What can I do? – Why I write

A new year always gets me thinking about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. My reasons for starting Writehanded haven’t really changed, but I often question my sanity in continuing. Then someone tells me they read what I write and maybe they find it useful, and I go, ok, maybe I’ll keep doing this.

We’re at a point, with international and local politics, where I feel helpless. What can I do that will make any sort of difference? My go-to has always been writing – when I feel angry, when I feel upset, when I want to try and change something or at the very least cope with what’s happening. But a tiny blog from a tiny country at the bottom of the world feels like a bit of a drop in the ocean right now.

Every time I post something that resonates with people enough to get shared around – and therefore draws its share of criticism too – I vow I’m going to stop now. I’m going to delete all my accounts and take my duvet and sleep under the bed. And every time I post something that seems to just yell into dead air and no one reads it and it makes no difference at all, I vow I’m going to stop and delete all my accounts and take my duvet and sleep under the bed.

Obviously, I haven’t done that yet.

I often think of a line my father wrote in a book some years ago. “Creativity, unused, grates.” I don’t necessarily think that this sort of writing, what I do here, is very creative. But the sentiment is the same. I can’t not write. Every thought and feeling – I have too many feelings – demands recording, even if it’s shit and it goes no further than the notebook beside my bed. I’m reminded of the song 2am by Anna Nalick.

Two am, and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to

I started Writehanded with a singleminded purpose: to attempt to counteract the negative stigma about beneficiaries that is so sickeningly rife in New Zealand. I wanted to offer an alternate narrative. That people on welfare weren’t “lazy,” “bludgers,” “stealing,” “undeserving” “liars” etc etc etc. The fact that I even felt like I needed to justify myself, the fact that I felt awful about being on a benefit, was a big enough hint in itself. There was something wrong here.

In those first few weeks of writing here, I was still so ill that it took days to finish a post. And yet I fought on, even when the negative comments started pouring in, even when I felt so dark I did crawl under the bed. Even when I could barely feed myself. I wrote.

I’ve always had this weird terrible misguided savior complex. When I was a kid and my older brothers got in trouble, I lied to get them out of it. I couldn’t stand to see them punished. When I was seven, someone in my class at school accidentally put all the paint brushes into the glue pots, instead of the glue brushes. It was that glue paste that you use to do paper mache. The brushes were pretty much ruined. The teacher kept us in at lunchtime, saying that she wouldn’t let us go until someone owned up. I didn’t do it… but after ten minutes of everyone sitting in heavy silence, I put up my hand and said I did. I don’t even think it was the “right” thing to do and I’m definitely not asking for brownie points. Lying isn’t great, either. But I couldn’t help it. I remember the mounting tension, all these kids just staring at their desks, or out the window at everyone else playing. Conflict isn’t in my nature, and I can go to desperate measures to avoid it. Which is weird, when you consider I could be said to be seeking it out by writing like I do.

So as much as I wanted to tell my own story, I always planned for Writehanded to be a platform for others as much as it is for me.

When I was in the media after my “Fuck WINZ” post two (is it three? god) years ago, that was the message I kept pushing. This wasn’t about my case alone. This was about systemic violence, about speaking up for all the people who might not be able to, for whatever reason. And the fact that WINZ treats me with caution now only proves that something is terribly wrong with the system. “We’re restricted by the rules!” they say, but those rules change depending on who you talk to. I’m extremely privileged to now have a wonderful case manager now who actually appears to care about me as an individual.

By far the hardest thing for me to write about, beyond my physical health, beyond my financial situation, beyond even abuse and violence – is mental health. Mental health still carries this massive stigma and I can’t write about it without feeling excruciatingly vulnerable. I think anyone who does talk about it is incredible.

I just finished reading one of Carrie Fisher’s autobiographies, Wishful Drinking. It’s where she first wrote the lines that became her famous obituary. “I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”

Carrie never hid her problems with bipolar disorder and addiction. She confronted everything head-on, with unmatched candour, humour, and grace. I finished the book in two days and I have Shockaholic on order. Carrie describes her childhood, her relationships, her fame, and her battle with narcotics so openly. And so many people related to her. You’d think in a book that exposes the darkness of depression, discussing psychiatrists and drugs and electro-shock therapy, and details some really horrendous life experiences, there wouldn’t be much to laugh about. I don’t usually laugh out loud when reading – but I did reading this. She really didn’t give a shit about anyone else’s opinion, she was so willing to just say how she really felt, how things really were. Her death is truly a horrific loss.

I’m currently attempting a change in antidepressant medication, which involves slowly tapering off one type of drug and simultaneously increasing another. I feel like a phone with no sim or SD. I have no memory, I can’t connect to anything, and all my previous settings have disappeared. My brain clearly has no idea what’s going on. Luckily, I have a bunch of medical professionals and a bunch of incredible friends, to support me through this real crappy time.

It’s hard to fight depression when there is so much to be depressed about. I try to do positive thinking, but my brain helpfully reminds me of all the shit that’s happening in the world right now. I feel like depression is a logical response.

It’s also a trap. It’ll try to silence us when we need to be loud, to bind us when we need to take action.

Even if all that action is is writing a tiny blog from a tiny country at the bottom of the world saying THIS SHIT IS NOT OK. This is all I have at my disposal. This is where my anger lives. This is where I get to say FUCK YOU to all the politicians who are making the most horrific decisions right now. This is where I get to be open about mental health and welfare and chronic illness and politics on my own terms, where I get to add something, however small, to an alternative narrative.

As always: this platform is open. No, I don’t have the hugest audience or the widest reach. But if you have something you need to say and nowhere to say it? Please get in touch.

Community is what we have right now. We should use it as much as we can.