and hopefully catch a carp before I went home! We had just baited up with sweetcorn and put some feed out to attract the fish, when I got my first bite! It was great learning how to bring the fish in safely, and the feeling was fantastic as I saw my friend net my first carp of the day, such a buzz. I didn’t get a photo of my first catch, as it was quite small, but I was so proud of myself for catching it. Amazingly, I had literally recast when I got another bite, this carp being much bigger. Again, my friend netted the fish for me, and gently unhooked it, checking it was okay before I took a photo. Beautiful fish, around 8lbs. We slipped it back into the water, and off it swam… Lovely.

I had a seriously funny turn then, feeling like I was drunk. My friend said it was an adrenaline rush after catching two carp so closely together. I definitely felt weird, and had to sit down with his daughter for a while, until I felt more myself… Composure regained, I cast out once more, as I had seen some carp under the deck near the bank, and I was determined to catch one more. They eluded me on one side, so I switched over to the next deck, casting under a tree… Success! My third catch in two hours, another beautiful carp around the 8lb mark. I had a hat trick, and was so happy.

Before I came home yesterday, my friend very kindly gave me some of his much older rods, reels, hooks and weights. We stripped the reels and rewound them with new line. I was very touched by this incredibly kind gesture, as my friend knows of our current financial position, and always helps out when I visit them, be it a takeaway, day tickets or, on one occasion, some fresh coffee to take home. I feel truly blessed to have such a good friend.

I never really thought I’d get into fishing, as it seemed a bit alien to me, but after this weekend, I am hooked (!). The sense of peace at the lakes, allowing me to remove myself from everything is wonderful. Catching fish is a wonderful way to unwind, and I look forwards to learning more about this relaxing past time, and the beautiful creatures at the heart of it.

Carp number 3
Carp number 3
Carp number 2
Carp number 2

Do you know how amazing you are?

The last week or so has been incredible. My head has been buzzing with so many plans, plots and schemes that I haven’t known where to turn or what to do first…

I finished six months of personal development last week. It seems unbelievable to me that I’ve been working on this for six months, but the strength and confidence I have now is amazing. Which brings me to the last couple of weeks. The whole head buzzing, whirling, not knowing where to start thing had reached a point, and I was paralysed by starting the next step on the journey. It wasn’t until my counselling class two weeks back that I realised what was happening…

My tutor in the afternoon that takes us for the process part of our course (practical skills), made an observation on my counselling session where I had said that I felt as though I was in the centre of a tornado, like in the ‘Wizard of Oz’, with everything whirling around me out of control. It was fear that was sending me into a spin, fear of the unknown, and that’s what my tutor commented on.

For a long time I’ve held very set, black and white views on how some things should be, like work, and now with all this amazing confidence, assertiveness and positivity, that view has been blown apart. I don’t have to fit into a set pattern of behaviour, attitude or appearance any more, as I thought I had to before. My mind is finally free of constraint allowing me to do as I wish, not as others do. I am in charge of my own future and am moving forwards at a rate of knots with nothing to hold me back. It’s amazing and I’m really happy.

All of you are amazing too and capable of so many incredible things. Take the leap.

I wish my brain would shut up sometimes…

Urgh, what a week. My brain has been tripping me up over the last few days, leaving me in a depressed state and on occasion, close to tears.

Yes, I know it’s not my brain directly, as it is an organ which carries and processes chemical and electrical signals throughout the body, amongst other things. It’s how you choose to act on these impulses that causes the problem and issues. Of course, if you haven’t taken prescribed medication, supported a partner with serious mental health issues, written assignments, made music, drawn, written…

As I got so physically tired out by the end of Monday, after studying counselling all day, I was shattered and the week loomed ahead of me, full of meetings, conferences, projects and assignments. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be me. Been there, done that. I got my fresh supply of meds, turned off my alarm and cancelled what I could. I know that getting so exhausted was an alarm call warning me to back off and slow down. I took heed and stopped. The last time this happened, I didn’t heed the warning, and ended up being signed off work for three months. Mind you, this was one of the best things to happen to me, as it gave me time to take stock, focus on my needs and decide what I wanted from the future.

The first thing to go was my job. Working in education has been amazing, but it was costing me my mental health. That last spell was my third serious ‘episode’ of depression in 10 years working in education as a teacher, library assistant and media technician, not all at the same time, however!

So, I decided to really focus on being self-employed as an artist and designer, educating myself about mental health, restarting my counselling studies, making comics and music, and looking after me. Yes, there’s my trait of taking on too much, but I was self-aware, ready for the fallout and had support in place. Since January 2014, I have rebuilt our art and design business from the ground up; written, drawn and published three comics; released loads of music and played it live (performing live was a big scary thing to tackle); passed my Level 3 Counselling course; started networking for business and pleasure; started my Level 4 Counselling course and a ton more besides.  Yes, I still try and do too much, but I’m happy and in charge of my life now. I’m closer to my wife, our children and my family; I walk our dog most days and play fetch with her; cycle when possible; enjoy reading more often; listen to way more music and podcasts and generally look after myself and the world I inhabit.

I’m proud of where I am now, and as I can read the warnings now and know what to do. Life might catch me out sometimes, but I can stop it from completely pulling the rug from under me.

Thanks for reading!