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.

 

I Survived the Weekend…and Lived to Blog About It

Some of you may by now have read last night’s post, Weekend in the Wilderness, and probably thought it to be my most negative so far since I started back at 33andlostinlife in August.  You’re not wrong, because I totally agree with you.  But you know why the negative blogs are so important?  Because they allow me to speak about what I’m going through.  

After such a shitty weekend I feel ready to face the week ahead.  Which is surprising since the last few weeks at work have been some of the most stressful for quite a while.  Today I made it to the train with straight hair and a full face of make-up, bar the lipstick which I’ll add once I finish this blog.  This, while it might not sound like much, is a huge achievement for me, having lately favoured the au naturelle leave-the-house-without-make-up-and-wet-hair-in-order-to-spend-longer-in-bed-look.  I get compliments when I leave my hair as it is (wavy, the result of three perms as a teen) but I feel far from happy with this look and cringe every time I have to look in the mirror.  When my hair is straight and sleek is when I feel comfortable.  With regards to make-up, I always apply it by the time I reach work, although I’m sure this isn’t always appreciated by fellow passengers on the 8:41 to London Victoria.  

So how do I actually feel today?  I’m tired, and didn’t sleep well last night.  The sleep I did get was interrupted by bizarre dreams.  But I feel like I made it.  I survived the weekend and lived to tell the tale.  

As Suicide Prevention Awareness Week draws to a close, I feel this is an important statement to make.  Do not misunderstand me, I had no thoughts at all this weekend of ending my life.  But there have been times in the past when I have thought what is the point of going on.  If this is life then I don’t want to live like this.  There have been times when I could not stand with my toes just over the yellow line here at Platform 6 as I’m doing now, because the idea of throwing myself in front of the next train has been too prominent.  But this is not one of those times.  

I have always had a strength within me, and I know this because if it were not true, I say with certainty that I would not be here now.  But I want to live to see my life happy; to see my passion for writing realised, to have a job I enjoy (if that is not to be a writing job), a home that I love, and a soulmate who will be there in both the good and bad times.  So don’t worry, I plan to be here a while yet.  

My family and friends may find this hard reading and for that I ask your forgiveness.  But the purpose of this blog was always to educate people in what it’s like to live with depression, as well as to provide me with a form of therapy.  Living with depression is not always a happy tale.  But if you don’t like to read about it you are free to leave and I will take no offence.  

Weekend in the Wilderness

Weekends are great, aren’t they?  You spend all week working, looking forward to Friday when you can clock off and forget about work for a few days.  Especially when your job is stressful and you’re already thinking about the upcoming weekend on a Monday, and you need that break away more than ever. 

I always looked forward to my weekends.  So when was it that I started dreading them?  

Since I moved to London, I find this to be the case with most of my weekends and the majority of the bank holidays.  Bank holidays, the most sacred of weekends, have become especially concerning to me.  I feel sort of relieved that there will be no more bank holidays now until Christmas, and then I won’t have to worry, because I will make sure I’m not alone.  Because it’s being alone that scares me most; having no plans in this great city where I should be making the most of my life.   

This weekend I had no plans.  I thankfully had been so busy in the week that I had no time to contemplate this until the weekend actually arrived.  

But when it came, it sapped the life from me.  Friday night I got home from work late and as I watched a film and made dinner I could feel myself getting down.  Saturday I spent without motivation to do anything, and it is a miracle that I actually managed to hang my washing out on the line to dry in the sunshine.  I ventured into the garden a few times but not for long; the overgrown lawn, flower beds and spiders hanging from every conceivable bush and the washing line sent me retreating into the safety of my dark and tiny studio flat, far from the reaches of the spiders and of course the beautiful sunshine.  Back into the dark main room, back under the covers of my bed, my head at best filled with a lack of capacity to do anything other than play bejewelled on my phone and at worst full of self-doubt and tearful realisation that this is my life.  The tears come and go; my tear-stained pillow soaks and dries.  

As Saturday night comes and goes, dissolving into Sunday morning, I am plagued by stupid dreams about work.  I wake early, around 8ish, before going back to sleep and more dreams until around 11.  The sun is shining again and I open the blind to let what little light there is seep through.  Today is another long day ahead of me, but there is some salvation in the fact that this is the final day of this horrible weekend.  I don’t look forward to going back to work.  I only welcome the relief it brings from loneliness and self-deprecation.  

As I heat the final leftovers of Friday’s chinese takeaway, having woken too late for breakfast and going straight into lunch, I hear my phone beep.  I leave the kitchen to look at my phone which is on the bed.  My friend is texting me.  I ignore it and return to the kitchen to finish washing up.  My phone beeps again. Eventually I go back to my phone.  One missed called.  She wants to meet, for coffee, to write. I am glad to have her text and an excuse to leave the flat.  So I reply and agree to meet.  But not in my usual style, and she suspects something is wrong.  I admit I am not ok.  We arrange to meet a few hours later.  

I feel more positive to have a reason to go out, but the motivation monster still has me tight in its grips.  I procrastinate getting ready and even after getting out of the shower, I sit there, on the bed, no desire to run a brush through my damp hair or to apply any make-up. Eventually I must text my friend to say I will be running late, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to watch Die Hard 3 when I’m supposed to be going out.  But I think even without the film I would have struggled.  She calls me, and I fall apart on the phone.  I can’t find the motivation to leave the flat, despite spending the weekend wishing I had a reason to go out.  She talks me round, and I apply make-up and even straighten my hair before taking my laptop to catch the bus from the end of the road.  

It was, of course, worth going out.  I didn’t do any creative writing (except starting this blog on the way home) but I did apply for two jobs.  And of course I spent time with a friend, away from the confinement of my flat and more importantly from the ruination of my own mind.  

It is now officially Monday, and as I look back over the weekend I see what a waste it has been.  Not completely of course, since I applied for two more jobs than I had before. In the words of the Eagles, “I could have done so many things, baby, if I could only stop my mind.”  There will be many more weekends like this, I’m sure.  But with every job application, every blog post, there is hope that life can change.  That one day the weekends will become sacred once more.  Something to live for, and not something to fear.

The Waiting Game

So much unhappiness in the world.  So many unhappy relationships.  It seems like everyone I speak to is unsettled with their boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband, partner.  It is all I can do to convince them to leave. For it is my experience, that once someone is unhappy in their relationship, that can never be changed.  

Perhaps the conversation between us becomes a happy one for a while; normal life takes over and they tell me about what they did at the weekend, they skirt round the underlying issues.  But those issues always come back eventually.  And what can I say to them?  Except leave? 

I had no-one to tell me that.  I didn’t discuss my unhappy marriage with a single person.  Well that’s not true; I kind of did once, when I was drunk, but I denied it after that.  The day I left my husband I stood in my mum’s kitchen while she was on the phone for ten whole minutes before she realised why I was stood in her kitchen, on my own, on a weeknight after work, without my husband.  That’s not her fault, of course, just a a result of the fact that my leaving came as a shock to everyone apart from me.

I wish I could believe in the hope that things can get fixed.  But I can’t.  Because I don’t believe that can ever happen.  

I do know people who have stayed together, long after one of them told me they were on the verge of splitting.  This couple are now married with a child.  And I believe their relationship will hold.  But they are very few and far between.  

As I think about how long I’ve been single, and whether I wish I could be in a relationship again, even the wrong one, just to be with someone, and the thought leaves me cold.  Yes, I would rather be alone.  

Being alone is hard.  But at least I can look in the mirror with a clear conscience, and know the person standing in front of me is the one I want to be with.  

Not What I Wanted To Say (But That’s Ok)

I must be getting better.  Five minutes ago I reached for my phone; reached for my blog through my phone.  Felt the need to vent exactly what I was feeling through the short burst of tears.  

But you know what?  I hesitated.  I don’t know why.  Here I am, five minutes later; the destination is the same, but I’m here to tell you what I did today, instead of what I felt.  

That is not to say that what I feel is not important, because of course it is.  But I feel myself reaching for those particular feelings like a comfort blanket.  One that I can pull over my head and encapsulate myself in, until the feeling goes away and I can face the world again.  

Instead, let me tell you some positives about my day, not negatives that don’t really matter.  

I wrote a short story on the way to work.  It’s very short indeed, and incomplete, but hey, it’s a story, and it’s short.  And it’s the second short story I’ve written, while commuting, in less than a week.  

I went to my book club tonight.  I finally made small steps towards meeting new people in this great city.  I’ve been going to this group for four and a half months, and it’s getting me meeting new people and reading books (and books that are not necessarily ones that I would have chosen).  More importantly, it’s getting me thinking about books.  Thinking the way I used to when i was at uni.  And thinking this way gets me inspired.  

I feel like there should be a third thing.  And there is.  This blog.  The fact that I’m reaching for WordPress, not the tissues (and really the tears were barely enough to warrant a Kleenex) is a sign that I have the right outlet for those times when things go awry.  That in itself makes me happy, although the tissue makers might not be so thrilled…

Come Back to What You Know

My first blog back at 33andlostinlife sees me borrowing a blog title from an old song by West Yorkshire band, Embrace.  I’ve had my ex-husband’s Cigarettes and Alcohol, a mostly 90s Indie compilation on repeat album mode for the last month, and this song is one of the eight that I lately squeezed onto a playlist of favourites.  

On 15th January 2015, I made a bold statement on this blog that I was going to set up a new blog and write much more positive blog posts.  That was a great idea, and still is, but have you seen any new, more positive blog posts?  No, me neither.  

Almost seven months later, I find myself even more lost in life than ever before.  A stressful week at work last week has left that boat rocking, and I’m feeling the need to abandon ship more than ever.  Of course, it’s something I should have done a long time ago, so perhaps it’s a good thing, but actually finding something else freaks me out.  

The problem is, I want to be a writer.  So I want a writing job.  Ideally I’d be writing a column in a magazine like Lucy Mangan but I’m nowhere near ready for that yet, and not quite as ‘outspoken’ as the girl born to Northern parents who lived in the South (the total opposite to me) who writes for The Guardian newspaper and Stylist magazine. 

My dilemma is whether to get a writing job of any sort, or just go for a normal admin job, but one that pays a lot more.  London has horrendously expensive living costs and while I’ve found sanctuary in my small studio flat and garden (Update: Bish is very happy and spends all his time outside with the exception of when this horrible August rain pours, which keeps him housebound and sees him taking over my pillow), I still have very little money (if any) left at the end of the month.  Whichever option I choose for my next job, the one thing I’ve struggled with is confidence in myself, and that stands like the Berlin Wall as a blocker to any future moves.  

Confidence to gain some work experience as a writer.  Confidence that yes of course I can do that £34k a year data role (and bag a £12k pay rise).  Confidence that I must summon from somewhere if I am going to get myself out of this rut I face and move forward with my life.  

I’ve been inspired lately by two people.  One is Aussie Natalie Imbruglia, former lovely Neighbour and 90s pop songstress famous for telling us it’s ok to be cold and ashamed and lying naked on the floor when the love of your life turns out to be a bit of a knob.  A recent article in the Evening Standard magazine tells how Natalie suffered with depression even during her most successful period, becoming reclusive.  18 years later, she says “Food as medicine.  And I feel great.”  I will second that, although I have a feeling she’s not talking about scoffing a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk or Double Decker when she gets stressed.  Divorcée Natalie certainly looks fab at forty, and just as gorgeous now as she did back in 1997 singing Torn in those combats.  Her new album, Male, is out on 21st August.  Read her full interview here.

The other person to inspire me is fellow Northerner Danny McNamara, co-writer of 90s hit Come Back to What You know and lead singer of Embrace.  Writing his own blog in 2014, he tells how the inspiration for his songs comes from PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Suffering a traumatic childhood incident that “was traumatic, terrifying, and…almost killed me,” Danny reveals how “it’s literally coloured everything I’ve done since.”  Suffering PTSD between the ages of 19 and 22, he suffered multiple panic attacks a day, wasn’t eating, sleeping and went down to ten stone (63kg) – not much for someone who stands at 6 foot 2 (187cm).  

He used songwriting to get himself out of the dark place he was in, and aged 44 he says he’s better now, not just well.  More importantly he’s still writing and recording with Embrace.  He spoke out about his mental health issues last year because he was inspired by others speaking out about their experiences.  You can read his full blog here

I can agree with that.  And I’m reminded that the reason I started this blog was to get some cathartic therapy from writing about my own experiences with depression.  But more than that: so that other people could read about them and perhaps not feel so alone and sinking in their own negative thoughts.

I was told my blog was depressing.  Well, yeah, it’s a blog about living with depression, dur.  And while I’d love to be writing shiny, happy blogs, I’d rather be writing depressing blogs than nothing at all.  I have done some writing during the time since my last blog post; I started a novel which got to about 20 pages before I shied away from it.  But I haven’t looked at it for months, although I keep thinking about picking it up again, and that’s a start.  

One of my uni lecturers gave me what really was the most simple piece of advice: you want to be a writer, then write!  Since discovering my ability to write in 2011, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I know it is my destiny (not my density…although it does weigh me down at times).    But writing with depression is hard.  Although not impossible, as many creative people, including Natalie and Danny, will tell you.  

So for now, I’m coming back to what I know.  I was the most prolific  in my writing than I’d ever been last year, until my living situation ground that to a holt.  I’m well out of that now, and the person that told me my blogs were depressing is no longer in my life (thank God).  I’m going to continue this journey as [insert age] andlostinlife, because it’s my journey, and my stats tell me there are still people out there reading it, almost daily.  That amazes me, considering there’ve been no new posts for over half a year.  But maybe those people passing through will stop by for a bit longer next time, and those of you who followed me before will continue to do so.  I had gained a good following, and not just my friends and family, who of course I appreciate their support, but fellow bloggers from across the world.  

I can’t promise what type of blogs will follow.  But if you don’t like what’s contained within them you are free to leave any time.  This isn’t Hotel California.  If you do, then come back to what you know.  Because I am.  

Come Back to What You Know – Embrace (1998)

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