Saturday 24 October 2015
The PINK SOFA meets writer& blogger Vivienne Tuffnell
Vivienne is one of the many people I have come to know and admire via social media. Vivienne (like so many creative people) suffers from periodic bouts of depression. She does not attempt to hide what afflicts her and in this, she is a lot braver and more honest than a lot of people. The PINK SOFA is thrilled to be hosting her and has got in her favourite cake as a token of its undying admiration.
''Well this is nice. If you would just pull that soft fleece blanket over me, I can have a nap after that wonderful cake...How did you know I love Battenburg?
Oh, sorry, Carol says I can't snooze now. But I'll pull the blanket over me anyway. I like blankets. And duvets. They're good to hide under when the world gets too much. Some of my best friends are blankets. That's because we spend so much time together, quality time.
I'm hesitating to use the word, but I'm a depressive. I first started experiencing depressive episodes from the age of six. In my late forties I have discovered that a weird genetic anomaly that affects my collagen is almost certainly a large factor in the anxiety and depression I've endured during my life, but there's little to be done for that except constant physio to keep muscles strong to protect dodgy joints. The neurological aspects are going to just be freaky for the rest of my life.
I began writing as a kid too, as much as anything because creating a world within a book meant I had some sense of control and some sense of order. Fiction has to make sense even when life, quite frankly, does not. Story is a profound way of exploring the universe and the questions that life throws at us without giving us many clues about the answers. I wrote my first novel when I was ten, and there are boxes and boxes of fading typescript hidden away in my home.
I had a couple of long breaks from writing, one because I went away to university and read the best and most respected literature in the world (nothing like excellence to put a wannabe in her place) and one because trying to get published almost cost me my life. That's a long story I won't tell here. It ended with me shutting the door on writing until it kicked down the door, grabbed me by the throat, shoved a pen in my hand and stood over me until the book was done.
But a half dozen novels later and a folder full of wonderful letters from publishers and agents all ending with the traditional Dear John bit, I was left in limbo. I'd always thought of vanity publishing as the bitterest of jokes, and it took me a while to realise that the new opportunities in SELF-PUBLISHING were completely different from the old vanity model. Fast forward a few years and now I have four novels, two short story collections, a novella, a poetry collection and most recently a collection of essays from my blog, exploring my old nemesis Depression.
Depression has never gone away. I've never concealed my fight; indeed, my blog has been remarkably well read, especially the posts on mental health. So after writing over 800 posts (about a LOT of things) I selected twenty of the ones I have understood have been of most relevance and comfort to those also affected by depression. I asked Suzie Grogan, author of Shell Shocked Britain, and also editor of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days (a collection of writing by people affected by mental health challenges) if she would write me a foreword. You see, the shelves of both virtual and bricks and mortar bookshops are packed with how-to style self help books on depression, and celebrity memoirs on their fight against the infamous Black Dog.
But there's not much written by ordinary folks. I'm not a c'leb. I'm a novelist and poet, and essayist. I believe I have things to offer, questions rather than answers, that may be of great value to others facing the same sort of darkness. There's no single answer for depression, because there's no single cause. Indeed, there's much debate about what causes depression and it's something neither psychiatrists nor psychologists nor philosophers will likely ever agree about.
That's why I feel Depression and The Art of Tightrope Walking is unique. It asks questions, it questions the answers, and it doesn't give easy ten step solutions to the problem. Having spent a lot of time (and money too) trawling through self-help manuals of various sorts, I am cynical about them. I probably ought to have marketed the book as a book to cure depression because there is an all mighty hunger out there for a quick and easy cure, a pill to swallow, a regimen to follow. I couldn't do that, tempting though it was. For me, that would be dishonest.
Anyway, is there more cake? Oh there is. Good. I might take that nap now, too. I'll try not to snore, or drool. Thank you for having me, here, Carol. It's been delightful.''
Dandelions and Bad Hair Days: