What a week it’s been.
For the last twelve weeks, every Sunday, I have been checking in with Ricky Stewart, who has been helping me to improve my health. This is a completely different process to anything I’ve done before: not a diet, not a health plan, not a boot camp, just someone who has helped me to look at my own behavioural cycles around food and alcohol, cycles that I felt trapped in, and who has helped me to escape that trap. I don’t want to get all evangelical about this, but I genuinely feel like I have walked through a doorway and seen this amazing life in which my life’s purpose is not to be on a diet and lose weight, and in which my answer to stress is not a bottle of wine. It’s very difficult to put into words exactly what the transformation is, without making myself sound like a raging alcoholic, which I wasn’t, but I was definitely someone who used alcohol as a crutch and made light of it, a lot. I figured it was probably something that needed addressing when I was aware I was very quietly putting bottles into the recycling bin, so the neighbours didn’t hear the clang and smash and notice how many bottles there were. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t drunk a bit more than usual over the plague years, and I’m not embarrassed to say that over working, husband having a stroke etc within the context of the plague year probably pushed me over what was acceptable. But, I now drink much less. And it’s brilliant.
It sounds like it should be simple to achieve, drinking less booze, and it was in many ways, but addressing it, facing the anxiety without a couple of glasses of wine was not simple. I now drink less, which means I get to buy the nicer wine. I drink less, which means I get to enjoy the wine, really enjoy it. It is not the main focus of my evening, it is now an occasional part of my evening. I haven’t had a hangover for twelve weeks, I haven’t lost a weekend to recovering from Friday’s wine consumption for twelve weeks and guess what, when they tell you that alcohol makes your anxiety worse IT IS TRUE. I live with quite bad anxiety, all the time. It doesn’t go away and it’s just one of those things that if you have it you know what a challenge it is to just get through the day sometimes. My anxiety is still there, cutting back hasn’t been a miracle cure, but it is so much less now, without alcohol magnifying it, that I am able to put myself forward more, I am able to go places on my own more, do stuff I really want to do, I am enjoying my life again, probably for the first time, if I’m honest, without having to get through the anxiety to get to the enjoyment.
I’ve also stepped out of diet mentality and pretty much just eat what I enjoy now. I didn’t know what it was that I enjoyed for such a long time, having been literally on a diet since I was thirteen. Turns out I like cheese, a LOT. (but now I make adult decisions around cheese and anyway, Chris won’t let me have just cheese for tea) But I also really like a properly done salad, one with nuts and avocado and a salty, oil dressing, with little snips of sweet pomegranate undercutting it all. Yum. Ricky is a personal trainer and yoga teacher and I met him at my local gym. He’s now left the gym and is going it alone, this sort of one on one cycle breaking is part of what he does.Ricky is patient, calm, funny and encouraging and that was exactly what I needed to help me to be honest about my health and to actually do something about it. He understood that, for me, most of what was happening was a reaction to stuff in my life and he gave me permission to look at the stuff (work mainly) I was doing that wasn’t making me happy, and to change that. I highly recommend him. We worked via face time appointments, I didn’t even need to leave the house. I finished my last session with Ricky last Sunday and now I am on my own, and for the first time in a long time, I am ready to fully embrace the future and prioritise my life, drink healthily, eat the things that nourish me and write the things I am passionate about.Which leads me quite nicely to a little announcement.
Nature Writing: The Ghost Lake
Last week I found out that I am one of eighteen writers longlisted for the Nan Shepherd Prize . I’m completely over the moon about this. The prize is a book deal with Canongate with a £10,000 advance. There were 123 entries into the prize. Entry involved sending a book proposal, chapter example, chapter breakdown and a cover letter with biography, just like submitting a non fiction proposal to an agent. I am so excited about this book. It’s wonderful to have a non fiction project recognised like this. Here’s a short blurb about the project:
The Ghost Lake is an exploration of landscape in the context of rural experiences and working-class identity. The ‘ghost lake’ is Paleolake Flixton, an extinct lake in North Yorkshire which was created by glacial movement. Inhabitation of this lake goes back thousands of years, with internationally important archaeological discoveries at sites around its shores. The lake has gradually soaked away into the earth leaving only a watermark, a ghost of itself. Using specific landscape points around the lake, the reader is taken on a walk which explores concepts of belonging through landscape; destruction of ecology; how we live with our ancestry; farming and biodiversity from a working-class perspective; examining the difficulties of coastal towns; alcohol and opioid addiction and despair; reduced life expectancy and how rural communities face these challenges alongside the joy of being deeply connected to a place of incredible natural beauty. The ancient lake people live on in The Ghost Lake, and the lives of the modern-day lake people are absorbed into that slow moving river, that body of stories that exist just under the surface.
The shortlist will be out by the end of the month, winners announced in December. Just being longlisted is a prize in itself. It means that if it goes no further in the Nan Shepherd, I can put this in my bio and talk about the response that the longlist has had, when I start submitting this proposal to agents and publishers. Prizes like this are few and far between and the absolute quality of the longlist; the variety of perspectives around nature from under represented writers is phenomenal. When I read through the list I was blown away, there is not a single book on that list that I wouldn’t buy and read. I feel honoured, humbled to be among them and proud of myself for putting this together and getting this far.
I am now looking forward to 2022 as a year of writing about the stuff I’m obsessed with, the landscape I live in, the past and the present and the way they merge and flow together, how we are rooted and unrooted, how we belong to ourselves, to the world, to the past and the present.
I wanted to tell you about the jackdaw and the chimney breast and my walk in the fields with the blown pumpkins, but that will have to wait until another blog.
Until next time