Author Michelle Gallen (45) from Tyrone writes darkly humorous novels. Her debut, Big Girl, Small Town, has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and Kate O'Brien Award among others.
Q: Do you take regular exercise and if so, what?
A: I usually get at least one 'decent' walk in every day, no matter what the weather. During the pandemic I've learned to prefer walking in the rain as our inner-city streets are less crowded when it's miserable. I go to the park with the kids once a day - they head for the puddles while I stomp around in hiking boots. I'm trying to form an online yoga class habit but it's hard. There's always something else to do at home. It's not easy to put your own body at the top of an endless 'to do' list, but I'm trying.
Q: What is the worst illness you've had?
A: I had what a neurologist now reckons was autoimmune encephalitis (AE) in 1998. AE wasn't recognised by the medical establishment until 2005. That meant my recovery was very much complicated by dealing with a series of medical practitioners who couldn't diagnose what was happening to me. I'm forever grateful that a local GP diagnosed and supported my recovery despite the consultants dismissing me.
Q: How healthy is your diet?
A: If it were up to me, I would probably live on coffee, toast and fish and chips. But because I married a French-Moroccan man who really enjoys good food and cooking, I usually eat two good meals cooked from scratch every day, as well as the coffee and toast.
Q: Any bad habits?
I have anxiety, so I tend to worry a lot. It's very much the thing I'd like to 'quit' if I could and I'm working on that.
Q: Do you drink and smoke ... if so how much?
A: I tried to smoke a few times in my 20s, but was dreadful at it. Before lockdown I barely drank. But now I watch a show with my husband with a cocktail in hand once a week as a treat. I might have a gin and tonic on a Friday night. I try to focus now on the quality and taste of my drinks, rather than quantity as I did in my 20s.
Q: Do you take any supplements?
A: I'm often anaemic, so I take Ferrograd C to address that. I sometimes take a course of Vivioptal when I feel run down. But mostly I try to get my vitamins from sunlight and food - bioavailable nutrients are much better for you.
Q: How do you take time out?
A: Time out is not something I've ever been good at. The only 'time out' I can manage these days is going to bed to read as soon as my kids sleep.
Q: How well do you sleep?
A: My natural sleep style is a feast or a famine: I'm either so exhausted I sleep like the dead, or I'm so wired I can't sleep. I need eight hours. I can function on five hours. Anything less than that is a mess. I've worked hard over the past couple of years to 'learn' how to sleep better. I know now I need exercise so that my body is tired enough to sleep, even when my brain is racing. I know that drinking alcohol too close to bed time disrupts my sleep. I've worked out and addressed why I didn't feel safe going to sleep.
Q: Do you worry about getting old?
A: I find the 'hangover' of my brain injury weighs on me more heavily as I age. I tire more quickly, my deficits trip me up faster these days. I try not to worry about this - worry is a poison, not a vitamin. I believe that I'm much healthier now in my 40s than I would have been if I'd not had such a difficult time in my early 20s. I had to fight to get back to what most 20 year olds took for granted. Subsequent health scares have kept me on my toes. I value what my body can do. I'd like to support it do its thing for the next few decades.
Q: What is your go-to product that keeps you feeling healthy?
A: Exercise and iron tablets.
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen, published by John Murray, is available in hardback now and in paperback from February 18. See michellegallen.com for more information