Saturday, February 13, 2016


This will be my last blog or post to FB about grief, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I know that following my journey through this has been helpful for many, but for reasons I will shortly explain, this has to stop. I thank all those fans and others who have given and offered support. You’re good people! And such good people need to be rewarded with big fat sprawling space operas!

Three years ago I was perfectly happy and satisfied with my life. The evidence for this to others would be the Transformation trilogy. I had written 3 books to first draft before I even needed to deliver the first book. I would wake up in the morning feeling enthusiastic about life, get out of bed ready to DO stuff! Yeah, I would play about on the internet, but still I would do my 2,000 words and then get on and enjoy other things. In Crete I would work, then swim, then drink chilled wine in the sunshine. Everything was rosy.

Two years and eight months ago my wife, lover, friend and support, found she was bleeding where she shouldn’t since she had been through the menopause. Over the ensuing 7 months a worry turned into a nightmare that just got worse and worse. Every step of the way hopes were killed. Fibroids, we thought. No, a mass of tumours in one ovary the size of a baby’s head. We tried the Greek hospital system but after the stress of that came back to England. Here she was operated on, all her female plumbing removed. It was bowel cancer that had spread. Stage Four. She started to recover from that first operation but then began vomiting. Back in hospital they operated again – the bowel cancer had revealed itself at its source blocking her intestine. They did a bowel bypass. It failed. She had a choice then: another operation that would likely result in an ileostomy bag, or death from peritonitis in a couple of weeks. I never realised then that it really was a choice. She ended up with an ileostomy bag but never really recovered. Another blockage resulted in her going back into hospital to be fed through the arm. When it happened again at home she chose to stay at home. District nurses sprang into action and for them I have nothing but praise. Caroline then stopped eating and drinking. Nothing would stay down anyway.

On the evening of the 24th January 2014 she was uncomfortable again. She liked her knees up sometimes, and sometimes her legs down flat. I moved them for her but nothing would work. I could see the mottling in the lower parts of them which I suspected was clotting blood. I suggested she might be more comfortable on her side. She started to move, then said, ‘Oh no!’ and tried to fling herself from something. She collapsed on the bed. Eyes wide open. Nothing in them.

I grieved and I thought that as the crying stopped I was getting over it. I also walked ridiculous amounts – thousands of miles over the ensuing two years. I lost interest in most other things. Food didn’t interest me, TV, film, reading and writing. Alcohol steadily ceased to give me any pleasure – the opposite in fact. I started to become scared of it. Life was just a purposeless march not to feel miserable. What I did not realise until just recently was that it had all been too painful so I had suppressed it. This last year it started to come back at me, most likely instigated by the pressure of a new relationship. I started to get really anxious, to suffer periods of depression, to suffer panic attacks. I could only seem to think negatively and sometimes this was so bad I thought I was going crazy. A couple of times I had what seemed like psychotic breaks. Perhaps they were.

While in Crete I tried SSRIs (antidepressants) but immediately did not like the side effects. Many will understand what I mean when I say they are not great relationship-wise. I then tried meditation and this eased things a little. Back in England I saw a hypnotherapist, which helped a little too. She told me to get Rob Kelly’s book ‘Thrive’, which also helped – positive thinking, positive visualizations, that sort of stuff. I began working my way through an 8-week mindfulness course. All these helped but still I was anxious most of the time, having panic attacks, and then I had a 6-day depression during which I simply did not want to live. I lost 9lbs in weight. I had more or less decided that I had no choice – I would have to take the SSRIs. Then I found out about ‘delayed grief’ and ‘complicated grief’.

Everything fitted, all my symptoms, all the circumstances, all the running away I had done with the ridiculous amounts of exercise, the way I hurriedly rid myself of any reminders of Caroline. The only answer was to grieve. When I started looking at photographs I had been unable to look at for two years I fell apart, crying uncontrollably sometimes. It was awful but, immediately after that the feeling, the tendency like a lurking monster, of depression, was gone, and my anxiety diminished. I have been looking at those photos and crying for 3 weeks now.

But the negative thinking, though it had diminished a lot, was still there. I suspect it is something I established in myself while Caroline was dying and in the ensuing two years. I had realised from all the self-help books that I must tackle it, and I had been, but it’s difficult to do that when you’re at the bottom of a pit. But now, with perfect timing, along comes a book by a guy called Richard Carlson ‘Stop Thinking, Start Living’.

Everything that had been inchoate in my mind about depression and anxiety have solidified on reading it. The answer, as always, is simple but difficult to apply: stop it, because it is your own thinking that generates these conditions. You cannot think your way out of depression and anxiety. In other books they say ‘think positive’. But positive thoughts are no more valid than negative ones. They say you can’t stop thinking negatively but must displace that with the positive – using the old adage ‘don’t think about the elephant’. But it is not true. If you turn that hypervigilance, which previously you had used to always look for the bad, towards your own thoughts, you can see a negative thought cycle starting and simply stop it by thinking of nothing at all. Just shut it down, and eventually something else will come. Sometimes it will be bad and you have to shut it down again, and again and again. Carlson’s contention is that really, at our heart, we are not negative, depressed, unhappy – all of that shit is learned behaviour. It makes sense. Look at a child. Anyway, it’s work. It’s work I am doing and its effect is good. Maybe I would not have succeeded if I had tried this while still carrying a sackload of grief. I don’t know. All I know is that it is working now.

And finally, here’s why this will be my last post on this subject. Carlson has a low opinion of psychoanalysis. You do not solve the problems of depression and anxiety by focusing on them and examining them and their possible causes in more detail. You just strengthen them by doing that. This is why people end up regularly visiting a psychiatrist year after year after year. Stop strengthening those mental pathways. Well I am stopping now. All of this mental shit is no longer going to be the central fact of my life. I am not going to keep writing about it and talking about it.

This ends now.


Darren said...

Bravo Neal, I wholeheartedly agree - this mirrors my experiences with recovering from depression too. Best of luck, I genuinely hope things improve for you soon.

Unknown said...

This is incredibly moving, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing with us, and best wishes for the future.

Unknown said...

Yes, thank you.

I hope the rest of your path is more gently up hill, where you have and tolerate the support of those around you. Grief is incredibly individual so I wonder if most of our progress is accidental. We look for narrative where there may only be happenstance... but it gets better. (I don't cry uncontrollably on international flights any more :^)

It's good to know you can still feel, but stay aware of simple mental habbits. They can lead in circles or down dark paths. Best wishes, again.

Unknown said...

Yes, thank you.

I hope the rest of your path is more gently up hill, where you have and tolerate the support of those around you. Grief is incredibly individual so I wonder if most of our progress is accidental. We look for narrative where there may only be happenstance... but it gets better. (I don't cry uncontrollably on international flights any more :^)

It's good to know you can still feel, but stay aware of simple mental habbits. They can lead in circles or down dark paths. Best wishes, again.

Paul Di Filippo said...

Neal--that book's solid strategies sound very similar to core Buddhist teachings, mindfulness, etc. If you ever feel inclined to read stuff by Trngpa, Aitken, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others, I think you might find similar encouragements and paths.

Unknown said...

I am so glad to hear that you have found a way through, Neal. I am being totally sincere when i add that it has been a valuable education, reading your posts about how you have dealt with this.

Neal Asher said...

Darren, nice to know there is recovery. Most people get stuck in the pill zone.

Thanks Leigh.

Not so accidental with me, unknown, I've been frantically searching for answers for some time.

It is similar, Paul, though in mindfulness you separate yourself from the thoughts and let them pass. In this you stop the thought. ... Currently on week 6 of an 8-week mindfulness course too.

Neal Asher said...

Thanks, uncletigger, it's been an education for me too.

Thud said...

I have on occasion felt guilty reading some of your posts but decided to honour your feelings with sticking with it,I hope your future gives you some peace.

Miles Campbell said...

Well done for crossing this bridge, Neal. I know these posts have all been part of your grieving process but i for one am honoured that you have chosen to share them with us.

Reading about Caroline has been incredibly moving and took me back to my mother's passing from the same cancer 10 years ago. Looking back i can just about remember the anger, frustration and depression i felt but it is all very faded and fuzzy. Really all i feel is a strange gratitude that she was at home with her loved ones at the end.  Thank you and all the best for the future.

bhhenry said...

I felt you were turning a corner when I saw your posts seriously working through this -- writing through it. As writers, that's what we need to do -- write, build, create.

Singlemind said...

Thank you. Your willingness to share has moved me to act after far too long of thinking 'I've got this covered.'

Unknown said...

This last post was especially moving and raw.

A broken heart you have...

Absolutely this has been educational to us, your readers.
It has been profoundly moving and we think about Caroline and
what happened - it's too sad, I have no comparison.

We imagine what going through this must have been like...

As Singlemind said - it may help us in our own situations -
so thanks for that.

Maybe now you have "gone through" it and have found a way to cope.

Thinking different thoughts or nothing might become a automatic process?

All the best from all of us

Unknown said...

Your books helped me get thro' a difficult time, thanks for that. Escapism, no sheer enjoyment and kicking the grey matter into life again. Rereading some and just re-finished Orbus while on holiday. Glad you survived and reached a better place.............

Unknown said...

Hi Neal, this is Guy Haley here. I'm so sorry to hear all this. I've not been keeping up with social media much other than pumping out the requisite amount of self-serving author promotional material, and haven't seen your posts for a while (a couple of years?). I understand part of what you're going through, having suffered severe OCD from my teen years until my early thirties. I kind of made myself better - and it is possible to get better - but such things are crippling while they last. And the loss you've suffered is unimaginable. As horrified to read this as I was, I'm glad to hear you're getting back in the saddle.

yodinator said...

"...good people need to be rewarded with big fat sprawling space operas!"

Love it :)

I sincerely hope your journey from here on is somewhat easier.

Lynn said...

Thank you for sharing. Grief is different for each individual. My mother passed away in Dec. 2011 in a completely normal and expected way, the inevitable end of a long life and I still often think, "It's not fair! It's not fair! It's not fair!" but I go on living as she would have expected and wanted me to live. It's the only thing I can do.

LarryS said...

Well I don't know what to say really, I was blissfully unaware of what was going on in your life until now. There are no words except Stay strong, not that that will be much comfort. I had a bout of depression when my mom died in 2006. Meds didn't help, in fact they made it worse. 10 years since that dark period, gone in a flash.
You have my deepest sympathies and my respect. This sort of thing to post publicly takes guts.