300 Not Out – A Retrospective

Recently I mentioned that I was planning something to mark my 300th post. Well, this is number 300, and the more observant among you will have noticed that it has been more than a month since number 299. The gap is much longer than I had intended, partly due to my natural indolence and a bit of illness, but more the result of the several false starts I made on the planned post. Finally, I’ve accepted reality: it just wasn’t working, so I’ve consigned it to the WordPress equivalent of the round metal file on the floor. I covered some of this ground in my recent-ish post 69 Months Later, but I’ve been looking back over what I have posted over the years, and post number 300 seems as good a time as any for a fuller reflection on what I’ve done, whilst using that as a stepping stone to the future. So…. here goes!

I’ve often restated why I began this blog so, at the risk of boring you, I’ll do a brief recap now to start off this retrospective (you have my permission to skip this bit if you’ve heard it before!). I was diagnosed in late 2011 with depression, and was off work for more than nine months. When I went back I was invited to take a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and, as part of this, I did a number of written exercises which got me thinking more than I had ever done before about me, my life, and what was important to me. After all, I was only 59 so it wasn’t too late to start! At the suggestion of my counsellor, who described my writing as ‘inspiring,’ some of these became the basis for my first few posts. These can be found under  ‘My Story’ in the menu above, and if you haven’t read them before I think they’re worth a few minutes of your time if you want to know where I’m coming from.

The point of doing this wasn’t to wallow in self pity, though: what would have been the value in that? I started blogging because I had realised how important our mental health and well-being is to us, and hoped that by sharing my own experience I could encourage others who might also be having a hard time to see that they weren’t alone. The response was encouraging, so I decided to keep going. Mental health is still, and will always be, important for me and it is a theme to which I return even if I’ve rambled off into the distance for many of my posts.

I think you can learn a lot about blogs from the category descriptions their authors use. I’ve tinkered a bit with my categories over the years, both to tighten up what was in danger of becoming an amorphous mass, and also to (hopefully) make it easier for readers to find their way around. The current menu structure has been largely unchanged for quite a while now: it works for me, and reflects what I’m trying to do. Dip in to some, if you haven’t before. You’ll see that some just take you to the most recent post in that category, while others give you a sub-menu of posts – basically, these are the shorter menus (some were getting ridiculously long!).

Over the past couple of years the number of people following my blog has increased tremendously. Many of you won’t have seen some of my earlier posts before, and I’ve mined my back catalogue a lot to share some of these. I usually add a new commentary, updating what I had previously said, and I hope you have enjoyed some of these. It should go without saying that any post which has been given this treatment is one that I enjoyed writing and revisiting, and sharing them again has the added benefit of sparing me from writing something new! As this is a retrospective, I thought I’d highlight a few favourite posts – both mine and those which appear to have been popular in others’ eyes.

Rather surprisingly, perhaps, when I went through my back catalogue I found quite a few posts that I hadn’t recycled. Some of these, such as those I produced in the two years that I participated in November’s National Blog Posting Month – post every day, watch the quality fall off a cliff – were probably best left alone, and I’ve long since removed the menu link for them. Masochists can always find them via the Archives tab on the right, and looking for the Novembers of 2014 and 2015! One early post which I rather like was Dazed And Confused, from August 2013, in which I had one of my little rants: the target for this was marketing, which is a worthy subject for a moan! Another post from 2013 has a great deal of meaning for me. In those days I often responded to the daily prompt offered by WordPress, back when these were meaningful thoughts, rather than the single word option they went for instead – which was responsible for more pointless doggerel appearing in my email notifications than I could ever have wished for. No surprise to me that these prompts were eventually discontinued. In this post, My Mind’s Eye, I was looking ahead to my imminent retirement and sharing the symbolism of the London Eye for what I wanted to do with my future. My two wonderful daughters took me out for a special day to celebrate my 60th birthday and retirement – I must have mentioned my wish to go on the Eye, as that was part of my day! For some reason it took me a while to write about that day, but I eventually got round to it three years later in A Celebration – another of my favourite posts.

Having begun this blog to post about mental health, I’m rather proud of the fact that my three posts which have achieved the most ‘likes’ from readers are all mental health posts: see the ‘Top Posts & Pages’ links to the right. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a huge readership for this blog, and a typical post is likely to pick up around 20 to 25 likes: these three posts are all comfortably beyond that and the top one, Mental Health Matters, has 140 likes. For some of you that is nothing significant but for me it is astonishing! It was written in response to a report in the paper, about the way that the commissioning bodies for health services here in the UK were diverting funds which were supposedly ringfenced for mental health treatments, using them instead for other services. It seems that I wasn’t alone in finding this outrageous! Those top posts can all be easily reached – just click on the titles – so please feel free to take a look at any that you may not have seen previously. Mental health has been a recurrent theme for me. I used to do a regular series of ‘Dates To Note’ which were usually about health and social care subjects. Mental health featured often in these posts, which have their own menu entry above – as, of course, does mental health itself. If you’re interested, you’ll find my most recent posts – from May this year – under both menu headings. One of the aspects of mental health that has exercised me on several occasions is the way that it is stigmatised. This post from 2013 is an early one of this sort, and I have used that as the basis both for a reblog and a reworked piece. Sadly, this is still an issue now and I fear there may need to be another post of this kind when the time comes this year. As I said, mental health is still an important issue for me, so expect to see more about it in future.

Another important subject for me is music, which has played a central role in my life since I was a child. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, but I couldn’t live without music. It gets its own special mention in the tagline for the blog, and the blog’s title is that of one of my favourite songs. As well as countless sharings of songs at random times, I also have my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs where, by and large, I share the story of why a song is important to me. The menu gives you easy access to them all, but probably the most important piece for me which relates to a song isn’t in that series: I Hope You Dance, which I wrote to welcome the birth of my first grandchild, has that honour. I’m grateful that so many of you have hit the ‘like’ button for it: that means a great deal to me.

So, after 300 posts in nearly six years, where do I go from here? What does the future hold for my blog? I don’t imagine that I’ll change my blogging habits in any perceptible way: I’m not someone who can produce to a schedule and, since I retired and tried to remove stress from my life as far as possible, I imagine that there will still be erratic gaps or, more rarely, very short periods between posts. I don’t want to be driven by a clock or a calendar, but at least that means you’ll always have that element of surprise when an email notification lands on you! In short, the future for this blog will be more of the same though hopefully not in any boring way! A blogger I respect enormously told me in a comment today that I ‘have a fantastic blog.’ I’m not sure I deserve that, but I’d like to think that I can in some way inform, entertain and amuse you sufficiently to make you come back for more.

Those of you who, like me, use one of the free WordPress packages will, no doubt, have noticed that Facebook have recently made an ‘improvement’ which has meant that we can no longer share posts with our Facebook friends. They did this in the name of reducing fake news: frankly, I think removing this facility from those of us with personal blogs is ridiculous, but who am I to question Farcebook in its infinite wisdom? This has, however, prompted me to do something new. So, as you can see from the picture link to the right, I have…. cue fanfare…. started a Facebook page for this blog. I haven’t done much with it yet, but the intention is to post pictures, YouTube videos and news links which I hope you’ll find interesting and enjoyable, as well as being relevant and complementary to my blog. And, of course, new blog posts will all appear there – Facebook still lets us do that, probably because it gives them the option to bombard us with entreaties to ‘boost’ our posts. For a fee, of course. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be taking up their kind offer! So please, take a look and if you feel in the mood to ‘like’ the page I’d be very grateful. As I said, there isn’t much there yet, but I intend to make it somewhere worth spending a moment or two of your time. I expect I’ll be plugging it here a bit, too!

This has turned out to be a much longer post than I intended, so thank you for reading this far! Thank you also for following my blog – assuming that you do, of course – and for bearing with me for however much of the past six years or so that you’ve been here. Thank you also for all of the likes and comments: it’s good to know that so many of you have enjoyed at least a little of what I’ve been doing, and being a part of the blogging community and sharing those interactions is what really makes it all worthwhile.

See you again soon, I hope 😊

Interview With Esmé

One of the joys of blogging is the sense of community that develops with our followers and with those whose blogs we follow in return: many ‘chats’ take place in the comments section! I’ve mentioned before that I’m a contributor to the Senior Salon, which is a community for the more mature blogger. It was originally started by Bernadette, of the Haddon Musings blog, and has since been taken on by Esmé, whose blog is called Esmé Salon. Some weeks ago Esmé started a new series of interviews with fellow bloggers and I had the honour of being the first to feature there. These interviews appear on her blog every Friday, and she has now published (I think) twelve in total. My apologies, Esmé, for taking so long to get around to this but I thought I should share it with my own readers too. If you’d like to see the interview in its original location it can be found here but for your easy reference I’m re-publishing it below. The interview ran as follows:

“1. What is the name of your blog and how did you decide on your blog name?

My blog was initially the very original ‘Clive’s Blog’ but I decided to change the name when I retired, to reflect my new status in life. ‘Take It Easy’ seemed to fit this, and its taken from a song you may know.

2. What prompted you to start on this blogging journey?

I was off work for nearly ten months in 2011/12 with depression, and part of my rehab when I went back was to take a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). My counsellor set me writing tasks as part of this, to record my thoughts and feelings, and it was his suggestion that I turn these into a blog, as he said my writing was ‘inspirational’ and would help others. This is how I started, in late 2012. Those first posts are under the ‘My Story’ tab in the menu at the top of my blog, and give people a good idea of why I began.

3. To date, what blogging achievement/s are you most proud of?

I dont think Ive any real achievements to speak of. I received several blogging awards in the first year or two, but Ive removed the badges from my site – they felt like bragging, and that isnt really me. My sense of achievement is from the many interactions Ive had with people who have read my posts – particularly the ones relating to mental health – and who tell me that my writing has helped them in some way.

4. How would you describe your own blogging style?

Open and honest, theres no point in doing it any other way. I also pride myself on writing to a good standard of English – I do, after all, have a degree in English Literature! I like to think that what I post has some semblance of form and structure, to make it easy to follow.

5. What excites you most about blogging?

The thought that I can post something into the ether and it can be read by anyone in the world, providing of course that they have an internet connection! I dont have a massive regular following but it is always good to meet new bloggers who pick up my posts.

6. What platform do you use and why?

I use WordPress. I have one of their free accounts, and this has given me all that Ive needed. Im not a professional blogger, I dont do this for money, so its good to enjoy my hobby for free! I kind of stumbled into the WordPress platform, as I knew nothing about blogging before I started – I just googled ‘blogging platforms’ and chose from those I saw. Im very happy with it, and see no point in changing.

7. What genre/topic/theme do you blog about? Do you ever deviate from that theme?

As I said, I began writing about depression and mental health. I followed that with a series I called ‘Dates To Note,’ which was intended to raise awareness of a range of health and social issues. Ive since widened into more general thoughts, often along the theme of how times change and, in particular, on music, which has always been an important part of my life. I do return to mental health issues too, as this is very much something that matters to me. Really, I guess I just ramble on about anything that takes my fancy!

8. How often do you blog per week or month?

I dont blog to any set pattern, Im not that organised! On average I probably post a couple of times a month, sometimes more and sometimes less. I occasionally take breaks, if theres nothing I want to write about – the longest of these was seven months!

9. Do you have any wisdom or tip/s regarding blogging to share with us?

I wouldnt presume to think I could advise people! All I would say is that, whatever you write about, be sure that it is something you care about. Be yourself, be natural, and your enthusiasm will show through. Theres nothing worse for me than reading something written because the author feels they had to write something – anything – to keep to a schedule when they really dont have anything to say.

10. Do you participate in linkup parties? How do you feel about it?

Ive done a couple of them, but Im not sure they are for me. The one that has grabbed my attention is the Senior Salon, which was created by Bernadette for writers ‘of a certain age’ and which you have recently taken over. Ive met a number of good blogging friends through this, and look forward to finding more as it develops.

A few things about me:

11. What do you like to do other than blogging?

I read a lot, mostly newspapers and magazines. I should read many more books than I do! I also watch a lot of sport on tv, especially football (i.e. soccer) and cricket. I spend a lot of time with tech, too: Im addicted to my iPad and computer!

12. Where do you reside?

I live in a small town (pop. 12000-ish) called Epping, in the UK. Its about 20 miles from London, but is much slower paced than the big city. Its a town with a long history, and a very pleasant place to live.

13. Are you an indoor or outdoor person?

On balance Im an indoors person. I do enjoy going to live sporting events and to live music shows, but I have a long term health condition which restricts my movement. Its frustrating, but I dont let it get me down. Theres always the balcony to my flat, where I can enjoy the good weather – if we ever get any!

14. Do you still work, and if so, what is your trade/profession?
15. Or are you retired? If so, what do you do besides blogging?

It feels easier to take these two together. I retired in September 2013, when I reached the grand old age of 60. Prior to that I had for twenty years been a manager in our National Health Service – I had many jobs in that time, but a recurring theme of these was working with our clinicians to help develop new services. As to what I do apart from blogging, please see answer 11!

16. Do you wish to be 20-something or the age you are now and why?

It would be great to be young again, with all the dreams and expectations of youth, but Im happy the way I am now. We get a little older every day – thats a fact of life we cant change! Not having to work for a living is a huge bonus, too.

17. What makes your day a good and happy one?

Doing the things I enjoy, the comforts of a relaxed lifestyle.

18. Describe yourself in 3 words.

Short, content, easy-going.

19. Share with us 3 interesting facts about yourself.

Ive been divorced and living on my own for 10 years, but have two beautiful daughters from the marriage – I love them both to bits!

I was born and brought up by the coast but never learned to swim – I was afraid of the water!

Im an awful cook!

20. Do you have any other tidbits to share with us about yourself?

My older daughter is expecting a baby at the end of May, so Im going to be a grandfather. Im so excited! There may be a mention of this on my blog at some point 😊

Please share with us your social media links, in order for our readers to follow you:

Twitter: @clivechip

Instagram: @clivechip

Pinterest: clivechip (I really should update this, havent touched it in years!)”

I’ve followed the series of interviews as it has developed, and am finding it fascinating to learn more about the featured bloggers. Some are new to me, others more familiar, but even with those I already ‘knew’ I’m discovering hitherto unseen aspects of them. If you’re interested in what makes other bloggers tick do take a look at Esmé’s blog – the link is in my opening paragraph, and you can find direct links to some of the previous interviews in her menu (and others are linked at the end of each post).

A little update on me to end with. In the interview, which was published on 4 May, I mentioned that I was due to become a grandparent at the end of May. As it turned out, the little one was in no rush to get here, but duly arrived on 6 June: that is D-Day, but I don’t think there is any significance to that. And fortunately her parents avoided any temptation to call her Vera Lynn! If you missed it, I wrote about this in I Hope You Dance and a follow up in Teach Your Children

You may not be a senior blogger like me but, if you are and haven’t yet found the Senior Salon, I can recommend it both as a place to share your own posts and to find others to follow. And even if you aren’t so senior in years, there is plenty of good reading to be had there and on the rest of Esmé’s blog, not least the interviews. Do try it!

 

69 Months Later

A couple of bloggy things have happened in the past week which have got me thinking about why I’m still doing this. The first was this:

Never in my wildest dreams did I envisage that as many as 70,000 page visits would be made to view my ramblings. Admittedly, in the peak years of 2013 and 2014 the success of BlogSurfer was significant in generating site views, and this has subsequently declined. But nowadays, I get more ‘likes’ and comments for my posts, and this more than compensates for not having the bigger numbers any longer. I’ve never considered myself to be a writer – just someone who dabbles and has taken advantage of the ease with which the interweb permits anyone to make their mark, albeit a very small one. And those interactions make it worthwhile: there is a sense of being part of a community, of belonging, and we all need that in our lives.

The second thing was the annual congratulatory message from WordPress on my ‘anniversary’ which, for some reason, they think falls in June. I know this to be impossible as the chronology just doesn’t work for me. But, as you do, I harboured a tiny doubt that they may be correct after all – I’m approaching 65, I have memory lapses more than I used to – so I thought it worth checking. I couldn’t find anything in my settings that would help, so I resorted to checking my previous posts. The first was made on 2 October 2012, and makes reference to my having set up the blog around six weeks earlier. Now this does indeed fit my memory, so maybe I’m not heading into my dotage just yet! Reading that post again was slightly surreal: I’ve never had an out of body experience but I imagine it may feel something like this. Was that really me? Did I really have the nerve to assume that anyone would want to read anything I wrote, that it would hold any interest for them?

I thought I’d share it again, as very few will ever have seen it. In its unedited glory, here it is:

“Hi!

I’ve had this blog set up for 6 weeks now and have somehow acquired 3 brave followers without having said anything, so I thought it was about time I introduced myself and told you what this is about (cue rapid exit of aforementioned followers!). So, I’m Clive (but you guessed that from the blog’s name, right?). I’m 59 (but only just!), divorced, living solo, and I have two beautiful grown up daughters who are the centre of my world. I work in the NHS, for a large Trust in London, and am planning to retire on my 60th birthday. I love books (on a Kindle), music (folk, rock, Americana, alt-country) both at home and live, I enjoy TV sports, especially football and cricket, and am a long-time supporter of Dover Athletic (home town team) and Spurs (someone has to!). All very ordinary then, so why am I telling you any of this?

Almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression, along with a still unspecified sleep problem. This eventually kept me off work for nine months, and I went back in July, part-time working up to full-time after a month. As part of this process I was referred for counselling to help me adjust back into the real world, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This has involved a lot of thinking and writing, in ways I’ve never really done before, about me, my feelings, hopes, self view and the whole experience of the past year. And this will continue into the future – I’m still on a high level of medication, barred from drinking and advised to be careful when driving, either separately or together, and still have big problems sleeping. But my counsellor has said that he finds my writing ‘inspirational’ and has encouraged me to start this blog, both because it will be good therapy for me to open myself up like this, but more importantly because others suffering from the same debilitating illness may see something they recognise in this and will hopefully draw some comfort and encouragement from it.

A subject like this could well be, erm, depressing really. But that’s not my way. I intend to write this from my perspective, of course, and I can’t do that for long before throwing in elements that could generously be considered to be ‘humour.’ In no way would I belittle the subject, I’ve experienced too much for that, but there’s no point doing this if people find it depressing or boring to read. And I’ll go off at tangents along the way too – things which strike me as interesting, usually but not necessarily related to my current experience of being ‘in recovery’ from the illness, which I hope you’ll find interesting too.

Enough for now, I’ll start the real posting soon. In the meantime, the three of you, I’m relying on you to help me spread the word and get me millions of followers. No pressure then! See you again soon.“

That post received a princely 3 ‘likes’ and 4 comments – and 2 of those comments were my own in response to others’ kind words of encouragement! Viewing figures were a little higher than either you or I might have imagined, though:

In those days I was much more active on Twitter than I am now, and had a number of people with whom I had regular twitchats. I imagine that they were prompted by Twitter to read the post though, as I say in it, it was only a brief introduction to what I really regarded as the starting point for this blog: when I posted the three parts of ‘The Story of My Illness’ over consecutive evenings in early November 2012. I know that many of them were ‘eagerly’ awaiting these – impatience was growing among some of them! Viewing stats at the time specifically for each of those posts were 52, 40 and 45 – although, as WordPress users will know, most of our page views become part of the large amorphous mass known rather unhelpfully as ‘Home Page/Archives,’ which doesn’t really permit a true view of the ‘popularity’ of a post, does it? If you haven’t seen those posts before, or want another look, they can be found under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the site. They give you a good idea of where I’m coming from.

To those of you with large, popular blogs, with thousands of regular followers who ‘like’ everything you post, those stats will probably seem pathetically low. But that’s not why I do this. I’m content for this to be a hobby and if people are kind enough to read, like and comment then I’m very grateful for that. It’s not as though I make any money from this, nor would I want to: I’ve had many offers of hosting guest posts from commercial organisations, or of reviewing products in return for freebies, but they were all politely rejected. For me, although it is probably being po-faced to say it, it comes down to a question of integrity. I wouldn’t sell my body for money or trinkets (assuming I could find someone sufficiently desperate to take up the offer) so I don’t see why my words should be any different!

Reading that initial post again has given me several ideas for future posts: some things in my life have changed, some need updating, and as what I’m really doing here is sharing me with you I think you deserve to know. Of course, you’ll have had many clues about what is going on with me from my posts, so you will know that I did indeed retire on my 60th birthday – my thoughts on that are in the menu item ‘Retirement’ and I rather belatedly covered the celebrations in this post – and that I still enjoy my music, for example. But you won’t know that one of the lasting legacies of my long spell of depression is that, while I can cope perfectly well with newspapers and magazines, I have read very few books in my retirement: the powers of concentration just aren’t there any more! Life changes, and we adjust!

You may also have noticed the reference to the blog’s name including my own: when I first started out, with absolutely no experience of the blogworld, I just called this ‘Clive’s Blog.’ It was me, and it seemed to fit! I renamed this after I retired, both to reflect my new status as a gentleman of leisure and also my love of music. In case you don’t recognise the title (how could you not?!) I covered this in the first of my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs.

The main reason for starting this blog was to be supportive of those suffering from mental health issues. Whilst I may have digressed (a lot) from this, it is still a regular underlying theme, and you will see more on it from me in the future. Speaking of which, this is my 298th post and I’ve been thinking of a suitable way to mark the 300 milestone. Keep watching – I hope you like what I’ll be doing for it! And maybe I’ll mark my actual 6th anniversary in some way, too, though I haven’t given that much thought yet: it’s three months away, anything could happen before then!

The underlying message behind this post – yes, there is one, and thank you for getting this far! – is that those two little triggers have got me thinking about why I started blogging and why I still do it. I’m not unique or special, and I suspect you all have a variety of reasons for your blogs. But it is worthwhile taking a step back every once in a while, both to reaffirm our intentions and to confirm that we want still to be doing this. I know about me: how is it for you?