Jan 2019


#SIMTalksWithMiriam

For the second SIM Talk, I welcome back Jo Fenton to the blog. She brought Tina to Letters From Elsewhere, and also wrote a lovely post for my other blog. I wonder which of the three topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings – she’s going to talk about…

Jo FentonWhen I was 19 I went on a six-week trip to Israel. It was my first visit there and I was very excited. The main purpose of the trip was to work as a youth leader in a summer camp in Ashkelon, under supervision of a Hebrew speaking youth worker.

I went as part of a group, and there was to be time afterwards for touring the country. I had foolishly planned to do the touring with a young man who was the friend of an ex-boyfriend! More to follow on that subject…

I was a shy, nervous nineteen year old. Although I’d had a fantastic time during my first year at Uni, being away with a group of strangers brought all my social anxiety to the fore.

There were some lovely people in the group, particularly amongst the girls, and I did make some friends. I’m not sure if it helped that my closest friend in the group was a recovering anorexic, and the other girls and I spent a lot of our time making sure she ate, and trying to convince her that her view of her body image was distorted. At the time, I didn’t realise how similar I was to her in many ways, having an inaccurate view of myself due to the unkind comments of just a few.

There was a young man amongst the group – an attractive-looking guy with a charming smile and a Scottish accent. I don’t know if he understood how hurtful he was when he commented almost daily on my nervous laugh. Perhaps he was stupid enough to think he was helping me. Not surprisingly the more he commented, the more nervous my laugh became!

ashkelonsunset

Ashkelon (photo by David Drori)

Ashkelon was beautiful. I loved working with the kids, many of whom came from deprived homes; but who were lively, cheeky and resilient. It felt great to be able to do something worthwhile with them. The highlight of each week was the Israeli dancing on the beach, where we would dress up, enjoy ourselves, and socialise. I kept away as much as I could from the young Scotsman. My anxiety always returned ten-fold whenever he was near. I spent several weekends with the girls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and fell in love with the country.

Eventually the time arrived for us to say goodbye to the children, and go off on our more extended travels. My ex’s friend, whom I shall name P to save anyone embarrassment, agreed to do a brief tour taking in Lake Tiberias and Netanya before meeting the girls back in Tel Aviv for the flight home.

P refused to accompany me to Masada and the Dead Sea as he had already been. Without knowing it, he did me a favour, as I’m sure I got much more out of the trip to those fantastic places when I visited with my husband, sons and my mum last year!

From the minute we set off on the bus towards Tiberias, he started moaning: I was cramping his style. The fact we appeared to be travelling together meant that all his potential girlfriends would be put off from approaching him. This complaint continued throughout the three days we spent in each other’s company. He thought nothing of my own feelings, but by then, I was so downtrodden, the idea of me getting a boyfriend seemed a million miles away. One thing I was certain though – he was not on the list!

Overall, the trip did little for my confidence. All the anxiety that had been squashed during my first year as a student, returned in full force thanks to these somewhat insensitive young men. It was not until I met my husband-to-be a few months later, that some confidence returned.

Looking back, I see that I shouldn’t have allowed these individuals to get to me, any more than my anorexic friend should have been affected by the idiots who joked that she was fat. (She was the opposite!) I’m happy to say that I haven’t been criticised for my laugh or my existence since then, and as stated above, I returned to Israel for a most enjoyable and fulfilling trip with my family last year.

Ah, the tribulations of the young! I’m so glad you had a much better experience on your second visit. Thank you, Jo, for that entertaining account, which includes all three topics of the series!

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Her first novel, The Brotherhood, is available from Amazon.

The sequel, The Refuge, will be released this summer by Crooked Cat Books.

Jo can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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I promised a post from Val Penny today. Unfortunately, some bad news meant that Val was unable to write the post. Unfortunately, you’ll have to put up with a post from me, instead. Fortunately, some good and very exciting news has given me the impetus for this post. And here is that news:

Cultivating a Fuji is going to be published by Crooked Cat Books in May 2019.

This is a novel I’ve been working on, on and off, for a long time. It involves a character who is very dear to me and a topic that is so important. But most of all, although I have to say it myself for now, it’s a delightful story, told with emotion and a lot of humour.

The premise of the novel, the piece of information that kicks off the story, is that Martin is being sent to Japan to represent his company. And if that hasn’t shocked you, it’s because you don’t know Martin. Oh, but you will know him. First, you’ll know him from the outside. Then you’ll keep watching through the lens as the camera zooms in and drills to the inside of his head.

Announcement Banner for Cultivating a Fuji

What happens in Japan is interesting. But that’s only the beginning, the catalyst for the rest of Martin’s life. Don’t worry; this isn’t a biography, told as a series of isolated events. There are just two short periods, seasoned with flashbacks and enveloped by the future. Keep reading (when the novel is available, that is) because even when you think there can be no more surprises, you’ll discover another.

There’s a woman, too, called Fiona. She and Martin meet late in life and she brings her own baggage to the relationship.

And one more thing: Martin isn’t me. Although social anxiety has touched both of us with its sorcerous sceptre, we had different genes and different experiences, and Martin was affected in different ways to me.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Welcome to the first ever SIM Talk with Miriam. And I couldn’t have found a better one to start off the series. Thank you so much, Jess B. Moore, for your frank and brave personal account, one that probably resonates with many people. And for your brilliant novel, The Guilt of a Sparrow, of which more below.

Social Anxiety

Jess B. MooreAs a child, no one ever said the words social anxiety to me.  People called me shy, quiet, mature beyond my years.  I knew I spent more time inside my own head than other people, but it didn’t occur me it might be something more.  I preferred to be alone, or with one close friend, never a crowd. 

Adulthood means I know and understand my social anxiety.  I grapple with it daily and try not to let it take over.  With my children watching, I’m hyper-aware of the behavior I demonstrate.  I have two sons, one who has shown social anxiety since babyhood, and the other an absolute extrovert. 

Every phone call triggers a response in me to turn away and not answer.  A knock at my front door leads to my hiding in silence, in hopes who ever is there will go away.  When I sat in my car, unable to exit, in the parking lot of an oil change place, I knew I needed help. 

Here’s what happened:  I pulled in, eyed the three buildings, myriad of cars and people, the small lot, and had no idea how to proceed.  Where did I enter?  Should I park first?  Or did I pull my car into the bay first?  I pulled into one of the few parking spaces, sat gripping my steering wheel, and couldn’t face it.  In the end, I pulled away without getting my oil changed. 

My diagnoses of depression came at seventeen.  I didn’t ask my doctor about anxiety – in general as well as social – until my mid thirties. 

I can remember my mother retelling how she told a doctor once she had both depression and anxiety, and her doctor saying you couldn’t have both.  At least we’ve come away from that illogical belief, and I am able to better manage both my depression and my anxiety. 

The Guilt of a SparrowIn my first book, The Guilt of a Sparrow, the main character Magnolia Porter suffers from social anxiety.  This is evident from page one, when she’s walking through a busy town park to attend an event, hoping to make it to her spot on the sidelines without notice.  When she’s approached and needs to make idle conversation, her heart is pounding, hands shaking, mind reeling.  She goes blank and wants to escape.  This part of Maggie is me – it was easy to pull upon my own experience to write her social anxiety. 

I recently shared a photo on my Instagram of a mug reading “Awkward is my specialty.”  I posted it as a joke, because I’ve always known I’m awkward.  But when it comes down to it, feeling awkward isn’t always funny.  Sometimes it’s the reason I don’t go to meet new people or join in on activities.  I shy away. 

What I always considered low self-esteem, is actually my social anxiety.  I’m talking about an intense fear of being judged, avoiding being the center of attention, and worrying about humiliation.  My worst nightmare is being the center of attention.  Even answering a casual question in front of small group. 

I started teaching yoga and found I could go up in front of a group and lead the class without falling apart.  It was different – knowing what to do and say, rather than coming up with my own words or sharing something personal.  Writing has been a good outlet for me as well.  I can tell my stories, all while hiding behind the ink and text, finding a safe way to express myself. 

Thank you, Miriam, for having me share my story of social anxiety.  I hope others can relate and feel better knowing they aren’t alone.

Thank you, Jess. I’m sure others will relate, and helping others to realise they aren’t alone is a big part of my passion to raise awareness of social anxiety. I was shocked by what that doctor told your mother – that you can’t have both depression and anxiety. Yes, we’ve come on since then. But a lot more needs to be done.

You can find Jess on Instagram, Facebook and her beautiful Website.

Jess’s booklinks are The Guilt of a Sparrow and Fierce Grace. There’s another book on the way.

And, Jess has a brand new book subscription box.

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Remember, you can take part in this series, if you want to write or talk about one or more of the three topics. Do get in touch after reading this post.

Next week, I’ll welcome Val Penny back to the blog. I wonder what she’s decided to talk about.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

It’s 2019 and time for something new on this blog. New and old. I’ve veered away from the topics of this blog lately, but will be getting back on track with SIM Talks (hashtag: #SIMTalksWithMiriam).

Each week, on Friday, I or a guest blogger will talk about one (or more) of three topics:

  • Social anxiety
  • Israel
  • Misunderstandings

The talk can take the form of a written piece or a video. It can be about anything connected to one or more of the three topics except for politics and any sort of intolerance. (I’ve never encountered intolerance on this blog, but wanted to make that clear.)

If you want to take part, please let me know via Contact me above or Twitter or Facebook.

Next week’s post is by Jess B. Moore, author of The Guilt of a Sparrow and Fierce Grace.

Let’s make 2019 a year of more understanding, empathy and compassion.
Different ≠ Wrong.