Goodbye Gutleech – For all the good people, upstairs

In 2023, I discovered a connection problem with the upstairs and downstairs parts of my brain. My “upstairs” which controls things like thinking, empathy, play etc. can severely malfunction and tip me into the “the downstairs” which controls basic functions like breathing, blinking, pooing and our fight or flight responses.

Now before you go thinking, “is John about to say that he occasionally soils himself?” hold your horses.

Why am I even talking about my brain like this? Well, because in 2023 I was relieved to finally get to the bottom of what kept causing my brain to glitch over the past 30 years and it wasn’t anything I could have prevented. True, I wasn’t quite expecting to be told I was experiencing recurring PTSD, but it was kind of a relief. Even if I did get angry and can’t remember if I told the doctor to go <rude-word> themselves, thereby lending weight to their diagnosis. I did apologise once I’d uncurled from my angry ball of rage but apparently they’re used to it.

But what has this got to do with my work?

PTSD is something I thought only people in war zones experience. Turns out I was wrong. But because I was being belligerent, I thought I knew more than a trained medical professional so went to look up symptoms to compare them to my own just so I could tell the doctor “Aha! You see! You’re wrong! Now give me a refund, you hack!” (sorry NHS, but I had to spend much of my limited savings to access the right treatment as quickly as possible, please don’t judge me)

My symptoms

  • Barely controlled anger with no cause
  • Barely able to sleep 
  • Severe stomach pains
  • Nightmares and soaked bedsheets as a result
  • Seeing horrible things again and again in my mind
  • Wanting to puke
  • Not wanting to see certain people
  • Not wanting to go certain places
  • Over-working
  • Loss of bladder control when I did manage to grab a few hours sleep (gross, but it did happen on a few occasions)

Then I looked at some of the main symptoms on the NHS website. My initial thought was “Oh, just all of you go <rude-word> yourself!”

My work and my mind

I’ve always felt guilty whenever I try to take time for myself or go on a holiday, a fact my wife is constantly trying to remedy. I always feel I should be working. Should be productive. Should be proving myself 24/7. Work has always felt like a safe space for me and whilst I don’t love some of the jobs I do to help keep our lights on, I love the release writing has always provided.

My short horror "Goodbye Gutleech" was published in the Monster Lairs anthology by Dark Matter Ink in October 2023. I felt the title of the story fitted quite nicely with this blog and it was ironic that it came out right in the middle of my treatment. Over the years you could say my own mind was infected with the grotesque "Gutleech" Mira hunts in the story. A monster I neither wanted nor deserved, but one I had to confront. Like many writers, horror appears in my work as well as my life, but so does comedy, drama, and science fiction. In fact I often use comedy to examine the horror. Read of that what you will, Freud.

Over the past five years, I’ve come to learn that people I’ve never met enjoy a lot of the work I produce and… I still don’t believe them when they tell me. My wife said “you’re just going to have to accept that there are people who like what you do, and when someone says they’ve enjoyed what you’ve written, just say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘No, it’s rubbish, I can do better!’” Our compromise has ended up being, “Thank you, but I think I can do better.” Any working creative is likely to say this to be a healthy middle-ground.

Interestingly, this period also coincided with an exercise I was given to redo my writing CV and record everything I’d achieved to lay it all out in black and white. And then through the horror show in my head, something clicked.

I get my energy and ambition from good people

I'm a natural introvert, but I couldn’t have achieved any professional or personal success without the support and encouragement from friends, colleagues, writing groups, tutors, and most of all my wife. PTSD is terrifying and it can cripple you. It really really crippled me. The only way I am comfortable in describing my own experience is to equate it with a horror film where I'm constantly about to be eaten. If you ever experience it (and I really hope you never ever have to) get help. If not for yourself, do it for the people who care about you. A friend, partner, anyone you trust really because for them it's upsetting to see someone they care about in pain and whilst I can only speak from my own experience, I am glad I asked for help.  I was deeply ashamed of myself and what had happened to me for years, but if I hadn’t trusted my wife and some close friends and reached out for help, I don’t think I would have ever found out what was wrong.

2023 taught me that I had to revise the way I’d been doing a lot of things in my life to get better and understand that what had happened to me years ago was not my fault. I’d have to get rid of the self-loathing, the hiding behind jokes and saying things I think people wanted to hear. Like my work, my brain is a work in progress. When the doctor helped me to identify where my self-loathing, anger and fear came from, it was horrible, but also a kind of “ah, so that’s why” moment.

It is good people that have always encouraged me to pursue my ambitions. Good people that are my friends and writing colleagues. And when I did have some very dark thoughts of just checking out once and for all, to leave all the pain and horror behind, it was good people that got me to stick around and remind me that I am a good person. They wouldn’t bother hanging out with an arsehole, as one friend memorably put it.

To all the good people

To all the good people in my life, you all know who you are (because I told you), but I wanted to thank you again for just being there to listen, not judge, and offer support when I needed it the most. 

I will always try and do the same for you when you need it.

And as if to prove that getting treatment has had a positive impact in my life, not only am I hopefully about to embark on some professional writing coaching I’ve been offered by an industry leading organisation (bursary dependent because I'm not rich), I’m also about to become a dad. For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling a little more optimistic about life.

With that in mind, please excuse me whilst I go and soil myself in panic.