You are in a well. A deep, dark well with murky, warm water up to your thighs. If you look up, you can see a tiny chink of light, but it’s a long, long way away.
You are not alone down there in the well. There are many others. It is not frightening because it’s familiar. You’ve been here before. It almost feels quite comfortable, perhaps even safe.
Around the inner sides of the well are ladders, ropes and the occasional handle of all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some long, some a little broken and some sturdy. But not one of them reaches the whole way up to the light at the very top.
And on every ladder and rope, there are people trying to climb up. There are young people, old people, black, white, rich and poor, all heaving themselves up, slipping down, knocking others off as they fall. It’s utter carnage. So it’s easier here at the bottom in the warm water, because anyway who really knows what dangers lurk up at the top? Life at the top can be a perilous place.
Each ladder, rope and handle represents a lifeline.
First you have to haul your heavy wet body out of the soft, warm water. It is now cold and uncomfortable and your body is heavy with all the water, but you try. You reach for the first lifeline.
The first ladder is marked ‘doctor‘. It is a solid, strong and quite easy to climb up but as you progress, the rungs become narrower. So you need to move one of your feet onto another ladder.
This one is labelled ‘exercise‘ and is a little creaky, but seems to be helping you up a little further. As someone falls beside you, you reach out to the rope with the name ‘social interaction‘ on it. You start to feel enthused and energised and begin to look for other ladders.
There are some little handles on the wall with the name ‘meditation’ on them. You grab them. And all the while you can hear a wonderful voice giving ‘group counselling‘ to encourage and teach you how to reach higher for the ladders.
Yoga, Pilates, medication, therapy, exercise, medication, reading, writing, fresh air, light, gardening, baking, cleaning, cycling, good food … There are dozens of them …
Yes, there are ladders all around, and they are there to be used. All of them. Because one alone will rarely work. Each of us is different and some ladders work better for some whilst different ropes work better for others.
But despite our individual differences and needs, there are two factors that unite us. And they are:
It’s up to us to WANT to climb out of the hole, and it’s up to us to DO the climbing.
Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety and was there a trigger?
A fellow blogger and friend Chelsea, wrote yesterday about friends and being judgemental. (How to win friends … ) Excellent post and something that I suspect a lot of us can resonate with. I know I did.
Historically I struggled to make friends. I was a loner and I didn’t feel as though I could fit in anywhere. But, at that time I was very unhappy. I was hurt and angry with the world and subconsciously I believe people were picking up on this, which made me more isolated and consequently more unhappy. I was on a little miserable hamster wheel of self-indulgent misery!
And alongside this (as if it wasn’t bad enough), I was extremely judgemental. I was like the bulldog looking over the garden fence and seeing the pretty little cat in it’s pretty little garden with it’s oh so green grass. And I hated that cat and all it’s friends with a venomous loathing and frankly wanted to eat the little blighters for lunch.
Yes, I was indeed a bulldog.
At social events I would stress beforehand, arrive in a jitter, and become the infamous wallflower, desperate for someone to talk to me. I’d leave early and then berate myself for being so unutterably wet. But I simply didn’t think that I had anything worthy to talk about and at that time small talk was an anathema to me. What had happened to the carefree young woman of years ago?
However, a strange thing has happened. I have now got a busy little life and what with one thing and another, my days pass in a blurry fizz of happiness and often exhausting, but well received brain-overload. And having of late been forced into a flurry of social occasions with people from different situations, backgrounds, parts of the world and dare I say it, social and class status (I’m in England, it exists) my entire mindset has changed. People are fascinating, and they all have a story to tell!
Most of the time, people do ask about us, and we ask about them. It’s a rather symbiotic relationship, however fleeting, but I guess that’s just small talk for you.
And sometimes, we’ll meet someone completely fabulous who becomes a true friend. There’s that saying, that if you throw enough muck at the wall, eventually some of it will stick. Like online dating, if you meet enough people, probability states that eventually, you’ll meet someone that you gel with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really referring to people as muck, but you get the point I hope. Neither am I promoting multiple dating, bed-hopping or anything quite so insalubrious … again, I hope you get the point.
So perhaps now I’m not quite the bolshy bulldog that I once was. And, because there’s no need, I don’t bother looking over the garden fence (unless the neighbours are having a bbq).
I’m more of a little, green happy, hoppy frog bouncing around in my own little garden pond. Yes indeed … I think I’ve found my inner frog who loves everyone. Well, mostly … I am human after all.
Are you a grumpy bulldog or a happy, hoppy frog?
Do you like socialising? Or do you find it difficult?
New Year’s Eve. It’s coming, and I’m sorry but I loathe it. I loathe it about as much as someone eating a giant packet of crisps in the cinema during the quiet, romantic bits; I loathe it as much as doing my tax return or going to the fridge to heat up the beautiful quiche that I’ve spent hours making, only to discover that someone has eaten it ‘for a snack’! A snack, I ask you. Good God!
In my twenties, I loved New Year’s Eve. Wonderfully huge parties, everyone excited and happy and always the hope of meeting a heavenly hunk from Hampshire … oooh the thrill of young love!
In my thirties, I was married; there was the patter of tiny feet (quite a lot of feet actually) and my husband, married friends and I would have raucous and rather badly behaved dinner parties as if trying to recapture one’s twenties whilst the children slept upstairs. However in truth, we all secretly longed to join their blissful slumber. But we forced jollity, drank too much, ate too much and woke up the following morning feeling ghastly with a mass of squeaky, cranky children.
I am now in my forties. I have since divorced, remarried, and my children are going to their own parties. I feel as thought I should be going out and celebrating. I feel as though I ought to be standing outside in the freezing cold of London in winter waiting for the fireworks. And yet, call me dull, dreary and drab, but I just don’t feel the need to conform any more; to please anyone or to look for a handsome hunk from Hampshire (in truth, men from the Home Counties are a little predictable and conservative for me).
So forgive me if I don’t post pictures of myself waving a sparkler and popping champagne at midnight on the 31st, but this Cinderella needs her beauty sleep (and clearly plenty of it!). May I however, wish everyone, for when the golden hour arrives, a very, very Happy New Year. Let’s start afresh, leave the past behind and have our best year yet!
(Without blatantly reminding me how boring I am 😁), what will YOU being doing on New Year’s Eve?
Sometimes I encounter and consequently ‘suffer’ from first world problems. These can be anything from a late train, an unexplained rattling in the car when it reaches 80 miles an hour, or running out of truffle oil; (no of course I don’t really keep truffle oil, I’m just exaggerating to make a point), and then yes, I have a little whinge.
My husband, known as The Colonel, simply looks at me over his glasses and raises an eyebrow. This usually renders me suitably chastised and I usually give a snort, tell him to ‘sod off’ in my typically eloquent manner and reduce my whinge to a “mutter-with-attitude”.
A fellow blogger (A Fractured Faith) wrote recently about the homeless and it rather spurred me on to do something useful and to press the pause button on this shoddy behaviour. So I hunted around the cupboard upstairs and emerged with:
. An old sleeping bag
. A military windproof, waterproof, everything-proof coat
. The softest, warmest blanket that I gave to my late mother and have been struggling to throw out
. Some toiletries in rather natty little airline bags (apologies for the revolting word …. Toiletries, Soiled, Moist and Toilet make me squirm. It’s the ‘oi’ thing. However, also Gusset and Lubrication. Enough said.)
Having lugged these items down to both the train station and High Street twice in the search for someone ‘in need’, and returning on my bicycle still fully laden, I was in danger of losing my inner Samaritan. But, third time lucky and I found a lovely chap with a dog who despite having everything that he needed, directed me to a gentleman who apparently did.
By now it was late afternoon, the sun had dipped beneath the trees and it was cold. Terribly cold. It was just starting to drizzle and the wind was picking up when I saw him. A narrow, hunched dark shape with the sleeves of his thin jacket pulled over his hands. He was shaking; not just his arms, but his entire body. He looked up at me and I smiled. Slowly and gently we began to chat. A thin, cold scrawny man with nothing to his name. No address, money, belongings or education.
His past was something of a horror story and the fact that he was still alive was either a miracle or testament to his courage.
I came away feeling humbled, ashamed and also angry at ‘the system’. He was so grateful for the pathetic bits and bobs that I gave him and so willing to talk to me, a silly middle aged, middle class woman with an expensive haircut and a propensity to buy expensive Christmas baubles. In the end, I felt grateful to this gentleman.
I am trying to help him further but suffice to say, it’s a minefield out there with a system with no money and too many people needing help. I shall continue but the longer I take, the colder the weather is getting.
I came home feeling not sanctimonious, pious or as though I had morphed into Mother Theresa, but just plain humbled.
Since then I have been making a conscious effort to (attempt to) restrain my irritations at unimportant first world issues and be grateful for what I have. Although having just re-read that I realise that I now sound like a prize knob so I’ll perhaps retract it, but it does make one think…
And finally, when I told my son about this and the horrors of being homeless (trying to educate my 20 year old son is I realise locking the stable door well and truly after the horse has bolted) he calmly informed me that the sleeping bag I had just given away was not my old one, but in fact belonged to him. Bugger. Thankfully he has a far nicer nature than me and just patted my shoulder. I think he muttered something about the onset of dementia but by then I was back in the cupboard again trying to work out if the military jacket I’d just handed out was not my other sons old CCF one, but in fact belonged to the Colonel … God I’m an arse.
Are there many homeless people in your neighbourhood?
I spend my life trying to halt the bad habits in their tracks with a large stop sign and a smattering of self control. I usually fail, dismally.
The limited good habits that I have and I am scrabbling around trying to think of what indeed they actually are, I am unbearably smug about. Ah yes, I don’t like dark chocolate at all and therefore I don’t eat it. Filthy stuff. So when offered some, I say with a sweet self-congratulatory and faintly superior smile, “Oh no, thank you, but I’ll pass this time!” as though I have some exorbitant levels of self control and treat my body like the proverbial temple. I don’t. I am effectively lying. I just don’t like dark chocolate. Oh God, I’m a fraud.
However, back to the point; stopping the negative thoughts. Do you have a habit of thinking about something vaguely depressing or negative (usually about the past) that within minutes can be blown out of all proportion? And one’s musings seem to slide downwards into the dark murky waters of depression? Well, in the wonderful world of CBT there is a name for this:
Now, when these negative thoughts start to take over, there are 3 points to ask:
1). Have I made any progress towards solving the problem?
2). Do I have a better understanding about this problem now that I’ve been thinking about it? And finally,
3). Am I feeling better or less depressed than before I started thinking about this?
If the answer is a clear NO, then yup, you’re ruminating.
Thinking about something and trying to find a solution is completely different and not to be confused with rumination. Trying to find a solution is positive. Rumination is not. Rumination is a habit, of the bad, disgusting dark chocolate variety.
How to stop it
The CBT experts will give you a load of chit chat about bringing yourself back to the present as rumination is so often about the past, I however need less of the chit and none of the chat. I need answers and solutions in what to do. So cutting through it all, the answer is this:
As soon as you have asked yourself those 3 questions above, recognised that yes, you are ruminating, immediately GET UP AND DO AN ACTIVITY. Um, yes it’s actually that simple but as with so many things, distraction is a powerful tool.
A pleasurable activity is of course the easiest way. Baby steps and all that. But in simple terms, find something, anything that ensures that your brain is totally and utterly focussed.
Despite some claiming to be able to multitask, it is impossible to truly focus on more than one thing at a time. Perhaps that is why rubbing your tummy and patting your head is so difficult, but maybe that’s just me. Whether this activity is turning on the television and cleaning out a cupboard, blogging, cooking, whatever floats your boat … it simply doesn’t matter. It’s just a case of stopping ‘feeding the beast’ and bringing an end to this self destructive habit called rumination.
Every time it happens again, repeat the process. Yes, your cupboards will be incredibly clean and you will have devoured the entire Game of Thrones series, but you will be learning how to stop the habit. And eventually, ‘the beast’ will wither and die. The habit will go and less effort will be required. You may become a serial cleaner with a penchant for trashy tv but hey … does it matter?
To me, this makes a lot of sense, and yes, I’m doing it. And yes, it works.
To summarise for those who haven’t read the above:
. Recognise it and act on it.
Give it a go … you have absolutely nothing to lose, but a happy and peaceful life to gain.
Do you ruminate? Do you let it lead you into the depths of despair or do you try and break the cycle?
Snuggling contentedly amongst my other issues, I have two rather deep seated and firmly ingrained problems that I have recently discovered are linked. This actually is rather good, because that means that I now have one rather than two. Please note the positive spin – I am if nothing else, eternally optimistic.
I am a people pleaser and find it incredibly hard to say no.
I am unfamiliar with the notion of ‘moderation’.
And the link is this: I can’t say no to others, or myself. I simply cannot say “No! Stop! That’s enough”.
I suspect I am a people pleaser because of a need to be loved. The problem with this, is that being a fairly needy individual but loathe to be a burden, where one feeling should in theory neutralise the other, it doesn’t; it simply makes me complicated.
So I do things for people that I don’t want to do, consequently get grumpy and do whatever it is with extremely bad grace.
And then my neediness kicks in. Imagine husband dearest trying desperately to leave for work in the morning, briefcase and coat in hand, with me attached to his ankles being dragged across the kitchen floor wailing, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” Not that he’s quite beating me with his umbrella to detach me but …. Admittedly I am exaggerating somewhat, but you get the gist.
As for moderation, this tends to happen when doing something that I enjoy, for example:
Certain types of exercise (ie cycling until my body starts shutting down)
Nibbling delicately on a biscuit (read: devouring a twin packet whilst locking myself in the larder),
Getting excited about an event (hyperventilating, shaking and nausea)
Again, I hope you get the gist.
There is simply no “Off” button. No bright little button with “Time to stop now Katie!” flashing on it. No sodding great beacon with a man holding a megaphone shouting “No, you stupid woman, just Nooooo!”
I can’t say No!
So the question is twofold:
1). How do I stop this impetuous, people pleasing doormattish behaviour, and
2). How do I dig deep enough in order to find my inner self control? (As in, where do you keep yours? Clearly close to hand, perhaps in a little pocket somewhere …. whereas I think I left mine at a childhood birthday party many decades ago.
I’ve had to have a wee chat with myself of late. In truth it was more of a stern waggling of the finger involving some rude words and the occasional metaphorical kick in the shins.
And why? Because I was sensing a slight return of the lethargy, the tiredness and the excuses. The desire to light a fire, put on a pair of unattractive fluffy socks, matching pyjamas and woolly hat and vegetate makeup free was fast becoming just a little too appealing. Now fear not, I have come to recognise this. It is my very own slippery slope; my uncontrollable freewheeling downhill on Claude the bicycle when the brakes have failed and the only option, unless I am prepared to hit rock bottom, is to take an almighty leap to get off in the full knowledge that it’s going to hurt.
The problem with my ‘slippery slope’ is that the end point is even more unattractive than me in a pair of fluffy pyjamas. You see, I’m just not that kind of gal. I’m a “where’s my nothingness of a silk nightie … can’t find it … never mind, better do a Marilyn Monroe and wear nothing but Chanel No 5.” You get the gist … I fear that if I didn’t jump off said slippery slope, within a fortnight I’d have eaten my body weight in ginger nut biscuits, would be drinking like a fish and be found, the size of a small whale reading Barbara Cartland, wedged under the bed. As it happens I have always had great admiration for Barbara; frankly anyone who managed to write that many books is a hero in my mind – I can’t even do one (yet).
Now don’t get me wrong, I can give you a thousand reasons why I should be kind to myself and give in to the lethargy. Well, one or two …. my folate levels are apparently low, and ummm, well it’s winter isn’t it?
So in truth, without a plethora of excuses, I’ve had a ‘wee chat’ with myself, have bounced out of bed, slapped on some face (makeup, to the men out there), have embraced the cold air with gusto and have come to my coffee shop. Much too long a sentence once again and for that I’m sorry, but you see I’m just a bit excited. I took that metaphoric almighty leap off the freewheeling bicycle and not only was it easier this time, but the landing didn’t hurt. Yes, it’s only a meagre trip out of the house, but what I’ve found is that if I start the day with the right attitude, everything follows suit with my jobs done and the house and husband sorted. I then go to bed that night happy, fulfilled and tired enough that whether I’m in my birthday suit, a beautiful little nothingness of a silk number (marriage number two therefore efforts and standards must prevail you understand) or wearing a flannel onesie with a picture of Bart Simpson on it, I’ll sleep like a baby and the slippery slope will be a thing of the past. Or at least until the next day …
Of COURSE I’m not going to ask what you wear in bed … as if … but instead, what do you do to combat lethargy?
The past few days have seen a slowdown in the writing of my book. A tiredness and lethargy combined with family commitments are poor excuses; and yet when one’s brain is foggy and the body is longing for a sleep that never seems to remedy the situation, it is hard to see the wood for the trees and make progress.
As it turns out, my folate levels are at rock bottom but in many respects, I’m rather glad that it’s not simply my own laziness that has been the culprit relating to this fatigue. So it is with almost a sense of relief that I have been told to be kind to myself, something that I have never in truth been an advocate of. But needs must, and when the wise doctor speaks, I must take heed of his advice.
So strangely, I feel reassured and as a consequence am further determined to write, albeit in bed! I’m not entirely sure that this recumbent form of filling the day is what my medical guru was intending, but as I sit surrounded by soft pillows, light-as-a-thousand-feathers duck-down duvet and the soft light glowing from the bedside lamp, I must confess to feeling rather marvellous, if incredibly guilty. I am if nothing, one to take advice to the extremes.
Sadly however, this being London, there is a car intermittently blasting it’s alarm, a thud, thud base of music resounding through the walls from the traffic jam outside the house, and God forbid, the thought that my wonderful mother-in-law will be making her daily FaceTime call shortly is more than enough to end this sedentary self-care. Life quite frankly just go on, and the shame of being in bed at half past nine in the morning is shocking even to my befuddled, exhausted little mind.
So up I shall get and face the day whilst munching on some dark, leafy vegetables, and find my folate supplements. I shall seek peace and solace in my writing and make progress once again. As for the car alarm, I shall continue to huff, puff and mutter about moving to Outer Mongolia for a bit of peace and quiet. Alternatively, I could just hide for a little longer deep under the duvet, so that the sounds of life in a city are softened and a little muffled. But by God, it’s hot under there and as I emerge red faced and sweaty, I can hear my mother-in-law trying to FaceTime me …. Yes, enough self care, it’s time to crack on.
How do you combat tiredness? Is your bedroom noisy or are you in Outer Mongolia?
When I was ensconced in the wonderful world of online dating, a friend of mine suggested I google a chap called Matthew Hussey. He’s a dating guru, young and full of vitality and dare I say it, happiness. I found myself slightly addicted to his YouTube videos so when I’d watched them all, I bought his audio book and played it again and again and yes, again.
He speaks sense. He understands the psychology of both men and women, of how we interact and sometimes how we fail to interact and also understand each other. He explains how what we say and what we do can be misinterpreted, and how our very basic caveman instincts are still absolutely paramount in terms of our current behaviour.
But one thing that he talks of, is practising talking and engaging with people. People in the queue at the coffee shop, people in the supermarket, people anywhere. Just a simple smile and a happy brief chat can not only make your day, but also someone else’s.
Now of course living in London, it is deemed as a little odd to smile at a stranger, and frankly unhinged should one make conversation … and yet, why should the most natural thing in the world be given a few raised eyebrows?
The other day on the tube, my fellow passengers and I became united as a small dog raced past us on the platform and on reaching the end, threw itself onto the tracks and bolted off towards the tunnel. What ensued, along with all trains on the Central Line coming to an almighty halt, was that we bonded. We chatted, laughed, made suggestions as to how to entice said dog back and enjoyed even more hilarity as the Platform Manager in her fluorescent jacket took to shouting abuse at our canine friend. What became of the dog, I know not, as it clearly was unimpressed by being roared at, and subsequently turned its back on her, cocked its leg on the tunnel wall and promptly trotted off into the darkness.
My purpose of this post is this; whether we are dating or not, Matthew Hussey has a point. Some of us are good at ‘small talk’, some not so. But as with everything that we want to improve or even excel at, we should take heed of his advice, and practise.
Engaging with people and the world whether that be sharing a smile or a little chat with a person is good for the soul and the spirit. Not just yours, but theirs also. Sometimes, your kind words can lift someone’s day from being somewhat shabby, to positively fabulous. Go on! Be fabulous today!
Are you good at small talk? Or do your inhibitions prevent you?
I have finally found my home away from home. It is simply a little coffee shop between the river and the park. It has wooden floorboards, huge windows and soft armchairs filled with cushions. There are beautiful pastries and fresh fruits in wicker baskets, smells of roasting coffee beans and hot chocolate and has now most firmly become a part of my daily routine.
I sit, drink copious amounts of coffee and write.
I used to find that writing on the underground worked a treat until I realised that going round and round on the Circle Line in order to type up the next chapter was probably a little odd to say the least; and somehow writing at home just seemed to be difficult. It was too quiet and the overspilling ironing basket would give me the evil eye, and the cupboard with the ginger nut biscuits would call to me a little too often to guarantee a lifetime free of the dreaded cellulite. So the coffee shop it is. They do have a rather delicious chocolate brownie which just happens to come with ice cream but I digress.
Like so many of us, it took a little while before being able to feel entirely comfortable and entitled to while away the hours in someone else’s space; but within a week I found myself feeling as though I was simply ‘a home away from home’. The staff became chattier to me by the day and even better, knew how I liked my coffee. And now? I feel like one of those people (usually men dare I say it) who go into their local pub and are asked, “A pint of your usual sir?” Oh yes, I feel as though they have accepted me into their fold and I’m loving it.
So, as I tap, tappety, tap away with the world moving around me and gentle music playing in the background, I have now reached the momentous point of being one third of the way through the book. There is still a long way to go, particularly in light of the fact that I have a notebook completely full of barely legible notes to make something of, but it’s a good start. I’m out of the starting gates, have done a few furlongs and am galloping midfield with a mass of others.
There are many on the same course, and whilst some are ahead, some behind and some have fallen at the first hurdle, I am doing my very best to keep on the straight and narrow. I’m only a little way through with the inevitable Becher’s Brook or another huge challenge or six to contend with, but with a good wind behind me and my bank account allowing for the continuation of daily coffee and chocolate brownies with ice cream, with a little luck I shall finish before the clocks go forward in the spring. I may of course be something the size of a whale with a coffee addiction by that point, but I will, with a little luck have a book. Battle on McDuff to myself and all of us!
Where is your most favourite place in the world? Do you have somewhere away from home that you love to visit?
When I look into a mirror, it is usually with trepidation. I never quite know what I shall see. The majority of the time I can see only the flaws, and yet just occasionally when the light is low and soft and I am at peace with the world, then what I see makes me content.
Beauty is a funny old business. What one person finds attractive, another finds repellent. But what do I see in the mirror?
I see a vibrant woman full of life with hopes and dreams. I see gentle creases from a life lived with laughter and joy. I see a strong, proud body that has carried children and hands, arms and legs that have worked tirelessly and with vigour throughout.
And yet sometimes I still see the little girl crying, needing, wanting her mother. I see the lost look in her pale eyes as she craves the security of love. I see a tired face lined from the incessant ravages of life and the vacant stare at the fear of facing the future.
With minimal effort we can show the world one face, and yet hiding behind the shield may be something remarkably different. Or perhaps we simply change like the tides, depending on what life or perhaps God throws at us.
Yes, beauty is a funny old business.
How do you see yourself? What do you see in the mirror?
After a few days of being a little poorly (hence the lack of WordPress interaction of late – my apologies) I finally had to go out with my youngest son yesterday in order to buy him his first suit due to an impending interview.
A rather lovely shop in Jermyn Street not far from Piccadilly saw not just one, but two men and a woman all with tape measures hanging around their necks, tweak, adjust and transform my gangly boy into a rather dashing young man in the space of an hour. Job done, and left to pay the bill and also with a little time on my hands took a minor detour and went into the 300 year old beautiful store of Fortnum & Mason.
From the moment you are welcomed by the man on the door, you enter a world of delectable beauty. Everything and everyone is beautiful in Fortnums. From the handmade chocolates dipped in coloured sugars, dusty cocoa and wrapped in the finest tissue paper, to the exquisitely decorated biscuits sold in hand-painted and shaped tins that are so pretty as to be kept eternally, to the soft music swirling around the high ceilings with the familiar pale turquoise-teal colour that represents Fortnums in every corner of every floor. The wines, the cheeses and the hampers filled with gorgeous delights that one might possibly want or need for a picnic … everything is available and everything is beautiful in Fortnums. I run my fingers over the magnificent displays, loving the feel of the embossed, silky packaging and relish the feeling of being somewhere so very, very special where the detail in every single item is exquisite. I wander and touch, wander and touch … smiling at the sheer gorgeousness of it all.
But of course, it all comes at a price. Mostly a rather extortionate price. And there’s all sorts of people here too. I watch a woman rudely instruct a gentleman scuttling behind her to carry three baskets as she points with her phone and gives a flick of her hand to the items that she wants. Another small group of women, scoop numerous packets of gold and silver sweets shaped like small pebbles in delicate boxes from the shelves, dropping them roughly into their numerous baskets, without any care of the contents or packaging. Perhaps when money is no object and beautiful things are easily replaced, care is not such a priority.
And as for me, well, on our way back from France we had brought back some cheeses, so having explained this, was offered to taste some damson jelly. A change from the usual quince, I was in heaven as I chose and bought some. It was about all I could afford after buying the suit, but it did mean that I could relish not only the deep aubergine coloured, richly flavoured jelly wrapped in the waxy paper, but also one of their lovely pale turquoise bags which I shall keep ad infinitum. I’m not a big ‘shopper’ at all, but if you’re going to do it, it’s rather fun to do it occasionally in style, even if it’s just for a three inch square of damson jelly and a rather pretty plastic bag.
Shopping …. do you love it or loathe it? What’s your favourite shop and why?
Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.
I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.
On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.
“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”
“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.
“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.
Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.
However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.
I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”
What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?
I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.
I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.
Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.
I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass …
But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.
If I had thought it was hot in London, well here in Huelgoat it’s positively steaming. After the typical schoolboy error of bicycling too far on the first day, leaving me utterly exhausted, today I have just gone a few kilometres to this beautiful (although frankly they’re all beautiful) little town. I am camping beside the lake and all is peace and quiet.
Disasters to date? Breaking Claude’s saddle on the ferry. Yes, another minor mistake! When travelling with this much weight, lift by the frame not the saddle. Durr me!Honestly with all these schoolboy errors I should be in shorts, pulled up socks and sensible shoes. Nevertheless, found a repair shop and all sorted for twenty euros with much broken French/English and a lot of arm movements.
Successes to date? The Colonel’s army sleeping bag. Heaven in a rather sickly green colour. Never again will I poo poo his suggestions.
All in all, I am making slow progress in a haphazard sort of way and learning very quickly about the importance of food and fluids and taking advantage of the boulangeries and English style lavatories at every opportunity.
Has anyone any advice for travelling in France par bicyclette?
I am finally ready. Tomorrow I leave for the beginning of The Journey.
For those of you who (thankfully for you and your sanity) haven’t endured my endless witterings, I must clarify that this is not an antarctic exploration, nor am I walking unaided through the Gobi Desert, climbing K2 or sailing solo around the world. No. I am, with the aid of maps and hopefully rather a lot of signposts, bicycling my way along the Atlantic Cycle Route from the port of Roscoff to a campsite known as Moliets-et-Maa which is roughly between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.
I suppose the only difference is that I am doing this trip with my old friend Betty. Betty is my little demon, my demon of anxiety and depression who hasn’t been around for a while, but I sense she’s waiting for me, smirking slightly and lying in wait, ready to pounce at any slight moments of stress.
But, in essence I have the real company of Claude (my bicycle), a rather natty little tent which Claude is not invited into, and my husband’s army sleeping bag. I’ve also managed to squeeze in most of the Clinique sun protection range just to ensure that I don’t arrive at my destination looking like a small shrivelled walnut. Claude has his own repair and maintenance kit but the packaging on mine is prettier. I have a tiny cooker thing that looks a bit like a Bunsen Burner and singes the hair on my arms every time I light it, a few other cooking and eating implements, and a stack of maps. First aid kits etc of course and … well, it’s all packed now and I simply can’t remember but am hoping to goodness that I’ve got my passport in there somewhere.
The anxiety levels are pretty much through the roof this morning. The usual symptoms which I’m sure some of you can resonate with … stomach doing a gymnastics performance, palms disgustingly damp, shaking hands and mind and thoughts darting from one corner of my brain, ricocheting off it’s boundary and firing off into another direction. You can understand therefore why I’m rather looking forward to just going in order to end this purgatory. Perhaps purgatory is too strong a word, but it’s been a while since I’ve had it, and had forgotten how awful it is.
But, let’s be very clear here as I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy, I am the one who decided to do this and it certainly hasn’t been forced upon me! In fact most people are appalled. I think they worry about my safety being a woman on her own and all that. But frankly, if it’s as regards the likelihood of being hit by a truck, well, frankly that could happen to a man too, and if it’s about some dodgy bloke trying it on … well woe betide him! They clearly don’t know the volatility and sheer force of a middle-aged, highly strung, hormonal woman when she feels threatened. (See my post Road Rage for further clarification on how I sense I am marginally unhinged).
So no, whilst I am anxiously waiting for the hours to pass, and feeling excited but terrified in roughly equal measures, I’ll say au revoir for now and will post again when I’m on the other side of The Channel. Hopefully, by then I shall have half a dozen croissants in my basket, a large grin on my face and my sense of direction intact (surely, as long as I cycle on the right and keep the sea on my right then I’m doing it right and going roughly south …). As for roundabouts, I haven’t yet mastered them in England, so ….. I guess I’ll just have to keep you posted. Adieu.
I’m not entirely sure, but in truth I think I’m a little bit scared. Finally. I guess it was bound to happen at some point, but with still twelve days to go until The Big Adventure, I’m hoping that this is just a case of reality and nerves catching up with me. It had to happen at some point. (Please note the attempt at a grownup attitude, I’m guessing that had to happen at some point also.)
Yesterday I did the final bits of shopping for the bicycling trip and now the kitchen table and floor are covered in practical maintenance and repair kits, first aid packs, and an awful lot of detailed maps from the north to the south of France. Quite how everything is going to fit into two panniers and a basket, well tomorrow’s packing will tell and that’s not even including a couple of extra clothes and half of the Clinique counter (did I mention that I’d been shopping?).
The Colonel is away for a couple of days so there’s a sense of quiet and loneliness in the house. ‘My Rock’ (what a ghastly cliche!) is on business up north so my stability and routine maker isn’t here. The time to behave like a grownup therefore is here. What I should be doing is rolling over and going back to sleep, but the child in me wants my thoughts bashed out here to you, you unfortunate blighters! Sorry about that.
I spoke yesterday on the telephone to my sister. My sister who has been so unutterably encouraging for me to do this trip. I had thought that she’d call me barking mad and try to persuade me otherwise. Foolishly, I had underestimated her knowledge of me. She understands my need to challenge myself and be finally free of my fears. And for that and for so many other reasons I love her. She has tolerated my past, my nonsense and my mistakes. Where we differ is that she holds her cards close to her chest whereas mine have not just been worn on the proverbial sleeve, but splayed out with garish colours across the street, with trumpets sounding and much hysterical wailing and despite it not being how she might deal with life’s ups and downs, she tolerates that about me too.
The love of a sibling when both your parents have gone is even stronger. She has looked after her irritating baby sister and together we have laughed, cried, occasionally squabbled but also coped together with the worst of emotions, grief. Grief borne from the deaths of our parents. And we have bonded again and again over shared memories that nobody else now in the world can possibly know of. Memories of parents, of childhood, of each other from times long since passed.
I shall telephone her again tomorrow and somehow and no doubt rather awkwardly tell her how much I appreciate her and then we’ll change the subject quickly and talk about our children and laugh about the adventures and journeys that their lives are taking them on. Night night …
I dislike the terms ‘Mental Heath’ and/or ‘Mental Illness’. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement.
For me, simply using the word ‘mental’ immediately brings images to my mind of the mental asylums of old, with padded cells, beds with wide leather straps and children being torn from the arms of their mothers. The film industry frankly hasn’t helped either. The pictures of a wife or husband being dragged away screaming, out of control, desperate. (As an aside …. And they wonder why we still hide our true feelings and thoughts?!)
I’d go as far as to say that I find it distressing. It brings fear into my mind. Fear that only a few generations ago, this could have been any one of us taken away by the men in white coats and having every element of control of ourselves and our lives taken away. And the realisation that in fact an understanding of this disease is so very recent. If we had been born a little earlier, we too could have been locked up, with no likelihood of ever seeing the light of day again. A prison.
I have been searching within the old grey matter for some time now for a softer phrase. A kinder term and finally I came across a fellow blogger (Lynda Estacio) who recently described her mental health as her emotional health.
My search is over.
I have thanked her, because for me, it describes the illness without any upsetting connotations.
My life is one filled with emotion. I am a person whose days historically have been ones filled with a zigzag of extreme highs and extreme lows. If I was happy, I was overexcitable and faintly manic. If I loved, I loved with an intensity almost beyond reason and with obsessive undertones. If I hated, I loathed with intensity. If I was sad, I was distraught and simply unable to understand it or come to terms with it. Grief from a death or the devastating effects of a divorce therefore almost destroyed me. Essentially, my emotions were too extreme. As per usual, there was no moderation, and never any ability to control them or even understand them.
Now, thankfully there is less of a zigzag of emotion day after day, and more of a smooth curving of ups and downs. And that is good. That gives me the space and ability to deal with the natural ups and downs of life. Sure I have my blips. We all do. I have my insecurities and that is acceptable and normal, completely normal. Yes, it is normal and good to have emotion.
But in excess, it is exhausting.
In excess, it is frightening.
But in moderation, as with most things, emotion is truly wonderful and completely natural.
So, thank you therefore WordPress once again for introducing me to a blogger who has given me a new way to think about this illness, this disease. I just have to care for my body and my emotional heath.
Emotional Health. I like it … very much.
How do you describe your depression and/or anxiety? Do you mind ‘Mental Illness’ or is it just me!
I’m used to bringing up little boys. I love the black and white simplicity of how they view the world. I like the straightforward feed, water, love, exercise, boundaries and sleep way of bringing them up. Forget one of those necessities however and World War 3 is on the doorstep, but generally, I stuck to those guidelines with consistent regularity and they appeared to thrive.
It’s a noisy existence however bringing up boys. No such thing as a quiet bath on your own. Honestly whoever writes these ridiculous articles about candles and bubble baths and a good book …. For God’s sakes! I tried that many a time. In fact the boys even once made a bath for me, how sweet they were. It was only when I was lying there admiring my perfect children and wondering how they they had managed to get quite so many bubbles not just in the bath, but exploding out onto the floor and beyond onto the landing outside that they happily told me that they had used Fairy Liquid. Nice.
And as for candles in the bathroom … Pah! Boys appear to have a fascination with fire. Do you know how difficult it is to put out a burning loo roll which your youngest has been playing with whilst yours truly lies in the bath oblivious. Oh yes, you just throw it in the bath with me. Of course.
And in fact more often than not, I’d have ended up with two little boys joining me plus the contents of the Lego basket and their grubby little knees as we’d squeeze in together. But we laughed, oh how we laughed.
Girls however I’m not used to. Less black and white, more grey, mauve and yellow and every shade in between.
I took them (and the Colonel, poor bloke) shopping yesterday to spend some holiday money. I managed to escape briefly as I found a wonderful little shop with mainly men’s socks, ties, and sarongs etc in. The elderly couple who were in charge of it whilst their son was busy in the stock room, were chatting very easily and I mentioned that I’d momentarily escaped.
“Stepchildren?” she asked.
“Girls?” she asked. She sucked through her teeth and then simply said, “They’ll hate you!”
We then both gaffawed loudly together with interestingly her husband nodding rather enthusiastically as well. She explained that in order to be liked by a) the stepchildren and b) the ex-wife, you have to be a minimum of 4 stone overweight, have very deep pockets and the ability to spend 2 hours looking around one shop for a specific type of hair clip that is to go with a certain outfit otherwise the world is going to end.
Well, if I continue eating my ginger nuts at the rate of … well let’s just say the Colonel had to wrestle them off me last night … then I shall indeed manage to enhance the old muffin tops which my delightful boys pointed out a few weeks ago. I don’t have very deep pockets, but am good at improvising and as for looking for hair clips? No, I’d have to compromise there and keep it to within one hour.
So, after a rather unsuccessful shopping trip yesterday, I engaged them in painting. I found an old tin of watercolour paints, some paper and pencils and together we set to. We sat in the shade in the garden, sipping on orange squash and nibbling (a few) ginger nuts whilst they dipped brushes in colour and enjoyed a few hours of complete tranquility. Honestly, it was bliss. I did a pencil drawing of a robin and was completely immersed.
I know that it is often suggested to those who suffer from anxiety to try drawing or painting and now I get it. It’s like complete therapy. I wasn’t even irritated that I had forfeited watching Nadal at Wimbledon! The girls and I were happy. There’s a lot to be said for this simple activity.
So next time you’re trying to have a peaceful little tiddle on the loo without a plastic machine gun peeking round the door of the bathroom and you’re being riddled with open fire of spongy bullets and your nerves are in shreds, panic not! You can get out the paint pots. Of course with boys, you might end up with more paint around the house than you’d bargained for, but it will make wonderful and unforgettable memories. Heaven, complete and utter heaven.
When you’re feeling anxious what do you do? Have you tried this painting lark??
Ps Pls forgive any typos, am typing in haste as Westfield Shopping Centre is beckoning … only a couple of hair clips to search for …
It’s all well and good patting myself on the back and encouraging myself to step out of the old comfort zone, but understandably, others might not have the same urge to do so.
Going to the bicycle shop to give Claude (my bike) a general overhaul prior to ‘The Big Trip’, I realise that I am not alone in travelling around on two wheels and enjoying this lovely weather as half the world and it’s cousin are at the little local bicycle shop too.
The red haired, multi-pierced friend, cycling fanatic and in fact shop keeper from my previous visit unfortunately had his attention firmly up somebody else’s inner tube so taking my place in the queue, I was finally attended to by ‘Gustapho’, a rather splendid Brazilian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ‘la bicyclette’. I certainly felt as though Claude and I were in safe hands.
Sometimes however I do wish for a little privacy and surrounded by the truly serious cyclists, a ridiculous amount of Lycra and some fairly solid thigh muscles all waiting in the queue for their turn, I found myself whispering to Gustapho about Claude’s newly acquired clicking noises, the dodgy gear and the brake that the other day failed to actually work at all and resulted in a slightly closer inspection of a Privet hedge than I had previously anticipated.
“Aha! You have need of me. You need Gustapho. You madam, may call me Gus!” he pronounced proudly with a strong accent in a rather lovely theatrical way. I feel as though I’ve just stepped onto a film set and any moment ‘Gus’ is going to give a deep bow with much waving of his arm.
“However,” he pauses (I actually think for nothing more than effect), “For a full service Madam, we have a waiting time of one month.” One solitary finger is raised with force at me to make the point.
A lot of red-faced gulping, apologising and whispered grovelling with hand wringing ensued with yours truly explaining that I had thought that I was so organised and prepared but clearly proper cyclists, such as those I was surrounded by in this tiny shop, have every detail planned out not just weeks, but months in advance. Schoolboy error Katie. You truly are a novice.
I could hear tutting and sighing from other customers and so began asking about other shops in the area who might be able to help. But apparently every shop within a 50 mile radius worth their salt would give me the same answer, so humbled, humiliated and rather red, I started backing out of the shop. Quite hard when seven other people all with bikes have wedged you in and you’re desperate to leave.
All of a sudden however my red-haired, tattoo-clad friend then popped his head up from his inner tubes, gave a huge grin, came over and shook my hand like a long lost friend. Oh the relief at the sight of a friendly, familiar face.
Whereupon he explained loudly to not only ‘Gus’ but embarrassingly to everyone within hearing distance of the details of my trip. Now I’m not so bigheaded as to imagine that a middle-aged old bird such as myself could possibly make an impression, but bless his little cotton socks, he had remembered every detail of our last encounter when I admitted that I, said old bird, was undertaking a 1200 km bicycle ride through France on my own, camping each night whilst donning a rather unattractive pair of padded cycling knickers which in fact may well be shorts. Having divulged all of this, and left me feeling slightly less of a lower class bicycling citizen, and almost a slight sense of pride, he then happily disappeared into the bowels of the shop for presumably more playing with his inner tubes.
However, for my moment of happiness, I discovered that everything comes at a price. For the lady (and I use the term loosely) beside me with fearsome helmet, dark wraparound glasses and an enormous mountain bike, suddenly involves herself. A splutter of laughter from her as she raises her glasses to her forehead and peers down at my tatty bicycle, Claude, with his pale blue slightly distressed paintwork and wire basket on the front with a rather natty pink handbag (if I say so myself) inside it.
“Good God!” she sniggers, pointing at Claude, “On that?”
It’s an odd thing to feel protective over a pile of metal and rubber, but Claude and I have bonded well over the past couple of months and I felt that implied insults were most certainly uncalled for. Pah! She had a good fifteen years on me and I felt my hackles rising well above her varicose veined legs. But of course, manners maketh man and all that, so I smiled as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth.
Whereupon she launches, along with Gus about the merits of having a proper bicycle, in fact as she so smugly told me, it’s imperative to have two! Her road bike (she pointed down the stairs to the maintenance section where a skinny whippet-like equivalent to a bike) was being finely tuned for apparently the third time this year.
“My dear!” she tinkles with laughter, “Yours is far to heavy and cumbersome! Haven’t you thought about the hills?” She, Gus and now a couple of other Lycra’s roar with laughter together with Claude and I wanting the earth to swallow us up.
“And who will be taking your gear?” she carries on. I thought gear was a way of talking about drugs, but clearly she’s talking about my spare clothes and tent.
“Well, um I’m putting everything into the panniers and the tent, sleeping bag and roll mat sort of fit across the top of them,” I finish rather feebly as their mouths start to hang open and whilst the woman’s eyes narrow at me and her head tilts questioning in disbelief, Gus’s eyes are widening and becoming faintly bulbous. He’s reminding me of a large fish on a plate with the head still on and you want to take that silly little sliver of lemon and put it over the eye so that it stops staring at you. Actually I’d rather slap them both with said fish.
More laughter, clearly this is hilarious. I feel as though I’m back at school. Frankly I could bludgeon one of them very happily. Gus starts fiddling with my gears rather roughly and talking detrimentally about my bottom bracket, crank arms and dropouts. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about but more of the Lycra-clad brigade (aka customers) are joining in, sucking through their teeth, shaking their heads and offering words of unintelligible technological advice to this pathetic creature (me) with her flippy floppy skirt, pink handbag a rather dejected looking bicycle. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps this is truly just madness. I can feel that pricking of tears. Talk about pissing on my fire. Any flame is well and truly extinguished … in fact I’m now just a little puddle on the floor.
But with a jangle of his multiple earrings and silver crosses around his neck, my flame haired friend bounds up the stairs with a beaming grin like a long lost friend.
“Gotcha booked in for the morning!” he shouts. “I’ve shifted a couple of things around. We’ll work it out for you.” And with that, he gives me a wink, pats Claude on the saddle and moving his head closer to it, gives a wonderful stage whisper to Claude, “Don’t worry mate, I’ll have you fit for the fucking Tour de France in 48 hours!”
If I wasn’t concerned about getting my now frazzled hair caught in his nose, lip or eyebrow piercings, I’d have snogged him.
Gus looked rather surprised, the lady with the varicose veins and the two bikes looked thoroughly miffed and from behind me I heard some tutting. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
After much thanking, and believe you me, you couldn’t have had a more grateful recipient, Claude and I left swiftly and apart from becoming slightly stuck getting out of the door and leaving humiliated and with our confidence in tatters, we know that we will be fine, we will work out the problems which undoubtedly shall arise and even if we end up going, with my map reading skills, via Timbuktu, Claude and I shall write to our lovely WordPress friends and tell you all about it, the good, the bad and the ugly bits too … You’re all brill. You don’t laugh at me too often, you accept me for who I am, metaphorical warts and all. And for that my friends, I thank you.
How do you react if you’re ever laughed at or humiliated?
PROPER PLANNING AND PREPARATION PREVENTS PISS POOR PERFORMANCE!
So, the maps are prepared, the route is not quite set in stone but a phrase book and an O level in French will hopefully be enough to get me from Roscoff in the north of France to Moliets et Maa in the south. If I end up in the Alps, you’ll know that I’ve got my droit and gauche mixed up somewhere along the line. Easy mistake I’m sure.
My camping gear is ready and I practised again today putting up my tiny one-man tent. All fairly straightforward except that now that the ground is as dry and hard as concrete, so a small mallet will be added to my panniers.
I have a few clothes ready, including some extraordinarily unattractive padded cycling knickers. I was told very clearly that purchasing these would be a life-saver for me, or certainly for my bottom. Although frankly they’re so big you could potentially use them as a buoyancy aid. It was clearly not a woman who designed them. I have never seen such an ugly foam-lined piece of Lycra in my life. However, if they prevent a sore bottom, then my vanity will have to be pushed aside for a while. I remember at prep school we had to wear two pairs of revolting grey enormous knickers. Underpants and over-pants. Even in summer – grim. Now there’s a yeast infection waiting to happen. These are not dissimilar except rather stretchy and the padding makes me walk as though I have a rather bad case of haemorrhoids. Enough said.
Claude (the bicycle) is going in for a bit of a service next week, to my lovely new chum with the red hair at the bicycle shop to make sure that he’s all tickedy boo, fit, healthy and raring to go (Claude, not the red-haired bicycle doctor). The left brake needs a bit of tlc I discovered last week … ok, it chose to fail at a rather crucial moment. Don’t worry, the lady and the dogs were perfectly fine afterwards.
And as for me, well, I have three weeks and five days to go, so of course am planning the important things like working out how I’m going to fit the entire bathroom cabinet into my panniers when they’re already filled with dull things like bicycle oil and spare inner tubes … The Colonel and I clearly have different priorities.
The ferry is booked, the cooking kit and first aid packed up (although I am a complete girl’s blouse and frankly if I’m needing first aid, I shall be found in the nearest hospital with Claude and my French phrase book trying to get sympathy … I wonder if the French are as tough as the Scots? In which case I’m doomed. They only hand out drugs if you use a combination of tears and begging in roughly equal quantities.) I think I’ll keep the first aid kit in just in case, we’ve got some Thomas the Tank Engine plasters and some Dettol, plus various different gauze’s etc etc. Perfect.
I think I’m relatively fit, so I just need to keep up with the exercise and then …. boom! I shall be off. Setting off on my way to Clapham Junction railway station, packed up, raring to get onto the train to begin my adventure. But the funny thing is, that I’m also enjoying the preparation of it too. It’s not just about arriving at Moliets et Maa, it’s about the entire journey, both physical and of course, mental. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. This extraordinary feeling, not of anxiety, but of excitement, pure unadulterated excitement.
To be continued ….
Ps What makes you excited? Nothing smutty allowed … Ok, so when was the last time you were really excited? Nothing smutty here either …
My brain is a simple thing. Like my computer, when there are too many tabs open at one time, it starts having a crisis, slows down and invariably simply stops working at all. Now, in the knowledge that I should probably take it to a computer hospital, I wonder if perhaps my brain needs a bit of a looking at too.
The reason I say this is because I cannot multi-task. Too many things going on up there in that fluffy cotton wool between my ears and it all starts unravelling. Badly. Like a dozen balls of multi-coloured wires being tangled up together, if things start getting too complicated, there is a sudden fizzing, a loud explosion and boom! It’s all over … A crisis is here. It happens very easily, relatively often, but is a bit of a bugger to sort out.
The Colonel however works best when doing a minimum of three things at once, and frankly the more the merrier. Concurrent activity he calls it. I have been known to just stare at him, baffled and bewildered as to how he does it. Perhaps that’s why he is good at his job and I don’t appear to even have a job. Must resolve that too …
However, I am now addressing this, ‘issue’. (Not the staring one, or the jobless one, the inability to multi-task one). So far, without much success.
I’m embarrassed to admit how very simply I tested myself yesterday morning and the outcome, but here goes …
Filling up the watering can in the kitchen sink whilst emptying the dishwasher.
You see, I read somewhere the other day that to help deter that awful habit, ‘procrastination’, the answer is, that if you see a job that will take less than one minute to do, then you must start it within a minute. Well I think that’s what it said. Brilliant! But perhaps only one task at a time. This is fine for most people, but not for the non-multi-taskers. The single-taskers like myself may find it problematic.
So, back to the watering can …. I’m putting things away, the water is filling the can, the cupboard doors are all open, I can feel the stress (yes really) starting to filter into my brain and the balls of wire up there amongst the cotton wool starting to fizzle, but to put away the frying pan means taking out several other pans so that it will not just fit in, but also the door will close. Fizzle, fizzle goes my brain …. The sound of water is suddenly louder and looking over my shoulder with a wok in one hand, the colander in another and the frying pan under my arm I see a steady, heavy fountain of water pouring out of the watering can’s spout, over the edge of the sink and into the open cupboard below, and yup, into the tub where the three-in-one multicoloured clothes washing pods live.
Brain has exploded …. much yelping, dropping of woks and pans and strangely my immediate reaction was not to turn off the tap, but to put the colander under the steady stream of water … we now have a version of the Water Fountains at Versailles.
Presumably I don’t need to describe the bubbly mess that I single-handedly created. Suffice to say however that those cute little squidgy little pods of blue and green designed to keep your clothes super clean, dissolve in cold water very quickly. Nine ruptured immediately, five stuck together and the remaining three are currently still drying on kitchen roll (stuck of course to the paper).
The laundry basket is however empty and all the sheets and towels have been washed too, completely unnecessarily of course, but just so as to use up the washing liquid on the floor, the sink, the side, and my shoes … Yes, everything is sparkly clean.
However, do not fear fellow single-taskers, for I have found there is an upside to all of this … if I am completely focused on just one task, not only do I tend to do it well, although I can become quite obsessed (tennis, now cycling) and take it to the extreme, it does mean that I simply cannot think about anything else whilst I am doing it. As in, I cannot think about anything else negative or otherwise whilst doing this activity. So Betty (the demon depressive) is firmly locked in the shed and shackled to the garden roller with duck-tape on her mouth so to speak.
So for all my single-taskers out there, if indeed I am not alone, there is hope for us all. Whilst we may not be able to fill a watering can and empty the dishwasher, we can do one better … We can get all the washing done and clean the kitchen floor too. Have hope!
Like the rest of us, I sometimes daydream about winning the lottery … Errrr, don’t we all?
The thought of spending summers on a boat floating around tropical islands whilst a wonderful lady paints my nails as I stand at the wheel with The Colonel beside me sipping champagne gazing adoringly up at me. (Actually the wonderful lady shouldn’t be overly wonderful or beautiful for that matter, let’s not give the Colonel too much to gaze at … let’s give her facial hair, spots and an unusual dental arrangement for starters) … The winters, spent sitting beside a roaring fire writing best-selling books in a huge chalet in Verbier with yet more champagne, a year’s supply of ginger nuts and enough fit (male) ski instructors to get even me looking vaguely elegant on the slopes. (In retrospect, make that two years’ supply of ginger nuts) … Ahhh, what a glorious life it would be!
They say money isn’t everything (Pah! Ok, it’s true) but they also say it’s easier to cry in the back of a Mercedes than on a bicycle and that I do agree with.
So back to reality with a backbreaking thump …. what do we all wish for that will give us happiness?
Life has a funny old way of throwing things in our paths however, determined to try to floor us, or at least postpone our progress, and often just when things are tootling along on their merry way, something is tossed with force unexpectedly before us.
Sadly, for me, it is rarely a lottery win. In fact, the little ‘presents’ that appear tend to be the bad stuff. Usually related to health and death. And we grieve and we struggle and then when it starts to vaguely diminish, we find that in actual fact, “normal” is good. Normal is ok. Normal, our natural default setting, is actually fine, anything rather than being in the depths of despair and depression, is frankly fine.
But, if we wanted more than just normal, more of the good things from life, how do we go about it? I don’t mean to sound overly greedy and it is inevitable that bad things will happen from time to time, but what about having some good things to help counteract them. To act as a balance. To fall back on when the ‘shit hits the fan’.
How do we persuade “life” to throw us a few good packages? Well, we could spend all our hard earned cash on lottery tickets. We could also just sit and gaze out of the window and dream a lot and hope that Prince Charming himself will appear up the stairs of our top floor one bedroom flat on his gallant steed, but the likelihood of that is slim at best, even in my unhinged, erratic mind. So, what to do?
In my mind, the best way forward is to be a “Yes” person rather than a “No” person (kindly read Are You a “Yes” or a “No” Person? for further details!). By this, what I mean is that I for one, have to resist daily the temptation to sit and gaze out of the window and find excuses not to do something, (oh, believe you me, I can find an excuse for everything!) and be proactive (ghastly word, apologies) and get off my wobbly skinny arse, say “Yes!” and actually do something!
Those two words always remind me of Dick Dastardly shouting at his dog Muttley, (if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about then you’re too young you lucky thing so you have that advantage over me already!) “MUTTLEY!! DO SOMETHING!!” he would shout, although Muttley usually demanded a medal for doing so … Now chances are, you won’t receive a medal this time, or even next, but it’s odd isn’t it how those people who are successful in life tend to be the ones who it turns out have been trying and practising their craft for years upon years and yet we had never heard of them until ooooh I don’t know, a character called Harry Potter suddenly becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Funny that.
So my point is this, surely if we believe that mathematical formula relating to probability, if we keep trying, keep learning, keep working, keep being a “Yes” person and giving it our all, eventually good will come of it.
In fairness, this may not result in a yacht in the Bahamas or a chalet in Verbier. It may however result in an alcoholic giving up the booze once and for all, a sufferer of depression finding a way of living in peace, a lover of flowers owning his or her own flower shop, a blogger having his book published or an idiot like me simply bicycling from the top to the (not quite) bottom of France on a bike called Claude. It won’t earn me a medal like Muttley, or a chalet in Verbier, but it’s a personal challenge and might improve the old muscles in the thigh and bottom region …
Whatever the goal, whatever the dream, and despite whatever is thrown in our paths, let’s be a “Yes” person, make the dream a reality and attack life with gusto, passion and a smattering of hope. Try, try and try again. After all, with any experience that we undertake, if we succeed, we will gain confidence and go on to even greater things, and if we fail, then we gain that wonderful quality, wisdom.
And in my mind there are worse things in life than being a wise old bird with a wobbly arse and a twin pack of ginger nuts in her bicycle basket.
Are You a “Yes” or a “No” person? What is your dream, your goal in your life?
A few days ago I went into the local cycle shop to prepare for my trip through France. The Colonel had advised me to buy a repair kit and an extra inner tube or two. Pas de problem!
However, it is tragically my horrible nature to distrust everyone (except policemen, firemen, the nurse back in Glasgow who does the best “screening tests” for women (apologies gentlemen), some relations and Delia Smith).
I also distrust pretty much everything too (in particular, the locks on the doors, my ability to keep house plants alive and my hairdryer which is on its last legs and I’m sure about to die/explode/cause a house fire).
Trust for me is a tricky old business. As a somewhat anxious old bird I am convinced that I am going to be ripped off, conned, or the innocent young man outside the house is in fact a burglar casing the joint. I fear that everyone is a wolf in sheeps clothing, an axe-wielding murderer and I am the proposed victim. Why? A bit of history and I’m slightly unhinged I suppose.
So a trip to the cycle shop was, in my mind a perfect opportunity for someone to pretty sharply realise that I am a complete novice in this department, to take full advantage, and within ten minutes I’d have them sucking through their teeth, shaking their head and I’d be be leaving with a boxful of gadgets, tools and a warning that cycling on my own from north to southern France was not only inadvisable, but dangerous. (Unless of course I bought their most expensive bike, complete with a six week course of maintenance lessons). And not being the most assertive of women, I’d agree to it all. Then of course I’d curse myself and have to go through the arduous task of begging the Colonel to take it all back for me as I was too much of a wuss to have said a firm “no” in the first place and I certainly couldn’t bear the humiliation of setting foot in the place again. Wet? Abso-bloody-lutely! I am a complete girl’s blouse.
Apparently, this all stems from a lack of life skills, yet again.
Ahhh, but I am learning! I am a new woman! I have had therapy to combat this. I too can be assertive …
So leaving Claude the bicycle chained up outside, I headed into the shop with a confident smile and a breezy gait, (how a gait can be breezy I’m not entirely sure, but you get the gist), determined to look as though I was knowledgeable, capable and therefore unable to be taken advantage of. Ha! I’ll beat the buggers!
Perhaps the fact that everyone in there (and they were all men) was head to toe in Lycra and I was wearing a very pretty floaty little number might have been the first giveaway (see my post Finding Etta which might explain why I figured cycling in flippy skirts was a good idea).
So I gulp, give myself a mental pep talk and go for it.
“Please may I have a couple of inner tubes and a basic bike repair kit?”
Fabulous! Well done me … not a stutter or a wringing of hands in sight ….
The young man behind the counter with orange hair, a matching beard and a lot of earrings raises an eyebrow. “What size tyre is it for?”
Ok I’ve been caught out. I have absolutely no clue. Should I have brought a tape measure from my sewing box? Time to come clean. Time to admit that I’m clueless. Time to put myself at risk of being conned. Fear kicks in, panic is knocking at the door. I am vulnerable.
I give a defeated sigh, accepting the inevitable, point to my beautiful Claude outside the shop, and say, “Um, I think I might need your help with that.”
Forty five wonderful minutes later and I have several new best friends and am sitting behind the cashiers desk (Jon is his name) on his computer showing not only him, but also four of the Lycra-clad men the wonderful website (The Atlantic Cycling Route) detailing the route of my proposed trip in August. Claude, my EBay purchase is now in the shop being twiddled with, checked over with great enthusiasm from my fellow cyclists, so much so that screenshots of the website were taken, a wife was telephoned and Claude has had the complete once-over. Rather amusing n’est pas?!
So I floated back on Claude, flippy floppy skirt thankfully not catching in the newly oiled chains (my new friend Jon behind the desk gave it a bit of ‘lubrication’ for free … (dreadful word I know, apologies …. a bit like moist, soiled and toilet … it’s the ‘oi’ words … shudder … can’t bear them) and I headed home on a high with simply the two inner tubes and a repair kit, plus some funny little plastic things to get the tyres off which he threw in for free. (I think he realised that I didn’t actually have a clue how to change an inner tube … I thought it involved a spoon end or something and a bit of a wiggle).
So you see, all is well with the world. Not everyone is a baddie, in fact, there are some rather nice people out there. And now all I have to do is google “How to Repair a Bicycle Tyre” or I could ask the Colonel. Alternatively my new best friend, Jon with the orange beard, did mention a series of maintenance classes that they have for only £10 a session …. might be an idea, he did recommend a course of three however …
Do you worry about being ripped off? Or axe-wielding murderers hiding under the bed? What are you frightened of?
I know you want to hit me with a shovel, but ummm ….. exercise DOES work. Yup, sorry about that, but unfortunately, it does.
I remember going to the doctor’s surgery many moons ago (Do read The Doctor if you want evidence of my previous mental state) and being apoplectic with rage at his suggestions and yet, months later when the medication had eventually taken the edge off the depression and anxiety and I was able to think just a little clearer, I started the only form of exercise I knew, tennis.
Odd isn’t it how the doctors, therapists, magazines and papers are all telling us to use exercise to beat depression and anxiety and yet still, we are enraged and hate them all for their irritating and pathetic suggestions. “I have a disease, going for a swim won’t change that!” and “How can I go for a run when I can’t even get out of bed?” we shrill. “Don’t you understand how I feel, how can I possibly go for a cycle ride when I feel like this?” we shout.
And yet, and yet, they do keep banging on about the wretched benefits of it, even the celebrities we idolise seem to be talking about it. Bastards the lot of them. They just don’t understand. Don’t they know how darn exhausted we are?
However, when you have those endorphins and dopamine coursing through the body (don’t even question trying to fight those chemicals), the brain is occupied (no possibility of thinking about death, dying and misery, whilst focusing on a small yellow ball flying at eighty miles an hour towards you), the laughter, chatter and screams of hilarity filling the court (and often neighbouring courts) make any downward spirals of negativity stop firmly in their tracks with an almighty screech of rubber on tarmac and a handbrake U-turn. And as for the light, sun and fresh air … well I personally couldn’t find any of those whilst hiding under my bed with only the drooling dog and a family pack of multi-flavoured crisps for company.
The hardest part is the putting on of those trainers. (Read this post next … Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain) After that, it’s a breeze …. one becomes swept up with that extraordinary and distant friend, happiness, and before you can say “Goddamn gym bunnies” your cheeks are rosy, you’re laughing, chatting and organising the next session with newly found friends. If this all sounds a bit too cheesy, the only words of wisdom this old bird can hand out are from that age-old adage, “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it”. Because, annoyingly, using exercise to combat depression and anxiety and the lethargy that comes as part and parcel of those evil twin sisters, actually does work. It beats it. Game, set and Goddamn match.
WHAT EXERCISE ARE YOU DOING FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH TODAY? WELL??
Alongside illness and losing one’s job, apparently moving house is up there in the top most anxiety-inducing activities, not forgetting of course divorce, death and going to prison. ‘Activities!’ What a dreadful description … Honestly that makes them sound like a day trip to the beach with a dripping ice cream, striped deck chair and a fishing net. Anyway, apart from the ‘going to prison’ thing which I am hoping to avoid, I’ve gone through all of the above and survived.
I have discovered, that in actual fact moving is not the equivalent of being dropped in the fiery pit of hell. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that it is possible to actually rather enjoy it. It’s rare to be moving house to somewhere that you don’t want to move to … So on the whole, one is moving to a better place, whether upsizing, downsizing or simply to be closer to the equator … hmmm France would be glorious, love Scotland as I do, the weather is truly shite.
So with optimism in abundance for a positive move, a month ago I planned, packed and labelled boxes with vigour and a happy heart. Yes, I was leaving my friends, but if they’d have me, I could always go and visit.
Where was the stress and anxiety when the day arrived? Decidedly absent.
Why? Because of a simple yet forceful positive change of attitude and meticulous military-style preparation.
There’s always something that goes slightly awry … in my case it was the key to a large old linen press so really not the end of the world. It turned up, eventually. As long as the keys to the new house and the kettle is to hand, nothing else really matters.
In the old days, I’d have had sleepless weeks beforehand worrying, stressing myself into a sweat-induced nightmare. And about what? Change and a fear of no control and the unknown.
So now, let’s embrace the new, use planning and preparation to keep charge of as much as we can, and then just go with the flow. More than that we can’t do, after all, this is life that we’re dealing with. It’s short and really should be very, very sweet.
How do you cope with anxiety and stressful situations?
Joining our wonderfully stuffy and rigid royal family comes a woman of substance. A woman with a mission using her status to make the world a better place and yet somehow she manages this with grace, dignity and incredible likability. She says we all have a voice, we just have to use it. And of course, she’s right.
And after it all, after the last people have gone back to their real lives, after the shops, bars and restaurants of Windsor have cleaned their tables and closed their doors to count the weekends takings, and the street cleaners have filled yet more bags and are starting to get everything shipshape once again, what are we left with?
A wonderful piece of history that’s for sure. But what else? For me, I feel inspired. I feel inspired by a woman, a woman who gets on with life, works like a trooper and fights for what she believes in, in a feminine, graceful manner. She ticks every box and frankly Harry has done very, very well.
So it’s time to get on, stop worrying and attack life and the things I want to do and achieve. Dare I say that I think we could all take a leaf out of Meghan’s book. I know that I will. Enough dramas about the minutiae of life, I need to crack on and not let any more anxiety or depression stop me from living the life that I want.
Let’s run that marathon, write that book and cycle to the south of France …. the clock is ticking, and sure as eggs is eggs, I ain’t gonna want to run out of time!
Odd, but true …. Since the scuba diving experience (Scuba Diving With Anxiety) I appear to have control over my anxiety. (My left ear is deaf as a post, but this I can live with.)
Just because scuba diving was quite frankly an opportunity for me to impersonate a mermaid whilst jumping into the Finding Nemo film doesn’t make it any less of a moderately extreme activity. One teensy mistake, and oops, out of oxygen and poof! You’re dead. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I agree, I’m sure there are safety procedures galore, but the fact of the matter is, we need oxygen to survive. Personally I’d put it up there in the dangerous category alongside jumping out of an aeroplane with a parachute that one of my children has sewn together.
Now, this having been my first dipping of the toe into the scuba diving world, I was unsure as to whether at 12 metres down, if trouble arises, one can just bob back up to the top or whether eardrums burst and a case of the bends follows … no clue, but in fact, my ignorance probably worked in my favour. Because, it meant that there was no option but to use breathing techniques to get my panic attack under control, and under the expert tutelage of the rather delightful ‘French Kevin’, I did.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve practised my breathing during yoga whilst down-dogging with the best of them; bottoms in the air, the huffing and puffing from neighbouring mats sounding rather like a maternity ward; but in truth I’ve only breathed on a rather superficial, shallow level.
Realising the gravity of the situation and understanding fairly smartish that I HAD to deal with something deeply uncomfortable, and potentially life threatening, I didn’t faff around with pretending to blow on a little piccolo, oh no, I took on the entire brass section of the orchestra. I was no longer Katie, wife of the Colonel, cake maker, gardener and peacekeeper, I WAS KING OF A SODDING GREAT TUBA. I huffed, I puffed, deeply, slowly, deeper, slower … all I could hear was air moving in and out. I focused, I concentrated, I breathed.
And erm … I hate to say this … but it worked.
We’re talking less than ten minutes.
A bit like going out for a walk in the fresh air when you’re feeling a bit blue does make you feel better (even if you want to hit the person who suggested it with a shovel). Annoyingly, it does work.
Why is it annoying? Because it implies that my depression and anxiety have been ‘in my head’ if you’ll excuse the pun. And they haven’t … It’s a disease, a proper disease in which medications, therapy and doctors have had to intervene. So how does something so basic as breathing beat every pill hands down?
You see, the breathing and focus took over the fear. The breathing and focus were stronger than the panic. The breathing and focus won.
So when being in a tiny cramped minibus with a low ceiling and a claustrophobic panic attack found its way crawling up again, I started blowing on my tuba again. (The Colonel did look a little quizzically at me, I can live with that and the deaf ear). Minutes later, all was fine. The moment had passed. The rest of the journey was unremarkable, not particularly comfortable but frankly no more so than for anybody else. I suspect that it’s also slightly a case of having done scuba diving, taking a bath with a mask and snorkel on is simply child’s play.
There have been a couple of other moments since, and again blowing on my tuba has each time, more and more quickly reduced the anxiety to nothing, no more than anyone else has on a day to day life.
It’s hard work fighting a war with yourself, your mind, but we’re so much stronger than we actually give ourselves credit for.
Remember, it has to be done with gusto … passion … intensity. Put down your piccolos, pick up your tubas and remember, the purpose is to make the breathingand focus win the battle against the panic and anxiety. Give it a go … a really loud, pushing out a baby, blowing on a tuba go. Happy days!
One of my indulgences in life is not to have a personal trainer, a dietitian or haircuts every six weeks, but to once a year, employ an accountant. Not quite so glamorous and perhaps not quite what you were expecting, but I’m nothing if not practical. My justification of this ‘indulgence’ is simply based on the fact that I don’t have Sky Tv or Netflix, go for regular massages, manicures, pedicures or any other types of cures.
You see, I feel no shame in not spending six hours of my sodding life trying to fill out a sodding tax form that I don’t sodding like, don’t understand, is badly worded and each and every times results in tears, tantrums, a minimum of two phone calls to the bank and four phone calls to the tax office helpline which takes, oh yes, a minimum of 20 minutes to get through before you can actually speak to an actual human being.
(And breathe) …… I’m sure you understand.
The last time I did a tax return, I finally had to beg the unfortunate man to stay on the phone whilst he and I filled out the last four pages of the form together which probably accounts for why it takes 20 minutes to get through to a person in the first place … because of people like me, but I’m guessing therefore that I’m not alone in doing this.
So now I have the lovely James. The lovely blue-eyed, twinkly-eyed James, whom, with his wife, has the perfect set-up of a life together in a beautiful riverside village not far from London where in their garden beside the swimming pool is a little cream painted wooden office where their employees come in each morning and presumably James and his wife simply tumble out of bed and head through the garden to their little office, via the pool, clutching a hopefully not too soggy piece of toast and begin their day. It’s all rather idyllic in my mind, and frankly as James always looks rather chirpy, I’m guessing I’m not too far off the mark.
So, suffice to say for the last few years James has been doing all the hard work for me and I now simply telephone him with the figures, send him a cheque and he does the rest. The result, I don’t have to battle with the tax office, make endless phone calls, cry, behave like a brat, and James does it in a nanosecond, happily receives my cheque and then goes for a lovely swim in his beautiful pool. Win, win I’d say.
With my various anxiety issues (yawn) I still intensely dislike making telephone calls and naturally therefore procrastinate telephoning even the lovely James, but this year we were getting dangerously close to the deadline so needs must, and I thought happy thoughts and dialled his number.
Now usually once I’ve bitten the bullet and made a call, I wonder what all my fuss was about and berate myself for having procrastinated, but this time James was offhand and cold. I’d even go so far as to say verging on rude. I was upset. I was irritated. I only want kind, gentle people in my life otherwise my demons (aka Betty) start paying me a visit, and she is not the sort of visitor anyone wants knocking on their door.
I therefore, being overly sensitive, took James’ coldness to heart and then somewhat predictably to the absolute extreme, as is my default setting, and vowed that next year if I was going to pay someone to help with the finances I’d darn well pay someone who was going to be gentle, friendly, ask me how my day was and generally smooth my naturally ruffled feathers, (clearly no doubt that I really can be quite the spoilt princess) rather than someone leaving me feeling more anxious than usual and as though I had done something wrong, upset him, not asked him enough about his wife …. “Manners maketh man James” I wanted to remind him. I’m glad I didn’t.
I received an email a month later. James was dead.
Apparently only a few days prior to my speaking to him, he had been diagnosed with a brutal type of cancer, had a couple of weeks later gone in for surgery, and a few days following that, died from septicaemia.
I am ashamed to admit that at the age of 48 I still hadn’t learned to put aside my own self-obsessed thoughts and instead think and ask if he, James, was ok during that strange and final telephone call, rather than to focus, yet again on myself, my own feelings and me. Yes, me, me, me. I’m so, so sorry that I never stopped to think for a moment and ask.
We just never know what someone else is truly going through, do we?
I just remembered this and thought for anyone wanting a fresh start, it might help. It certainly helps with depression and anxiety! That’s for sure … just one drawer at a time …
Part 1 – Recognising The Problem
Very early on in my relationship I remember cooking lunch for The Colonel (my then boyfriend, now husband) and it was, as per usual, chaos ….
I recall him quietly observing the scene in front of him, looking at the wonky, dusty pictures with those little black thunder bugs that somehow find their way behind the glass, the piles of ironing that I had tried to hide behind the sofa, the pretty, distressed cream and rusty paperwork tray spilling its guts onto the work surfaces, the sink overflowing with every pot and pan and then, at me. What I had thought of as scatty and endearing was in fact to him, frighteningly chaotic.
“I think we have a problem” he said quietly …. Not exactly “I think we have a problem Houston” in a Tom Hanks sort of way, but in my little world, it was quite frankly as momentous as that. This could be ‘the deal-breaker’.
Now, some may say that he should have accepted me for who (or is it whom?) I was – The problem was, that I didn’t really like the person that I had become. I in fact wanted to change, but I simply didn’t know how or indeed where to start.
“Oh!” I said.
“Wait!” I said.
“I have a plan!” I said, by now rather excitedly. He was looking a little nervous, and annoyingly, somewhat unconvinced.
“You, my darling, gorgeous man are at one end of the organised spectrum, not saying that you’re, you know, anal or anything, God forbid! No, just seriously beyond tidy! And truth be told, that’s where I would like to be ….. not anal, obviously, and let’s face it that’s never going to happen in a month of Sunday’s.” I snorted with laughter at this and then remembered that this was no laughing matter, this was a serious, grown-up conversation, so carried in a more restrained fashion, perhaps even verging on an ‘eating humble pie’ sort of way “And I appear to be at the other end of that, um, particular spectrum.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Ok. Fair enough, I’ve completely fallen off the end of the scale into the big, black pit at the bottom,” I grudgingly admitted but then continued on with renewed gusto, “however, if you could shift just a teensy half a fraction up the spectrum towards me, would you help me get this all in order and start again? I NEED to do it. I WANT to do it. By the way however, nothing, I repeat nothing is to be colour-coded or chronologically ordered.”
I think I could see his lips twitch, but could have imagined it. “Where shall we start?” he asks.
Part 2 – The Process
We started with books. I had literally hundreds of wonderfully trashy romantic paperbacks, some fabulous history books, gardening books galore and the occasional self-help book (which I tried, and failed to hide). Most I’d read and some I hadn’t. They were all fairly battered, the majority being secondhand and of course covered in the habitual layer of dust. A bookshelf, emptied onto the floor, cleaned within an inch of its life and whilst it was empty, hoovered behind and underneath – that hadn’t happened since I’d moved in. Clearly the spiders had been very happy. Then, one at a time a good book would be dusted and put back on the shelf. A rubbish book, a book I’d never read and frankly never would, would go into a cardboard box and finally a pile of ‘I’m not sure books’ would sit beside me for a final decision at the end.
The start was difficult. The colonel was fantastically understanding and patient although from time to time had to pull out the odd Jackie Collins from under my jumper where I’d attempted to hide them. The first box was filled and then more and more as we worked through the house, through all the bookcases that I had inherited in the last forty-odd years. That’s a lot of books. That’s a lot of boxes.
The car was full and a trip to the charity shop ensued, double parked as we carried them in to the wide-eyed surprise of the volunteers there; perhaps they thought we’d robbed a library. Driving away, exhausted, very teary – an end of an era. A change. Scary. Getting back home ….. Dear God – freedom. Total freedom. Half empty shelves. Space. This is bliss. Exhilaration. I want more – I want more of this feeling. Laughter and pure joy. And so it began.
Some things were more difficult than others. It meant making decisions which was not my forte. But I can, in all honesty, say that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that I’m pining for or that I miss and wish I didn’t got rid of. Also, it’s incredible how quickly you forget what was actually there in the first place.
Slowly but surely I cleared up my little cottage. Some days it was just a case of clearing out one drawer. A kitchen drawer or cupboard. Just emptying it, cleaning and chucking out the tin opener that my mother gave me when I was a student but had gone a bit rusty, or the three chipped wine glasses that had gone cloudy, never matched and frankly I could buy a new set of four from Ikea for the cost of a cheap bottle of plonk if I really needed more. It was cathartic. It was therapy on a major scale. It felt so darn good.
I found my wedding list from my previous marriage, all the letters from the guests, everything to do with a marriage that was no more. Why was I hanging onto the past? I didn’t want my house any longer to be a shrine to the past. I wanted to move forward. Those were the more difficult days and once the colonel had seen I was on a roll, he left me to it, so I could spend as long as I wanted dealing with the past, putting it behind me, moving forward.
It was liberating. As the cupboards emptied, the nic-nacs on the tables and every visible surface became clearer too as I realised that it actually wasn’t necessary to cover every windowsill and table with ‘stuff’. More space and less stuff meant easier cleaning. Easier cleaning meant less time doing it, so more free time. More free time meant more time to organise and sort and clean … and, live. The more I did, the easier it became and the more I enjoyed it. It was like the endorphins that one gets from exercise. I was happy, very happy, very organised and had started afresh. I had finally moved away from the past and it was good, seriously good.
I’ll still use every pan in the kitchen when I’m cooking and sometimes the Colonel will ask why I have to have three lipsalves, a handful of hair bands and a tube of Crabtree and Evelyn hand cream in every room in yet another pretty little pot, and I’ll call him anal and he’ll call me an untidy, scruffy bugger and we move on, giggling and chatting as together we cook, and clean up ….
I’m sitting here with a large fresh juice, on a ridiculously comfortable sun bed on a ridiculously beautiful beach feeling as though I’ve simultaneously conquered Everest, become the next JK Rowling and saved the human race from drowning in a sea of plastic. In a nutshell, I’m feeling a teensy bit pleased with myself.
I have scuba dived, or is it dove … frankly I don’t give a hoot.
I was a mermaid. I was a mermaid for forty minutes on a coral covered reef surrounded by every imaginable and remarkably-coloured, shaped and sized species of fish, darting here and there, feeding, playing, whatever it is that fish do, whilst they were apparently oblivious to the presence of a couple of visitors in their habitat.
I knew it would test me. Suffering from anxiety, I knew there was a strong possibility of a panic attack or six. I knew that a panic attack under water would most probably be the end of my career as a mermaid. However, on a more positive note, if I was able to control this, I would indeed have conquered my very own Everest, to say nothing of being a superhero.
A video, a lengthy instruction in the pool, lots of information later and before I know it, I am perched on the side of the pitching boat, and being expected to just drop backwards into the sea. I understand that I am safe. I know the logic, I know the drill. But dear God!
It’s like that horrendous game where someone stands behind you and you have to fall backwards into their arms with the belief and trust that they will catch you. I’ve never done it and never will do it, trust not really being my forte. However, I am now having to believe in the knowledge I have been given, the experience of having done it in the swimming pool and I simply have to have faith in myself. Flippin’ marvellous.
Ordinarily, this would have been the perfect situation for a minor meltdown. However my instructor ‘buddy’ was waiting in the sea, my husband (aka the Colonel) was watching with a look of delighted anticipation and the other group of divers were waiting for me before they could go. No pressure then. I took one final look of unadulterated terror at the man helping me, and closing my eyes, holding my breath, (both completely unnecessarily of course) and dropped backwards into the heaving dark water.
Its quite a surprise really when you think you should be dead and in fact you’re most definitely alive. Kevin, my French (and alarmingly good looking) instructor was there, as promised, and I was apparently unharmed, also as promised. Quite extraordinary.
Together French Kevin and I made our way slowly down the line into the depths, with much stopping, starting, squeezing noses (well, really just mine) and sorting out of ears refusing to equalise, alongside trying to keep the emotion under wraps. Despite the multitude of shells with goodness knows what creepy crawlies living inside them and some rather slimy seaweed all attached to the line, I was not letting go. I was beyond getting squeamish over a few beasties … I was so out of my comfort zone I’d need a train, a plane and a bicycle to get me back, for I had bigger fish to fry … I had Betty the Demon to contend with.
Finally we reached the bottom where Kevin had previously explained that we would just sit for ten minutes to adjust. Without the task of equalising to focus on, the panic started almost immediately, roaring around in my brain wanting to take over. Betty the demon is screaming with laughter, heart racing, fear taking over, fear winning. I need to escape. I need to get up, get out. I am afraid. I am desperate. Panic has successfully gripped me by the throat and my shallow, fast breathing is making me nauseous, faint, hot …
Kevin’s hand touches my arm. I hold onto it tightly. He understands. He holds me and with his free arm indicates for me to look into his eyes and mimic his breathing. It is slow, it is controlled. In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly, repeat.
His unwavering stare is reassuring, but odd because it’s not the Colonel’s and he’s awfully close, but hell, right now he’s lucky I’m not sitting on his lap and clinging to his neck like a limpet (thank God for small mercies). My breathing is copying his rhythm, the panic is subsiding, Betty is stomping off, muttering obscenities at a lost opportunity to come back into my world and my head is starting to nod that all is getting better and I finally manage the O.K. signal.
I start to look around, I start to see the wonderful underwater world around me. And the more I look, the more I relax, and the more the breathing becomes normal. We head off, everything is slow and peaceful. Together, we point out the weird, the wonderful, the unutterably beautiful. We share the experience and though this is a normal event in his day to day life, he clearly expresses delight in showing me the glory of this unexplored world.
The corals, the constant movement, the peeping of eyes from deep within a crevice, the darting movements of the fish alongside an overall slow waving motion of the current moving everything in its path and of which one has no control, during which all you can hear is your breathing.
In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly.
This is mindfulness, this is real breathing, this is living in the moment.
The grinning Colonel was waiting for me. In truth, I don’t know which of us was the more exhilarated, the proudest.
And now the sun is dipping down over the horizon, the light is changing and the fishermen are moving slowly across the water in their narrow boats. What a day. Yes, what a day.
Have you scuba dived?
How did you cope? Did you find it easy or not? Any tips?
Taking the first steps outside of the aircraft and into the air, the heat and humidity lunged with full force into my body and lungs. A strange feeling of a pressurised osmosis raises my temperature within moments until there is simply clammy skin and a few damp tendrils of hair on my neck and a slightly unpleasant feeling of losing a little control.
For a day we walked around the city of extremes. The poverty was to be expected and yet when it is lying in front of you on the roads there is of course the instinctive want to put the world right, to scoop up the filthy naked babies and their parents from where they lie and give them some of what I, and so many of us, have.
There are families living in the dirt beside the crazy traffic, the men cooking over tiny fires whilst the women scrub at clothes in dirty buckets of water. A baby sleeps, her naked sister squats and urinates a short distance away whilst the boy plays in the dust with one broken toy. And what do I think? I think of my son’s old scooter left outside our house for the dustbin men to take away, just last week, in a sorting out of old toys and clothes. I think of the carelessness, the frivolity of our society, the excessive food, clothes and the throwaway mentality.
I see the stray dogs and cats; old, young, desperately thin and more often than not, injured. I think of the shameful cost of buying the latest most fashionable breed of dog in England. I see filth and chaos, the high rise buildings alongside the shacks, I smell the drains competing with the sweetness of frangipani, and whilst the senses are being attacked from every angle, I see two tiny barefoot women under a makeshift covering talking together.
The older one has her eyes half closed as she lies sprawled on the cracked concrete. The younger one fans her and as I pass, she looks up at me and grins widely, her lined face lighting up. “Welcome to Manila” she beams and waves a bony hand, never pausing from her fanning. I smile back at her, pause beside her, unsure, wanting to help, not wanting to offend, but she waves me on, the moment has passed and she is already chatting again to the woman, fanning away the flies from her face and making her more comfortable by creating the lightest of breezes on her skin.
And what do I wish for? I wish that in the future, in the dark days, I remember her; her smile, her dry, dusty, thin skin stretched taut over her fragile bones and I remember that my life is so very easy and sometimes it’s good just to keep a little perspective.
Make a commitment to yourself, your mind and body. Make a promise to put on those rose-tinted glasses that you once, where the world was a wonderful and happy place.
What have YOU done for your mental health today? Can you make this promise to yourself?
If you need them, take them. If they’re not working, change them. Your doctor is your friend – your job is together to find what works for you. And if the doctor doesn’t work, change them.
R. Re-setting The Thought Patterns
Go to therapy, talk to a psychiatrist, talk to a psychologist, learn about CBT and practise, practise, practise every day until your brain starts to ‘unlearn’ the bad habits and learn the good. It works.
Get outside, get some fresh air in your lungs and find the light. Just to let you know, bright moonlight gives you 1 lux, normal living room lighting gives you 100 lux, but being outside on a sunny day gives you 20,000 to 100,000 lux … monumental difference and we need it more than most.
Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, whatever you need to practise daily to start to control the anxiety .. Nb Don’t do the audio cds in the car. I nearly crashed I was so relaxed, and they keep telling you to close your eyes … enough said.
I. Instil proper eating habits
Invest in your body. Think you can live on processed food and feel good? Cooking is for everyone, for you and your family. If your own parents have brought you up on Macdonalds, crisps and ice cream, shoot them (Nb Yes that is a joke) or better still, educate them. If your mind and your body is out of sorts, it’s going to be even harder to get back on an even keel. (Ginger nuts don’t count as long as the whole packet isn’t eaten in one sitting.)
S. Social Interaction
Have a proper chatter and a natter with at least one other human being every single day. The dog does not count, neither does talking to yourself.
Whatever floats your boat as long as it raises your heart rate and gets the endorphins and dopamine kicking in. Find something, anything that you’re going to stick at.
Make the promise that you’re going to do this every single day and see through those rose-tinted glasses …
London is bathed in the comforting warmth of the spring sun and whilst the pavements are a multitude of light and dark stretched and tangled streaks from the dappled shade of the budding trees, the air is still. My son and I are walking towards another coffee shop to find somewhere to tap away the rambling nonsense which fills the fluffy void between my ears; I am feeling a wonderful sense of being able to breathe and relax and enjoy just this very moment in time.
The world isn’t perfect, parts of my past are black and painful, the future is of course unknown and yet …. and yet … at this moment I feel happy. I am loathe to point out the stain on my character for all and sundry to see, however, I must confess that it’s odd to feel happy when my default setting is the polar opposite.
“Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”
(As stated in the government Ministry Paper 28 relating to the Jamaican flag.)
The gold recalls the shining sun, black reflects hardships, and green represents the land. It was slightly altered in 1996, but for me, the simplicity of this statement sums up my state of mind … yes, there are hardships and troubles to endure, but the world is good right now and the future I hope is as rosy as it can be.
And what of you? Is your mind akin to the Jamaican flag or am I just barking mad?
My late mother’s beautiful clock was broken on our previous move, and despite a lengthy stay in the clock hospital, it never recovered. However, as I sit around the boxes stacked up high, I can hear a gentle ticking. And every half hour the beautiful ting, ting, tinging chime of mother’s clock can be heard from the depths of one of those boxes. The fact that it has got the hour completely wrong is immaterial and merely receives a raised eyebrow from the Colonel following a glance at his watch, and a smile from me.
Just the familiar sound of ticking is comforting. I have missed it, and the gentle, regular sound takes me back to my mother’s house and the peace and serenity that prevailed there. The safety and reassurance. The complete quiet, except the ticking of the clock.
So this is mindfulness! …. At last I understand it.
In a troubled world where nothing is certain and the future is a fictional imagining based on what we’ve worked for, what we hope for and a smattering of luck, sometimes the constancy and familiarity of a person or even a silly old clock ticking along in the background is not only soothing, but part of the multifaceted foundations essential for a balanced life.