Sunday, 10 May 2009

Update on Anne

I've heard from Anne, here are her words for all of you:

"I had a 6 hour craniotomy (brain operation) to remove a tumour. I woke up in Intensive Care Unit and heard the neurosurgeon shouting, 'Anne, Anne. We've got it.'

So it all turned out right in the end!"

She's already checked the blog and seen the posts, she'll be back with you soon no doubt.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

writers and anxiety

Sometimes it seems to me that anxiety is the writer's disease. The key question for anyone suffering from an anxiety disorder is almost always What if? So: What if the lift doors don't open? What if I panic in the middle of Tesco and make a fool of myself? What if I forget to count the lampposts and something bad happens as a result?

Well, isn't that what writers do? We put our characters into situations and ask - what if? What if the embarrasing mother costs Jane Bennett her chance of happiness? What if an evil person persuades Othello his wife is being unfaithful? What if a modern cop travels back in time to the 1970s?

And so many writers have said openly that anxiety has troubled them personally in various ways, it's almost as if we need that anxious edge to drive our writing.

So, my question is, since many writers have experience of and insight into anxiety, why aren't there more characters in literature with anxiety disorders? Where are the agoraphobics in Shakespeare, or the panic attacks in Dickens? There are some in the Kingsley Amis oeuvre but not much else. Or have I just been reading the wrong books?

Monday, 4 May 2009

help for anxiety

I was talking to Anne about my life outside writing (or what used to be my life outside writing, of which more in a minute) and she wanted me to post something about it on the blog. Part of my other life is that I’ve been involved, for some years, with various charities that help people cope with anxiety disorders, and I’ve worked with quite a few people as a mentor trying to help them overcome panic, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder.

The techniques used are a combination of commonsense and cognitive behaviour therapy. The commonsense is stuff like getting enough sleep, eating well, cutting down caffeine and nicotine (which both make anxiety worse), taking aerobic exercise and learning relaxation and breathing techniques.

The CBT works by changing both behaviour and thinking (which is the cognitive bit).

It is fair to say that people with anxiety disorders are being plagued by irrational worries, whereas someone with breast cancer has a perfectly rational set of worries. Still, the techniques could be useful for someone trying to stay calm and maintain their quality of life while dealing with their breast cancer.

The other thing that can happen is that sometimes people develop an anxiety disorder as an aftereffect of a traumatic event, so that someone could make a good physical recovery from breast cancer but find that their mental health was affected by what they’d been through. Again, the techniques could be useful.

I’m currently involved with an anxiety charity called First Steps to Freedom, which runs a helpline every day, including weekends, from 10 am to 10 pm on 0845 120 2916. Anyone can phone for help and support with their anxiety, although the main focus of the charity is anxiety disorders.

And of course after more than 10 years of doing this voluntary work I found myself writing about it. The book is called Free Yourself from Anxiety, by Emma Fletcher and Martha Langley (Martha is my pen name). It’s on Amazon, and most libraries in the country seem to have a copy.

Friday, 1 May 2009


I’m getting the hang of this blogging business now – not exactly rocket science, which suits me fine. But now I find myself wondering, how do all you readers feel about me taking over? After all this is a blog by and for breast cancer sufferers. I don’t have breast cancer. Does it spoil things to have me here? Do you welcome a different perspective? Or do you just not mind either way? Leave a comment, let me know.