40 and…?

Author’s Note: To celebrate my 40th birthday and to give this blog an update on my life, I intended to write a brief post to muse over the events of my thirties. It soon became obvious that I have too far much to say for a short post. So this is more of an essay. A long essay. I make no apologies for its length, but consider yourself warned. 

When I was 21, I saw a psychic for the first time. I took a dictaphone and recorded it onto one of those tiny little tapes, and spent hours painstakingly transcribing it into a notebook, back in the days when I still used a fountain pen. In my best handwriting, I’d written, among other things, ‘Everyone has a crisis. Either at 30 or 40. You’ll be a 30 person, but you’ll be sorted by the time you’re 40.’ Not much of what she told me made sense at the time, but gradually her predictions came true. A month after our psychic session, I did meet a guy in an RAF uniform, as she had predicted I would. Soon after we met, he brought me a rescue kitten, and five years later we got married.

At the age of 27, I began to feel an unease. I’d worked for the NHS for eight years, and put the unease down to being bored in my job. I want to go and work in HMV, I complained to my co-workers. I want a job where I can wear jeans to work. I did nothing to change my job or career, and the uneasy feeling increased.

At the age of 28, I was certain that if only I could find that elusive job I could be passionate about, then I would be happy. There were few jobs around back then, and I struggled to find jobs to apply for. I still harboured dreams of working amongst DVDs, but I needed a salary to match my NHS one. I was stuck.

At the age of 29, still working for the NHS, I began to think about what I seriously wanted out of life. The only dreams I’d ever had were to meet a man and get married, which I’d done, and to go and live in America. We’d spent two weeks in Orlando for our honeymoon, but I craved to see the West Coast. I decided that if I wasn’t going to be able to live in America, then I could at least have a decent holiday there. With my 30th birthday approaching, it seemed appropriate to plan a big trip to those big cities I’d only ever seen on TV and films.

I spent hours researching flights, hotels, things to do. I did nothing else. I became obsessed. My husband, who agreed to the trip initially, became reluctant to discuss it. For his 30th birthday, six months before mine, I’d booked a trip to Paris. I wanted to keep it a secret, but he worked weekends and that weekend between Christmas and New Year would definitely be one of the ones he would be asked to work. In November, I told him about the trip. He accused me of keeping secrets from him and stormed out of the house for hours, taking the dog. The vague uneasiness that had plagued me for more than two years was finally taking shape. We made up, and went to Paris, but continued to argue about the America trip. At one point I told him that if he didn’t want to go, I would go on my own. His answer to that was ‘you won’t even go to the Co-op by yourself’, which sadly was true, but I was determined I would go to the States. The realisation that I really would have gone by myself was an eye-opener for us both. The trip was eventually booked for September, two months after my 30th. Six days in LA, three in Vegas, three in San Francisco, and three in Seattle.

Despite his reluctance to the trip, we began to talk about the possibility of living and working in the US, and began to research it. Unfortunately, even in 2008, you couldn’t just board a plane with your belongings and set off to the land of the free. You needed visas, sponsorship. A job. We found that a university degree would help, so I started to look at courses. There was a business degree you could do, four years long which included a year working in the States. I started an application, but something was stopping me. I wanted a fun job, not some boring business job. In the end, I didn’t apply but my husband did. He got straight onto the course, which was due to start in September. We cut our US trip short, binning the San Francisco and Seattle portions. We were forced to still fly home out of Seattle, and spent a few hours there after arriving from sunny Vegas, trudging round my Frasier city in the rain. He hated it. I loved it.

At the age of 30, I was more determined than ever to live the American Dream. For us both to have degrees would still give us the best chance. At an open day, I talked to some lecturers of American Studies, and decided that’s what I wanted to do. It was a three-year course, and included a semester studying in the US. What can I do to prepare? I asked. Read, they said. I only read Agatha Christie back then. So I switched to American crime fiction.

In September, I started my degree. I was still working full-time in the NHS, who allowed me to work the time back that I spent at uni. We’d moved into town just before I started my course, to save money and make things easier for me to get around, since we were down to one car by then. I loved my degree, and set up a group for mature and postgraduate students so I could meet people closer to my own age, and provide support for those students of non-traditional age. I was happy, for the most part.

At the age of 31, in February 2010, I left my husband. It was quite sudden, and I’d told nobody of the unhappiness that had plagued me. Despite being unhappy for four years, I’d known for over a year and a half that my marriage was the problem, but I was in denial. When I eventually decided that I had to leave, it took me almost a year to get up the courage. He picked me up from work and I told him then. He was confused and angry, and after driving us around for a while dropped me at my mum’s house. She was on the phone to her other half for ten minutes before she started to wonder why I was in her kitchen, alone, on a work night. I’ve left him, I told my shocked mum.

As the tears finally fell, I felt nothing but relief.

The next ten months were difficult. My husband pursued a reconciliation, but for me it was too late. Six months after we’d split, a blossoming relationship on my part was ruined by his jealousy, and I began to wonder if he would ever let me go. I worked long hours to make up the time spent at uni, and was walking 7-8 miles a day, from home to work, work to uni and walking our dog. I organised countless social events for the uni group, and pushed hard to gain new members. I worked overtime at the NHS every Saturday to save money for my upcoming semester abroad. I weighed 8 stone 3.

At the age of 32, in January 2011, I had a nervous breakdown. Three days later I left my home city of Lincoln for Pennsylvania, USA.

I threw myself into small town life. I made new friends in fellow international students and teachers of foreign languages. The American students were reluctant to engage, with the exception of those who had studied abroad themselves. I’d had free reign to choose my classes, so I opted for three literature classes and a journalism class. My favourite by far was Women and Literature, and our professor, Judy Katz, wanted three written journals a week, based on the texts we were reading, one of which should be autobiographical. In reading stories of women in troubled times, I found my heroines, and the cathartic nature of the autobiographical journals provided a therapy on top of the counselling I was having from the school psychiatrist.

In March 2011 I returned to the UK to see my Nana, who was dying. She could barely speak now, and I told her ‘I know what I want to do now, Nana, I want to be a writer’. She replied, ‘I always wanted to be a writer.’ She died as my plane touched down in New York.

Back in Pennsylvania, my Nana’s death was a struggle. I was already on various antidepressants, and couldn’t focus on my essays. I had also planned to get a summer job and a work visa, but despite applying for publishing internships, I was offered nothing, and as the term ended, after four weeks of travelling around the US, I reluctantly returned home to the UK. I started back at my NHS job and moved in with my dad. Soon I found a house share with friends, and after two months handed my notice in at work. There was no way I could work full time and do uni, and I didn’t want a repeat of the previous year. Come November, I was well into my final year, but the lack of focus I’d experienced with my US assignments was back, together with my depression.

At the age of 33, I had suspended my studies. I started this blog, 33andlostinlife, a month later, in January 2012, as a way of documenting my life with depression and what I had dubbed ‘The Thirty-Something Crisis’. In March, I got a temp job, which I hated. Suspecting that I may be dyslexic, I had tests at uni. They were negative, but I was told that my depression could be affecting my studies.

At the age of 34, I started back at uni to take my second final year, with a renewed vigour, a study coach and other resources including equipment provided by the uni to help me study alongside my depression. It was still a struggle, and I gave up on my dream of achieving the first class honours that many of my fellow mature students did, but in May I handed in my final essay. Three days later I moved to London with Bish.

I lived in a house in Ealing with two people who had a combined aged of 160. I got a temp admin job a month later, and a month after that, attended the work summer party, a day before my birthday. I got drunk and one of the guys from my office walked me to the tube station. I collapsed in a heap on a quiet road on the way. I don’t want to be 35, I wailed through my tears.

Three months later I got made permanent at work, and left the elderly house-share to rent another flat in Ealing with a friend. The flat was nice, but required lots of work, and the constant need for workmen entering our flat, without consent, liaising with the agency to actually get work done, took its toll on us.  By the following May I had convinced my flatmate that we had to move out of the flat, and while she was moving in with her boyfriend, I was struggling to find somewhere to live with my then 14 year-old cat, Bish.  Moving day came, and a friend helped me pile my stuff (there was lots, including furniture) into a huge Luton van.  By the time we’d finished and cleaned the flat, the storage unit nearby had closed.  I had nowhere to move to, a van full of crap and an elderly cat.  I called my mum in Derbyshire.  I drove Bish and I the 150 miles north where we stayed overnight, offloaded a few smaller items, then drove back to London the following day. The van was unloaded into storage in Hangar Lane, and Bish was left at a cattery in Edgeware.  I booked myself into a B&B in Chiswick, close to work.

At the age of 35, I was homeless. Ok, not on the streets, but of no fixed abode, in a huge city where I had few friends, and those I had couldn’t offer me a place to stay.

My sole focus was to find somewhere for Bish & I, but all the places that allowed pets already had a cat, and the tenants wouldn’t take another. I stubbornly refused advice to rehome Bish, or to move back up north. I stayed at the B&B for two and a half weeks before money started to run out.  I spent three nights in different hostels sleeping on bunk beds before a friend I met through a mutual friend offered for me to take over his room in a flat in Twickenham.

It was very sudden and I could move in immediately, for which I was grateful.  My boss at work had commented that big bosses were getting concerned at my state of ‘homelessness’.  Arriving at work with a small suitcase day in, day out, will do that for you.

In the beginning, my new flatmate was ok.  He could see I was broken, and being a life coach, wanted to help me.  Soon, however, it became suffocating.  I would arrive home from work to a two-hour lecture on how different personal development ‘celebrities’ and strategies could help me.  I was shy as a child and grew up being unable to say what I really thought.  I struggled to leave these conversations, not wanting to be rude.  I started spending time in the pub after work, avoiding going home, and when I was at home, I would hide out in my tiny, cluttered room, which annoyed my flatmate even more, and the fact that I was so anti-social became a huge bone of contention with him.  But I just couldn’t cope.  I started social smoking, and buying packets of cigarettes to smoke on nights out. The day I bummed a cig off a guy from the IT helpdesk and found myself smoking it, stone-cold sober outside the office one cold November afternoon, was the day I really got worried, and stopped smoking there and then.

I found myself a new house-share in North London. It would be over an hour’s commute to my office in West London, and they already had one cat living there. I was unsure about the move, and my flatmate convinced me that we could work things out, that I shouldn’t run away from my problems. Paying too much heed to my doubts about the new place, I agreed to stay. Days later I knew I’d made a mistake.  Things got worse.

In December, I found a ground-floor studio with a garden on Gumtree and arranged a viewing. It was dark outside, so I couldn’t see much of the garden, and though the studio was small it had a bedroom and a separate kitchen with washing machine, and shower room. As I left the house to allow another viewer in, I waited around to have another look.  As I had suddenly realised, the back door was solid wood. There was one window, approximately 15cm x 30cm. The following day, I called the agency.  I’ll take it, I told her, if I can replace the door with a half-glazed one and fit a catflap.  The answer came back yes, if you buy it, the landlord will get it fitted.

At the age of 36, yet another moving day arrived. It was New Years’ Eve.  My friend came with her car to help me move. I’d dejunked a lot to the charity shop, but there was still a lot of stuff and it took two trips to get to my new place in Mitcham, on the London/Surrey border, a good 50 minute drive from Twickenham. My housemate and I argued as I moved out, and we screamed at each other in the street. When all my stuff was into the new place, my friend left, and I dived under my duvet, where I stayed for two days. The new door wasn’t to be fitted until after the new year, and I lay in bed, in the dark with barely any natural light, or in lamplight. Another January where I was physically and mentally broken.

I soon got used to my almost three-hour daily commute from the edge of Surrey to West London, using the time to write the occasional blog post.  I also started a dystopian novel, inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’d studied several times at university. I got to 25 pages of notes and actual words, before the idea faded.

I remained unhappy in the capital, despite having my own self-contained space. I still had few friends, and I began to dread the weekends that I’d often spend alone. Long bank holiday weekends were even worse. I was more lonely than I had ever felt before, and I hated my job. I applied for other things, and even did a few days’ work experience within the editorial team at my company. I enjoyed it, but it was obvious that I did not fit in. My efforts to pursue another chance to work with them failed, and I knew that if I wanted a writing job I was going to have to find it elsewhere.

The worst part about my time in London was my ‘love life’. Note I use the term loosely. I used dating sites to try and find my soulmate, and I kissed a lot of frogs. Some were nice guys, but it wasn’t meant to be. Some were the worst possible kind, and I wondered if I would ever meet someone who would love me.

After a few dates with one of the nicer ones that didn’t work out, I decided if I was serious about meeting someone, then I might have to put my hand in my pocket and pay, rather than using the free sites like Plenty of Fish and Tinder. I signed up for E-Harmony. Months went by, and though I completed a few of the questionnaires they like you to do with potential dates, nothing led to an actual conversation.

In September, my dad and his other half visited me for the day. Dad told me that he was gifting me some money. Enough for a deposit on a house, should I choose to buy one, though not in London, of course. A fellow Northerner in London had been trying to convince me to move back Oop North for almost the whole time I’d lived in London (he was there on the moving day when I became homeless), and suddenly I began to see that I could have a life outside London. I’d owned property years before in Lincoln, when I was married but had seen the money we’d made from our house going up in price go down the drain on debt. I hadn’t ever wanted to own a house again, but suddenly I was tempted. I gave myself six months to find a job in the North. I wanted to live in Sheffield, close to my Mum, but looked at jobs as far away as Leeds and Nottingham. I changed the location on my E-Harmony profile to Sheffield.

Another New Year’s Eve came and went, and I had a quiet one staying at my Mum’s. On New Year’s Day, I checked E-Harmony and found the profile of a guy I liked who lived in Derby. I tried to send the questionnaire to him, but although I was fully connected to the internet, it wouldn’t go. Being a believer in signs, I took it to be a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. The following day, before I returned to London, I took another look at his profile, and deciding to stuff the signs, re-sent the questionnaire. We spent 24 hours sending questions back and forth before having an actual written conversation via their messaging service. We had lots in common, and arranged to meet a few weeks later, in London.

At the age of 37, on our second date in London, Chris became my second proper boyfriend and I, his girlfriend.

I had interviews for two jobs at the University of Nottingham, one in the International Office, and didn’t get either. With the deadline I had given myself for my move approaching and no new job, but my Dad offering Bish and I a place to stay in Lincoln, I suddenly handed in my notice at work and on my flat, and on Sunday 13th March 2016, my brother and his fiancée drove a van to London and helped me move back up north.

I got a temp job through an agency, ironically back in my old department at the NHS, and spent the weekends visiting my boyfriend in Derby. Arriving back in Lincoln one Sunday, I found Bish on my bed, and suddenly became aware of something moving on him. I called for Dad, and we found him riddled with ticks. Bish had missed his litter tray (as he was prone to) and hit the back door mat, and Dad had put him out in the garden. He’d spent all day under the conifers, and the tick invasion had begun.

It took several trips to the vets to cure him of the horrid things. They were everywhere, all over, even in between the toes of his paws. It put a great strain on my relationship with Dad, the stress of a poorly cat confined to my bedroom, me sleeping on the sofa. Inviting my boyfriend to stay without asking Dad was another contentious issue; I was 37 and this was my home, what had been my childhood home. I didn’t understand why I had to ask for permission. Wasn’t Dad happy that I finally had a boyfriend? I’d never had boyfriends when I lived at home before, as I had bought my own house at 21 before I met my first boyfriend, the man who would become my husband. I came to understand that Dad just wanted to be respected, and was struggling with sharing the space he’d had to himself since he and my mum had split over 10 years previously. Instead of asking Chris to visit I took to going to Derby for weekends, with Dad agreeing to look after Bish.

Chris was due to be made redundant in the July, and our plan had been to move to Sheffield together. He was worried about moving to a new city so soon after losing his job, and I was desperate to leave Lincoln, so I suggested we get a place together in Derby first. We found a house which had a smell so bad ten tramps might have lived there, but it had a cat flap, so we took it. The landlord painted and changed carpets, and by the time we moved in it was fresh and just about odourless.

We moved in at the end of June, and I struggled to get a job. I didn’t want to go back to the NHS, and was quite fussy about the kind of work I would do. In August, I started writing a crime novel, based around a woman at a university in Lincoln investigating her friend’s death. I wrote solidly for three days, but then I found a temp job that I couldn’t turn down, because we needed the money. The writing was abandoned for a while, but towards the end of the year I started taking a notebook to work, and wrote notes on my novel during my lunch breaks. I didn’t do any actual writing, just made notes.

On 2nd March 2017, I attended an author event with a crime writer in Derby. I loved attending book events, finding them inspirational for my own writing. At the end of the talk, I checked my phone. One missed call from my brother. I would call him back after I got my book signed. I waited in line, and when my turn came spoke to the author about my writing as she signed the book. Excited and inspired, and with signed book in hand, Chris and I prepared to leave. I checked my phone. One more missed call from my brother. It’s probably nothing important, I thought, and the one thing that was on my mind was that I’d been to so many book events and regretted not getting a photo with the author. I decided to queue again, handing Chris my phone and asking him to take a pic. I was the last one in the queue, and the author graciously allowed me a photograph. I thanked her, and got ready to leave. You had one more missed call from your brother while you waited, Chris told me. I now had three missed calls, and a sinking feeling in my stomach. I called my brother as we dashed out of the book shop.

My Dad had collapsed and been admitted to hospital, my brother told me. We ran the ten minutes home, pushed a spare key through the letterbox of a friend so they could feed Bish, and I drove at warp speed to Lincoln, usually a good hour and a half’s drive, but at that time of night we made it in an hour and ten. We arrived at Lincoln County Hospital A&E, and ten minutes later the consultant told us that my dad had suffered a brain haemorrhage. Dad could go to Nottingham to have some treatment but this would likely leave him dead or brain damaged, so we made the decision to switch off the machines. He never regained consciousness and two days later, he died.

At the age of 38, I lost my dad.

I took two weeks off my temp job while I stayed in Lincoln to make arrangements for the funeral. Chris and I decided to bring our move to Sheffield forward, and left Derby at the beginning of May instead of July.

On my dad’s birthday, 20th June, I attended another author event in Lincoln, this time with crime writers Mark Billingham and John Connolly. They were funny and inspiring, and though I asked them a question during the talk, at the signing afterwards I took the opportunity to ask them for writing advice. I was buoyed by the fact that John remembered me from when I had interviewed him several years earlier for a radio show I worked on during my time at uni, and so I told them I had started a novel, what now? John’s advice? Finish it. This really struck me.  Mark’s advice? Find an agent (at this point I had no idea about the submission to publishing process so this was also a huge help).

At the age of 39, two months after my chat with John and Mark, I finished the first draft of my first novel. I was elated, mostly because I had finished something, and had written 80k words in two months. Seven years after I started creative writing, I had finished a novel. Of course, as I would discover, it was far from being finished. Chris offered to give me feedback, and while he read it, I made a start on another book, a first-person psychological thriller.  I got 30k words in, then shelved it so I could focus on submitting the first novel. I had previously made the changes Chris had suggested before choosing the agents I wanted to submit to. On 12th December I made my first submissions. Six days earlier, I had found out I was pregnant.

Christmas came and went, and for once January was a happy time, despite the onset of morning sickness. I started to receive rejections for my novel, and found myself struggling to write and edit during the morning sickness, which lasted until the middle of March. Immediately after the morning sickness came the lack of sleep with my increasing bump, and the time of year combined with the pregnancy and the rejections led to a very unproductive time. I worried that I had lost my ability to write, so soon after finding it. I worried that I wouldn’t get it back, and that I wouldn’t ever write another book.

A friend offered to put me in touch with a crime book club who would be happy to read my novel and offer some feedback. I was grateful for the opportunity to have strangers read my work. The first piece of feedback came, and this person was gripped by the story. They offered a few changes but nothing major. The second piece of feedback, however, was not so good. The reviewer wanted to give up after 20 pages but felt obliged to the person that had asked them to read it. Their review was awful, and I was picked up on things that I didn’t even understand, such as split infinitives and gauche scenarios (I needed a dictionary for both). They called my main character a bimbo. That hurt the most. My character was basically me, and while my character herself acknowledged that she wasn’t the cleverest person at her fictional university, I felt she had some smarts. That was inspired by my own thirties, in which I realised I didn’t know as much as I thought I did in my twenties, and I was ok with that. But now I was faced with being told: you don’t know as much about writing as you think you do. That hit me hard and made me doubt whether I knew enough about writing to actually write.

I couldn’t re-read the person’s feedback, but I tried to make changes and even planned to make the sequel, which I’d made a start on, the first novel in the series, bringing the events from the actual first novel into the second book. But my mojo had gone, and I had serious doubts about writing again.

That was until I read a new thriller, Sticks and Stones, by Jo Jakeman, a Derby-based writer who I’d met a few times at book events in Derby. I loved the story, and when I finished it late at night, I desperately wanted to write again. I remembered about my own shelved thriller, and the next day set about writing. I’d been unemployed since October, after a few weeks temping and a bad interview experience for a permanent NHS job had left me in need of more time off. I spent the next month finishing the thriller, and soon I had my another completed first draft. Despite my own doubts, I had finished another first draft, and pulled myself back from the brink of giving up on my dream of writing. As we speak, the novel is undergoing edits following feedback from beta readers, and is being prepared for submission to agents.

My thirties have been a journey. I went into them not sure of where I wanted my life to go. One by one my dreams have disappeared: a failed marriage, the realisation that I’ll probably never get to live in the US (though given current events I’m not sure I’d want to now), the desire to find a job I’m passionate about. My late thirties also gave me a new way to look at life. It’s short, and that may be a cliché but when one of your parents is gone so suddenly, at the age of 65, you realise how very fragile life can be. I don’t want to die, and I certainly don’t want to die before I feel satisfied with my life. I want to make my parents proud, even though one is no longer here.

My thirties have given me new dreams, ones I can actually touch and turn into reality. I’m 37 weeks’ pregnant, living with the man I love, a creative-type, just like me, who knows what depression is and how support is so very important to getting through it. We’ve given a happy home to our ageing Bish, who is now 18.  I’m excited to be a mother, just as Chris is excited to be a father, and we’re determined that we will both show our daughter that it’s possible to follow your dreams. I’ve completed two novels, one of which I’m actively working on getting out there. The other, I hope to go back to someday soon. I’ve had ideas for other books, which I’ll work on once our baby girl is willing to give me some time to write.

At the age of 40,  I am happy. At last.

A year after I first saw her, I tried to find the psychic lady who told me about The Thirty-Something Crisis. Unable to reach her by phone, in a Tom Hanks’ Big-esque trip to her home, I was told she doesn’t live here anymore. No forwarding address. Perhaps it’s for the best I never saw her again. She could see into the future in a way I never could.

It’s our experiences that make us who and what we are. There is so much about the last 13 years I would change, if I could, but there’s also lots that I would keep. Sometimes you have to go through shit to find the good stuff, to recognise the amazing guy, to realise that you don’t want a copywriting job, that you want to write stories. That weekends are meant to be enjoyed, not dreaded. That big cities are not always the place of dreams, that sometimes to be surrounded by a smaller city full of trees with a view of the Peak  District from your back window will do so much more for you.

If you’re unlucky enough to go through a Thirty- or Forty-Something Crisis, take some relief in the hope that it does get better. If you are lost, you will be found, but remember that the best person to find you, is yourself.

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Life Sweet Life

I wake this morning to the sound of my iPhone.  The alarm is going off, as it does every weekday at 7am.  I press snooze, my head hits the pillow and I get another nine minutes of lovely sleep, before it goes off again, and I tap my phone to silence it.  After the fourth time of snoozing, I decide it’s time to open my eyes properly and attempt to prepare myself for the task of getting up.

As I reach to unplug my phone, flat on the sheet beside my pillow, Bish stirs next to me, and I stroke his head gently.  Morning B, I say, as I hold my thumb on my phone’s thumbprint identification system, and it unlocks without me having to enter any security password.  I check my emails first, scrolling through the fifteen or so that have arrived since I closed my eyes to sleep.  I read only the four job emails, of which there is nothing of interest, and I delete them straight away.  I close down my emails and go straight to the next app of my morning routine, Facebook.  As I look at my news feed, Facebook informs me that I have MEMORIES TO LOOK BACK ON TODAY, and the first memory I see is from 14 June 2014.  It contains a photo of actress Sarah Connelly in the film, Labyrinth, and was a Facebook post in which I shared what turned out to be one of my most popular blog posts: Homeless Sweet Homeless.

I click on the link and read the post nostalgically and with pride, as I do when I read any of my blog posts.  I am reminded that this post was written two years ago, when I had moved out of a flat in Ealing, but hadn’t yet found a suitable place for me and Bish to move to.  I am reminded that during this time I had stayed with friends and in a B&B.  I am reminded that Bish at the time was in a cattery in Edgeware, and my stuff was in storage in Hangar Lane.  I am reminded that I had dejunked 12 bin bags full of crap to the charity shops, and sold almost all of my furniture to people via Gumtree.  I am reminded of the difficulty I was having in finding something within budget and pet-allowing.  I am reminded that I was encouraged, but resisted, to re-home Bish.  I am reminded that I was able to write a blog that included one of my favourite childhood films.  I am reminded that I have not written a blog in many many months.

I have thought about it, occasionally.  There is certainly a lot to update you on.  But the self-doubt part of me has heard my blog voice in my head, and cringed, and any thoughts I have had of writing it again have dissipated.

Having thought about it all day, I just re-read all my blog posts from 2016, and I am surprised to find there are actually five published this year.  It is so long since I blogged that I have forgotten that I published any at all since the new year started.  I am pleased to see that one of the five is a short story, a piece of fiction I wrote on my commute one day.  This reminds me that I am capable of writing fiction, not just blog posts, and that on rare occasions I have even managed to put it out there for people to read, not just to resign it to a notepad or in the notes pages of my phone.  I am encouraged by what I have read, and it sparks something in me, in my desire to write, to put words on paper, even a virtual page.  Two years after a blog about being homeless, and I am determined to make today the day I start blogging again.

So here it is, a post, as yet, untitled.  So what have I been doing when I’ve been not writing?  Well a lot has changed.  Back in September 2015, I made the decision to move back up north.  You’ll know if you have read previous posts that it was something that had been suggested to me by a friend during my time in London, but for reasons that seem beyond me now, I could not face.  I had clung onto the idea that my future was in London for a long time, but I had to face up to the reality that I was treading water in an expensive, lonely city, and not progressing in any way, shape or form.  I spent five months applying for jobs in the north, but not even being shortlisted for anything dampened my spirits.  I had given myself six months to find something and set myself a deadline of the end of March to leave.  As the middle of February approached and I was faced with two lengthy trips back home at the end of February and the middle of March for family birthdays, and two sets of travel and cattery costs, and I decided enough was enough, and after a few day’s thought, handed my resignation in at work and gave notice on my flat.  My dad had kindly offered me my old room back, and it meant that Bish and I could move back to Lincoln while I saved enough money to move onto Sheffield.

After saying goodbye to the few good friends I had made in London, on 13th March, Bish and I moved back to my childhood home in Lincoln.  The relief of being away from the capital was increased at the sight of fields from my bedroom window, and while I knew Lincoln was only a temporary residence, I knew the move back north was the right thing for me and Bish.

After leaving my job in London, I had intended to find temp work here, but because I was only planning on being here 1-3 months before moving on again, I was told there was very little in the way of short-term temporary work.  However, the agency offered me the opportunity to go back to my old department in the NHS, at a much lower rate of pay.  Reluctantly, in order to save money to move, I took the job.  While I was gutted at having to take a drop in pay yet again, the work was easy, and more importantly, I was surrounded by friends, people I had known and worked with for many years.  I relished my new commute, one that took 25-30 minutes door to door, half of which I was able to walk or ride a bus alongside beautiful fields, instead of my former 60-90 minute London commute where I’d be in busy train carriages or running across the footbridge at Britain’s busiest train station, Clapham Junction.

Bish has settled into life in the north although it hasn’t been easy for him.  Not long after we moved, he spent a day sleeping under the conifers in my dad’s garden, and a few days later, I returned from a weekend away to find him covered in ticks.  While dad and I removed the ones we could see over the next few days, it soon became clear that it would take a specialist.  We took him to a local vets and it turned out he was riddled with them.  After undergoing a multiple trips to the vets, with two lots of sedation and a hell of a lot of tricky tick removal, he is now clear of the little bastards, but it was a very stressful few weeks for all of us.

I’ve been in Lincoln for just over three months now, and in less than three weeks Bish and I will be moving on again.  In order to tell you about our next move, I need to tell you about the biggest change in my life, which happened at the beginning of this year.  Yes, after all those years of searching, I finally met a kind, caring, supportive and absolutely wonderful man who fills my heart with joy.  Online dating finally paid off, and it was worth putting my hand in my pocket, as I met my guy on e-Harmony.  After endless messages, it soon became clear that we were very well matched, and our mutual love of charity shops, board games, books and 80s films, created a foundation for our two creative souls to build a relationship.  Six months later and I am happier than I have ever been, and I know that he was worth waiting for.  So, mine and Bish’s next move is to Derby, where my boyfriend lives, and I can’t wait.  It’s been great staying with my dad, but I’m looking forward to having my independence back, to live with my boyfriend, in a decent size house, not a room, a place where Bish can enjoy the run of, and where he has his own cat flap, out into the garden where he can relax on a summer’s day (and not a conifer in sight!).

Finding love hasn’t made all my problems go away, but having someone by my side who understands depression, and is supportive and there for me at the times when I do fall apart, has made the transitional period so much easier.

So in just over two weeks I’ll make another move, to another new place in which for me to re-invent myself.  I think back to two years ago, when I had no fixed abode, and no idea what the future held.  I still don’t know what the future holds, but I know it contains a loving relationship with someone who thinks the world of me and Bish, and for whom the feeling is mutual (from me and my cat).  And if being homeless taught me nothing else, it showed me that I can cope with what life throws at me, and I can live to tell the tale.

I think it’s true to say you don’t know what is round the corner, and you never know when your life will change.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but always for a reason.  And even the bad things can give you inspiration, when you look back upon them and can say: I survived that.

 

Come Rain Come Shine

Standing in the pouring rain under my umbrella the other day, waiting for my train to come, I contemplated the weather.  Saturday was boiling hot, but most of this week the rain has poured.  Today it looks like it is going to be sunny (and my iPhone confirms no rain forecast, which is good because my already-broken umbrella can’t take much more). 

My mood, like the weather, has been up and down lately.  The week before last, it was down, down, down. Trouble at work saw me in tears (at work) almost every day, and of course at home.  Last week was much better.  Some tears, but none at work.  

Why the sudden turnaround?  Well, the same reason it has always been. Last week I spent my evenings talking to a guy, having spent most of the Sunday chatting on the phone and via video Skype after meeting online.  

Last week the work issues that had been so predominant became less so, and my good mood was eased by having someone to look forward to chatting to in the evenings.  

We made tentative plans to meet Sunday, but of course I didn’t hear from him after Friday lunchtime.  Friday night and Saturday I had my own plans, so I didn’t think about it too much, knowing that we would finally be meeting on the Sunday.  The beautiful hot weather on Saturday lifted my mood even higher.    

But Sunday everything came crashing down.  Tentative plans are not good for me.  If I am supposed to have plans but they don’t materialise (with anyone, not just men) then I will find it hard to think about doing anything else.  As I woke up Sunday and checked my phone, I was disappointed not to see a message from him.  Determined not to be the one doing the chasing, I refrained from messaging him.  

But as the rain poured down outside, so did my mood, and I spent almost the whole day in bed.  Not that I have much choice in this matter anyway; my studio flat has one main room which has a double bed in it and not much else.  

At around 5:30pm, I finally sent a quick hi, which of course was ignored.  

Today I feel embarrassed and humiliated, for believing that a few conversations could have been the start of something.  But in my five years’ experience of Internet dating, this should be nothing new. 

I think the biggest realisation for me, was that no matter what I do to lift myself up, I will always let men drag me down further.  Last Friday I was so happy to have written a new blog post.  But the joy I felt was not as great as the low I suffered after a man I spent less than a week talking to decided he no longer wanted to chat.   

I know I have issues with both men and self-esteem, the two having been linked for most of my life.  I know that I need to put more effort into making my life what it should be, so that I can be happy alone, or at least get to a point where I don’t suffer as much at any kind of rejection from a guy. 

Today I was at risk of a really bad mood bringing me down.  Thoughts of another man who rejected me earlier this year still too raw, when I should be over it by now.  The bright sunshine has, ironically, watered down my bad mood and I feel calm stood on the platform with my coffee (it’s payday) at Clapham Junction’s Platform 6.  I have my broken brolly with me, a mirror of my broken heart, and a weapon to fight the bad weather.  I’ll buy a new one in the next few days.  An umbrella, that is.  My broken heart can’t be replaced the way my umbrella can, but perhaps I can take some inspiration from the fact that you can fight the rain with a broken umbrella, and you can fight future heartbreak with a broken heart. 

The Power of 15,000 Views

Today I hit a milestone with my blog: 15,000 views. I have published, since January 2012, 234 blog posts (this one, assuming it makes it into the “published posts section” will be 235). I know that I haven’t written anything for a while. I’m not going to make excuses for myself, other than the fact there’s been a lot going on; mostly in my head, which has resulted in more sleepless nights than I care to admit.

235 blog posts and I still feel lost in life. I feel the frustration of having spent four years at university only to end up doing the same job as I did for 12 years before that. Except now I’m not making sure cancer patients get their diagnostic tests and treatments on time. Now I make sure the relatively wealthy get their Michael Kors handbag or their Jimmy Choos without too much of a delay. Maybe this is the reason I can’t take my job too seriously.

But it’s not all bad. Last Friday I attended a free journalism workshop, a taster session for a journalism Diploma I’m considering doing in the new year.

I feel the sadness at spending another Christmas alone, or rather, without that special person in my life. Christmas adverts, like the latest offering from department store John Lewis, make it clear that love is the ultimate goal at Christmas time. Like Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang in December 1984 and earning its place on all good future Christmas compilation albums, “love is the light scaring darkness away”. I have to admit I could do with some light in my life right now.

But it’s not all bad. This year, I won’t be physically alone. I’m making sure I spend Christmas Day with people who care about me.

I feel the pressure of being overweight, of having a balloon-sized stomach caused by food intolerances, of having bad acne at the age of 36, of stress causing my scalp to flake and scab.

But it’s not all bad. My skin is clearing up, albeit slowly, and I had a hair cut at the weekend which saw three inches of my beloved locks on the salon floor. But I look in the mirror and I see a new me, and I see at least a physical change where I struggle to make those mental ones.

2014 has been a tough year. I’m still struggling to find my place in this city, in this life. Right now I have so many physical afflictions that I can barely look at myself in the mirror. But it’s not all bad. Because tonight I wrote another blog post, and as long as I can write, I know that I’m on the right path. I may not have had much inspiration lately, but tonight I was motivated by the 15,000 views on my blog, because it means that people are out there reading what I have to say. I could lie and tell you I write for myself, which is partly true, but like most bloggers, I write because I want people to read it. I want to inspire, to amuse, to entertain, to sadden. I want people to know they are not alone in what they may be going through. The Thirty-Something Crisis, or The Mid-Life Crisis, or The Quarter-Life Crisis, at whatever age it occurs, is not kind. It treats everyone differently, and knows no mercy. This is my journey through it, and I thank you for keeping me company during these dark nights and not-so-bright days.

The Power of Love – Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)

John Lewis Christmas Advert (2014)

Them Clothes Are Staying On!

You know when you hear a song and when you see the singer for the first time they completely surprise you? That happened to me today with Jermaine Stewart.

We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off to have a good time, uh-huh, it seems was sung by a man, as evidenced by his Movember contribution in the music video.

I always thought it was a female who sung it, which leads me to a very interesting conclusion. That there are men out there who do not want to get you naked on the first date.

While a quick Google search shows me that I would not have been Jermaine’s type, mainly due to the lack of a certain body part, it is still refreshing to hear any kind of man insisting that there is no need for clothing removal in order to have fun.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I’ve jumped into bed far too quickly too often, which usually kills any chance there may be of a relationship blossoming. Next time I meet someone, I’ll bring Jermaine’s song out as Exhibit A, and if they don’t like it, We Don’t Have to Care, to Move On.

We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off – Jermaine Stewart (1986)

Spring Forward, Fall Back

I just looked at the last post I wrote which was Friends Without Benefits, on the 15th October. Eleven days ago. I’m sure you’re all wondering what has been happening in those eleven days, so I’ll do my best to fill you in. As you’ll remember, I blocked my male friend on Facebook and What’s App, which was hard but a necessary enforced separation for me.

Spring forward.

It took him almost a week, but once he realised what I’d done and he read that last blog, he sent me a very heartfelt email. He understood the reasons why but still felt hurt that I hadn’t explained to him before cutting him out of my life completely. That is one of the downsides of this blog; while I may have posted a blog about what is happening in my life, how I feel, what has happened, sometimes I forget that not everyone reads my blogs, or just because I’ve written a blog it doesn’t mean that is the end of the conversation.

His email ended with the offer of friendship, should I really need it, and the hope that we would one day become friends again. He also said that he would respect my wish for distance, and after the email would not contact me again.

I suppose I should have expected him to react rather than just go along with it. Unfortunately for me, the arrival of his email coincided with the monthly work pub quiz. I read it during my first pint, but two pints and two large glasses of red wine later meant that I did what comes naturally to me when sober. I called him. Two drunken voicemails later, he called me back, a conversation which somehow lasted 55 minutes.

Mostly it was me crying and him talking, I don’t even really remember everything that was said. I do know however that one conversation opened up the floodgates again.

Fall back.

The few days after that all I wanted to do was call him, to talk to him again. Not to let him go. Not to go back to that horrible separation that left me feeling so alone. I did call once but it went to his voicemail. He tried to call back but by then I had started to regret the call, so I didn’t return it.

Every so often I get a pang of longing for our friendship, especially when I get stressed, which happens a lot lately. But I know that there is no other way it can be. The distance is helping. Although today is the one day of the year that you can turn back time (at least in the UK), there is no turning back time for this relationship. The foundations are crumbling because we tried to build them using different materials; he used friendship, I used friendship mixed with hope and that hope is what brought about the deterioration of those foundations. Perhaps in the future once all the hope is gone I can bring something that will solidify those foundations for good. Until then, I will do what I can to live my life without him.

Spring forward, fall back. Hurt is a necessary cog in the clockwork of life. The hurt may push you back, but in it you find a way to move forward again. Like the clocks that go back and forth twice a year, the action of one completes the other.

Friends Without Benefits

I have written before about how Billy Crystal was right about men and women not being able to be friends, and how he was right. Well, in case you wondered, he is still right.

Recently I parted ways with a male friend after I finally decided I couldn’t deal with just being friends. It started out with a sort of agreeing to not talk or meet up. We still stayed Facebook friends, and he would like statuses or pictures I shared, and every time his name popped up on my notifications my heart skipped a beat, knowing he was still there. It became though that I would open up Facebook to look for likes from him.

On Saturday, I was making lunch when I had this sudden urge to unfriend him on Facebook. I get these feelings sometimes, you could call it a kind of sixth sense, an intuition which is trying to tell me something, and in fact has happened with him on more than one occasion. It also happened with the last guy I was really into; I dreamt that he left his wife and was seeing someone else just a week before I approached him to find out where I stood with him. Of course, he had left his wife and was seeing somebody else, and wondered why this crazy girl was sat in his office asking whether anything was ever going to happen between them, when “nothing had happened”. He was right, of course, nothing had. But he had given me a tiny bit of hope some two years before, and believing that he was my soulmate, the one I was supposed to be with since I was 12, I had gripped that hope so hard for so long my knuckles were white. I couldn’t let go until I was far away, in a place that didn’t remind me of him. A place where I could move on. But I didn’t move on, not really. Because a few months before I had that conversation with him, the first face-to-face conversation we’d ever had, I had met the man I truly believed was “the one”. And that guy was my male friend.

We met on a dating website on Christmas Eve. A few days later, we had a wonderful first date over coffee, and I remember how he kissed me for the first time, and told me how he wasn’t disappointed at all in meeting me. It’s funny how I remember him saying that. Perhaps it’s because internet dating is full of disappointments, and I’ve had so many unsuccessful dates since that I cherish that one date where the guy was so positive about meeting me.

Anyway, less than a month later and it was over, and though we made an agreement to stay friends, we didn’t live nearby so our friendship was mainly limited to the occasional game of Words with Friends. It wasn’t until we both found ourselves living in London that we really spent more time together. Too much time really; a lack of other friends and direction in life for both of us chained us together. I poured my heart out to him about all my problems living in London, over living situations, work stresses, even disastrous dates. He was always there for me, offering advice and a shoulder to cry on. It became more than that for a while, although it was nothing more than friendship and sex. But very amazing sex, certainly the best I had ever had. But that came to a stop when I had to admit that I harboured feelings for him, feelings that he could not return. Once again we still remained friends, and I clinged to the hope that one day he would realise that I was the one he loved, the one that was stood right before him. He was only supposed to be in London for a year before moving back up North. As the end of the year approached, I started to feel panic that he would leave without me, and I would have to face up to the fact that he still didn’t have feelings for me. It started affecting me in a big way. But then his contract got extended by two months and he started talking about staying in London. And panic was once again replaced by hope. And this time the hope was big.

But hope was not enough. Because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to face the facts. That he didn’t feel that way about me. Whether he stayed or not, it was becoming time to face reality. Sadly, this realisation coincided with him meeting somebody else. And I realised that I had been so wrong, because he had never felt about me the way he did about her.

Back to Saturday. As I opened Facebook to unfriend him, a photo came up that he had shared. One of those stupid memes like the ones I myself have been sharing lately. And this one made me mad, so I made a snotty comment. He made one back, then I made another. Twelve words later, and I had unfriended him over handbags. And I found myself wondering why I hadn’t listened to my intuition and just unfriended him in the first place, before our already fragile relationship could deteriorate further.

Since then, I have been ok. Mostly. I still think of him though, and worse, I think of him with the girl he has met.

Last night he sent me a message on What’s App, asking how the flat hunting was going. I replied, he wished me luck, and I replied thanks. But today I have found myself checking What’s App, seeing when he was last online, hoping for another message from him. And I realise how hard this separation process is going to be. Because I have to be the one to walk away. Staying friends is not an option. Facebook friends is not an option. What’s App friends is not an option. So with a heavy heart I stop writing this blog to block him on What’s App.

Enforced distance is the only way I can get over this. They say absence makes the heart grow stronger, but I disagree. Absence makes you forget. It numbs the pain. And removes all traces of hope.

I listen to the heavy rain outside, and know the same rain pours in my heart. I have lost a friend because I can’t deal with the pain of feelings unrequited. The friend who always offered me an umbrella when it rained. Now it pours, and it is all I can do to stop myself getting soaked to the bone.

How Am I Supposed to Live Without You – Michael Bolton (1990)

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