This blog post was inspired by an email that a friend and mentor sent me. He’s been self-employed for a while now (as have I), and wanted to know my story. His words were ‘What is it that keeps you going? What are your barriers? Who has faith in you and reminds you that you are fantastic?’ To be honest. I’m finding it difficult to ‘keep going’ with Seeing Double at the moment. I still put the hours in, but I have a lot less energy and drive than I did a year ago. I didn’t realise how much this was affecting me until I was asked ‘what keeps you going’ and instead of giving a normal, one sentence answer, I downed two diet cokes and typed out a very long rant.
Here’s a bit of context before I share the rant with you… I work part time supporting autistic adults, and am also the founding member of Seeing Double, a social enterprise run by and for adults with autism. The aim of Seeing Double is to raise awareness of autism, and promote the creativity of people on the spectrum through workshops, writing, blogging and poetry. Jane Hughes, my mother, is another founding member of the company… or was. She passed away in October, and in all honestly, it’s been hard to keep the business going without her. Recently I published an article on this blog called ‘People on the Spectrum Who Inspire Me’. That should prove I’m still very much inspired, very passionate about autism awareness. But I no longer see myself as inspiring. In fact, I think people might be bored with this whole project. Less of you are reading my blog, I’m finding fewer opportunities for workshops and performances, and I haven’t sold as many copies of Eyes of Perspective as I’d hoped I would.
I’m tired… not in a dramatic, get her to bed this instant way. Not in a way that’s particularly obvious, or has much of an effect on my productivity. It’s just… there. Like sometimes, I’ll go for a walk, and instead of air, it feels like my body is moving through custard. Thick, creamy custard that clings to every limb and makes every movement slower and more laborious.
He said ‘What is it that keeps you going? What are your barriers? Who has faith in you and reminds you that you are fantastic?’
Who keeps me going… Who has faith in me and reminds me I’m fantastic… well Jane, always kept me going with Seeing Double. In my last year of uni one of the assignments was to make a manifesto for a theatre company, and I wrote one for “Seeing Double” a drama therapy company working with autistic children and adults, first using drama to help them build their social skills, then putting on plays. It was pure fantasy, but I really enjoyed writing it, and I got a 1st. I didn’t have any plans after uni (my mental health was a lot worse, and I wasn’t quite ready for full time employment). Jane was worried about me having to go on Job Seekers, so she got me in touch with a local charity and informed me I was going to apply for funding to make Seeing Double a real thing. I didn’t want to do it. I was terrified. I wasn’t ready. The manifesto had been a dream, and even though I knew the real Seeing Double was going to be on a much smaller scale, it seemed impossible. But Jane, wouldn’t bend, I was going to do it and that was that. Several months later, I was incredibly grateful I’d followed her advice.
I piloted several drama workshops with Bradford Autism Support, but after a while I realised I was more interested in the writing side of Seeing Double. People seemed to appreciate what I wrote, and I could use blogging, poetry and prose as a tool for autism awareness. I really enjoyed it at first. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to do my other job and still find time for Seeing Double, to keep myself inspired and find new things to write about. Plus… to be blunt, there’s not much money in this kind of thing. It can be emotionally crushing when I spend hours planning a writing workshop and performance, everyone tells me how much they loved it and I get loads of applause… but then I don’t get paid. After performing I might sell seven books to an audience of ten people, or one book to an audience of thirty people. It’s just not sustainable.
I love what I do. But lately, there’s been times when I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. When I’ve thought I might just give up on writing altogether because people stopped being interested after the first year. It’s hard to remain motivated, to summon up the energy from somewhere. My Dad jokes about how he always thought I’d write a book and make loads of money. That makes me feel like such a failure, even though I’ve tried so hard just to recover my health after the breakdown, to keep a part time job and not fall back into destructive behavioural patterns like self-harm, binge eating and shutting out the world. It also makes me realise he’s got no idea what actually goes into writing a book. I already have two poetry pamphlets for sale on Etsy, isn’t that enough?? Give me a year when I don’t have to work, have my own writer’s studio, a published author to mentor me and enough financial support to get by… and I’ll write you a bloody book. It’s a very difficult thing to do. I’m not a superwoman, and I shouldn’t be expected to pen a masterpiece while working, finding time for my family and looking after my health.
I’m turning into a soulless 9-5 er. All I want to do when I get home from work is read trashy YA fantasy novels or pass out in front of Netflix with a glass of wine in my hand. Never mind Seeing Double, writing a book, finding a girlfriend or any of that nonsense… Just let me escape into a fictional world until the alarm goes off tomorrow and the commute starts again.
When Jane was in the hospice she made me promise not to give up on Seeing Double. That was the last coherent thing she said to me, before all the pain and the fear and the drugs blurred her mind and she went to sleep making these awful rasping sounds. Before she stopped breathing altogether. I love my mum so much, I really do. But asking me to promise on her death bed that I won’t give up on work… She’s been dead for almost ten months and she’s still controlling everything!
So what does the future hold? I can’t say for sure, but I will continue with Seeing Double. I will find new ideas, find a way to enjoy it again and keep going until the last penny of my funding runs out. And Dad, don’t read too much into what I said about the book. I know that you were only joking, that you love me and want me to achieve my best. And I really would like to write a book one day. I miss being creative. I miss uni, when I was surrounded by other writers, I had fantastic lecturers to nurture my talent for writing and enough spare time for the creative process to happen properly. Although I had challenges, and my health wasn’t great, the environment was just so much more optimistic. I was so much more optimistic. I hope I don’t stop writing altogether, but I expect it will end up taking a back seat… Sometimes, life just gets in the way.