Rain, Train, Pain

Oh my days.  I haven’t seen rain like this for a while or had to walk in it for a long time.  The kind where an umbrella makes little difference, and you’re too busy looking at the girl coming towards you in white plimsolls wading through a large puddle that you don’t realise said puddle is actually a lake and before you know it you’re ankle-deep in water.  Thank God I bought those boots. 

I guess this means that summer is almost over.  I say almost, because I still have hope, and I haven’t had that feeling yet, the one I get twice a year; once during winter when you know that summer is on the way, and once in summer when you realise the cold weather signals the onslaught of winter.

I realise that I didn’t account for spring or autumn (fall for you Americans reading).  To me they are like the place-holders for the other two seasons.  They are like boot camp for the following season, preparing you for the cold without really letting you feel it.  Priming you for the sunshine without really letting you feel its warmth.  

Perhaps because I suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) I don’t really notice these bookend-seasons.  Am I too pre-occupied with my negative thoughts between November and March that I am immune to their beauty?  That is a shame.  

As I think about the oncoming winter, I begin to feel dread. I can barely motivate myself to do anything in the summer when the sun shines.  How am I going to achieve anything in the winter?  I think of all the things I want to change in my life, and that requires so much effort.

I feel a headache coming on, and I feel tired and sleepy all of a sudden. I daren’t close my eyes for fear of falling asleep and waking up in the dead of winter.  Or Hounslow.  I’m not sure which is worse.  


You’ve Lost That Summer Feeling

I mentioned in a previous blog about how the summer here in England seemed to come to a soggy wet end some weeks ago, with the gorgeous sunshine being swapped for almost-daily showers, my summer wardrobe being swapped for its autumnal cousins. As a sufferer of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I felt my mood plummet along with the temperatures and the pouring rain. But most of all I felt the fear: the fear of getting cold.

It’s like I don’t know how to dress any more, but it involves layers, and lots of them. With the temperatures lifting this week to around the mid-twenties degrees Celsius, I’m feeling a little separation anxiety with my scarf and cardigan, who I feel have become old friends. Or maybe my Siamese twins. Either way, as a child, I didn’t need a comfort blanket. I certainly don’t want to start carrying one about now, since I’m already laden down with so much baggage.

So today, I left the scarf and the cardy at home. I’m not ready to embrace winter yet. And I’m working on banishing fears from my life. After a jog down the Thames last night, I’m feeling positive. And I want my summer feeling back.

Steal My Sunshine – Len (1999)

It’s a SAD, SAD Summer

Ok, so 80s supergirl group, Bananarama called it a Cruel Summer, which I guess is also an applicable term. After the longest sunny spell that I can remember in years, the last week had seen plummeting temperatures and almost daily rain. I’ve gone from wearing dresses and bare legs with flip flops to jeans with socks, Converse, top, cardigan, denim jacket and scarf. And even then at times I’ve wondered if I’m going to be warm enough.

I’ve had friends staying from overseas who have also been dressed more, if a little over sensibly for the weather, and we’ve been out and about in London and other places, which may have influenced my wearing so many clothes. But after getting caught in the rain a few times and being chilled to the bone, I feel like I’m scared that I’m going to get cold. And with that, I just feel scared. My mood has dropped as quickly as the temperature, and I find myself becoming irritable and tearful. The unsettled feeling I’ve had with my life over the last few months has been exacerbated and I feel like I can’t find a way out of this. My Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is back with a vengeance, usually not appearing until at least September or October, and going into full swing in November, I feel like it’s going to be a long winter.

Last week while waiting at Richmond for the train home, I was stood on the platform in the tunnel, which is the best place to be located if you want to get in the first carriage ready to be straight up the stairs and out at Twickenham. As I looked through the dark tunnel, there was light at the end of it, as the sunshine illuminated the small piece of track, surrounded by trees, that exits the tunnel before it goes round the corner and out of sight. I tried to take a picture, but all I got was a big bright light surrounded by darkness. But on second thoughts, maybe that is all I needed to see.

Cruel Summer – Bananarama (1983)

The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 43

I know most of you will be expecting me to tell you that today my dissertation was finished, bound, and handed into one of the security guards at my university, who will have given me a stamped piece of paper back, confirming that the 10,000 little nightmares that have been haunting me the last two years is done.  Sadly, I cannot tell you that.

Nor can I ask you to give me a high-five: because in some fluke of events, I got it handed yesterday.

What should have happened today did not happen.  I cannot tell you why today the words failed to come, but they did.  And that has hurt me more than you will know.

Tomorrow I had intended to use my plane ticket to Shanghai, to go on a slightly-altered trip.  I had planned to spend 72 hours in China, the maximum I can stay without a visa, and then head to Singapore, and maybe Malaysia.  I had some crazy idea about a week ago that Singapore is the place I should go to; I can’t tell you why that either.  I think it has something to do with the fact there used to be UK air force bases there.  Somebody, somewhere in the world, at some time, must have told me they used to live in Singapore, and as such, it has always held an idea up to me as somewhere a British expatriate could go and live.

What I realised today, when the words to my dissertation’s introduction just wouldn’t form, not even with the help of Virginia Woolf, is that without my dissertation being handed in, I couldn’t physically go anywhere.  And the likelihood of that, at least before the time I was due to fly from Manchester International Airport tomorrow tea-time, was slim.

What I also realised, is that going to Singapore on a whim, is something that is just so me.  Like my doomed trip to LA in November 2011, where it was the beginning of the end of what should have been a straightforward degree, and my even-more doomed trip to Boston in February 2012, where I spent all my money on not seeing a great band, this holiday is ill-timed, ill-prepared and ill-advised.

I had hoped to be announcing, in this very blog, that having handed my dissertation in, I would be jet-setting off to Asia.  I think it is the thought of the exotic, the out-of-the-ordinary, the wanderlust of it all that makes me want to do such things.  But while I had friends, or friends of friends, in both China and Malaysia to meet, free accommodation and assistance with travel plans, I would have been leaving with less than £100 cash in my pocket, and nothing in my bank account, once I pay for my flight to Malaysia/Singapore.  I would have accessed £250 more cash on Tuesday, and maybe £150 more a week later from cheques that will have cleared, but if I’m completely honest, and I haven’t been, with myself or anyone, I have been worrying about the money side of things, both while I travel, and when I get back.  While the next instalment of my student loan, my maintenance loan, arrives the day after I’m due to set foot on English soil, I’m pretty sure I would be coming home with moth balls in my purse.

While the money side is just one issue, another is the lack of planning, or rather structure, to my trip.  Maybe it lacks structure because I haven’t been able to confirm my flights from China to Singapore.  And that is based not so much on money, but on getting my dissertation done.  And while I think two weeks in the Orient, most of it spent in the heat of Singapore, which, like music to the sound of my Seasonal Affective Disorder’s heart, lies just one degree away from the Equator (it is recommended for people who suffer with SAD to live within 30 degrees of the Equator), I’m just not ready for the stress of an unstructured trip.

But the thing that really got me, and I think is maybe the reason I called STA Travel and cancelled my flight, before I could change my mind, was that I just didn’t want to make this trip alone.  Even with the friends and friends of friends I would meet, I would be travelling alone, and having done so several times before, there is nothing lonelier in the world, than being somewhere in world alone.  And honestly, I couldn’t face that kind of isolation.

As I waited on hold for STA Travel, whose assistants were all helping other callers, I opened up YouTube and played California Dreamin’, by The Mamas and the Papas.  Feeling inspired to learn just why they were called that, I looked them up on Wiki, and having been inspired to find out more about their larger-than-life member, Cass Elliott, I then played Dream a Little Dream of Me, while reading more about her.  I learned that she died “happy” of a heart attack, at the age of 32, back in 1974, having played two sold-out solo shows at the London Palladium, and receiving standing ovations at both.

While she was hugely overweight, and had lost a huge amount of weight in the four months beforehand, due to four days a week of fasting, it is thought that this extreme weight loss technique is what contributed to her death.

Before each music clip, I’d been forced to watch an advert, which, although you have the option to skip after a few seconds, on this occasion I didn’t.  Both adverts were for Singapore.  One showed the things you can do in Singapore, to make you say ‘Shiok’, which means a feeling of sheer pleasure or high quality, and one showed what a great family holiday destination it was.  These were not your average YouTube video length clips, each must have lasted as long as the music videos did.  Everyone on that video was having so much fun (like they’re meant to on Tourist Board-induced adverts) and as I watched, I feared in my heart that I just wouldn’t have as much fun as I should have when I go on this trip.  And that meant I should not be going alone.

I’m not crazy enough to think it was a sign, I know those gremlins in your computer show you adverts based on what you’ve been looking at (thank god I hadn’t been looking at trips to watch grass grow, or it could have had a very different outcome).

Anyway, when I eventually got through to someone at STA travel, I just went right ahead and cancelled my flight, before I could change my mind.  I had enquired previously as to the possibility of getting a refund, or even changing the dates, but my cheap, student fare meant no changes, no refunds.  The best I will get is some of the tax back, and I’ve had an email from STA telling me they’ve applied for that.  Although, knowing that the tax is usually the most expensive component of any flight, I’m hopeful.

Since then, I’ve left my dissertation, had a short nap, and eaten Chinese Hot Pot with my housemates and two other Chinese friends.  Chinese Hot Pot is basically a huge, plug-in pot, full of water, to which is added meats, fish, tofu and vegetables and which cooks in front of you, and each diner just helps themselves.  It can last for up to five hours, although I usually get to around two before I’m totally full.  While my friends spoke in Chinese most of the time, they did translate for me, or question me about various things, ranging from UK history, to EU history, to Attila the Hun, to the origin of language and whether there are 50 million German people in the USA.  When asked whether Celtic is pronounced kel-tic or sel-tic, I couldn’t answer, and when I finally admitted defeat, to both the eating and the questions, I suggested that with anything else, they ask Google.

Chinese Hot Pot is always fun and it’s a great social event, but when you can’t understand the majority of the conversation, it just doesn’t quite have that ‘Shiok’ feel.  Which is what I realised that a trip to Asia right now would have been.  I know I would have had fun, I would have enjoyed it, but the opportunity for reflection and loneliness would have caused less enjoyment and more heartache on my part, something that not even 27 degrees centigrade (81 Fahrenheit) could ease.

After Hot Pot, I slept for a few hours, snoozing the Have You Blogged Today?! reminder that starts at 9pm and has been going off ever since, until I started writing this blog, which was about an hour ago (11:30am).

Tomorrow, well actually today, is a new day, and hopefully when I’m feeling less groggy from dozy sleep, I’ll get my dissertation finished, and handed in before Monday’s 4pm deadline.

I definitely will make a trip to China in the future, when Fen finally gets her visa.  And Singapore is definitely on my list now.  But it will be with friends.  I’m tired of travelling alone, and not having the fun I should have.  I want true Shiok.


The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 37

Right now I am so excited, and so proud of myself.  This morning I hit the 10,000 word count on my dissertation, and this evening I have completed Chapter One, with Chapter Three almost done.  I feel pleasantly surprised that I have actually managed to work all day, with the exception of a couple of hours’ nap during tea time, which is probably what has kept me going until now.

I am going to enjoy my positivity while I can, because with less than a week until my dissertation is due, I realise there is still plenty of time for panic.  However, if I can keep going this week like I have done today, then there should be no problem with getting it finished.  Of course, anyone who has done a degree will know that referencing your sources is a bitch, and extremely time-consuming.  If I don’t go crazy over finishing the content of my work, then the referencing is likely to turn me into a complete fruit-loop.

As well as having made great steps forward today, I’ve also done some preparation for tomorrow.  By this, I mean I have printed off my drafts of Chapters Two and Four, but this does mean that after I have my morning coffee, I can read through them while watching Frasier.  As someone who never makes packed lunches or prepares an outfit for the following day, you should be impressed that I’ve actually done something that will save me a job in the morning (and also mean I have no excuse should I not feel as work-inclined as I have today).

Ironically, the weather today has done nothing but rain.  Well, tell a lie, it did sleet a bit.  But it’s been overcast and pretty horrible all day.  As a sufferer of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), today could have meant a lack of enthusiasm; but instead I think the rain actually spurred me on.  This country’s inclination towards inclement weather is wearing me down, and after 34 years, I’ve had enough of it.  Once uni is finished, I’ll have the chance to move elsewhere, or at least towards the South of England, where it may be slightly warmer most of the time.  A random discussion today also gave me an idea for a new place to look at relocating to, but my piratey instincts are telling me to keep this to myself for now.

It’s now 11:20pm, and I hear my bed calling me.  But I shall be going to bed with a smile on my face, for today has been a successful day, and with it has come hope for the future, and the promise of a new life.  Time to switch off my laptop, make a hot water bottle, and go to sleep, ready to start again in the morning.

The Woman Who Started Walking Up A Mountain Then Couldn’t Be Bothered

I hate to keep banging on about my “time of the month” but it really has caused me some problems this time around.  After the excitement of Friday’s jogging, most of Saturday continued to be uplifting until Saturday night, when the self-doubt started creeping in.  Yesterday I woke up fairly positive, spent the morning working on something for my future, but then decided to take a small break at lunchtime.  BIG MISTAKE.

I spent the rest of the day in my bed.  For the first hour, I just did absolutely nothing, I couldn’t bring myself to do a thing.  Eventually I decided to put a film on, which did spur me on a little to do some tidying up.  Sadly, this didn’t last, and after the film finished, I felt even less inclined to do anything.  But it wasn’t just can’t-be-botheredness.  It was complete-inability-to-do-anythingness, mixed in with a lot of I’m-incapable-of-doing-anything-anywayness.

It was late by the time I went to sleep last night, gone 1pm, when I eventually couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.  But I recognise the true feeling – it was one of those I-don’t-want-to-go-to-sleep-because-it’ll-be-tomorrow-when-I-wake-up-feelings – and I just couldn’t bear the thought of feeling like that another day.

Luckily, this morning I woke up and I didn’t feel helplessness.  I just felt full of cold.  Having been through half a box of tissues this morning, I do feel like crap.  But on the plus side, I’ve been doing lots of things on my To Do list.  It seems like my body is only capable of feeling one way at a time.  But I’d pick a cold any day over the feeling of numbness that attacks when depression takes over.

I can’t help thinking that there is something about this time of year that makes me feel so down.  Seasonal Affective Disorder affects 7% of the population between September and April.  Light therapy, which is exposure to a very bright light for up to 4 hours a day, is known to benefit up to 85% of those with diagnosed cases*, and so I’m going to look into getting one.  Particularly the last few years, the start of November and the middle of February are particularly crucial times for me, when I feel at my most vulnerable.

People look at me like I’m joking when I say I want to move to somewhere the sun shines all the time.  I’m not joking, far from it.  For me the sun is medicinal – the world’s biggest light box, which will never run out of batteries or blow a fuse, as long as you’re in the right area to receive it.

I’m hoping I’ll get over this cold soon enough and I can continue to get on with all the important things I have to get done this week.  But for now, I hear my bed calling.

*Information from www.sada.org.uk – The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association’s website.