So I Had Surgery … (Don’t Panic!)

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Things are slowly getting better but I had a minor surgical procedure (local, not general) on Thursday. It’s kinda been the last in the long list of ‘shit I’d rather not do’ over the last three months. However I feel all the better for it, or I will once the wound heals and the bruising goes down. The pain is minimal, more discomfort (my tolerence is high) and sitting still actually helps. This is something I’ve been waiting on for the better part of a year and involved the removal of a benign cyst, a fibroma. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this kind of op but it was the first time I’d had it done consious.

Actually it was pretty fast. I’d planned the day specifically with this procedure in mind which meant using the morning to finish a new secondary world story (inspired by the election), have a proper lunch (ramen) and then, calmly, get the bus from Norwich to the N&N.

I was at the hospital for 1:30, half an hour before my official admission (there’s an unspoken rule about being early so nurses can do their stuff). I was in a gown by 3, devoid of my watch and phone, in the operating theatre by 4 and discharged just after 5. The only downside is I left my MedicAlert bracelet behind … oh the irony. I should have it back in a few days though and have a necklace, it’s just the principle of well … I wear it because I have conditions.

I must admit to feeling fine except for fatigue. There was a lot of local involved and I’d managed to intriegue the surgeon enough that she was the one who did the op. That’s like an honour, normally you get some consultant doing it. I’d also expected the removal of several fibromas where as, in fact, it was just one big one. I got to see the little monster before it went off to be tested and … wow. I’ve never actually seen a whole one before. Medical stuff doesn’t gross me out but even I was stunned that I’ve basically been harbouring this thing for three decades with change.

Frankly I found the whole experience very calm (mainly because of the personal pre-med of 20mg of diazepam) and the fact that I know how hospitals work. Plus they confirmed my identity at least six times which just ended up being funny (in truth it’s a serious thing: gotta make sure there’s consent and you’re operating on the right person). My pulse never went above 80 the entire time. It’s very A, B, C, D, though I was a tad surprised to get a team of ten, a massive OR and to pass through the same kids OR where they tried to get a line in last time just as I was telling the ‘time they tried to put a cannula in my right foot because I have the veins of a heroin addict’ story to the nurse who was escorting me.

There’s something really bad about yelling ‘fuck, that hurts’ in a kids OR.

Also, I’ve never done heroin. I just have no decent veins. At all. And cannula’s in feet really hurt, even for me.

That big, scary exclaimation mark on the band is basically a ‘hey this person has conditions/allergies you need to look up’. In my case it was to do with a medication which is no longer made and every dressing known to medicine (except the weird spray dressing they eventually elected to try. Not that).

Weirdest of all, I’m lying on a table in a gown and my shoes and socks …

I did specifically ask for audio description purely because I’m curious. I didn’t feel a thing bar the initial injections and a lot of tugging. The surgeon compared this to a root canal, something I’ve not experienced and have no desire to do. But it has to have been the least painful procedure of my life, even if I had to endure the pointless ride in a wheelchair afterwards.

So how did I recover from this?

I went to breakfast in the city, on two consecutive days with my two closest friends, and then saw Arrival. Again on two consecutive days. The movie is amazing, BTW, a beautiful adaption of an amazing story, it’s basically up there with Shawshank. I admit to spending Friday night on the sofa with pillows and a duvet but that actually made things more painful, plus D kept sitting on my shoulder which makes working difficult.

Coffee, my nook and food is helping. No Zumba for two weeks and the wound is healing nicely, I can basically keep an eye on it as it seems nigh impossible to get the mandatory wound inspection in seven days at my GP (despite being there that morning to have some bloods drawn). I’m pretty sure it won’t get infected, it’s nice and clean and I’m very good at post-injury maintenence. In fact this is precisely why I bought and crafted my first aid kits to be a little more advanced after the Great Swan-dive of Eaton.

The nicest thing for me has being able to sit and write, in relative comfort with the knowledge that I can’t actually do Zumba for like two weeks. I’ll go back when I’ve healed up. I can be in bed by six if I want, watching movies on my iPad or Let’s Plays as Dishonored 2 is out. I’m not sleeping but then I don’t and I’m too busy this week to take my last ditch medication because that comes with two days of brain for. I have various adulting things to do, including official paperwork, meeting my GDMI to formally get back on the list and seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at least twice.

Oh and I’ll probably do Arrival again. Just because wow. Even the soundtrack is gorgeous.

I’m keeping my regular schedule and that in itself is calming. Coffee, Westworld, words and quiet. The baristas at Nero are learning my particular order and BFFs are gently steering me away from those tiny urges where I’d quite like a drink but it’s probably not a good idea, especially not given the whole surgery thing. It’s a tiny craving which will go away if I stay in my chair, do my things, watch movies and drink fizzy apple juice instead. Frankly all I’m craving is decaffa mochas, meals someone else cooked and croissants for breakfast.

The good thing is all the stuff I need to do involves a minimum amount of time, walking and effort. Each is on it’s own day and I have the option of going to see movies afterwards or taking a trip to Waitrose for some cheese. It seems busy but it’s actually nicely spaced out, culminating with my first trip to the cinema with Beloved Niece which has quite excited me. Seeing a film is always fun but when you’re doing it with a Harry Potter loving kid … it’s awesome.

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Unis’ Retirement (Working: January 2010-October 2016) and the Future

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Uni was officially retired on medical grounds at my request—and Guide Dogs’ agreement—on Monday morning. She’s currently in holding at their Redbridge facility in Woodford Green being medically assessed. She’s still ill (and blood was found in her faeces). After six very long weeks of continued gastroenterological problems, it was decided that, for her wellbeing, it would simply be the kinder thing to retire her, treat her illness (assuming it can be identified) and then see her rehomed with people who will love her until she passes.

As a courtesy Guide Dogs are keeping me in the loop about her condition, medical issues and her emotional wellbeing (she’s happy and settled in) but I need to say that retiring her, it’s not a decision I’ve made lightly and, oh fuck, it hurts.

Imagine having your heart ripped out and shown to you, it doesn’t even come close. Neither does putting down a beloved pet (at least you have closure and can reassure them as they go peacefully). Uni’s been my constant companion for nearly six years and not having her is … well, weird. This is grief; I know it is. I know it will go away but it takes time.

Uni was a character best described as ‘Einstein with a dash of Moriarty and a bit of Houdini’, she was smart and sassy, she took the piss. She knew things a dog shouldn’t know. Worse she loved people and that was a part of the problem, she wanted her cake and fully intended to eat it. It’s why becoming Asha was so easy, because she was the more recognisable and lovable of the two of us.

Basically here’s what happened:

  • She relapsed on October 7th. We were in Starbucks when she started giving me the paw and whining (Uni code for ‘something’s up) and she started shitting liquid as soon as I got her outside. I immediately took her to my local vet who took her in for observation and put her on fluids. At this point I was physically unable to look after her due to the stress so two days respite helped but didn’t solve the problem, even though the vet kept an eye on her over the weekend her, releasing her back to me on the Sunday. She was officially signed off work for at least ten days and the vet arranged for special food for her.
  • We’d previously had an appointment booked for the 17th to go down to Redbridge to discuss her case going forward. That was unable to be moved so I had to find compromise.
  • Because I’m autistic I need routine; it hurts when I can’t do things in their usual order or be at certain times. So I left Uni at home as much as possible for the maximum of four-five hours. She slept through most of it. I went out to run errands, grab a coffee, chat to new friends and old and do the minimum in a set amount of time to keep myself sane. I do not apologise for this.
  • After consulting with other GDOs, knowing it was a quiet week with a single event I wanted to go to (purely for selfish reasons of my personal sanity and needing interaction with friends in a dog-safe space), Paul suggested ‘half harness’ where you put on the neon bra bit of the harness but leave the handle (which is the bit which tells the dog they’re supposed to do stuff) at home. I then used my cane to get around and would therefore be able to take Uni out to archery, knowing she would be happy on a blanket with plenty of access to water.
  • On Thursday, she ate cat shit while I let her out to pee. She’d been avoiding the pen due to the associations with bowel movements and pain so I let her go where she wanted to, only realising later that she was actually after stuff in the garden. She was fine but on Friday morning I noticed her straining and knew the jig was up.
  • On Friday, after acknowledging she was still unwell, still exhausted, and on advice from trusted sources within Guide Dogs/my circle of GDO friends, I emailed my contact, making it clear I was unable due to my own mental illness and Uni’s continued suffering to give her the care she needed. She required a safe area, better eyes than mine and so I told Guide Dogs I would bring her down to Redbridge expecting them to either:
    • a) Retire her on the spot due to her age and the fact rest/food were making no difference in her condition. (My personal option).
    • b) Board her for an extended period while tests were carried out (which would still most likely end in option a).
  • I followed this up with an email requesting her formal retirement. Because formality. Also I wanted to make sure there was actual room for her at Redbridge. I also may have compared her to my Sightsaber and what I do when it breaks.
  • Friday/Saturday were mostly spent crying. Also packing Uni’s things.
  • Sunday: I decided it was only fair to take Uni on a short Victory Tour (again in half-harness) so people who cared about her could say goodbye. She got so many hugs and though it may seem cruel to take her out, we both needed to pretend it was just a normal day. We met a trusted friend who agreed with my plan and my motivations, as well as understanding the mental pressure this was all putting on me (remember: my bipolar is triggered by stress). We returned home and I had to reiterate (somewhat angrily) in an unexpected phone call that even though the vet cancelled, we were still coming down to Redbridge and this was in no way related to her pre-existing skin condition.
  • Monday: We got down to Redbridge, Uni slept most of the way. There was no coffee. She was however pleased that the vet wasn’t there, they normally poke at her and she, understandably, doesn’t like that. The forms were, thankfully, waiting for me and after I reiterated I felt it was unfair to continue in the current fashion (Uni is a guide dog which means she needs human interaction 24/7), both for her health but also for my mobility and state of mind. The papers were signed; I let them keep the 50p. Then we left, stopped for a drink in her honour and returned home.

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This is my last picture of Uni. Frank, that’s the nice chap who I’ve been dealing with, let me have some time to cry and hug her. She looks sick but also like the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulders. I like to think she’s happy because being a guide dog is stressful. On the way back I spoke to my handler (a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) and confirmed I wanted to be put back on the list for a new dog. We briefly discussed the details of what I need (a short haired lab or crossed bitch, must be white/gold, must be calm, good with cats and able to work with escalators and the Tube). He affirmed, though we’ve been quietly discussing retirement for a while now, that I’d done the right thing. Had Uni been a dog working in London, she would have retired by now anyway.

Validation helps.

I’m meeting him formally next month to fill in paperwork, because Guide Dogs love paperwork, and the plan is to pass me onto the London Mobility Team (because escalator-trained dogs are usually only for inner city blind people). I do go to London a lot, more if it wasn’t so stressful, and so it’ll be a simpler thing to just have them to class and find a suitable dog they feel will be compatible to me. Also, given the clusterfuck that was my previous class I don’t want to train at home or in somewhere I’m vaguely familiar. Norwich simply has too many bad memories.

So, that, friends, is what happens when your beloved guide dog retires. I miss her, I love her to bits, but I don’t regret a thing. This was always about her health, her well-being, but as her owner mine also had to factor in. We’ve always bounced off each other, it’s why we worked so well together. For now I’m trying to explain in as few words as possible to people why Uni’s not with me (someone actually asked me if she was dead!).

Short version: She’s ill and has retired. She’s being rehomed as soon as she’s well enough. I’m waiting for a new dog.

From a personality perspective though, it’s also going to allow me time to figure out who I am. Changing my name was easy because no one really noticed I was there, I was plus 1 to a gorgeous guide dog. Next Dog is going to be different, I’m going to be different and I have a six month wait (ish) to find myself and start my next relationship on the right foot.

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Writing Queer and #NationalComingOutDay

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First off, go and read this amazing piece on #NationalComingOutDay by Seanan McGuire. It’s awesome.

Back? Great!

I have two things I want to talk about today. The first is my story, the second why I write queer characters. Both are interconnected.

First off, I call myself ‘queer’. I’m bisexual but I’m more into women than men. I find both attractive (accents are a big turn on for me, on the account of being blind, as is intelligence though neither relies on gender). Due to unpleasantness in my childhood and my autisticness, I’m drawn more to women simply because I sort of understand them. Men are weird, complicated and alien. I’ve had a boyfriend in the past but it was short and far too orientated on sex, I need to take things slowly, not rush, and because my sex drive is tied into my bipolar, I don’t have a switch I can just push at five in the morning.

At school I was the ugly duckling, this was in the eighties and nineties where queer and bi, it existed but it wasn’t a thing. Girls were expected to fancy boys, at my secondary school all I saw were opposite sex couples snogging in public and that was it. There were no books and the prevailing trends said male + female = normal.

Yeah I’ve never been that.

By uni, I started meeting openly gay people. People who liked themselves, who were comfortable with their sexuality. I also started reading manga and anime. Just the other week, I got talking to a nice server at a restaurant I frequent who was open about their sexuality. He noticed the Sailor Moon buttons on my jacket and we started talking about Haruka and Michiru as well as the Usagi/Haruka kiss and the gender issue Crystal resolved about whether Haruka was male, female or whether it even matters (it doesn’t). I always identified more with Michiru, frankly, realising I like girls who are graceful and kind, feminine and smart. But this was the first time I’d ever seen a proper queer couple (even though the first time was a manga which decided they were definitely not lesbians because that would be Bad). I realised, mid-conversation, why I liked this fellow was because he was comfortable in his own skin. He was happy.

I realised I wanted to be happy, even though I’ve been ‘out’ for nearly a decade. I finally realised what I was, who I was, when I was living in Exeter and met a fellow gamer girl who was in a relationship. She kinda made me realise that I wasn’t her, nor was I attracted to her but I was definitely not straight. She, of course, realised I was queer before I did.

I’m the oldest child with two cousins and a sibling. My grandmother basically raised me, loving me unconditionally. I’m not close to my family, I can’t be. I made a choice between what was expected of me and my own sanity; I chose my sanity and am much happier for it. Anyway, one day my grandmother asked me when I was going to settle down and have kids (as the eldest and female, it was kinda on me, I think to produce the next generation at least in her head). Now I’ve never wanted children. I get broody but it’s not practical or something I’m going to do this time around.

So I explained I was queer, specifically that I liked women more than men and was happy single and focusing on my new career as a journalist.

The shit hit the fan. Like literally.

My sibling was dating the woman who is now his wife and the mother of his kids. My grandmother, for some reason, decided to ring him and I ended up having a surreal phone conversation. I’m pretty sure he will deny having this and frankly I don’t care: gaslighting is a family hobby. Hell, even my recall of it is so ‘WTF???’ it feels more dream than reality, though I’m certain it happened. My brother was suddenly terrified I wanted to take his girlfriend away, that I was attracted to her.

Newsflash: I have morals, I don’t flirt with people in relationships, they’re off limits unless I know they’re poly/open, and is then-g/f isn’t my type.

But, of course, bisexual people are basically greedy. They want all the sex with all the people, especially the already taken.

*headdesk*

I think it took me at least half an hour to convince him I wasn’t interested. I knew his girlfriend, of course, but we weren’t close or even had that many conversations. I only registered she was even still dating him at my father’s funeral. My life had diverged with university, living in Exeter, with going to Harlow to study journalism, that I rarely ever saw my brother, let alone took notice of his relationships.

Eventually it died down and everyone did what they normally do: they chalked it up to a phrase. I am, after all, known for being single. The Parental Unit actually brought it up once, just once, in a pub while I was the other side of a pint, and told me she though my ‘bisexuality was a phase’. Her insinuation being was because she didn’t think I’d slept with any girls that somehow I was just unsure.

Now, of course, you posit that question to a straight person and they answer: “Well, I always knew I was straight.”

Queer people, of course, have to justify their queerness because while it’s becoming so much more acceptable, it’s still seen, vestigially, as being something you choose. I know I’m female and not just because that’s the gender I was assigned at birth. I also know I’m not straight. I’m also happy knowing that I like women and men.

That’s part of why there are so many queer characters in my novels and stories; because they’re a reflection of the world that should be, where gender isn’t important. Love is, trust is. I actually had someone tell me they didn’t like that I wrote so many gay characters; needless to say, that person is no longer in my life and that one, off-handed comment, was what really finished it. Queer characters need to exist, trans characters need to exist, minority characters need to exist, poly ones, disabled ones need to exist because books always mirror the world and the writer who summons them into existence.

So happy #NationalComingOutDay! If you’re already out, celebrate like it’s Pride. If you’re not, be brave and embrace who you are, be yourself and you’ll be all the happier for it. Welcome to the first day of your real life, the one where you’re happy in your skin, content in knowing you’re a good person, that love is amazing, no matter who it is you find along the way.

Be proud of who you are, be happy.

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Sometimes Money Doesn’t Solve the Problem

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Last week I took a bit of a swan dive (I’ve not been talking about it because I’ve been too busy recovering/living life as best you can with a massive hole in your lip and nose). It was an accident but it also wouldn’t have occurred had the road I been walking had been paved properly. My foot caught in the bad paving and down I went like a sack of bricks. The physical scars are healing but the psychological ones are still there and have reopened my personal issue with depth perception and falling over.

Upon telling people about the whole incident, I got two distinct suggestions from a variety of friend-level sources. Can you guess which one was from the disabled folk and which from the non-disabled?

“You need to contact the council, explain what happened and tell them they need to pave the road properly.”

“You should retain a lawyer!” (Pause for, from me: “With what?” and “Hahahahahah”) “And sue the bastards!”

Technically both these statements are correct: I was severely injured, my glasses have been damaged to the point where I’d like to replace them and my headphones too, because there’s now a massive keyed indentation in the back of the volume controls. I’m sure this means said headphones will last much shorter a life than they usually do.

Oh and I could actually sue them … Could being the operative word.

Perhaps it’s my world view, or my knowledge of how broke our councils are, but I won’t and never intended too.

I just intended to raise the issue and ask for the road to be re-paved properly, with asphalt, not concrete.

Now everyone who said these statements, or variations thereupon, did so because they care and were mortified by the image I posted of me, post-accident, bleeding on a bus.

This one:

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I took this mainly so I could see how badly I’d been damaged (there are no mirrors on buses). I was also in shock at the time, hence the glazed eyes, and had a whopping concussion. Also some small part of me knows when you have an accident this bad, you document it.

On Monday I did what I’d always intended to do and rang the council, within a few minutes of using the ‘blind woman with a guide dog’ card and explaining the depth of the damage to my nose, my lip, my pride and other parts of me which are now healing nicely. I got the City Council (who maintain the particular road which tried to kill me) to start an insurance claim (which will be handled by the Council Council). I explained, knowing how broke our councils are, that money wasn’t my ultimate goal, other than to replace what was damaged/cover the cost of the extra medication and emergency supplies I had to buy in order to keep on healing nicely.

All I really wanted was for them to pave the road so this doesn’t happen to other people.

Ironically, I know from experience, that sometimes a pay off is much, much easier.

So why, you ask, is this post headed by shiny Odeon guest passes?

A few months ago, Marie plus kids and Mhairi and I, plus dogs, went to see Ice Age: Collision Cause. We all like animated films and Marie had a groupon for five people. It was a free-ish trip out to watch a kid’s movie and (as a film) it was a fun couple of hours. Not the best movie but the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo made it for me. Totally worth it.

Anyway, we experienced one major problem: the sound.

Both Mhairi and I are stupidly sensitive. I know it’s technically a myth that your senses compensate when you lose one. Except it’s not that: we pay more attention and, when you’ve had eye conditions for your entire life you get pretty good at hearing specifics like a bad baseline or something which is just too loud. I have autism so prefer to artificially blunt my hearing, most of the time, with music and earbuds. It allows me to distract myself enough to be able to focus on functioning and using my remaining sight, as well as ignoring crowds of people.

Mhairi can’t do that and she, and Bramble, were in physical pain for most of the film. Even Marie, who was for the purposes of this argument, our control group, agreed it was too loud. We assumed it was down to the work being done on the cinema over the summer but resolved to bring it up, because the cinema staff are probably, by this point pretty desensitised. So, afterwards, we hailed a manager and explained there was a problem with the volume in that particular screening room. We’ve seen perhaps a dozen movies in other ones with no issue but that one is just set to VERY loud.

We were instantly given passes and gently fobbed off. So we left, have been spending the passes very economically, to see a lot of films (including Finding Dory in the same screen and, not realising it, we both questioned if it was too loud). Yesterday we used our last one to see Kubo and the Two Strings . It was only when we got into the movie that we realised it was still loud, though this time both of us had audio description headsets the volume was still far too high.

The movie was awesome and I loved it, used to the sound and able to cope with it probably because I love shamisen music and a good movie soundtrack makes everything a little easier to deal with. Mhairi had to nearly deafen herself in order to hear the audio description track so afterward, we conferred, I realised it was the same screen, and so we went to Deal With This.

Dealing with something is when disabled people finally lose their rag, politely, and decide, something needs to be done and ‘no’ or being fobbed off is not going to happen. I let Mhairi take this one because she’s good at being politely annoyed and is the one which the much more sensitive hearing. We explained the problems had and while passes were appreciated, we weren’t actually doing it for free movie tickets. There’s a problem and I’m dying to get a Limitless card, explained I, so I want to give you my custom but we, because there’s always two of us, don’t want to have to worry about being forced to use one screening room out of perhaps 20 which is going to make us ill because of the sound.

This is the thing: most people who have a disability don’t want money or empty promises (though with Mhairi on the case Odeon is going to fix this, I’m certain of it).

We just want to get the problem solved as soon as possible.

Yes the passes are nice but they’re like a band aid for my nose, just a temporary patch and not a fix for the problem. A fix is all we want, especially as me and my companions have become regular and enthusiastic movie goers.

Here’s hoping, then, on both fronts, that the actual issue is addressed and sorted.

Because that would be nice.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: A Box of Bastet’s Makes Everything A Little Better

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Because sacred cat plushes really do cheer me up. I should have brought the entire case home with me from London. So, instead, I’ve been hugging my own cats and dogs; it’s the cheaper option.

Anxiety is a bastard.

Seriously, it’s been sneaking around like a ninja and jumping me when I least expect it. First thing in the morning and last thing at night seem to be the best times.

I know this is a side-effect, I can only hope it will eventually go away. For now, though, I’m stuck taking medication that gives me a couple of hours respite or finding a Bramble/Isis to hug. I keep crying, randomly, in front of my best friend and finding comfort in food (ramen FTW) and quiet restaurants with my headphones on and a good book playing.

Writing … well it’s been happening but I had the first tinges of burnout. That forced me to step back. I’m writing the bits I want to write, snatched scenes mostly in The Broken World. Jaada breaking codes, Jaada sensing the wrongness of history and making a friend whom she can never love but will love her regardless.

On a personal front, I’m trying to see my friends, cancel anything in the least bit stressful or triggering and just take it easy. I’m not depressed but anxiety still wears you down. I keep having to remind myself that if I was a diabetic I wouldn’t spend half an hour debating whether to take insulin.

I wouldn’t mind but it’s not like I have the ‘traditional’ panic attack. I don’t hyperventilate; I shut down and I run. My instinct is hard-wired, after decades of abuse and PTSD, to ‘run the fuck away to somewhere safe’. Fortunately, I have understanding friends and this usually happens when I’m not in their company.

Right now I hate being alone because it makes me worse, sitting in public is only slightly better but I need my headphones and a distraction (yay music and books). Being at home bring with it added stresses but at least I can write distraction-free.

But I want food I’ve not cooked, coffee I’ve not had to nip out and buy. This necessitates outside and doing things. It doesn’t help that my body clock’s alarm is set in the region of 5:30am either. I miss lie ins.

At least I’m doing the smart thing and trying to reduce things which might make me worse. Also coffee. Turns out Mhairi has been having the baristas replace my caffeine shot with decaff … sigh.

I don’t even care but it does mean the IBS hasn’t been quite so crippling. So there’s that.

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Norwich Pride 2016: Words, Love and Being Proud

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Today is Norwich Pride and while I usually avoid big events, Pride is something I really wanted to do this year, almost to cement my new persona properly.

Oh and be proud.

I’m openly not straight (for clarifications purposes I’m attracted to men and woman and probably aliens but, when it comes to sex, I’m more into my same gender). I don’t know what that makes me, I call myself ‘bi’ but when aliens eventually show up that’s not going to work, is it? The point is I like people, intelligence is my biggest turn on and the world is not as rigid as it once was. Fluidity is becoming the norm in various places and a way of life.

A few years ago, the Parental Unit/BioUnit sat me down in a pub with a pint and told me: ‘I think your bisexuality’s a phase’.

Everyone else in my family is straight and if she declared it, so must it be. Because narcissism. I’ve been like this my entire life. I remember, being seven, and reading about homosexuality as a footnote next to a little girl who was normal (aka straight) staring dreeamily at a poster of a boy popstar.

I was that little girl (hell, Wil Wheaton was my first crush) but as I grew up, met people and saw what life really looks like, things became much clearer. I like men, I like women, I like people and that’s never going to change.

Two and a half decades of figuring out my sexuality … a phase? It’s really not.

So when I started writing many of my characters were dating members of the same genders. Some didn’t. There was Taras and Garrin, Daie and Jannah, Khalyn, Uma and Kavan (my favourite relationship of the lot), Elyn and Zoe (both of whom ‘swing every way possible’ in the most glorious and sacred of ways), There are also straight couples: Kali and Azrael, Kash and Esca, Zoe and Bry, James and Shai (though she is just like her aunt Elyn).

Of all of them Natalie Cross, who you’ll meet in a Priestess novel, is the only one who acknowledges herself as openly bi (and a practicing witch to boot) because she’s always been that way. Her two mums taught her well, about life, and being yourself.

A while ago, someone told me they didn’t like the fact there were so many gay/bi characters in my books. This offended me deeply because of the person who said it and they are, I’m happy to say, no longer in my life. I’ve always been taught to write what you know and I’m a huge fan—and a cis-female bisexual disabled pagan—of diversity. So, duh, of course I’m going to write strong female characters, blind ones, disabled ones, mentally ill ones and ones who enjoy sex with whomever plugs the hole in their heart and soul.

Because, at the heart of it all, everyone wants to be loved, especially me.

I’ve spent my life starved of it and, really, the one thing I want is to be loved. Not because of pity, my guide-hound or money but because I’m smart, sometimes witty and a nice person. Uni is playing the role of my wingdog in ‘adopting’ a human though, despite being a retriever and given the outline of ‘female and single’, she’s not yet found me the right person. Last week she tried to adopt a married couple with a pram …

Yeah, maybe I need a human for this task.

The point is my writing is my life and it’s a form of wish-fulfilment, peril, adventures, love and suffering. All of it is part of the path and a part of me. Love me, love my dog, love my cats AND my books.

So today, with ribbons in my hair, I plan to celebrate, to be proud of who I am, what I’ve done and who I’ve become.

I’m Asha Bardon, I’m an author, I want to date a nice woman and enjoy my life with someone else. I want to write books and craft arcs, I want to explore new worlds and forgotten ones. Oh and I want to do it with someone else, someone I’ve not met yet, but whom I hope to soon.

And, for the first time in thirty-six years, I’m finally me.

Happy Pride everyone!

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: So, Erm, I Came Off My Quetiapine

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I’m writing this mainly for my own reference and because, apparently, I’m not the only one coming off quetiapine this week.

I’ve been noticing the more quetiapine I take, the more nasty the side-effects have been becoming. Aside from the weight gain (boo), the biggest one is my brain. My memory, my ability to function. It’s not sedation, it’s not brain fog, it’s someone going through my head and randomly chopping out bits or pulling entire pages right out my grey matter.

This is problematic, not personally, but from a writing perspective. I can’t remember much about my own books, who a character is, what colour their eyes were, names and places. Yes, I should have a concordance of this stuff but hush.

Now I don’t taper. I am, at heart, masochistic and somewhat impatient so I cold turkey things. This isn’t, I admit, the smartest move or the first time I’ve done this but I’d rather have a few days/weeks of feeling shit than months of halving pills and lowering doses. Bollocks to that. Granted my GP probably won’t approve (and while I’ve not consulted her, I have spoken to several pharmacists who’ve given me an idea of withdrawal symptoms, apparently being on Biquelle XL, as a form of quetiapine, should make it easier though I thought it was just a brand name). Worse case, it’ll be three months, best case it’s already out of my system.

So, stuff I’ve noticed:

  • My memory is still shit. Maybe the damage is permanent? I hope not. It’s not what I have to do, it’s what I have to buy or where I’ve been.
  • I had one morning of intense nausea without needing to be sick, exacerbated by an extreme hypersensitivity to smell. Like everything made me feel ill, from bars of chocolate on a stand to that damn burger place up near Morrisons on Riverside. When I don’t want dinner then my friends know there’s really something wrong with me. On the upside, when I did eat, no problems. Also, I’ve actually been enjoying food more though having someone else cook has helped.
  • I had some flu-like symptoms but they passed in a couple of days
  • My IBS has cleared up, though I’m still having some issues with constipation. I don’t think it’s my diet though, I’d had lots of proper meals and vegetables this week.
  • There have been some weird vision things, like changes in light perception and flashes but I’m blind so able to cope easily enough.
  • I’m a lot calmer and when I’m not, I take my valium like a good girl.
  • I want to come off my sleeping tablets but I also want to sleep. One thing at once.
  • Alcohol is really making me ill. I had two pints and felt like shit. My internal thermostat stopped working and I just shivered. No more for me for now.
  • My concentration has improved. We went to see Independence Day: Resurgence on Monday and I couldn’t concentrate, so I talk. By Wednesday, when we went to see The Secret Life of Pets, I was engrossed. I don’t know, maybe it was just a better movie?
  • I’m being more talkative to Uni and she, sensing I’m off, is being uber-clingy. I love my dog and we’re being much more physically demonstrative. Also, I have this running dialogue with her which seems to help, even if she doesn’t answer back.
  • I’m making a conscious effort to eat (more healthily and actual meals). Yesterday I had to be somewhere at noon, so we went and shopped then went specifically to the pub for breakfast (and met Mhairi by a total fluke of two seconds later and would have missed each other). My appetite is definitely better and my cravings have become more manageable.
  • I’m able to deal, both with things and people. I’m not as irritable or paranoid. I’m more rational and if there’s a problem, I actively try to fix it, including ringing people. On my phone. Fuck me …
  • I found myself not worrying about time management for the first time in ages (which also included giving Uni a change to have a roll on some nice grass/an ice cream for me). Normally I obsess over buses and hate missing them, even when I know, logistically, I just can’t catch certain ones due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • I’ve been more active, watering the garden, walking and being willing to do stuff.
  • I’m not sleeping as much … and I’m waking up stupidly early, like before I need to as opposed to when my alarm goes off. Though much of that could be down to the recent weather/stupid humidity. Plus quetiapine is a sedative so not having it in my system is, of course, going to not make me as sleepy.
  • I am not manic. I’m level and okay. I’m a tad worried about withdrawal but I also know if I sleep, I’ll be okay. Sleep, for me, is a key trigger for my episodes. Or at least it helps me have an idea of my mental state. Too little sleep and I start to become more manic, too much and well, the opposite.
  • I have people on speed dial who know what I’m doing and will be there for me if things go bad.

Some of this might be psychological or psychosomatic but it feels real then it is, at least to me. Uni is there if I need support and having her definately makes me feel like I can face things, situations or people. I also have a small but amazing batch of friends. I’m trying to be kind to myself, if I’m tired, I go to bed. If I want to watch a movie or go home, I will. Heck, I was also asked if I wanted to do something and rather than panic and madly rearrange my schedule, I simply expressed interest but explained the timing wasn’t good (very short notice) and could I do x in a few months’ time?

Just to be sure, my diary is clear until Wednesday to the point where I don’t need to go out if I don’t want to. I also know, if I feel ill, I can just chill out. Tuesday is my big do-stuff day (the boiler needs servicing, the dog food is due and I’m having a new dryer delivered) but none of it requires me to go anywhere. I’m booked for Zumba on Tuesday but if, like Thursday, I feel sick, I’ll simply cancel. I’m also seeing my GP on Wednesday so at least she can be made aware of what I’m doing.

So yeah … I’m alive, it’s good, hopefully the weight will start to go down as well as I try to eat real food. Plus it’ll be nice to have some time to give my system a break, not a detox (I’m still on valium and zopidem) but I’m hoping I feel better (and I do have some quetiapine in the house, should I need to go back on it).

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The Collective Nouns for a Group of Guide Dogs

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A while ago, at archery, I was discussing what you’d call a group of guide dogs (unicorns are, according to some ‘a blessing’ while you can also get a ‘murder’ of crows). I decided three or more was a chaos, for the most literal reason, especially if they know each other or don’t and randomly meet on the street. Guide dogs have this thing where, if they see another dog, they drag their owners over to say ‘hi’. It’s something to do with what one of my friends calls Uni’s ‘neon bra’.

So, today, I started thinking ‘what would five or more be called?’. I’ve decided it’s an apocalypse.

Ten or me? That’s a doom.

A doom of guide dogs, it would seem dark but it totally covers how naughty our hounds can be in others’ company. Right after the last picture was taken, the dog on my left (a delightfully hyper hound called Rambo), second from the right, broke free of his human and made a go for it. Oh and Uni stomped on my left foot with her claws, I was left wondering if she’d broken my smallest three toes on my left foot. Then Jasper, on my right, stood on my other foot. I had to hobble through the supermarket on the way home.

Today was an awesome day, people came from as far as Cambridge to a little back garden in Dereham to raise money for guide dogs. It was an awesome event in which dogs were petted, hugs and generally made a fuss of. Oh and I won a bottle of wine, a bag of specialist dog food (chicken and rice which is what you give a dog/cat when they’re ill. I could have done with that the other day when Uni threw up three times in as many minutes) and an adorable guide dog puppy plush. Oh and two more for Marie’s kids (we were, at this point, cheering, at the statistics of two girls winning two toys).

The best part was I got to share today with some of my favourite people, some of whom came from Norwich (with their dogs) just for this event. It’s a nice change given normally I’m the one who does all the travelling. I don’t begrude my friends (or the impromptu taxi service) but changes are sometimes nice. Gods know I’m knackered now though. My toes aren’t broken but they are going to bruise nicely for the next few days.

Thanks, hounds.

But it was fun, even for the screaming kids and the people who kept trying to steal Uni (apparently she’s super lovable). A nice pub lunch, getting all my errands done in just the right amount of time, not getting too wet (though it poured down at least three times just to spite us).

Fun.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: The Down Swing

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My friend Kim posted this last night and it really struck home. I’ve had a horrendous fortnight and Monday just sealed it. Uni ate something as we were walking to the bus and, by the time we got into the city, it had started giving her bellyache.

Now Uni is normally a quiet dog but when she starts whining and pawing at me then it’s obvious there’s a problem. The last time this happened she was sick for three days with colitis. This was much more minor but I ended up having to take her out without a bag because I thought she needed to pee.

Cue my first of two encounters with self-righteous members of the public.

See here’s the thing. All non-disabled people get blind mixed up with deaf and so decide to scream rather than take a more gentle stance.

So I got “EXCUSE ME!!!!” and wild gesticulation. I was trying to get Uni back into Starbucks at the time and go retrieve a bag. You’d think the sheer fact I’m obviously taking a four legged friend into a place of business that we weren’t just people on a street.

Also, legally, I don’t even have to pick up after my dog. I do when I came but there will always be times when something gets in the way or I simply can’t find said shit. Or I need to get a bag because my dog has made herself ill.

So I turned and snapped back at the older woman who was trying so hard to get my attention, telling her my dog was sick and I was about go to and get a bag. Yes, I’m very aware she’s taken a shit and do not need you to tell me. Thank you.

Then I walked inside. By the time I got out again thirty seconds later she was gone.

My stress level goes through the roof when Uni is ill, especially as she spent the whole morning needing to go out repeatedly. And it wasn\t even the first time I had to deal with people. I got two old dears who came over as I was getting her to pee for the fourth time who uttered the immortal words.

“We shouldn’t disturb her …”

This is after they’d walked right over, begun asking me questions about how long I’d had her, tried to pet her and Uni suddenly didn’t want to pee anymore.

OMVFGs!

The whole thing just put the icing on my cake of unhappiness, leaving me weepy and desperately needing Bramble hugs/the reassurance of another guide dog owner who is not afraid to, politely, tell people to piss off.

Apparently I’m not allowed to use the F-word, or indeed any expletives, when dealing with the public. Sigh.

I’m trying to be more assertive in my dealings with the public but this makes the fourth time in as many months that I’ve had random strangers decide to scream at me because of my dog’s need to engage in a perfectly natural bodily function. And it’s always scream or an ‘excuse me’ loaded with blame.

FYI: Bus drivers do not like you bringing bags of shit onto their buses because some random person and her husband in a car decided I just had to pick up shit in the one place where there was no bin. I had no idea she’d even gone.

People make my mood even worse sometimes.

Anyways, thanks to all that, I’ve not been in a good place. The rest of it is related to the guide dogs kerfuffle and the stress of Mother’s Day (a massive trigger for my mental illness/PTSD). I’ve been left in a place where I just can’t cope and have been so glad of my small handful of beloved friends who’ve been actively looking after me, making sure I take it easy.

I’m trying to focus on the little things, like the sun coming out or the smell of my vase full of blooming daffodils. Not the nightmares, the self-harm or the quandary of ‘do I?/don’t I?’

I spent the last few days fixating on whether my time is done. Mhairi keeps reminding me I’m stressed and Uni is similarly playing off my emotions. I know this, we do it regularly, except I turn that into self-loathing and the feeling that I somehow shouldn’t have her and don’t deserve her companionship.

Even if I rang my GDMI today, he wouldn’t retire her. She’s healthy, loves her job (her job being getting fuss; I’m the sideline) and he’s aware of my somewhat self-destructive, paranoid depressive bouts. Plus even if Uni was, she wouldn’t work again, she’d simply be rehomed and I’d have to wait a minimum of six months before getting a new dog.

And I’d have to go through class again. Right now that’s not even a thing I can do, some messed up am I from my first time doing it.

Then she hugs me and smiles (it’s a creepy dog teeth thing most people find disconcerting but is actually Dog Love) and everything feels a little better. Bramble hugs are even better but I know, when I curl up with Uni, that she loves me more than anyone else. Uni reserves her true feelings for me, she thumps her tail and we play catch and I know no one else has this kind of relationship with my naked dog.

I know, realistically, that I need to eat well, not drink alcohol (erm …) and wait it out. The downswing will pass, it always does but when it’s triggered by things I can’t control, that makes it seem so much worse than just normal bipolar-triggered misery. This is stuff I can’t control and I’ve never been good at handling that.

Today I’m making a point of chilling out, I’m doing things I enjoy, I’m going to Yo Sushi! for lunch, then to Waitrose to pick up a couple of nice things (ham, cheese, good bread). I’m going to write short stories and celebrate another rejection and the promise of being able to submit another piece to one of my favourite markets.

I’m going to look after myself and get through this.

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