Blood bomb – half a life in hormones

This is hard to write, hard to admit, hard to talk about in public, but I must.

It’s a woman’s thing. A real woman’s thing. Nothing to do with men who identify as women (a ‘concept’ that’s all the rage now in the media. Only women born as women know what I am talking about, and only women born as women are women.

It’s about the monthly blood bomb that is a woman’s lot from the early teens until forever!

I am going to talk about myself here. This is my story.

I have lived a half-life because of the blood bomb for forty years. Yes, forty years of monthly pain, excessive blood pouring forth from my vagina, monthly blood migraines – induced by my female hormones – cramps, nausea, tiredness, irritability, violent rages pre-and during the blood bomb, and this has been occuring now for forty years, and is still continuing.

40 years! For every month of these past 40 years, a half of that month has been locked down in pre-menstrual aches, headaches, pains and hormonal anger. I have ridden the wave of this, like all women, with dignity, with resignation, philosophically, living my life as happily and as productively and as energetically as I have been able.

What is the point of this blog, you might ask? All women have periods, right! The point of my rant is this: Up until the age of 13-and-a-half I was a happy, balanced, active child. I had clear thoughts and I was able to study and focus on happy things. I was a kid. I played guitar, wrote my diary, had happy times with my friends, loved ballet, did ballet, loved my family – especially my kind and supportive dad, and never had a moment of self-doubt.

That all changed the day I had my first period. I was on holiday on the Island of Oland off the coast of Sweden. It was summer 1978. I was 14-and-a-half. I was having a lovely holiday, walking, cycling, going down to the local farm to buy milk from the farmer. I was drawing and writing in my diary and was happy. Then as if overnight, that happiness vanished. I got my period. I remember seeing that first clot of blood on the toilet paper and remember my happiness evaporating there and then. The light in the bathroom became duller. Everything became silent and echoing. The first thing I remember was I had to tell my best friend, but she was a long way away in Ireland. I would write her a letter telling her.

But I actually felt horrified, disgusted. The days went on and I felt no better. A couple of days later on a trip to Stockholm with my parents and brother, I thought my world had ended. You’ll have to get used to this – were the only words of comfort my mother offered me. My father just smiled at me in an embarrassed way, a kind way but embarrased all the same. It was not a subject that was ever mentioned again.

So, the joylessness of periods had arrived, and for the next 40 years I would have to suffer chronic blood loss once a month, the cost of tampons, sanitary towels, that god-awful hippy Mooncup thing which I tried for a couple of months then threw in the recycle bin. Imagine stuffing that up your vagina every month, then retrieving it and washing it up, then doing the restuffing? It’s hell.

And there’s the hormone headaches that I have endured almost every month for 40 years, my period migraine, I call it.

My happiness times in my life have been when my periods have gone AWOL. Pregnancy – no periods – fantastic. But those times have only have amounted to a total of 18 months in a period of 40 years.

Why am I going on about this? Because I am 54 and after having no periods for six months, a happy time for me, where I felt healthier and more vibrant and more energetic than I have ever felt, since being 13 years old, I now have my period back in full on blood bomb rage, paying me back for being absent for six months by giving me a double dose of everything, including low mood, migraines and clot explosions.

And while we’re on the subject of hormonal rage and a deputy-bank of england governor and his misogynist remarks about the UK economy being ‘menopausal’ due to its sluggish and lazy non-growth, I will tell you this, Mr Deputy Governor and the transexuals of this world, Deputy Governor, you’re a lazy misogynist – menopause means leaving periods behind and we’re now free to take on the world – and we do – and to the transexuals – do what you want with your body but don’t you dare tell me you identify as a woman, because you will never be a woman. You will never know what it is like to be a woman. 

I want a time without periods. Period. I want to be that balanced, happy 13-year-old again but in my 54-year-old body. Who the hell would want to be a woman? It’s damned hard but women are good at it. Real women that is.


Listen to the young & be there for them

Young people are under stress these days, more stress than ever before. Their lives are so much more insecure than past decades. There are millions of statistics out there that prove this, so I won’t info-bomb you with these details. I just want to say this; the young people in your life need you and you have a duty as a parent or relative to really, really listen to them, and care for them, in whatever way you can.

I have two young ones; young adults who have struggled and who I have given my full attention to. Without this love, I know they would have gone off the rails. I was them once. I had no support. I believe I was the first generation, post World War II, who experienced the massive insecurity of joblessness, homelessness and a life journey carved up by ultra-capitalism. This road of insecurity was/is long, and nothing matters except love and support.

I was in my mid-teens when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher came to power. She was still in power when I left university and met homelessness and poverty bang on. I lived and breathed her market-forces non-society, which to me, is a shockingly softer version of what is at play now.

My two boys are now in their 20s and the world they inhabit is a harder world, it’s a scarier world, it’s a world that appears free of regulation but is suffocatingly oppressed; it’s a world that chants out about freedom and democracy but then smacks down rules wherever it can and seems incredibly undemocratic.

It’s a world that encourages ultra-capitalism and free market insanity, injects stress and anxiety into every waking moment, but allows no real alternative, not really.

For example, want to go and live off-grid in the UK, buy a little block of land and grow your own vegetables? No. You’ll come up against planning laws, and involvement from every department of whatever you can ever imagine.

Want a job in the UK? Fine, but you’ll be on zero hours contracts, on a minimum wage and you won’t be able to pay your rent or afford to eat.

Want to make a difference on social media? Be prepared to be laser-zapped down with online abuse and trolling.

If all this sounds negative, it is. Mental health issues among young people are at a record high. Your children, your adult children, your nieces and nephews, your young friends, the young people you work with all deserve some loving kindness, some real time spent listening to their concerns, their fears, their stresses.

I talk to my sons endlessly about life’s problems, their problems, offer solutions, support and more. It’s practically a full-time job. I was ignored as a young person, had no mental health support at university. It wasn’t heard of at that time. I struggled. It doesn’t’ have to be like this. Just learn to listen, really listen. Young people are angry. And I am angry for them.

Turrets and inner-city apartment living

I’ve got a serious addiction and it’s not cheap to service. I’m not addicted to shoes, handbags, or expensive make-up (well not much), botox or surgery (don’t believe in that stuff), designer clothes or holidays (not really). I’m addicted to houses.

I’m not some slum landlord, or mega-rich property mogul, nor do I own any of these objects of my desire. My love affair with grand houses – always way, way, way out of my price-range, started very young, and now – in my early 50s – it’s as insane-inducing as ever.

I blame Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and Thornfield Hall, a main ‘house’ character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Manderley, the house so prominent in Daphne du Maurier’s gothic thriller, Rebecca.

How painful it is to have to accept – like some lovelorn groupie – that I’ll never own a Manderley or a Wuthering Heights or a Villa San Antonio on the Italian Lakes or a mansion a la My House in Umbria or a Portofino castle a la Enchanted April or a mini-Downton Abbey or a Bamburgh and Alnwick Castle. I will never be able to swoon around a Scottish turreted estate a la Monarch of the Glen, and run my hands over the thousand-year-old thick brick walls and breathe in the scent of yesterday and know that I possess all that, that it is all mine.

I just love the romantic notion of grand houses, their structural cheekbones, their scent, the silken curtains moving in the breeze against beautiful bay windows open to stormy skies, the heavy wood furniture that speaks of solidity, security and self.

I’m nuts for online house perving. I stand outside estate agents windows in my city and stare at those photos – you know the ones – where the sky is always azure-blue, and the sea never far away.

I am one of those weirdos who loiters on pavements beaming with pleasure, saying over and over – god, that’s beautiful, look at that, that’s just stunning, look at that turret, that tower, those windows, I wonder who owns that, it’s huge, god I love it.

Edinburgh, my city, is the perfect place for house-lust, for perving at physical brick-flesh. In my neighbourhood the streets are lined with these thick brick historic structures, and so the high – my addiction high – occurs daily.

Ironically though, I know I could never do the country thing. The country and I do not get on, never have and probably never will. I tried it once and it didn’t pan out well.

I couldn’t deal with the panic I felt at the distance between myself and the nearest Italian cafe and a strong cappuccino, the anxiety at the void of fashionable people, men in stylish suits, with designer beards, women with leather laptop bags and bright red lipstick, the emptiness of a country town’s high street after dark, the fact that there were no hidden restaurants down secret alleyways, where dangerous liaisons could potentially start and end. There was also the scramble to get a decent phone signal and the long, long drive to the train station.

So I returned to the inner city and small flats in search of good Italian coffee and a strong phone signal, forever secretly addicted to bricks and mortar, echoing corridors and big skies with indigo horizons above chimney pots.

And as I grow older I have to face facts square on, that my addiction is ridiculous, because I have to view it as that, a nonsensical flirtation with a past fantasy that in practical terms would be downright dangerous to the health of one’s mind and bank account if it were ever to come true.

Back in the real world I’m a dab hand at dealing with tiny spaces, mini bathrooms and kitchens in cupboards. This state of smallness or drabness comes to me as a challenge, to be reinvented with richly-coloured velvet throws and dashes of Indian exoticism, and gleaming neon white walls that magnifies space, decorated with my favourite artwork.

Think positive, I tell myself everyday. Flat life is not all bad. It provides endless comic material for my writing.

There’s Godzilla, the stomper who lives in the flat above me, Mr Peabody, the mathematician at the university, who lives opposite, who slams his front door – never closes it gently; there’s Miss Thames Estuary, the woman on the ground floor, so named, because she never smiles – not ever and has features the colour of damp mud, so grey and unfriendly that this was the only thing to call her.

Here comes the world’s most boring man, I say to myself when I leave my building, seeing the stooping greying creature I’ve nicknamed W.M.B.M. Those letters slip off the tongue and whenever I see him I groan inwardly and invent some meeting I have to attend.

W.M.B.M loves to tell me about his collection of train timetable almanacs, his wife’s shingles and the newsletter he’s writing for his club – Train Timetable Almanac’s Weekly (I made that up, not sure if one exists).

Maybe W.M.B.M was once an interesting handsome young man, but he left that persona in the waiting room at Carlisle Station.

Would I ever have met any of these characters if I had been separated from life by acres and acres of grounds, and high walls and fields and countryside. No.

There’s also a sense of security in an inner-city block of flats, that no real harm will eventuate, that high off the ground you’re away from possible burglars or criminals, and that in a city you’re never far from possible burglars or criminals, and that in a city you’re never far from someone to talk to, a hospital if you need one, a late night cafe or bar or a helping hand.

But I’ve had to teach myself to love flat-life, and generally I’m a terrible student. There are big sacrifices you have to swallow on a daily basis. Forget a garden – I have weaned myself off ever being a gardener; forget spacious rooms and multiple bedrooms and outhouses and porches. I try (unsuccessfully) to meditate myself out of wanting any of those on an almost daily basis.

My sweet little flat with its tiny bathroom, mini cupboard kitchen and strange neighbours, how I love you, I try to tell myself. You protect me, but who am I kidding, you’ll never be enough.

Bleach zap the (self) publishing vultures

If you’ve devoted your life to writing stories, novels that provide the pure escapism we all need to function in this increasingly chaotic world, then you’re a very, very special person.

But you’re also a person who’s vulnerable and easy prey; this makes you extra special in so many ways. Your vulnerability allows you to write the stories that need to be told, communicate your vision of the world with readers and share some serious soul healing.

This gives you an extra layer of ‘special’.

Now, take this concept one step further, and peel away all the bravado that’s needed for survival on a day-to-day basis and you’ll find another purer story.

The bravado consists of self-talk that goes something like this;

“It’s okay, I’ll self-publish my novels, I really, really, really want to do this, I want to design the covers, do the editing, step on the 24/7 marketing merry-go-round and walk tall with the knowledge that I am ‘out there’.

It doesn’t matter that my self-published novels will rarely (if ever) make it to bookshops, will not be eligible for literary awards, will not be taken seriously, will not be reviewed in the mainstream print or online media, will not be seen or touted by the industry ‘bigwigs’, and will not offer any sort of financial security on any level; that the offering of my closely guarded content for free seems to be the regular way to go; that before anyone will buy my novels I will have to get many, many excellent reviews, and for that, I have to give away my novel for free and wait many, many months; that there are a few authors who sell hundreds and hundreds of thousands of their novels and why can’t I be one of them. I could if I tried hard enough, I have to try hard enough. Yes, that all it takes. More effort, more determination.”

Now let’s get real and start peeling back the bullshit. Self-publishing is hard graft. Uploading your carefully edited opus to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is touted as easy as sneezing. And it is – all kudos to Amazon and KDP.

It’s the stuff that comes after that, that is crazy-making. Just like in life, some people have endless time on their hands and a nice lump sum of money to keep themselves in food and rent, and no responsibilities to others, so they can plough themselves in to becoming the robot you need to be to be a self-published author.

Others think differently (and get abused for it) preferring the traditional publishing route which makes them no more money (often less) but gives other little gifts in return; a bit of time to think and write, a bit of time to be human, the kudos of being with one of the Big 5 publishers and let’s face it, which author wouldn’t want to be published by one of the Big 5.

It’s our dream, or at least it was, wasn’t it? It doesn’t matter that the media tears down the Big 5 and Amazon Publishing on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter that authors know their royalty rates are total rubbish, and advances are almost a thing of the past, that anecdotes comes in that the Big 5 do zero promotion of novels, that it’s all up to you (us) the authors.

But still……put one thousand authors in a room and I’d bet 90 per cent of them would want at least one of their novels to be published by one of the Big 5, regardless of any crappy contract or lack of promotion. It gives kudos and reputation and in building a non-monetary career based on giving away free content and being paid a pittance if royalties do come your way, I’d bet that a massive majority would plump for a traditional publishing contract from one of the Big 5. I keep saying the Big 5, because I do not consider Amazon Publishing one of the Big 5. It’s not, and I don’t see it ever becoming one. Amazon is good at many things but…….you see where I’m going with this.

Self-publishing success stories rant and rave about how the traditional publishing industry is dying, uses authors and spits them out mercilessly. These ‘success stories’ are judging things on their own success (and I suppose that’s natural) but I have to ask: why do these self-published success stories jump on the first traditional publishing deal that is offered to them. It smacks of hypocrisy.

Here’s the thing: Joe Blogs, who used to run an internet marketing company until recently, decided to become an author last year, and has sold 150,000 copies of his novel ‘Bullshit Bullshit’ and X Publishing Company comes running and offers him a contract. Joe Blogs says in the media splat that he felt honoured to have been approached by X Publishing Company and has signed a contract with them. Why? If he’s that good at self-publishing why go with a mainstream publishing company?

As always, I smell a rotting rat.

And as the stench subsides, I get to thinking, who am I? What do I want to be in this publishing game? This existential fog consumes me. The stakes are the same, in my view. It’s all about which one takes up less of my near-no energy.

The bottom line is our art, our content, our carefully drawn stories that belong to us alone are needed by publishers for their own business survival. No content, no them, but likewise if we’re too exhausted and brain-screwed to write, they’ll be no content for anyone, ever, ever again.

I’m at a crossroads in my writing life (as you probably guessed). No route to publishing is easy and the liars that say otherwise are just that; liars, but I know one thing: when I started out in this game two decades ago, I had a romantic vision of a traditional publisher wanting my novels, publishing them, organising for them to be stocked in lots of bookshops, entering me into literary awards (which I would win), and the whole process repeats itself until death do us part.

This dream speaks to the real me, the one that hates bullshit, that hates pretence, the one that knows I am not an expert in every last little thing (only an expert in one or two things), and that’s the way it has to be.

Am I unlike other writers? I don’t think so. If you ask a novelist what they’d prefer I think most would say they’d prefer to get a traditional publishing deal with one of the Big 5 – for kudos, not for money, but for the reputation it brings. There are so many liars in the fields of indie and traditional Publishing.

I’m advocating being completely true to your creative self and listening to your own voice every single time.

Do a bleach zap of all the publishing bullshit and you’ll find your answer. Email me if you want to set me straight on anything, if you want to chat or tell me your own experiences.

Much love, Jo xx

This blog was posted in 2016 on my other site and I’ve changed my thinking slightly on things. Want to challenge me on things here? Please do. I actually love being told I am wrong. It makes me think again about myself. Jo xx