Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2020

For the past few years I’ve done an “Aims for XXXX” post, but given the general shitshow of 2020 and the likelihood for 2021 being similar, I don’t think I can cope with that. My aim for 2020 was, overall: a year of slow building and small joys. I suppose it did sort of work, given the general overview of the year. Small joys was pretty much all I could handle.

This year, my aim? Survive. Sanity optional.

2020 was, frankly, bad. I don’t cope well with working from home; I don’t do well without some sort of routine; and I definitely don’t do well with an additional pile of stress and work which shows no signs of reducing. My mental health has been spiralling and it’s taken a serious load of anti-depressants (which I did not want to go back on) to keep me at a remotely functional level.

It’s not been all bad – I am grateful that I have been functioning. I am grateful that I have a job that is good and varied, with coworkers who are incredibly supportive, and a culture that accepts mental health as an Actual Thing and takes some steps towards trying to help. I am grateful that I have a medical crutch that actually works for me, and a medical team who (mostly) listen and support me. I am grateful that I have a home, an incredibly supportive and wonderful partner, and we have gained a Very Grumpy and Very Cute cat. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and the place where I live. I know that I have so much to be thankful for, and that has helped mitigate many of the effects of both this year and my stupid brain.

However, I can’t entirely blame 2020 for the mental health dip. The last couple of years have been bad; the Grey has been getting worse, and my mental health was already low when 2020 started. I miss my writing. I miss having a big project. I miss the life I had before Oxford; I miss the relationships, friendships, hobbies. I know it’s all gone, and I am happy and certain that it was the right choice for me – but I can still grieve over what I had.

And it’s also, I think, at the root of some of the Grey. I can’t accept that I’m in a new place, because I’m just waiting for it to vanish again. I can’t make new attachments and loves because they’ll just get taken away. 2020 and Covid has made it worse on that front; I’m waiting for loss. Waiting for grief. Waiting for the world around me to crumble.

The fact that it hasn’t yet doesn’t really do much when it comes to the fun world that is emotional logic. I’m working on it all, but that’s been an uphill battle too. As my counsellor said, “you’re doing everything right, so…” and the advice of “well just keep doing it” is not the most helpful when I’m at the end of my resources and still feeling the same. But I’m trying, and working, and hoping. I’m still here, and still going.

So 2020 has been… not great. I am grateful that I am still here, and that I’ve fought my way through it – it’s felt like wading through treacle for much of it, and that has no signs of stopping. 2021 is, at least for the first half, probably going to be as bad – but I am keeping on going, and keeping on swimming, because that’s all that I can do. I have to hope that there is something more, and that even if the world does crack, or crumble, that I can keep going.

2021 is just about moving forward, and trying to heal a little. I’m hoping that my stories come back, and I’m taking tiny steps to try to find that path again. I’m hoping that I can lift my head, feel the breeze and smile as I cycle past the willows. I’m hoping that I can sip tea in the sunshine with a cat on my knee, and feel the peace spread inside. I’m hoping that I can fill in a few more of my cracks with gold, and dissipate some of the Grey.

I miss feeling. I miss being. And I am hoping that 2021 is a year of healing and of renewal, because goddamn do we need one.

A Brief Kate Update: November 2020

Another month… or two? Aren’t we still in March? (The weather currently is definitely March weather.) Still here, still going. What’s been going on in the past month or so?

Baking: Key Lime Pie and Pumpkin Pie, along with natas. The natas sort of exploded, but they still taste good! We’ve also been making lots of soups – borscht, leek&potato, tomato (with extra kale, yay… gotta use it up somehow!) and Otter has been learning how to make risotto. Working from home has been really good for eating more interesting meals!

Reading: A Memory Called Empire (LOVE!! – politics and Aztec empire and poetry and language and imperialism and colonialism and characters and such a good story), Aliette de Bodard’s short story collection Of Wars, And Memories, And Starlight (LOVE!! Every story is a different snippet of culture and feelings and they’re all brilliant), and I’ve just started Apocalypse Nyx by Kameron Hurley.

Sewing: I have picked up one of my Ghibli canvases again – I did a Totoro, and started one of Howl and Sophie – and have been enjoying the mindlessness of filling in space with colour. It’s quite theraputic.

Watching: Up On Poppy Hill. It’s very sweet, but also a bit weird? Like… it’s sort of half a story with another half jammed on, and it all got a bit confusing… I dunno. The visuals are the star, as always in Ghibli, and I do always feel the stories are a bit odd. I’m not sure if it’s a re-watch or not.

Listening to: Cat yowls (his FOOD BOWL IS EMPTY) and compilations from AlexRainBird Music on YouTube.

Buying: Lost Stock! You can get a random (with some customisation) selection of clothes from brands that have cancelled their orders due to Covid – and it helps factory workers. It’s been really fun as well – I’ve gotten two boxes now, and out of eight items, I’ve kept five – and two of those were things I would never have picked up in a store/charity shop, yet they work really well! It’s been fun to push my style a bit, and get new clothes when I can’t get to charity shops.

I’ve also been sorting Christmas presents, which has been great fun (and given me something to focus on!) – and we can start decorating soon! We have no idea what Bobble is going to make of a Christmas tree – hopefully he’s old enough that trying to kill baubles has lost its charm.

Work: ALL THE AMAZING BOOKS. Personal recommendations: One Day All This Will Be Yours (which features an excellent and very informative analysis of the relative running speeds of Hitlers (plural) and Allosaurus), Northern Wrath (Vikings! Mythology! Adventure! And a cute fox) and my eternal favourite Grave Secrets, because who doesn’t want a zombie as a best friend?

We also have the UK release of Black Sun – whee! I haven’t read it yet but it’s next on my list, and I am so excited! I also got to read The Witness for the Dead, which is the sequel to The Goblin Emperor, and… just yes.

Playing: Townscaper, which is a very cute build-your-own-city thing that doesn’t have a game, but is just absolutely adorable; and Dungeon Cards, which also has a phone app, and is really good when I just need to not think!

And me… I’m not great, really. I’ve upped my medication again to deal with work burn-out: hopefully the New Year will bring some changes on that front, but for the last year it’s been “just keep holding on, one more month” and I have just run out of fucks to give – which sucks, really, because I want to care, but… urgh. [Edited to add: having been thinking about this, I don’t think “care” is the right word – I do still care about all of my work! I just can’t summon the enthusiasm I know I should have for amazing books, which frankly sucks. I’m still doing the work, but it’s just that everything is a slog – when at least some of it should be fun? Depression, eh.]

I’ve got more energy thanks to the meds (Sertraline) but it’s at the cost of a slightly fuzzy brain and a disconnect to everything. My memory still isn’t great (and likely never will be), I’m tired all the time despite sleeping a lot, and I’m still just grey.

I’ve been doing a CBT course, which went as well as expected, but I feel I have to do it to be able to get any further help. I’ve now been given a worksheet on “values” because I’m obviously not doing enough nice things that tie into my core values, and that’s why I’m not feeling very good. I know all the mental health stuff is trying to help, but I really hate the underlying message of “you’re feeling bad because you aren’t helping yourself enough! Work harder! Do better things!” /rant.

But! I am trying to hold onto the good, small things. I curl on the sofa in the morning with my mug of green tea, watching the dawn out of the window with a cat on my lap. I have been playing Carcassonne with Otter, and texting Sam interesting facts about Roman mosaics. (He has been sending back pictures of his Hallowe’en skeleton, who is currently installed on the couch. I figure it’s as good a place as any.) I am cycling to work down a bumpy path criss-crossed with roots, between drifts of golden-fire leaves and grey water, with the cows ambling their way across the meadow beside me. I am planning a visit to the Ashmoleon with my family in the Spring, and taking pride in the new paint and floor in the bathroom. I am trying to keep stepping forward, one thing at a time, and taking the light where I can.

A small black cat, staring judgementally

Right now it doesn’t feel like anything matters, but I am hoarding the moments for the time when I will be able to appreciate them.

Also, does anyone else’s cat like their fur being ruffled backwards?! Every other cat I’ve known would have clawed your face off if you even tried to ruffle their carefully-smoothed coat, but Bobble loves it! He’s such a strange kitty.

(The photo is when I was three minutes late in giving him breakfast. HOW VERY DARE I.)

The Morning Of My First Day Of Holiday

Tea tea tea tea tea is it a coffee day? It’s a coffee day.

A Very Unhappy catI HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE AND YOU WANT FUSS NOW?!

Nice Autumn leaves.

Tea tea tea tea tea

*briefly checks work email*

I am so glad that fence is getting replaced, it’s seriously falling to pieces. All over the living room. Yay.

*sees work trashfire and nopes out*

PHP updates? How do I even PHP?

WHY CAN I NEVER FIND A BUCKET WHEN I NEED ONE

*Googles: How to kill bamboo*

Oh god the cat flap fitter is coming too I forgot…

*Googles: How to clean media library*

“Please could you make some small changes to a file? They shouldn’t take you long.”

*despairing laughter*

Tea tea tea tea CAKE

*Checks in on Twitter*

*Googles: Apocalyptic stockpile*

Cake cake CAKE CAKE

“I’m not that scary! See, I have treats…”

*Googles: DC Superheroes*

“No, I think that’s enough treats.”

*Googles: Marvel Superheroes*

“Look, do you WANT to look like a small black furry pumpkin?”

*Googles: newt habitat*

Tea tea tea ok more coffee CAKE

 

And it’s not even lunchtime…

A Kate Update: July 2020

In this update: cosmic foxes, roses, horrible cthulu-type monsters, kites (the bird type), a farty cat, cakes, donuts and witches. These may or may not be related to each other.

Firstly, the important news! A pile of cat paws and furBobble is sleeping, farting and ordering everyone around with happy abandon. He spent six hours on Friday asleep either on my lap or next to me, so he is one spoiled cat, and is obviously demanding cuddles at every opportunity. He is also a pile of paws and will reluctantly let us touch his toe-beans, is ridiculously fast (I may have a few small scars from trying to play with him) and has the most adorable little snore.

Then on to the second important thing: you need book recommendations, you say? I know I’m biased, but maybe try Beneath The Rising, Weave the Lightning or The Human Son? Also, we’ve got audiobooks coming out! I’d also thoroughly suggest pre-ordering Shadow in the Empire of Light, The Chimera Code and The House of Styx. Wouldn’t want to run out of books, eh? (We have so many good books at work and I just want to yell about all of them… so be thankful you’ve only had a selection!)

Also in work news, I’m reading exciting things that I can’t talk about yet…. WHEEEEEE!

I got sent a late birthday present by a wonderful friend of a voucher for roses. I have spent several hours leafing through (no pun intended) the catalogue going “SO PRETTY” and “climbers? Or a bush? What sort of soil do we have again? We’re mostly shade, so…” It’s been a lot of fun and I still haven’t decided. We think an in-person trip to the centre might be needed!

The kites have been keeeeee-kee-kee-kee from the tree behind the house; there’s two of them floating over most mornings now. They had a bit of a tough time with all the wind last week (well, I say that, but it wasn’t like they were having to flap… it was just the “getting to where they wanted to go” bit that seemed to be giving them issues) but the current sunshine is doing wonders for the thermals, and they’ve just been drifting over on the hunt for kite-sized snacks.

Cupcake with a mini skull on it!

If anyone’s in Oxford, Jericho Coffee on Osney Estate have started doing coffee & donuts on Saturday mornings… and Patron Oxford are also delivering said donuts (and brownies!) to the city! (I think this is incredibly dangerous and haven’t ordered any, because they are FANTASTIC. Once a week is dangerous enough!) And if you’re not in Oxford, they do postal coffee beans. The smell coming out of the roastery is always fantastic, so I would recommend based on that alone!

Also on a cake note, I ordered some amazing cupcakes from Happy Cakes last month (ok, no wait, May…) for one of my authors who was having a crap week – obviously skulls and gravestones helped. (They are relevant, honestly, and they did help cheer her up!)

Leaping fox with blue-stars cosmic colouring

On a pretty-things note, Lynsey Luu does amazing quirky stuff and I am still trying to decide what I want to buy! I’m somewhere between a cosmic fox, the cutest otter ever, or EVERYTHING ELSE. Currently I’m defaulting to the latter. The flower pendants are beautiful, too! Sigh.

I am currently on an Agatha-Christie kick, because it seems to be what my brain needs. Having Miss Marple sweetly pronounce that the world is horrible and evil and it just reminds her of so-and-so the butcher’s son who came to a bad end… it seems to fit the current world, somehow. Incidentally, if you like Agatha Christie, try Sexton Blake – we’re publishing collections of the best stories, and they’re the same sort of mystery and derring-do: Sherlock Holmes mixed with Poirot and Indiana Jones. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them!

Witch on a bridge by PetiteCreme
By PetiteCreme @gemsheldrake

I am sort-of writing again! I was leafing through PetiteCreme‘s sketchbook (with her permission!) and spotted a witch on a bridge… and it reminded me of Necromancer’s Charm. So I hauled it out, and – SO. MANY. NOTES. I mean, I wrote three versions of the start because I couldn’t get the voice, and two documents of other notes because Thief & Seer is sort-of related and…. ARGH. But I really enjoyed reading the start again, which felt good! I’m sending it over to Otter for them to read, as they’re my current “is this any good?!” reader, and then… well, we’ll see if anything comes back?

In general Kate news: I’m on my third week into changing medication, and it’s… not really fun. I had one week of complete exhaustion as one withdrew, and then a week of complete ups and downs as the new one kicked in, and I’m currently in the fine-for-three-days-crash-for-a-day cycle that’s still underlaid by grey. I’m just trying to do as much as I can while manic, and then take the crashes as they come, and trying to ignore the weasels. Animal Crossing and re-reading books are getting me through, plus Bobble cuddles and chocolate. I know I’m in the best position possible to be going through all of this, and I’m just trying to keep stepping forward. If anyone spots the shops getting restocked with new brains, though, let me know. I might be in the market for one.

Also!  In happier news, if anyone’s near Fairford in the Cotswolds, or can get there, the 7a Coffee Shop do SERIOUSLY GOOD BROWNIES. Sam dropped some off for me and oh my goodness. SO GOOD. Collection only, but so worth it.

…I feel like I am fixated on food and books at the moment, which… is fair, I think.

And on a final food – and cat – note, I have been watching Jun’s Kitchen: the most adorable cats, and really nice-looking food!