Can’t earn it

Advent 3

I want to give you an update on my health, and some really deep thoughts that I’ve had about it. I’ll start with a potted history and bring you up to date with where I am now. Then will come the deep thoughts 🙂

In 2016 I decided that I was really sick of feeling tired all the time and I was going to look into my health in a big way and get things going well. I checked for intolerances (and found salicylates) and allergies (sulphites), I went to a specialist about my sinuses and dealt with them so that they are generally clear. And I still wasn’t feeling that much better.

My wonderful and awesome GP decided to give me a whole slew of blood tests and we found that my thyroid was overactive. That put a whole new machine into operation. A run of specialist appointments and a medication that brought it under control. And I went from dragging myself through each day, hardly able to move, feeling stressed and burnt out and fatigued and awful to feeling pretty much normal.

I was excited to be feeling well again. I was told that the thyroid usually settles itself down after a couple of months and then I’d be OK. But my thyroid didn’t settle. It remained slightly overactive even after eighteen months. It was time to do something definitive.

The definitive option we decided on was radioactive iodine therapy. There was a chance with this therapy that we could kill off the thyroid gland just enough but not too much. No more overactivity but it wouldn’t be under active either. And I could have the correct amount of thyroid hormone in my blood stream without any medications.

So we did that back in June of this year. When I went to the specialist afterwards she was confident that we’d done what we needed to do. Everything would be good. A couple more blood tests to check levels and then only one test needed each year to keep a check on things.

All good, right? Turns out, not so much.

Over the last few months, very gradually, I’ve been feeling worse and worse. My energy has gone down. My weight has gone up. And it’s all been very gradual. I’ve been a bit like that frog in the pot of slowly boiling water.

I tried to do something about how I felt. I kept exercising. Hoping that exercise would speed up my metabolism, and build my fitness, and help me out. I listened to uplifting music and read uplifting books to help with the dullness and the depression I was feeling. I prayed and I made sure I rested once a week and I paced myself to keep within my energy levels. I found jobs that I could do to keep the businesses moving forward even though I wasn’t feeling energetic, and I put systems in place so that I wouldn’t forget the important things that I needed to do. But I kept feeling worse.

My biggest fear was that I’d have the last blood test, go to the doctor and be told, ‘your thyroid levels are low, but not low enough for medication, you just need to try harder.’ So instead of getting a blood test, I just tried harder and harder.

Finally the blood test day turned up. I joked with the pathologist that I’d be finished with this one. That this would be my last test for a year. I was all good.

I was seriously in denial. I don’t know how I could have even thought I was good. But I did. I thought that this low energy level was how life was going to be. And that I should be grateful for it.

The next day my specialist rang in a panic. She told me that I had almost no thyroid hormone left in my body. That she was seriously worried about my brain function. That I shouldn’t drive a car. That she didn’t know how I was standing upright. And she faxed a prescription through to the pharmacy closest to me so I could start taking medication straight away. I was to come and see her the next morning so she could get me on some faster acting stuff as well.

If you want detail, I had no measurable T3 and very, very little T4. And my TSH which should be lower than 4 was at 98. I was quite literally slowing to a stop.

When I took my first fast acting T3 tablet it was like giving a drooping plant water. My body lapped it up. Within half an hour I felt human again. The headache I didn’t really know I had, left. My brain cleared. My eyes could see better. My muscles worked again. My sore throat was no longer sore. I could walk, I could dance, I felt like singing. I suddenly knew how sick I had been.

And how foolish I had been to think I could fix this problem by myself.

My body needed T3. No amount of exercise, diet, or rest would have been able to fix that. My thyroid gland is dead, it is not making what I need. And without T3 I was also dying.

Once I was given what I needed, I immediately came back to life.

Now, you all know I’m a Christian, and this situation is the best illustration I have for what I believe about salvation.

We might think that we can work our way into being good people. That we can somehow build up to being good enough for God. So we do good things, we go the extra mile, we treat people as we’d like to be treated. And all of these things are good things.

But if we keep doing that we will wear ourselves out, and believe me, we will die. Because good works are not what our souls need. “Spirituality” is not what our souls need. We can’t do it for ourselves. We do not have the capacity to bridge this gap, to solve this problem. And it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we will die trying.

We need Jesus. He has paid the price for us to get us to God. He is the righteousness we can’t get for ourselves. He is our spiritual T3.

With Jesus we will live.

Without Jesus we will die.

It’s as simple, and as difficult as that.

It’s not that our good works are bad. They are good. But they are not what we need. And they will never be enough.

If you are a Christian like me, then praise God with me that Jesus has bridged the gap and given us what we need.

If you are not, let me tell you, God loves you. He wants you to know him. And he’s given his all to give you all that you need to get to him. You will die without him, you won’t die if you depend on him. Feel free to ask me about it. I’d love to tell you.

Or get yourself along to a church this Christmas. You will give any Christian the best Christmas present in the world by asking them about Jesus.

So where am I now? I’m at the beginning of another long process. My thyroid levels will stabilise over the next couple of years. I will be taking thyroid hormone for the rest of my life and right now I’m very happy with that outcome. It will mean that my levels stay just right – not too high, and not too low. I’ve tried both, I don’t like either. I want some stability now and this is the way to get it.

And I look forward to what I’ll be able to do fitness-wise, business-wise, life-wise with a body that’s working like it should. I’m excited. It’s lovely to have energy again.

A blessed and happy Christmas to you all.

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New Life


It’s a wintery day here in Tasmania, and as I write this the rain is pouring down and it’s snowing at every so slightly higher altitudes. The people moving into the unit just above our house have picked a great day for it. They’re going to have to move furniture in between rain squalls and I’m guessing they don’t even have a kettle unpacked for coffees while they are waiting.

The rain is falling but the birds are singing their hearts out. I can hear them just outside my window, their little voices so loud that I can’t even hear the rain.

It’s a reminder that spring, and with it new life, is just around the corner. The cherry trees are blossoming, and the bulbs are up and flowering. The sun is rising earlier and earlier. We’ve made it through the dark winter and into the snow season and there are some lovely warm days happening too.

I have been moving into my new season of life for about two months now. I thought I’d give you an update as to how it’s all going.

I’m still finding my feet. Sometimes I feel like I may never find them. The ground changes every week, every day, and at times it even changes during the day. Editing jobs come in with urgency and must be completed immediately, or they don’t come at all and I need to figure out which of the other things on my list is of the greatest importance. I am still working out how much time to spend on marketing, and how best to do that; how much time to spend on investing in the future by writing novels and other books; how much time to spend investing in people by having coffee with them.

However, I am loving this life.

On the weekend I had a coffee and chat time I’m calling a Writer’s Salon. This is a time that I’m putting aside for people to get together over a cuppa at my place and just chat about writing. I’ve held two of these sessions now, and I will keep holding them at about six-week intervals. They are great fun and I’m learning from those who come, and I hope they are learning from me too, or at least, feeling encouraged to keep going with their writing.

The Writers Salon was Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening there was a showcase of songwriters called Word in Song that was held just down the road at our church. This was the seventh such showcase, and each year I have been tempted to go, but too tired, or too busy. But this year I went. I sat and listened to these creative people share their talents and it was great.

Two months ago I would not have been able to cope with two such people-intensive activities on the same day. Two months ago I’m not sure that I could have done either of them. Saturdays were for recovery, for hiding away from the world and getting myself some energy back.

Now I can join the world again. I have enough energy from spending time alone through the week to allow me to spend time with people on the weekend. To be with people Saturday afternoon and evening, and then to go to church on Sunday and still enjoy it.

I probably will never go to every event that is on. I still need more alone time than most people (at least I think I do). But this weekend, as I sat in the pew and listened to the lovely music, I felt like I was rejoining the world and it was wonderful.

I really had wondered as I wrote ‘My Year of Saying No’ and as I planned this new venture, whether it would ‘work’. Whether I would get energy from working like this, whether I would be able to do more reaching out to people, more sharing with others. Or whether I was doomed to always be stretched beyond my emotional resources. I am pleased to say that two months in I am filled with hope that the dreams I have had are achievable. With the time I have alone, I am energised to reach out to others. The Writers Salon, and work I am doing on starting a podcast (more on this later), and the talk I gave at Calvin earlier this week, and the fact that I could go to the Word in Song showcase and support my friends there, these things have been desires of my heart that have been waiting for some energy to allow them to happen. Now they are happening. I am blessed.

Sometimes when I think about my businesses my stomach contracts as I wonder if I’ll be able to keep landing jobs and keep this lifestyle going. But for now, I’m enjoying what has been provided for me. I’m giving grateful thanks. And I’m putting the work in (by myself, in the comfort of my little home office) to keep this state of affairs going for as long as possible.

I was listening to a podcast called Simple by Tsh Oxenrider (yes, that’s Tsh without an I) and was really encouraged by something she said in conversation with Emily P Freeman. I thought I’d share it with you.

They said that if there is something within you that you really want to do, something that won’t go away, then name it. Define it. Don’t just let it sit inside you, worrying at you, making you sick. Figure out what it is, name it.

Then, when you name it, you can either let go of it and work through the grief, if it’s not going to happen. Or you can take steps towards making it happen, and towards blessing others with this thing that you’re heading towards.

You’re not having a tantrum, telling the universe that you ‘have to have’ this thing. You are simply being honest about what you want.

So I guess that’s what I’m doing now. Working through, and towards, what I really want. And hopefully blessing people on the way.

I thank you all for your support and for the prayers of the praying people who receive this blog.

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radioactive image
This is a 3D illustration of an electromagnetic field in a nuclear radioactive core. Nothing to do with me, actually, but much prettier than the other pictures to do with radioactivity so I chose this one.

‘Good Camp Morning!’ Caleb  bounds into the kitchen and smiles at Moz, ‘and Good Radioactive Morning’ he says to me. And that’s all you need to know about us today, really.

The boys are off to a Scripture Union camp called Dcypher. It’s a camp for high school-aged computer gamers. They get together, link all the computers, and fight, race, and compete with each other for a few days. They also spend time away from the computers, chatting, playing games outside, and performing engineering challenges, all the good stuff.

It’s a great camp because the campers have time with adults from their world, people who understand gaming, and as well as that they are taught balance and discuss life lessons. They even do cosplay. My son who is over six feet tall is dressing up as a dwarf.

And as for me, well, we’ve come up with some theme songs for my day today. The first is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, the next is Standing Too Close by Thandi Phoenix  and then there’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me by the Police. (I just watched the video clip for that one, it’s disturbing.)

Yes, today is the day for the radioactive iodine therapy. Not D-day but I-day. At lunch time today I will head into hospital, and as far as I understand it, I will swallow a capsule, and then go home. But I will be harmfully radioactive for the next five days or so (some gamma and mostly alpha radiation) and I should stand at least a metre away from any people I meet so that I don’t shoot them with harmful radiation.

I have thought about this course of action a lot, and talked to a lot of people, including more than one medical practitioner. I believe this is the right thing for me to do for my health at this time.

And the timing has worked out very well. I need to stay away from people for a while, and the boys will be away for the same amount of time. They get a camp, I get a retreat, everybody’s happy.

If you are a praying person, I covet your prayers for the camp, and also prayers that I get exactly the right dose of iodine to kill off my thyroid enough that it is no longer producing harmful quantities of thyroid hormone, but that it is still producing some hormone, so that I don’t need to take additional medication. That is the absolute best outcome we can hope for, so that’s what I’m praying for.

Have a great weekend everyone! See you on the other side.

Just a little adventure



Balcony view
This is the view from our balcony where we have to sit to get internet access. I can handle it…

I write this from a one-bedroom hut in the middle of nowhere in Vanuatu. Actually, it’s in the middle of Teouma Valley. It’s very beautiful here, very green.

I’d like to say it’s peaceful and quiet but there are so many insects calling outside that it feels like I have tinnitus.  And I met up with a rather large spider when I was trying to use the outside loo today (there is no inside loo). And a cricket. And a host of millipedes. So far I haven’t seen a centipede or anything too poisonous but I walk with care. Oh, and there’s a rat in the roof tonight so I hope he doesn’t make too much noise when we’re trying to sleep.

When the insects stop calling, the birds start and the dawn chorus has to be heard to be believed. We are going to bed at an early hour so we can cope with the bright and early starts. Oh and the other super-cute noise is geckos blowing kisses to each other.

We are not on holidays as such, we have come here to visit with some friends who work as missionaries here and to try to support them. I think we’re being supportive but to be honest it feels a bit like a holiday too. Moz has helped with some maintenance, I’ve done some writing and brought some work with me from the uni, and next week we’ll be visiting a school and helping students with maths and science.

One big focus of the work here is clean water. Roger, our host, was telling us tonight about the seminars he gives to educate Ni-Vanuatu (the locals) about sanitation and the importance of hand washing. He says it’s amazing to see the lights go on for the Ni-Vanuatu as he tells them that the childhood illnesses they see all the time could disappear if they just washed their hands under running water.  Roger also works with teams to build water tanks for the villages so that they have access to clean drinking water.

It’s easy to think that the way we live at home is normal, that water, water you can drink, pouring from every tap in the house is normal, that hot and cold running water is normal, that flushing toilets are normal, that fridges that keep our food from spoiling is normal.

It is so far from normal.

The room we are staying in while we visit is luxurious by local standards. It has a wooden floor that is raised above the earth, it has a sealed ceiling and fly screens on the doors, it has electric lighting and power outlets and it has a bed and two couches. All of these luxuries are denied to many locals who live in corrugated iron shanties with dirt floors.

However, I don’t feel like I’m living in luxury. For me this lifestyle is a bit of a stretch. I don’t like having to wander outside to go to the loo and I’ll like it even less tonight after seeing that spider. I miss my little creature comforts like fans and air-conditioning.

But I’m grateful for the reminder of how privileged I am. How unbelievably fortunate to have been born white, in a western country, with education and job opportunities and medical facilities. I hope that I can take this gratefulness home with me and see all my blessings with new eyes.

And I hope that I can help make a difference for the people here too. For people all over the world who just don’t have the luxuries that we see as the basics in life.

And I hope that the rat scrabbling around in our ceiling doesn’t keep me awake tonight.

If you would like to hear more about Roger and Cindy’s work here in Vanuatu you can go to the V2Life Facebook page or their website.

I don’t want to forget


I couldn’t even find a tea cosy for the picture! I guess tea cosies are out.

Once upon a time I remember crying to my mother over the phone, ‘We are so poor that I can’t even buy a tea cosy.’

This was back in the time when Moz and I were both at university, and we had two small children to clothe and feed and put through school. Moz would work on the weekends to bring in extra cash, and we were supported through the whole journey by generous souls and by the delivery of bread. (For those of you who don’t know, the small bakers down this way get rid of their leftover bread at the end of the day by giving it to charities who then distribute to those in need, which at the time was us.)

But we didn’t have a lot of extra cash. There was no going out to dinner, or buying new clothes, or finding a nice nicknack that I wanted and just buying it. We could do all those things, sure, but we had to plan and save to do them and I would get so sick of having to keep a close eye on the money all the time.

We weren’t poor.

There are literally billions of people in the world who would have thought our house was a mansion, and we had cars to drive, and we were never hungry.

But we weren’t wealthy either. At least not in first-world terms.

Now things have changed. We have had a few years on two full-time incomes. We have a house that I actually enjoy living in, and if I ever wanted to buy a tea cosy I could just get into my car and head into town and find one. Though I find that now I can buy a tea cosy, I don’t want one anymore. Isn’t that just life?

We are not rich, at least not by some standards, but we have reached our version of ‘enough’ and we are incredibly comfortable.

But I don’t want to forget what it was like to be living on government benefits, drawing up budgets that had to pass muster with both the government and the school so we could get a bursary. I don’t want to forget what it was like to always be dressed in second-hand clothes that didn’t quite fit and so to feel a little below par every time I stepped out the door. I don’t want to forget that it was cheaper to buy processed food and to eat bread and that eating healthy meals was difficult to afford.

I also don’t want to forget what it was like to be time-poor.

I can have a cup of coffee whenever I feel like it now. I usually drink them while they are still hot. If I don’t, it is because I have got totally wrapped up in whatever project I am focusing on.

Back when the kids were small, hot cups of coffee were not standard fare. Luke-warm, I-had-to-put-this-down-to-tend-to-the-kids-and-then-forgot-about-it cups of tea or coffee were more the norm.

I didn’t get to sleep through the night. I would nap on the couch while the kids were watching TV. If napping with one eye open is really napping.

It was nothing special, just life with two preschool kids. A lot of people have a much harder time if they have more kids, or kids with disabilities or their own health issues they are trying to manage while looking after kids.

But I don’t want to forget how hard it was for me with my children and lose touch with that time in my life now that I can have a hot coffee whenever I want to.

I read a lot of blogs and they are often full of advice:

Ten things you should do each morning that will rejuvenate your life! (How about if your mornings are spent flat-out looking after children and making lunches and there is no way you could have a chance to drink a full glass of water and stretch for twenty minutes?)

Rejuvenate your health by eating fresh fish and wonderful exotic vegetables! (How about if dinner tonight is eggs on toast with plenty of toast to fill up hungry bellies and let’s not go overboard on the eggs because we can’t afford it?)

How to accomplish more in thirty days than most people do in 365! (But what if you’re so unwell that even taking a shower is too much effort for today?)

I know these blogs mean well, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. There are so many tricks and tips for success, and in some seasons of our lives we just can’t put them into practice. Sometimes I feel like the people who have reached ‘success’ have forgotten exactly what the journey was like as they were trying to climb that mountain.

So if you’re the kind of person who gets stressed reading these things as you try to put them all into practice, today I want to say, relax.

Just relax.

You are doing the best you can at the moment you are in with the struggles you are dealing with. God sees it. You don’t have to be more than you are. And even if you’re taking incrementally small steps towards your individual goal, those tiny little steps are worth a whole heap. And I hope and pray that someday you’ll be in a position to remember what life is like now, and remembering, help others out who will be in that very same place.

I hope I do that for you.

Changing Dreams

We interrupt our regularly scheduled transmission to bring you an important announcement.

TL:DR I am finishing up my contracts at the University of Tasmania over the next eight months and going on to new and exciting things.

I thought it was about time that I make this Facebook official. It’s beginning to feel very official. Very real.

I have said already on this blog that this is the Year of Saying No to everything. Well, it turns out that one of the things I am saying no to is my job.

At the beginning of this year I wrote in my journal, “I’m not going to keep going as I am. I’m done…Ready to move on.” I have taught the foundation chemistry unit at the University of Tasmania for ten years, for three semesters a year. And I have taught into a couple of other third-year units as well. I have also worked in research at the University of Sydney and at the University of Tasmania for seven years combined. I have supervised  one honours student and co-supervised three PhD students. And no, I don’t have tenure, I don’t have a permanent position. My work has ranged from casual by-the-hour work to as much as a two-year contract. If you want to know how I feel about that, you can read this post.

This year, I was ready for a change, and there were a couple of different options available for me to apply for at the university. But as the year went on, I felt more and more that it was time for me to try something new. You see, I want to write. I want to produce novels and write non-fiction books, and generally put my creativity out into the world. But I also want to live, I want to be healthy, to spend time with family and friends, and to exercise. And while others may be able to hold down a university position, and write, and have a life, I know I can’t. I’ve tried.

I have read a few books this year about how to get the writing business going and most of them advocate waking at 4am to write before work, going to work and doing a good day’s labour, and then coming home to work on the business more after work hours. They say that it’s stupid to give up your day job until you are able to support yourself with your dream job. I can see their point, but I have two problems with that scheme for myself.

One is that I’m already struggling to have enough energy to do what I already do. Even with all the changes I’ve made to diet and exercise, and with figuring out and fixing my thyroid issue, I’m still exhausted. This may be due to certain aspects of the university job. I don’t know. But the bottom line here is that I would be taking my time away from my family and letting them down if I put writing first and added that workload to the work I’m already doing. I’m not willing to sacrifice my family’s well-being or my physical and mental health for a writing career that may or may not happen.

Another issue with the aforementioned plan is that the university system already wants me to work from 4am until 10pm for my academic work. To truly ‘make it’ in academia it needs to be your whole life, your passion. You need to be willing to work when you’re on holidays, to work over the weekends, to stay until 4am getting an experiment right. Now, there are several articles I’ve read that show that you don’t have to sell your soul to the university to ‘make it’ as a professor but I feel like the pressure to work long hours is there and that I would be fighting against the trend if I were to treat an academic career like a ‘9-5 job’ and even taking on that fight is exhausting. But to try to run an academic career and build a writing business at the same time? Hats off to anyone who can do that.

I was talking to a creative writing lecturer earlier this year about my book and she asked, “How are you able to write and work in academia?” and I had to say that I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. That I was leaving the uni behind. She looked relieved, to be honest. For her, writing is her academic career and good on her. She couldn’t imagine being able to write as well as do the uni thing. And neither can I. Not on a long-term basis.

So, what is my plan?

I have nixed the idea of becoming a stand up comedian. Just thought I’d let you know that.

The teaching contract I presently have will finish at the end of December and after that I will have two days of research a week until somewhere around the middle of next year. That gives me about eight months to figure out if I can make a living working for myself. If I can’t then I will be looking for another job around the middle of next year. We shall see.

I would like to write about 2000 words a day. Working towards both fiction and non-fiction books. Writing generally takes 5-10 years to pay off if you’re going the Indie Author route (which I am). Yes, 5-10 years. Not a short-term investment.

In the meantime, I hope to make money by doing some English language editing of scientific journal articles and theses. That is, taking work written by people with English as a second (or fifth – these people are incredibly skilled) language and correcting their English. I am in the middle of writing a business plan for this idea and I’ll be setting up a website in due time and trying to get that off the ground. It’s something I really enjoyed when working with my PhD students, and something I have also done voluntarily for an open access journal. But now I’d like to make it pay.

That is the plan. And my teaching for the semester has all but finished so in a couple of weeks (after exam marking) I’m going to be able to put decent hours into the new stuff and get it underway. I’m pretty excited about it.

I also started crying in the car as I was heading home after my last lab class. My last ever lab class.

So you could say feelings are mixed. I’m laying down one dream, and picking up another.

Anyway, that’s the news. I wanted to let you know.

The writing

Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you still writing?’

Yes. Yes I am still writing.

I thought I’d tell you all the story (so far) of my story.

I started writing a novel in 2014. I knew at that point that I wanted to write, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write but I knew I wanted to write something. The first attempt was incredibly schmaltzy, really hopelessly dreadful. And I didn’t finish it.

I had a chat to my super talented writer friend (STWF), what was I to do? She recommended a process called ‘The Snowflake Method’ which was a plotting method where you start with one sentence that encapsulates the plot. You take the sentence and expand it to a paragraph, then a page. Then you write the plot from the point of view of each of the characters, and then you expand again to four pages and so on.

So I worked that method and in the end I had a number of headings for scenes, a timeline, a whole heap of characters, and a story. A murder mystery. And I worked to fill in the blanks.

I was writing at night at that point. I would work, come home and do dinner, go for a walk (sometimes), and around 9-ish I would sit down to write 500 words. I found this stage fairly easy (at least when compared to what came after). It was a bit like reading a story, but it was a story coming from me. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, and nearly finished the first draft of my second.

I had trouble finishing the first draft of my second novel. I realised that the guy I had thought would be my perpetrator just wouldn’t have done it. He didn’t have the nerve to do the job. At least not the way it was planned. The character had come alive and told me that it just wasn’t going to work. That was an exciting moment. I had heard that characters come alive like that, and to have it happen to me – I felt like a real writer.

But I had to put that all on ice. November 2015 I decided to do NaNoWriMo. For the month of November I wrote 2000 words every day. I wrote a background book. The idea was firstly to see if I could put that much effort into writing, and secondly, to get to know my characters better. The most memorable moment of that month was when the mother of my main character died. I cried, no, I bawled. It was really sad. So incredibly sad. Which is hilarious because I created her to die. The whole point of this woman was that she would die and give my main character some motivation to change her life. But still, it was heartbreaking when she actually died. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. *Sniff, sniff*

I found that I could, definitely, write 50,000 words in a month. But that it was exhausting. But everything was exhausting towards the end of 2015.

After NaNoWriMo I went back to my first novel. It was time to take the first draft out, read it again, and do some serious editing. Ah, editing was harder than just writing the stuff. I had to be able to think, not just vomit words onto the page. I wasn’t able to edit at 9 in the evening. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m pretty useless after 930pm (see the Pumpkin Time blog). The problem was, when would I be able to edit? I cut my working hours down so that I could take a whole day (Fridays) to work on my writing. I hoped to see great things. What I saw was exhaustion.

Turns out, I was sick. I had Graves disease, an overactive thyroid. There was a reason for my exhaustion. It wasn’t great, but it was treatable.

Throughout 2016 I kept slowly working at the novel but I didn’t feel like I got very far at all. It was slow going. And while I was dealing with my Graves disease and getting better, I picked up another day’s work in my day job and the novel felt like it was slipping away. But I finished my fourth draft and gave it to my STWF to read.

The whole month of July I didn’t write at all. I gave myself a month off and spent it reading craft books.

My STWF gave me feedback. She was encouraging, super encouraging, but she also said ‘this is draft 4 of a 7-draft book’. Oh how right she was.

After my big break from writing I picked up my book again and looked at it with fresh eyes. I confess, it was a pretty low moment. My book was boring. At least the beginning was. I think if you picked it up to read it, you’d put it down fairly quickly. By the middle the pace picked up. By the end it was good (with a few plot holes) but you don’t get readers by writing a book that’s great by the time you get to the middle. The beginning has to hook people, draw them in. My beginning put you to sleep.

More editing. Actually, editing is a really misleading term. I needed to rewrite. Throw out thousands of words and start again.

For the whole of August and September 2016 I worked on the first scene. I know the dates because I keep a special journal all about my writing.  When I write, I start by writing in the journal, writing about my life, what’s going on, and what I’m going to write about. Then I write the novel, then I write about what I wrote in the novel (though I don’t always do that last step). It’s great to keep the record, I can write down plot points or ideas, and I also clear my head before writing. The journal idea wasn’t my own, I found it is a book called The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo – a book I’d recommend to any beginning writer.

The beginning of December I read another book called ‘Get It Done’ by Sam Bennett. The main message I took from that book is to work fifteen minutes a day, first thing, on my project. She calls it your fifteen minutes of fame. And since December that has been my aim – to work fifteen minutes a day before anything else, on my novel. I have made sure I’m in at work early, I put a timer on my phone and I write, or rewrite, or edit for fifteen minutes. The timer goes off, I close Scrivener, and I get on with my day. Occasionally I manage another fifteen minute block or a bit more, but mostly it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The book is being transformed, slowly, in fifteen minute increments.

So yes, I am still writing. And I hope that soon (you know, in the next year or so) I’ll be putting a finished novel out there for my beta readers to read. And getting it edited by a professional editor, and finding a book cover designer, and once all that’s come together, then it will be time for the really scary step – putting it out there for the world to read. I truly believe it’s becoming a great s

tory, an encouraging and fun cozy read that many people will enjoy. So I’ll keep working on it.

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath, turns out writing a novel (even a short one) takes a long, long time.

Table and plan
A special writing weekend – working on draft 4

My dream life

I’ve been reading a new organisational book. I think they’re a bit of an addiction for me. I just love them. Especially if there’s a picture of a coffee cup or a journal and pen on the cover. I’m very sensitive to suggestion.

They usually have excellent advice and this latest book is no exception. It had really good advice on how to write lists and prioritise. How to make your special project a priority. How to encourage yourself and keep track of the progress you’re making.

I really enjoy the books and I’m always disappointed when I get to the end.

While I’m reading them I’m so full of hope. They just sound so confident, so sure that if you just follow their advice (to the letter) then your life will suddenly be amazing. All you have to do is follow their particular method of organising your day, their method of keeping track, their method of making lists, and suddenly you’ll be making millions by working just 3 hours a day and all your dreams will come true.

It reminds me of when my lovely in-laws bought a George Foreman grill. You know ‘knocks out the fat’ – it was essentially a toasted sandwich maker with a disability. Shorter front legs made it slope forward and all the fat ran out when you were cooking stuff. The parents-in-law bought one, then the brother-in-law bought one. The family loved their Georges – every week we met for dinner and they would rave about how great the food was. And, truth be told, it was pretty good food – my mother-in-law is a pretty good cook! We didn’t buy one. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare. So the lovely in-laws bought us one for Christmas.

After a couple of weeks we met up for dinner again and they asked us ‘How’s the George?’ We had to tell them – it made everything better! The food was better, we were exercising more, our sex lives were better, our jobs, the kid’s behaviour, everything was better! Oh dear.

This is how I think when I’m reading these books. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be better.

It’s not that my life is bad to start off with. In fact, it’s pretty excellent already. I don’t know what I’m expecting!

I’m sure that some of the things I have put into my life from reading these books have helped my life be more organised and less stressed. The strategies are pretty much the same in every one and they are good strategies. But I always feel let down by the end of the book because I get to the end and I still have the same life, the same time pressures, the same job. And that’s not going to change by me putting in some new organisation program.

I know that the fault lies with me. With my inability to say no to anyone who asks me for help (should I write this here? Don’t ask). And, also, with my health at the moment. Maybe I only read them when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, maybe I don’t need them when I’m getting things done and feeling like I’ve got it together.

There are things I can change, there are things I can’t, and there are things that I think I wouldn’t change, even if I could. And all these things add up to my life.

Maybe the trick is to find a book that perfectly describes your life and tells you that it’s great just as it is. Or maybe to write your own self-help book that tells you that you’re pretty good, really. That you can make it just as you are. Because each of us is different. We have our own dreams and hopes and pressures and needs and stressors. We don’t fit into anyone else’s ‘get it done’ mould.

I guess one of the things that makes me, me is the enjoyment of reading organisational books. So I’m going to enjoy that enjoyment but I’m going to choose to not beat myself up at the end. And I’m going to be grateful for the life I have. Like all the organisational books tell me to. Here’s to life!

The same 24 hours, but…

Have you ever been told by someone, probably someone on the great interweb, that we all have the same 24 hours in the day and that if you just woke up an hour earlier, or went to bed an hour later, or somehow jigged your life so that you weren’t wasting precious minutes, you could actually achieve your dreams?

I remember watching a video to that effect, it pictured a guy practicing piano in his basement at night when he could otherwise have been watching TV or sleeping or something, and in the end he had all his friends over for a little concert and it was a delightful scene.

I watch these things and I get all excited and I want to change my life to fit more of my dream in. I become determined to just squeeze a little more into life, to sleep a little less or to somehow rearrange things so I can fit more in. But I have decided lately that the whole premise  is not true. We don’t all have the same 24 hours. It’s a lie. Or maybe a half-truth.

I’ve been in a strange place lately, one that I’ve never been in before. I’ve had days when I’m energetic and days when I’m totally beat. Maybe because one day the thyroid medications are working at the correct level and the next they are not. I’ve had days when dragging myself up the stairs to my office feels like climbing Mt Everest and other days when I can run up the stairs with barely a second thought.

One day I’ll be feeling amazing, and the next, I’m lying on the couch unable to think.

Now I’m no stranger to having low energy levels. And I think I can remember some other times in my life when I’ve had great energy – like when I was doing weight training twice a week and walking for an hour every other day. Or the time when I decided to take up baking as a hobby, deliberately messing up the kitchen and then cleaning it again. But I’ve never had the energy available to me change this quickly before and it’s given me new insight.

Let’s go back.

When I was diagnosed with my thyroid disorder I was living a normal life. I was teaching and researching at uni three days a week, tutoring on a fourth, writing (or trying to write) on the fifth. I wasn’t doing anything extreme but I was tired. So tired. And I wasn’t sure why. I was trying to exercise but failing. I was trying to eat well but failing. I was trying to follow my writing dream and I was managing that some of the time. But I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t fit much into my days. Why cooking a nourishing meal just was too difficult to fit in. Why it was so hard for me to get even half an hour’s writing in.

But none of these problems were my fault. It wasn’t that I was eating badly or not looking after myself, my energy levels were low because I was sick. Not because I was unfit, or not trying hard enough, or not believing in myself enough. No. I was struggling because there was something wrong and I needed to find out what it was.

Once I started taking the blessed and wonderful tablets my world changed. Suddenly I could fit a whole heap more into my day. It was not that I stayed up later or got up earlier, though occasionally I did, but that I could do more with the hours I was awake. I would think,‘Maybe I’ll make muffins’ and then I’d make muffins. I would think ‘If I just whipped around the bathroom it would look so much cleaner and I’ll be less frustrated’ and then I’d pull out the cleaning equipment and ten minutes later the bathroom would be clean. It was amazing!

Then I had to have some surgery. Nothing big, but it required a general anaesthetic. And suddenly I was back at square one again. I still went to work, cooked, tidied, washed, did everything that I had to do. But there was no margin in my energy. I would be more likely to sit on the couch for just that little bit longer, to surf Facebook just that little bit more. I couldn’t think enough to write, I had to let myself recover.

I’m starting to feel better now, it’s been over three weeks since the surgery and I’m healing, I think. I hesitate to suggest that I’m better, even to myself, maybe I’ll relapse again tomorrow, or do too much, and it will be ‘tired, so tired’ again. I’m definitely not at those high levels of energy yet.

And these fluctuating energy levels have taught me something. We might all have the same 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same amount of energy, and therefore we don’t have the same amount of useful time. When I am energetic, the amount I can get done in a day increases dramatically. My dreams are within my reach. I can put in ‘just a little bit more’ and I can accomplish so much. But when I am tired and my body is unwell I can’t perform in the same way. Everything I do takes just that little bit longer and I take longer to recover from any exertion.

Therefore, I contend that we don’t all have the same 24 hours. We cannot judge ourselves by what someone else accomplishes each day. That person might be one blessed with huge amounts of energy and they will be able to achieve heaps. But we must not call ourselves lazy or undisciplined just because we achieve less in the same amount of time. There may be a reason (like thyroid disorders, depression, glandular fever, or the horrible CFS) for your tiredness, but I also think that everyone is just made differently and each of us has different energy reserves. A bit like spoon theory I guess, spoon theory even for people not struggling with a chronic illness. (Can I say that?)

Many of us want to achieve our goals and are working towards them as best we can. We’re not going to get further faster by beating ourselves up because we’re not as far along as Betty-Sue or Gregory. Maybe we all need to accept ourselves and each other just a little bit more. Stop calling ourselves lazy and start giving ourselves a break.

Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing. You are valuable just because of who you are. Rest in that and enjoy doing what you can. And I’ll try to do that too and be patient with myself as I heal.

Dr Google and I

Well, it’s been a few months. It must be time to discuss my health again.

Last week I went to the doctor to discuss, well, I wasn’t really sure what I needed to discuss. I needed a specialist repeat referral for my nose issues (nasal polyps) and I also just generally felt like things weren’t quite right. I had had a ticking eye for about, oh I don’t know, maybe four months. Yes, pretty much straight. And I was tired. Still. Despite changing my diet and everything. There were other fairly vague things too – headaches, other ticking muscles, those sort of things. I hate to call them symptoms, they were too small and too vague and I wondered if I was just making it all up.

The doc said that I should go and get a blood test to check mineral levels for the ticking eye and ‘while we’re making a hole in your arm’ to just generally check everything. ‘All the over forty stuff’. Great, I thought, an old people blood test.

I had to fast breakfast. They were checking my sugar levels. I hate fasting. It’s one of those spiritual disciplines I’ve never got into. But I managed and they made that hole in my arm and then I bought a coffee and a croissant, and feeling all Parisian I got on with my day.

The next day was a rather huge teaching day. Students in a lab all day.  During my lunch break I received a phone call from the doctors surgery. I had abnormal thyroid levels, the nurse told me, and the doctor wanted to see me next week.

I was floored. Totally. I had been so sure that nothing was wrong, and then to be told that I had a thyroid problem was totally out of left field.

At the end of the day I went home and Dr Google and I went to work. I looked up all the thyroid symptoms and decided that as I was tired all the time and wore five layers in the cold and  had a bit of a slower bowel than most and had been putting on weight all year I had to be hypothoridic. Hypo means low levels. Symptoms of low thyroid levels include constipation, lethargy, depression, cold sensitivity, and weight gain.

I talked to a few people about it. ‘I must have low levels’ I said. ‘It’s the only thing that makes sense’. I had almost a week before seeing the doctor and I worked myself into quite a state. I got to the point where I decided that the worst thing I could be told is that nothing was wrong. I was so hopeful that fixing these ‘low levels’ would fix all my problems.

I found that the treatment for hypothyroidism is taking hormone tablets and that no surgery would be needed. I thought this could be the silver bullet – making me slimmer, more energetic, and more easily able to get through my day.

‘Am I too excited?’ I wrote in my journal, ‘What if nothing changes?’

I bet you can tell what happened next.

When I finally got to the doctor after almost a week of stressing she told me that I had hyperthyroidism. High levels of thyroid hormone. Dr Google and I got it completely wrong.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include anxiety and a need to keep on going, to keep moving. I can see that so clearly as I look back over my journal entries.

I wrote things like:

It’s 930 am and … I haven’t done the budget yet. I haven’t done much at all. I just put the shirts on to wash and I’ve written a list and eaten breakfast and read the bible and chatted to Moz.

It’s now after lunch and I’ve realised that I need to live in the moment. You see, the doc may or may not have an answer that will improve my life but today I need to live for today. Today I am tired, I have a headache and a sore throat. … I can’t sit here in dreamland planning what my life is going to be like. I don’t even know if the blood test said that my levels were high or low.

So today I’ll continue to potter around. Might watch more TV, might read, might sleep. Recovery is the name of the game. … I ‘m pretty pleased though – I’ve done most of the washing, a little grocery shopping, cleaned the kitchen.

So instead of depression, anxiety. Instead of lethargy, exhaustion. Then there’s increased appetite (which for most people is coupled with weight loss but I seem to be one of the lucky 10% who gain weight instead). The body just generally speeds up and there’s a little risk of death by heart attack – I’m glad I finally listened to the messages my body was trying to tell me.

Still, there is no great drama. I take a nasty drug (that could do horrible things to me but I’ve decided it won’t) and in a few weeks or months I’ll probably start feeling better! The thyroid hormones are so important to body function that the body stores them just in case you start running low. So I need to use up some of the stores before I start to come good.

But I think I’m already feeling the effects of having this dealt with. The anxiety has started to drop. I’ve become more able to relax when I’m relaxing, and I felt a heap more energetic during my work days last week.

I have also become aware of some symptoms that I managed to completely overlook before. My heart pounds regularly like I’ve been running up a hill, but without the hill. I had just ignored that before. There are other things too – I can bore you with the details in a private message if you like!

I’m glad that I have the thyroid to blame for my lack of mindfulness. And I am so glad that I got checked out. And so grateful that I live in a place where I can get easy access to proper treatment.

It took a bit of processing, like about five days of constant processing, to get to this point of acceptance but I just want to say to you all, if you think you and Dr Google make a great team, maybe you should try chatting to your GP as well 🙂

Onwards and upwards.