Facing the New Year

I am fond of deadlines and boundaries. They give me a focus. I self impose them all the time, but if I don’t have to, that’s great.

New Year is a big one. It allows me to shake off the emotional detritus of the past months and draw a deep fresh clean breath as I look ahead. It allows me to let go of things and reach for the new. Fresh sheets on the emotional bed.

Yes, I could do this at any time. Sometimes I do. But having the ritual and tradition of a date embeds this practise into the very core of me, so I embrace and use it.

If you’ve read this blog, or simply know me, you’ll know it’s been a tough old time this last year or so.

In the interests of closure, I will finalise something left hanging – I’d been avoiding caffeine as I underwent some tests to check out a funky heartbeat. Luckily it’s nothing to worry about. There’s a thing called ventricular ectopic beats which are common if a little unsettling at times. Keeping an eye on caffeine intake (luckily not having to avoid it altogether!) and stress levels (hear that, 2018, you’re under doctor’s orders!) and all should be well. This is actually a useful weapon against those pesky brain goblins who often dislike me “doing nothing” as they view resting.

The death of my grandad shook me deeply, while not unexpected, it was the first family death I’d experienced for three decades, the first grandparent I’ve lost (knowingly as I don’t know my paternal grandfather) and it rippled on a number of emotional and existential levels. It also toppled the psychological box I’d been stuffing unprocessed grief into as I told myself I was coping and moving forward and out tumbled all the feelings I’d pushed aside as I tried to build up a new life. I was emotionally running before I could stand. I’ve learnt that lesson and slowed down. Back to clearing the ground before building my foundations. I don’t have to reach the sky yet. The first bricks are still waiting to be laid.

So as I look ahead to the new year, almost ironically, the first task is to let myself fully grieve for all that’s gone, all the changes that have happened and everything I’ve experienced. To allow myself to be still and rest. To breathe and just BE for a while. Part of my duties moving forward has to be taking better care of myself, not pushing myself as hard as I was. Not trying to have everything NOW. Ensuring I receive the nurture I give out; whether that’s from myself or close ones. Make the time set aside for rest and recuperation just as important as time spent building a new social life in my new town and making my work life what I need it to be.

Slowly the year will unfold around me in it’s own time. I have the confidence to know that I will get out there and experience it. The fear of isolation is just a fear and unfounded. I will explore my new home town more fully. I hope to branch out socially with new activities and reclaim the yoga and bellydancing classes that I dropped in recent months due to exhaustion. I hope to have time for my creative projects, time for meditation and mindfulness, for health and fitness. Time for friends, both old and new and those yet to be made.

Exploration and nurture seem to be my keywords for the year ahead. I like those words.

If I forget, please remind me of them. Especially the second.

wolf

Advertisements

Okay, 2017…

The attitude I like to maintain towards life being a struggle is one of hope, one of tenacity. Some would say stubborn refusal to rest. I’m not going to argue with that now.

I try not to use the word “fight” because I don’t enjoy conflict or confrontation. But sometimes it is.

It’s certainly work.
And it takes it out of you.

I keep going for as long as I can. I’ve spent my time in the dark realms of depression and I will do whatever I can to avoid being there again. That’s why I work so hard. For the most part I succeed.

tumblr_m4hzloZ6VN1r8xq2i

But sometimes you need to sound a retreat and leave the field.

It’s not defeat. It’s a tactical withdrawal.

Heal up, mend your armour, recruit new troops and when ready, you can return.

This year has finally brought me to my knees. Too much has happened, too much has been lost, too much has changed and my energy has run out.

Time to stop.

Time to give myself permission to stop.

tumblr_lgo4k95OXa1qc4debo1_500

So, 2017. You haven’t won. We shall call it a draw.

I shall be back.

Coping without Caffeine

I’ve been asked to stop having caffeine while I undergo some tests to figure out the reason why my heartbeat is tripping over itself randomly.

I admit I’m far more concerned about mornings without coffee than whether my irregular heartbeat is a serious issue… So I warned my friends, and drew up a list of replacement hot drinks – then did a lot of research into how much caffeine instant hot chocolate might contain. Result – the jury is out, best to avoid all chocolate as well just in case. If I’m going to do this, do it all the way.

Day one

I hate mornings. Seriously. Even though I’m grateful that I’m starting this on a day where I don’t have to be up at 6am, it’s still tough. I have the headache, I am that cliche and I’m annoyed about it. I have decided on lemon and honey as my morning drink, even though it involves me using a knife first thing in the morning. Still, it’s a drink I like, it’s warm, comforting and good for me. I can do this.

A little later, having somehow missed my bus and it being a freezing cold twenty minutes until the next one, I walk through town and decide to treat myself to a hot breakfast before my 75 minute commute. My decision making abilities are appalling and I manage to chose two places that don’t take card payments, but I’m eventually at the bus stop with hot cheese in a panini and wondering when I can take the next lot of painkillers. I also wonder how many calories it’s going to take to replace my much missed black coffee. Melty cheese does solve many problems however.

Luckily it’s not a busy work day – mainly because I have the mental processing power of a gnat. I do a good line in confused stares though.
Even more luckily I don’t have to worry about dinner as I’m working the late shift so I can just be vague, eat at work then go home.
I will do this. I don’t like it. But I can do it. Tenacity is my superpower.

Day two

Today is easier. I still have a headache. I’m not happy about this. I have various other muscle aches as well which may or may not be down to caffeine withdrawal. I’m putting it all at the feet of caffeine withdrawal though because I’m just in that mood. Today is easier because I’m not at work and I spend most of it resting and dozing and not having to make decisions or get people to the right place. It was a busy and tiring week before my doctor told me to avoid caffeine. Still feeling more tired than I want to. Just have a constant not quite awake feeling. Hopefully by the time Monday comes my body will have accepted this new status quo. Hopefully.

Day three

Woke with a headache. Bored of the headache now. Don’t think I drank enough caffeine to warrant a three day headache. I’m going to assume that I’m not drinking enough water and need to stretch my neck and shoulder muscles out and hope that, with the painkillers, ends this annoying persistent ache.

I ask my friend if I can smell his coffee. He doesn’t judge me. That’s true friendship right there.

I don’t mind honey and lemon as my morning drink although it’s more hassle than my coffee machine being set the night before and having delicious black nectar ready and waiting for me at 6am. Its also more calories and having shed over two stone this year I’m still keeping a vague eye on my intake. But I like honey and lemon and hopefully it will keep my immune system shiny.

I’m very glad I’m able to deal with this over a quiet weekend. My day consists of sofa, crafting and TV. I don’t think I’d be capable of much more! My headache lasts until I go to bed.

Day four

With some amazement I exclaimed to my friend this morning “I don’t have a headache!”

Thanks to also getting a lot of sleep, and the most relaxed of weekends, I’m feeling better than I have for the past few days. Although I still don’t feel awake. And I’m concerned about how I’ll cope with work tomorrow morning. But, as my motto is these days – there’s only one way to find out!

Our day is still relaxed and very low key but I’m feeling distinctly more cheerful than I was. Maybe this is all going to be alright.

Day five

I’m fine until I have to think. I’m aware of just feeling more tired than usual. The afternoon task of putting the timetable together is tougher than usual – although I think that’s not down to the lack of caffeine but I still feel like I’m thinking through a fog. My collection of fruit teas from Bluebird Tea company arrive and I try out Bears Like Marmalade in the afternoon. It’s nice. I have no problem drinking it. I’m considering a shiny new glass infuser mug if I have to keep up the fruit tea lark.

I just want to feel more awake!

I admit to having a bit more energy in the evenings though… No help for work but I do get the first batch of Xmas presents made…

Day six

Mornings aren’t any easier though.

Day seven

Today was overshadowed by news of my grandfather passing away.

A sudden and unexpected end to this blog post. I will pick this up again once I’ve progressed, had the tests, had the results and know what’s going on, but it doesn’t feel right to continue it now.

Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

phoenix

An open letter to OKcupid. 

I got this email:

It left me feeling unsettled and I wasn’t sure why. So I posted it to my friends on Facebook with this text:

“I’m a little unsure what I think about this…. I mean, cheers for the ego boost, always nice.
But the thought that until now you were showing me men that were deemed less attractive??? And what, now I’m ‘worthy’ of more attractive matches?
Surely I should be the only judge of what I’m finding attractive, not your algorithms?!
Just show me everyone within the filters I’ve set and let me be the judge of them (and them of me), is that not how this is meant to work?”

And my friends responded.

Basically, WTF OKCupid??

However you read this email, it’s not okay.

A couple of friends said they’d got the same email so we all presume this is nothing more than generic marketing spam.
This is not okay – do you think all of us that use your site are so insecure or hung up on our appearance that the thought of “levelling up our attractiveness stat” will get us to go back and use you more?
(Another friend said they hadn’t got this email… and did that mean something was wrong with them?!)

I read this email as saying “we are now showing you more attractive people because you are deemed more attractive than you were originally. Congratulations on reaching the level of the beautiful people.” – Many of my friends agreed with me that this was how the wording read, or how it could be read.
This is not okay – This is poorly worded at best, intentional at worst.
Who are you to decide who I should see? Heck, who are you to decide who is attractive? And how the heck do you know what attracts me?! How dare you hold back their profiles until mine has been visited a certain number of times. None of this is remotely okay.

It was also suggested however that this might be grammatical subtlety – Do they mean ‘MORE attractive people’ or ‘More ATTRACTIVE people’?
So, my friend posited, are you seeing a greater amount of profiles or the same amount but of more attractive ones?
Either way, this is not okay…. the suggestion that I’ve passed some kind of probation period is icky in the extreme! To hold back either a number of profiles or those considered more attractive is not how this should work and I’m not sure I want to be part of a site that does so.

Many friends commented this was “seedy”, “creepy”, that it was “negging” their customer base, “operational bullshit”, “full ‘Black Mirror’ nosedive”, “awful” and “bloody ugh” – just to quote a few of my wonderful people.

One advised me to “just accept that you are gorgeous” – which is somewhat missing the sodding point here.

I’ve have noticed no discernible change in either the number of profiles I’ve seen or (in my eyes) the attractiveness level of them. Nor have I noticed a difference in the number of people who “like” my profile or send me messages. So I’m back to assuming this is generic spam that is playing on the insecurities of it’s users.

And that is not okay…

#youaswell

After the intensity of the #metoo meme on social media, I travelled to work this morning and looked at the faces of the women I saw.

Those dressed in work uniforms, those dressed warmly, comfortably, brightly, smartly, fashionably (not that I know what that actually means).

Those with faces painted with make up or free of it, those listening to music, scrolling something on their phone, gazing out the window or deep in thought.

Those that sat on the bus with me, those that walked by it, those that waited for a different one.

To each face I found myself thinking, you as well? Yes, me too… Because that’s likely the truth. That’s the society we live in, the past almost each one of us carries and the future we hope won’t happen again.

Yesterday was a tough day. Many friends found it overwhelming and withdrew from social media. Not all of us can stand up and be counted. And that’s okay.

For each woman’s face I saw today, for those I’ve yet to see, for each time I think, you as well, my heart fills with compassion.

How can it do otherwise?

How can I walk through this world with anything other than compassion and support, empathy and understanding for all of our experiences and struggles, all our stories.

It’s difficult, and I hear that, I feel that and I struggle with you. It’s overwhelming.

Let us recognise that we are not alone, we never have been and now we know it. Each of us has something to contribute, and the fiery activism of one may not be the soft support of another.

Let this overwhelming realisation fill you with compassion and empathy for each other.

We are here. We survive. We persist.

Of Internet Dating – my experience in screenshots.

Finding myself single at 42 for the first time in over two decades, I found myself wondering how I went about meeting new men…

Internet dating wasn’t really a thing in the mid-nineties, certainly not in the way it is now, and not something I’d ever tried. The last time I was single was 1996 where I got exceedingly drunk at a Halloween party, sat on someone’s lap and suggested he took me home. That relationship became a marriage and lasted 20 years. So it was with a lot of thought and no little amount of trepidation that I decided it give dating sites a go this year and see what happened. While not looking for a committed relationship, I did want to create a wider local social circle and, well, a girl gets lonely sometimes. Company is nice. I wasn’t discounting anything, I also wasn’t promising anything. No expectations. No restrictions.

We all hear the stories…. I decided I would publish some of the less appealing offers I received.

For every picture you see, there were others that weren’t explicit, disturbing or funny enough to screenshot and publish, but were still uncomfortable to receive, made me feel like part of a numbers game rather than a person they wanted to know. One that I wish I’d screenshotted before blocking him answered my polite “no thanks” with his penis size… as if that would change my mind.  There were many messages that put a toe just over the boundary line with a mock innocent expression – not enough that you could call it out, but enough to make it was clear they weren’t interested in my sparkling erudite personality. Which is a shame because they’re missing out on a treat there.

So onto the screenshots –

This person had messaged me before and got a polite no thanks. I then took a break and hid my profile, meaning it couldn’t be found unless someone accessed it via a previously sent message:

Sometimes a simple request gets a simple answer:

Not enough coffee in the world for this. Dude. It’s barely morning:

Not even Instagram was safe! I rarely post selfies on Instagram, it’s more about my craft projects, but every now and again a girl feels good and wants the world to know it.

And for the record, there are tons of cute larpers – if you can’t find them they are clearly hiding from you:

My attractiveness has nothing to do with the fact that your age is not a defining factor in wanting to meet you:

For the record, I am exceedingly sexy and kissable, however I suspect the type of friends you are wanting to be comes with benefits and those are earned not given after one message:

Spelling and lack of poo emojis will go a long way:

Absolutely because meeting a complete stranger who’s only interested in proximity is my only requirement in dating. Oh wait. The other thing:

Only with plenty of lube:

The conversation had genuinely been going well until this point:

Sometimes no answer IS your answer. Take it and move on:

Amongst all this were the decent conversations and a few people that I’ve kept in touch with. But there were also conversations that while not warranting a screenshot, were… just off… in their tone. And I consider I got off lightly, while also hating that I’m set up to think this way.

Of bellies and dancing

I did it.

I went to the belly dancing taster.

Something I’ve been wanted to try for decades and never found the confidence. If ever there is a time for faking it till I make it, it’s now. I also figure what better way to regain core strength and confidence after my hysterectomy than with something so intrinsically and fundamentally feminine?

New town. New home. New life. But not a new me…. a more me. A deeply strongly confidently solely me.

This week was about being big and brave. Diving straight into that deep end. Finding a yoga class, starting the deep work with my counsellor, discussing a new project and this. Dancing. Belly dancing. New people. New place. Several things that alone make me anxious and here am I combining them.

Tonight was a demonstration raising money for some charity or other, then a chance to try it out.

The setting was incongruous – an old man’s fishermans club so I felt so incredibly self conscious with a fair amount of people sat round watching, but still I did it. I did make sure I was close to the stage furthest from any audience. 

I’d started talking to a woman outside while we waited to go in, someone who looked as nervous and as unsure as me. She was in a similar position – always wanted to try it and never before had the confidence. We agreed to look after each other. We sat together and chatted while waiting for things to get started, shared a bit of our life stories, found some similarities. 

What she failed to tell me was she knew several other people who were also turning up, so all of a sudden I’m introducing myself to several new people and being unexpectedly social! Everyone was friendly and included me in their social conversation without a second blink. 

The demonstration thrilled me with the rich vibrant colours and the flowing silky or chiffon fabrics, the glint and the ting of golden discs and the fuck your conventional body shapes sexiness.

Then it was our turn. 

I have fuck all core strength, not much balance (you need core strength for that it seems) and I swear I used to have some coordination and dexterity. Which arm goes with what leg again? Oh, we’re turning now. Oops, other way!

I felt awkward and exposed and vulnerable. 

But I also felt a glimmer of what it could be. 

The power. The strength. The confidence.

One of the women in the dance class (not the sea gypsies performance group who were also there and performed) approached me and started chatting. A mind blowing 62 years old (does not look nor act it, I want to be her), she was so friendly and made it easy for me to take down the details of the Tuesday night class (I’ll have to swap yoga to Thursdays…) and agree to go along. The lady I’d got chatting to outside is planning to go too. I made her promise.

I was checking what to wear, admitting I loved the outfits and the lovely dance lady gave me a coin belt. One I’ll wear to my first class.

At that point all the emotions came up to say hello and I don’t want to walk home alone too late in a city I’m still learning so I excused myself and left.

Laughter and tears mixing as I walk home.

I did it. And I can’t wait for Tuesday. 

Shopping for Counsellors

Choosing a counsellor is an important process. However it’s one that we often don’t get to have, or one that perhaps we don’t feel we can do.

Counselling is a deeply individual process, and much of it’s success depends upon the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. It has to be a good “fit”.

We very rarely buy clothes or shoes without trying them on to check the fit and how we feel in them, yet how often do we allow ourselves to have introductory or initial sessions with a number of counsellors to see how we feel with them? Even if we are in a position to do so. If our counselling is via the GP, or NHS, then a choice of counsellor may seem impossible. But it’s still important.

We rarely continue friendships with people we don’t feel comfortable with, we don’t open up to them in the way we do to others – so why think a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor would be any different?

It can feel odd to “try someone out” and then reject them and choose someone else. We’re kind of taught that that’s not really a nice thing to do in relationships – even one where we are paying someone to listen to us and entering into what is essentially a business relationship. We aren’t making a new friend here, even if the counsellor may end up knowing up better than most of our closest friends.

If you have the opportunity, take introductory sessions with counsellors. Some do this face to face, some over the phone or skype, often at a reduced rate, occasionally even free. Maybe this would be useful even if you’re entering into a situation where you don’t get to choose your counsellor – it can give you a sense of what type of situation and person works for you.

Try counsellors of different modalities, unless you know what modality is your cup of tea. Psychodynamic is very different to Gestalt, open-ended person-centred is different to short term Solution Focused.

You need your personal unique fit, to your emotional curves, bumps and dimples. How you feel with that person is important. Do you feel safe, do you trust them, can you be honest with them, can you allow them to challenge you, can you be vulnerable with them?

What is your instinctive feeling during that first session?

Sometimes we just like people, or dislike others. Sometimes they remind us of someone, and this can help or hinder the process. Sometimes we can’t pinpoint where our feelings of yes or no come from, but it’s important to listen to and take notice of.

One counsellor does not fit all.

It’s okay not to get on with one and want someone else.

Don’t run an emotional marathon in ill fitting shoes.

Donkey and Pride

Friends know about my “slight” obsession with task lists and getting things done. There’s a reason for this.

Living with anxiety goblins, I need weapons with which to fight them. I need an array of weapons. They are sneaky clever fuckers, and they learn to fight back. They have over 40 years of my life with which to attack me with and they wield my dark moments like pros.

It was while studying counselling and psychotherapy (and being the client, and being the therapist) that I learned I wasn’t a failure at life, I had an anxiety disorder. I’d spent most of my three decades up to that point comparing myself with the people around me and wondering why apparently inconsequential things knocked me sideways, why I just couldn’t seem to cope with life as well as most, and why fear seemed to rule me and be my initial response to pretty much anything.

I’d attempted to cure this by staying away from situations that caused fear. Seemed a reasonable response… but it made my world so very small. I self medicated for over two decades to numb the overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety – until it became a habit and addiction that was deeply entwined with my sense of self. And the fear remained, attached itself to other things, attacked me with the coping mechanisms I was using and I eventually realised this just wasn’t working. I needed to change. I was dying from the inside out. Existing but not living, surviving but not thriving.

So slowly, so very slowly, I started facing things, pushing back the boundaries of my comfort zone, doing things just because they scared me (tandem skydive for one! Singing solo in public for another), but choosing them carefully, building up slowly.

Starting to study counselling was one of these things. I didn’t consider myself particularly academic after failing my A levels (forgetting the huge personal and mental health issues I had going on at the time). I gave myself a hard time. I struggled to give up the habits and addictions holding me in place.

Another thing about me, relevant to this post is that I work in images, in stories and characters. If I can frame something with a character and story then I can understand it better.

And thus we get to the point of this post.

While studying what ended up being half a Masters Degree in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, I came across a part of my brain that seemed utterly set on sabotaging me. I had to deal with this, I’d invested a lot of money that I didn’t have in this course and wasn’t about to lose it just because part of me wasn’t playing the game.

I investigated this part of me and eventually found an image that just fitted. At the bottom of all this, hiding under the Sabotage and the Fear was Stubborness. There was some part of me simply, firmly, consistently saying, “NO”.

No, not going to do that, not going to look at that, no no no you can’t make me.

The more I tried to force the issue, the harder it stuck, like a psychological finger trap. I realised I needed to be clever. The image that I discovered was that of a donkey digging it’s back heels in.

stubborn-mule

Pulling and pushing at the donkey just made it worse. I realised, in an obvious epiphiny, that I needed to motivate it. I needed to find the right carrot…

And for me, that carrot was pride. The Golden Glittery Carrot of Pride (because making something slightly silly is fun!). I thrilled in getting praise from my tutors, from getting good remarks on my essays, for having work done by the deadlines and research ready to show the group. I suddenly realised that I’d rarely felt proud of myself before and it was a powerful intoxicating feeling. One I wasn’t willing to give up.

I thought long and hard and about what made me feel proud – and it’s an ongoing process. I am by no means a workaholic, but I do like achieving things. I have discovered a very competitive side; with myself.

The question isn’t “What makes me feel proud?”, rather it’s “What will make me feel proud TODAY?”

Because it changes. Sometimes it changes throughout the day. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is developing an honest and congruent conversation with yourself about what’s needed, what’s possible, and what, if this is something that will assist you as well, will make you proud. Doesn’t have to be work, or studying. It can manifest in any and every area of your life and activities.

Sometimes it’s going the extra mile. Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed. Sometimes it’s having that self-care day and staying in bed with movies. Sometimes it’s reaching out to people and sometimes it’s riding out that dip on the rollercoaster.

Getting that donkey onside is a powerful weapon against the brain goblins.

So that’s why I have a constant task list. That’s why I put things on there just to tick them off. That’s why I sometimes say that I can’t rest, I can’t get that treat until after that thing. Because I need and crave that feeling of Pride. Which luckily doesn’t manifest by overdoing it, that’s Stupidity, not Pride. There’s no pride in running yourself into the ground, there’s only exhaustion. Pride is working within your means, and discovering that your means stretch just that little bit further that you initially thought.

As the hashtag says, #thisgirlcan. (please adjust for gender identity preference of your choice)

And there’s only one way to find out…

Previous Older Entries