I have been really bad at following the One Plan these past few weeks. It’s all about getting rid of extra possessions that you don’t need. I have done this in the past and I tend to live simply and don’t have a lot of things. I still have some junk I could clear out but as I live with someone else I can’t throw out everything I would like to as some of it is his.
I haven’t been following the diet properly and I have been drinking wine so lots of backsliding.
In this two weeks I became a Christian so my focus has shifted. I am still going to continue the One Plan and follow most of the recommendations as I think they are valuable and try to incorporate them into my new Christian lifestyle.
It is really cold in England at the moment and that always has a bad effect on me and makes me not want to do anything much.
So hopefully I can shake myself up and get back on the health track next week.
So having failed to get an agent for my second novel I thought I would enlist some help in the shape of an editor. Not knowing where to turn I tried The Writer’s Workshop.
I got the manuscript back after a few weeks. I was quite horrified by the comments of the editor. I know there are things wrong with my novel but I wasn’t prepared for the total decimation that happened. She didn’t like anything about my book at all. She didn’t like the beginning. She didn’t like the middle. She didn’t like the end. She didn’t like the characters. She didn’t like the dialogue. She didn’t like the story. She seemed to have expected it to be some kind of tacky thriller with lots of edge of the seat action. This couldn’t be further from the kind of book I was trying to write. It is a book about a girl’s discovery of faith through Islam and what love is and what it is not. I don’t want to write thrillers. The advice was full of patronising comments. At one point she tells me the plot of Cinderella. It’s the kind of writing advice you would give to a class of ten year olds. I know because I used to do that for a living. There was a whole segment about the plots of various books which I feel sure I have read somewhere before, probably in a book about novel writing. So she had lifted her advice straight from someone else.
A quick google gave me the information that my experienced editor and agent was in fact someone who only started writing in 2014. They had one novel published which sounded deathly dull middle class home counties fare. She had failed to get a publisher for her second one so had self-published and had set up her own publisher to publish the third one. Hardly experienced. I felt I had been misled by the kind of editor I would get. Her main achievement on her web page seemed to have been home schooling her children. She also had the cheek to put a blatant ad for her book on the end of the email.
I felt angry and then I just felt sad. I can hardly bear to look at my book now. There is an art to giving feedback. When I was a teacher however pitiful the child’s offering I always found something positive to say first. I thought the Writers’ Workshop was about nurturing new writers. Assassination is not nurturing.
I was advised to read On Writing by Stephen King and go on a course run by their company. I have nothing against Stephen King but I don’t particularly like his novels and I don’t want to write like him. It seems to me everyone is now writing the same kind of books because they have all been on the same courses and read the same advice. It’s all so boring. I haven’t read a really good book in ages.
I would not advise anyone to use the Writers’ Workshop but to find an editor by other means that at least gets what you are trying to do to some extent.
I will probably just self publish my book as it’s not commercial. Then I will have a go at another one. I doubt I will ever land an agent.
I must go on…
A couple of months ago I signed up for the Alpha Course. I am doing it in the neighbouring town of Wymondham about 20 minutes drive away. It has been running once every two weeks in the evening.
I got interested in it because I have been seeing these ads for Alpha for years but never dived in. I was brought up by Communists so though Christened no attention was ever paid to my spiritual development. I got introduced to Christianity at school and through friends. I dabbled a bit but didn’t completely get involved. At university it was the same. I went to a few prayer meetings in my Hall, attended Church a few times and then abandoned it for other things. I have always been quite spiritual though and returned sporadically to exploring. I have dabbled in Paganism, witchcraft, the occult in a New Agey way, Spiritualism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddhism was my most recent foray and I really liked it. I have been to the Norwich Buddhist Centre and learned to meditate. I still wasn’t sure which one was for me.
So I decided to learn more about Christianity. The Alpha Course is supposed to be for non-believers, agnostics or new Christians and is an introduction to the basics of the faith. I hoped I would get answers to my questions like the problem of evil in the world and why God made the world.
When I arrived at the hall I found that everyone there was already a member of the charismatic Church which used the Hall. I was the only vague one. I hadn’t expected this. What struck me the most was how pleasant everyone was. It was very welcoming. The pastor and leaders didn’t wear any particular clothes. It was very casual and relaxed.
Each session takes the same format. There is a meal prepared by the Church members and then a video headed up by Nicky Gumbel the founder of Alpha. Then we break into groups and discuss the topic. There is an accompanying booklet. I was hoping for some intellectual discussion but this didn’t really happen in my group. Everyone was already a true believer so they just believed. Sometimes I asked questions nobody could answer such as why the Old Testament is in the Christian Bible when there is a new promise of the New Testament. The leader who was incredibly sweet looked it up on Google for me the next week. They all seemed to take the Bible literally as the word of God so didn’t question anything. I realised I wasn’t going to be converted by clever arguments.
One thing struck me from the very beginning. They were all incredibly open and honest. Most had had life traumas which they discussed candidly. The Church was for broken people. At least this one was. I would fit right in. I warmed to them over the weeks though I often felt awkward and didn’t know what to say.
One week I finally cracked and cried as I thought about how sinful I had been and how I hadn’t come to Jesus properly even though he had given me plenty of opportunities.
The first few sessions were about what it meant to be a Christian but it swiftly turned into a conversion course. I didn’t mind this but I could imagine some people would. In fact I wanted to be converted. I really need something solid in my life and I know the pick and mix spirituality is never going to work.
I felt I was on a roller coaster ride and I really was confronting my past and my failings and being honest with myself. I often went home in deep thought but I was enjoying it. I worked my way through the New Testament though I have done this many times before. The group leader behaves as if I am a complete atheist but I have actually read the Bible many times. I like the core message but I find lots of it confusing and contradictory. I still had lots of unanswered questions. I knew I wasn’t going to get them answered. If I wanted this I had to just go with it in my heart.
So I girded up my courage and prayed the conversion prayer recommended by Alpha. I repented and asked Jesus into my life. To my disappointment no Damascene miracle happened on the spot. Slightly sadly, I went out to walk the dog. In the church yard glebe at dusk I saw a huge white barn owl with wings outstretched hunting over and over on the same patch of ground. It was completely unconcerned by my presence. As I stopped to watch it I was aware it looked a little like an angel. I took this as a sign. Maybe it was a very weak sign and just a coincidence but it was something.
The following week at Alpha there was a Holy Spirit day which was on a Saturday in the Church. For some reason I had a total foreboding about this and nearly didn’t go. When I got there it was all set up for a service. We watched no less than three videos in a row which were building up for the Holy Spirit experience. We had a short discussion and then the experience began. We all stood up and prayed and started to sing a hymn. We asked the Holy Spirit to come. The leaders went around and prayed for people. My group leader came to me and asked if I wanted to be prayed for. I said yes. Already I had started to feel quite strange even before this. My nose was running and I felt hot and shivery. She prayed for me and put her hands on my head. Then she started speaking in tongues and asked me to copy her. As I started I felt incredibly hot in my forehead and shivery but not cold. Then I felt like a great force came into me and something went out of me. I screamed I think about three times. Bizarrely, I can only compare it to orgasm. I am embarrassed I had a very loud orgasmic experience in front of a lot of fundamentalist Christians. Joking aside it was quite an incredible happening. I was also crying and my cheeks were wet when I opened my eyes. This was the Holy Spirit in me.
I sat down for a while afterwards feeling completely strange. I was different. One of the other leaders came over and asked if I wanted to learn to speak in tongues. I was inclined to say I had had enough for one morning but he was quite insistent so I agreed. He laid hands on my forehead again and spoke in tongues. It sounded like Ancient Aramaic. As I repeated it I had the hot sensation again and lots of lights were appearing under my closed eyelids like little fires. He said the Holy Spirit is upon you and carried on chanting. I found I could chant away on my own these strange words but I had no idea what I was saying. The same hot feeling was there but it wasn’t as intense as the first time.
Later on a few of us joined in a circle and spoke in tongues.
I still feel in shock a few days later and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I do know that something profound happened to me and there was definitely something supernatural in the room. My rational mind has tried to make sense of it but come up with no explanation. I feel like there is something different in my mind. When I meditate or pray my brain feels different.
So I think I have become a Christian. I have been praying and reading the Bible and going about my usual tasks. The inital high has worn off but I still know I am changed. I have prayed in tongues and found it just flows out of me but I don’t know what I’m saying.
There are still a few sessions of the course to go but I feel like I have converted. It has taken me fifty years to fully accept Christ but here I am.
I don’t want to give up my daily meditation but maybe I don’t have to. I have a lot to learn but I have started the journey.
So I kind of almost finished my second novel and tried again to get an agent. I sent off the first three chapters and the synopsis and cover letter as advised by all the sites. I chose the agents from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Yet again I failed to get any interest.
I did think this novel was better than my first one. I wrote the most powerful opening I could manage but still not a spark of interest. I tried to be more commercial and fit into a genre. Yet again I failed. The rejection letters are generic and just mention the huge amount of submissions they get. I realise I am wasting my time.
It is hard to keep positive in this situation especially as the British winter has set in with its usual viciousness and we have nothing but damp and cold. I am fighting off my depression like St George with the dragon.
I now don’t know what to do. I could try rewriting my novel completely or I could tart it up a bit and self-publish.
I don’t think if I keep reworking it that it will ever be finished.
So here I am again.
Modern psychological research is suggesting that the causes of anxiety may not lie within the individual in terms of faulty biology or faulty thinking patterns but come from factors within the wider society.
The most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that there are some 3 million people in the UK with an anxiety disorder. What methods are used to give us information about anxiety? Different methods produce different evidence. Traditionally, anxiety was studied as something within the person using scientific experiments but these days surveys and interviews are often used to examine the effect of society in causing anxiety.
Anxiety is usually described in terms of the body’s stress response triggering the fight or flight reaction. This could have been useful in caveman times when we were out hunting but these days it can cause problems. The amygdala deep inside the brain alerts the rest of the brain that a threat is present and triggers an anxiety response just like in the cartoon above. Just knowing this doesn’t help you very much does it? Biology isn’t the whole story.
The survey is a common method of collecting data in anxiety research. People answer questions about their feelings and behaviour on a scale such as the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and this data is subject to statistical analysis. This type of research often leads to thinking of anxiety as due to faulty biology which leads to faulty thinking and disordered behaviour. It is also possible to use surveys with more open-ended questions and answers.
The survey method is cheap and can be used with lots of people at once. A large group of people taking the survey can make the evidence seem likely to be true for most people.
There are problems with the survey method though. The people answering questions may have lied or they may not have taken the survey seriously. They may not have understood the question. The questions may not fully reflect their experiences. Some researchers argue that anxiety scales are not accurate. For example, a statement reads ‘I worry more than most people’ and the answer is marked true or false. Just think about how vague this is and how open to different interpretations. The element of the social environment is missing on these scales. The Twenge (2000) study, which showed increased levels of anxiety from the 1950s to the 1990s, uses this method in the primary research studies.
This means the evidence collected by this method may not be entirely reliable.
This is similar to a survey but a researcher interviews the people taking part. The data from this can be seen to be more accurate than a survey if the interviewer is skilled and well trained. It can produce more detailed data, getting closer to the person’s actual experience. This method can also move beyond the idea that the anxiety is a fault from within the individual. It can bring in the missing factor: the social environment. The researcher can ask people about what might have caused their anxiety or indeed cured it.
Brown et al. (1992) found that anchoring life events, which bring security, could lessen anxiety. An example of such an event could be getting married and settling down. A team of researchers interviewed women about their feelings of anxiety and they did use scales but with an interviewer doing the rating. Then they interviewed the women about what was going on in their lives in a less structured way.
There are problems with this method too. The interviewer is a person and that person could be biased. They bring in their own thoughts and feelings into the social interaction and they might even lead the interviewee into answering in a certain way. They could do this without realizing it. It is also difficult to code this rich data gained from the interviews for analysis and mistakes can creep in here.
The evidence from this method may not be totally reliable either.
This is where the researcher pools the data from lots of previous studies and then performs statistical analysis on all of it to see what the effect is. This is good for looking at large amounts of data but it is so complicated errors can creep in. There may have been errors in the previous studies that are then carried over into the new study. This method is good for looking at trends in society such as has anxiety increased over time. The bad news is that it probably has. The Twenge study (2000) did this and found that anxiety has increased a huge amount since the 1950s. Twenge also compared anxiety levels with social statistics and found that anxiety levels increased along with environmental factors such as low social connectedness and social threat levels. Lonely people living in high crime areas are more likely to have high anxiety levels.
Yet again there could be a problem with the reliability of the evidence due to the possibility of errors in the original studies used for the meta-analysis.
Looking to the Future
A more recent movement in research has criticised all these approaches as having too much power inequality. The researchers are in control. Transformative research approaches want to redress this balance and give more power to the individual. The person with anxiety can collaborate with the researcher to set up the study.
Yes that’s power to you, the individual.
All of this doesn’t mean that anxiety research has all been wrong up to now. If the researcher has tried hard to minimise the risk of errors and performed the study rigorously the evidence can be useful. Both Twenge (2000) and Brown (1992) provide reasonably good evidence to suggest that anxiety can be linked to social factors.
This can be really empowering for people with anxiety symptoms. Instead of a pill or a course of therapy they can think about factors in their lives that could be causing their symptoms.
(Borenstein, M. Hedges, L. Higgins, J. Rothstein, H. 2009) ‘Introduction to Meta-Analysis’, John Wiley and Sons, Ltd (Online) DOI: 10.1002/9780470743386 (Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
(Brown, G. Lemyre, L. Bifulco A.1992). ‘Social Factors and Recovery from Anxiety and Depressive Disorders A test of specificity’, British Journal of Psychiatry vol. 161 pp. 44-54 (Online) DOI: 10.1192/bjp.161.1.44 (Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
(Charlton E. 2017) ‘What happens to your brain when anxiety attacks?’ (Online) Available at https://www.thecounsellorscafe.co.uk/single-post/2017/02/04/What-Happens-to-Your-Brain-When-Anxiety-Attacks (Accessed 27th Nov 2017)
(Hoskin, R. 2012) ‘The dangers of self-report’, (Online) Available at http://www.sciencebrainwaves.com/the-dangers-of-self-report/(Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
(McLeod, S. A. 2014) ‘The interview method’ (Online) Available at www.simplypsychology.org/interviews.html (Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
(McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) 2016) ‘Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014’. Leeds: NHS Digital. (Online) Available at https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748 (Accessed 27th Nov 2017)
(Noble, J. 2006) ‘Meta-analysis: Methods, strengths, weaknesses, and political uses’, Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine Volume 147, Issue 1, Pages 7–20 (Online) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lab.2005.08.006 (Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
The Open University (2017) DD801 Medicalising and Experiencing Anxiety and Worldviews and Transformative Enquiry (Online) Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/course/view.php? id=204962 (Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
(Twenge, J. 2000) ‘The Age of Anxiety? Birth Cohort Change in Anxiety and Neuroticism 1952-1993’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000, Vol.79 (6), pp.1007-1021 (Online) DOI: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247 (Accessed 24th Nov 2017)
These two weeks are about conserving your sexual energy in order to be more spiritual. As I am not so much interested in sex these days this is easy for me. Other than that it is the usual eating a healthy vegetarian diet.
I have been doing quite well eating a vegetarian diet which is mostly healthy. I have been doing lots of exercise: yoga, HIIT and weight training. My muscles have been aching but I have enjoyed it and I have more energy. I have cheated a few days having naughty foods and wine on the weekends. I need more willpower. I have been quite productive working on my MSc and sending my novel off to agents. I have sent my book off to an editor. I have now started my third novel.
I went to a meditation class at the Norwich Buddhist Centre for the first time ever. I really enjoyed it and it has given me more motivation to continue my practice.
I don’t feel wholly well yet but I feel I am taking baby steps to wellness.
So I am still keeping up my Yogi Cameron plan kind of. I STILL haven’t lost any weight in spite of my Spartan diet. I have had some cheat days but I would have expected at least some weight loss. Why is my body holding on to its weight?
On the spiritual side these two weeks have been about non-stealing. By this Yogi Cameron means not just literal stealing but things like cheating on your taxes and taking someone’s parking space. I’ve realised I’m a pretty honest person as I don’t do any of these things. This is something I can be proud of at last. I am ethical. I am honest. I have empathy. This is all good for my spiritual growth.
I have been feeling better. I have cut down my portions and now I have even stopped having rice. So I am existing on fruit and vegetables mostly with vast amounts of herbal tea. I have had a few cheat days. Husband has this effect on me. He encourages me to drink wine and takes me out to lunch to places that never have anything healthy on the menu.
I have massively upped my exercise regime. I am doing yoga and then HIIT and then weight training with dumb bells. I am only doing the weight training three times a week but the other exercise every day except Sunday. This is as well as dog walking which is often miles and miles around Norfolk lanes. My legs ache most of the time.
I am also meditating and praying daily.
I have upped my productivity massively and managed to finish my novel. It just needs editing now and adding to. I am quite pleased with it but it still needs some work.
I have also started my MSc in Psychology at the Open University. It is brilliant so far and I amr really interested in it. I have sent in my first essay.
I have also started a course in Hypnotherapy training. I am really hoping this could be a new career for me. It will take me ten months. I really enjoyed the first weekend and I got some compliments. Maybe I will actually be good at this. I am hopeful. The course was very relaxed and supportive. It was right for me. My anxiety melted away.
My depression is being held at bay. My strategy has been to force myself to do things even though I don’t feel like it. This has been effective and I feel better afterwards. I still haven’t got to the stage of joy yet but I am smiling more.
I have had another intervention as I have been going to CBT sesssions with the NHS. It’s not really therapy. I sit in a room with other people and listen to a lecture on CBT from a very young man. Then I get a booklet and tasks to do at home. There are some useful ideas in it but you can tell it’s just trying to deal with people on the cheap. One size does not fit all in my view.
I still have the problem of no income. I do need to work on this. I do everything to avoid applying for jobs. I think it must be anxiety from my previous experiences. I much prefer doing courses. I still want to work for myself ultimately. Of course I want to be a writer but unless I have a bestseller I am not going to make any money. Being a therapist would be good too. I would like to help people cope with their problems. I have had so many issues it would be lovely to help other people not go into the depths like I did.
I have had to take a long look at myself and there are still lots of things wrong. It’s painful to examine your inner life. I still have very little in the way of a social network. I feel totally alienated from family but let’s face it I always did anyway. I can’t do anything right as far as they are concerned. Maybe being reclusive is my natural state. Of course I would love to have a perfect life like people in a TV ad but maybe I’m just not made that way.
I have felt a longing for children over the last few weeks. Sadly I think I am too old. When I was younger the time never felt right. I have a lot of regrets about the past. I suppose you can regret everything or regret nothing. I am finally waking up and facing my fears.
Will the girl who left England for ISIS ever escape their grip and find her way out?
This is Molly’s tale. She’s an ordinary student from Manchester who falls in love with the impossible good looking and wealthy Taj, a British born Pakistani. Things take a turn for the worse after their marriage and Molly finds out Taj has fled to Syria to fight for ISIS. Desperately worried she sets out on a journey to find him. Trapped in Syria things don’t turn out as Molly expects. She must try to escape with the help of the mysterious Kahil…
This is a story of love, of loss, of war, of spirituality found, lost and regained. It is a story of life itself.
I have finally finished my second novel. It’s title is : Syria – A Woman’s Tale. It’s about a girl called Molly from Manchester who goes to Syria to find her husband who she suspects has joined ISIS. It’s taken me a long time to write as I kept breaking off to do other things. It still needs some tweaking. So now I have the decision of what to do with it. I could attempt to get a deal or I could self-publish again. I am still deciding. I would love a proper publisher this time. Here’s hoping.