Picking Up The Pieces

As this new year starts, I am very conscious of the person I want to become.  Having explored this arena for the last ten years, I feel I am finally getting closer, day by day.  

Having read an online excerpt of Matt Haig’s new book, Reasons To Stay Alive, I headed down to Waterstones one lunch break to buy it.  I have it in my bag this morning, but haven’t started reading yet.  I’m still floored by having finished Disclaimer, by Renée Knight, a recent debut chart topper.  With reviews comparing it to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynnn, another book that had a profound effect on me, I know I can write something like it, something clever.  My mind fails me with logic sometimes (I am, however, plentiful in Jodie Logic) but I can knit together the perfect tale in my mind.  

As I wait for the train to leave Gunnersbury, I think back to the reason for writing this post.   I think back to being in the car during the Christmas break, and hearing Jess Glynne’s Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself on the radio, and vowing that I would not be so hard on myself this year.  I am my own worst critic; I don’t publish blogs because I don’t believe they are good enough to read.  I start but quickly abandon any form of fictional writing because I just don’t believe I can get it out of my head and onto paper without it sounding stupid.  The minuscule amounts of creativity that bubble to my surface are quashed because I  just don’t believe in myself.  So when I say I can write like some of the current bestselling authors, I do believe I can; but there is that other part of me, the one that says no you can’t, don’t be so stupid!

Buying my soya latte this morning (a recent experiment to see if I was lactose intolerant which has really become a morning ritual), I decided to buy a gingerbread man (I do realise the epic faildom of screwing up my gluten-avoidance with this action by the way).  Anyway, the first gingerbread man I picked up and put down again, because I could see that his leg was broken off.  As I put the packet back and selected the perfect one behind it which was intact, I had second thoughts, and instead picked up the broken man I’d originally had in my hand.  

Don’t be so hard on yourself, I thought.  And don’t be so hard on broken gingerbread men.  They’ve done nothing wrong.  

  
Happy New Year everyone. 

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself – Jess Glynne (2015)

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The Write Thing

As I sit on my bed this Tuesday evening, I can only describe the feeling I have right now in one way: contented.  Which seems bizarre to me, and probably to you too if you read my last blog post, I Survived the Weekend…and Lived to Blog About It.  I’ve just re-read every blog I’ve written since I started writing again last month, and I realise how much I’ve missed it.  

The actual act of writing not only makes me feel better, but checking my stats several times a day also makes me happy.  WordPress stats tell me how many people have visited the blog on a daily basis and how many times they have viewed it, which countries visitors are from and the number of views each individual post has received.  While my views are relatively low compared to other blogs, I get such a warm feeling inside to know that people are reading what I’m writing.  And not just reading it, but sharing it via social media to other potential readers.  

After the distress and disappointment of the weekend, I feel calm and…strangely enough, ok.  Work has been without issue so far this week, I am feeling positive because have applied for three jobs, and tonight I went to my book club where we discussed two short stories that I suggested, some 19th century women’s literature that I read at uni and loved.  But most importantly I am blogging again, and people are reading again.  Right now, in this moment, I am content.  

And you know what, I’ve actually had this feeling since Monday morning.  My friend at work read my last blog and asked me if I was ok; she must have been expecting me to burst into tears but I didn’t, and that I put down to having written about it.  I actually felt bad when my boss asked me how my weekend was, and I answered “not great”, because I was feeling ok when I answered her.  But I didn’t feel I could lie to her and tell her I had a good weekend an hour after posting a blog about suicide.  

I’m feeling like I’m waffling now, and I want to post this before I start to regret writing it, and that is totally not what I wanted to happen!   I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I know for sure this blog is the right thing for me to be doing.  And as long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.  

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.  

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)

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)

The Great Face-Palm

Yesterday I wrote a blog called All in a Day’s Work, in which I talked about how I’d been declined an interview for a copywriting job with the company I work for due to my lack of professional writing experience. Today a friend has reminded me that I passed up an opportunity to write, which could have put me in a much better position for applying for that job.

A few months ago, my best friend and her boyfriend set up a website selling handbags. They asked me if I would write some blogs for it. I shared their excitement for the website, and wrote an initial blog. While it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for, Nick gave me some feedback and we discussed ideas for other blogs.

After that, I wrote nothing.

I felt bad for letting my friends down, but they had other people writing for them, so I told myself it was ok.

I don’t know why I couldn’t write another blog. I think maybe the reason is that I knew there was one line in the blog that particularly wasn’t appropriate for that website. But I told myself that was my writing style. And I think at the time, that was all I believed I could do.

It would have been fairly easy to write a few blogs under the themes we had already discussed. So why didn’t I?

I have to admit this is not the first time I’ve sabotaged my own writing career. When I used to work for Siren FM, we regularly interviewed a lovely Australian woman in London who ran an online magazine-style website for women. Shortly before I moved to London myself, I approached her about writing for the website, and sent her a copy of one of my carefully-chosen blogs.

While her feedback on my blog was good, she told me that for the website she needs more solution-based articles. So for example, if I’m going to write an article about how rubbish online dating is, I should really end the article with some alternative ways that women can meet men.

I never wrote anything for that website. I think again I was scared to write something different than what I already knew. Also, I thought how can I write an article giving people advice when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing in the first place?

I’ve recently been on some time-management and problem-solving courses at work, and in both I used writing articles (as opposed to just blogs) as an example of something I wanted to achieve. Thinking that I might finally get round to writing an article, a few weeks ago I visited the website. What I found was an article on my childhood friend who had written the book. And it hit me: while I could have been writing for this website, she was being written about. I scurried away with my tail between my legs. The one good thing to come of that visit though was that I finally edited and published my months-old draft of what was to become Single, Successful and Falling Apart: What an Achievement That Would Be.

So this morning, as I lay in my friends’ spare bed in Manchester, even though it’s so early, I sit here face-palming myself that I let two good opportunities to advance my career pass me by, one which also would have helped out my friends. But face-palming won’t help in the long run. Neither will letting the fear of trying something new overcome me. To quote Baz Lerhmann’s 1992 film, Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived”. It’s time for me to override the fear and start writing outside the comfort zone of my blog, taking feedback on the chin when receiving it and using it to make my writing better.

I thank my Thirty-Something Crisis for one thing: letting me discover my ability to write. But more than that; to allow me to know that I can write. This is not a belief that is buried deep-down somewhere. This is an intrinsic, core belief. For which I am eternally grateful.

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