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.

 

The Mystery of the Christmas Cup

The cup lays there on the tracks, its shape pristine, shining from the rain that pours down this morning at Clapham Junction, Britain’s busiest station, or so I’m informed by the signs dotted around.
The cup resembles Caffe Nero’s familiar light blue, but it has lost its brightness, the way litter does when it is left out in the sunshine to disintegrate. The company’s logo, its name emblazoned slap bang in the middle, is cocooned within a red wreath. The kind one might hang on their front door, as long as their door wasn’t red.  
I look at the cup curiously. The faded colour and the Christmas motif allude to the fact that the cup has been there some time, on the track next to platform 6, home to trains heading towards Reading and Waterloo & Eton Riverside. But it is the shape that confuses me. The perfect cup-shaped shape.  
It has rained a lot lately, as it tends to do these days during this month. Paper goes soggy when it gets wet, so why hasn’t this cup crumbled from the rain? 
But it is designed to hold water. Hot water in fact, infused with a little, or a lot, depending how you like it, of caffeinated coffee beans, or perhaps some hot chocolate. So it needs to be strong enough to hold hot liquid. Surely it can withstand a little rain?  
But I do not want to give the tall, sorry, regular, cup any more credit than it deserves. It should hold a cup of coffee, yes. Maybe two. It shouldn’t be able to withstand 8 months of rain.  
Of course it hasn’t rained for eight months solid, though it feels that way sometimes here. But we’ve had a lot of heavy rain this August.  
It is August. Almost the end of, but still the eighth month of the year. That is why the Christmas cup is so out of place. Has it really kept its shape for so long? 
My disbelief remains instilled within me.  
Perhaps they ran out of regular cups? Resorted to using the leftover supply of Christmas cups? No, this seems an unlikely explanation; surely they may run out of Christmas cups but not the other way around.  
Perhaps the cup belonged to a beggar, one who sits on the street with his hand out, waiting for a few coins to buy a sandwich or a bottle of White Lightening. Perhaps he (I am presuming the tramp to be a he), finally got enough to put himself on a train to Windsor, where he can visit the Eton Riverside.  
Unlikely, let’s face it. While they do have pubs in Windsor and even Eton, down by the Riverside, I’m sure, there are plenty of pubs to be found in Clapham Junction, should the tramp have received enough to pay for a pint.  
Maybe someone kept the cup, refilling it every day with coffee from home, being either too tight or too poor to buy a new coffee everyday. Someone with a complicated relationship with money but who likes to keep up appearances. But no. Someone resorting to those kind of tactics would surely not give themselves away by using a Christmas cup all year round.  
Also, I argue to myself, someone who is holding onto the cup for whatever reason, is not going to cast it away across the tracks at Platform 6. No. That is the behaviour of a guy in a suit, a businessman who is predisposed with his latest business deal to care about disposing of his trash in such a manner. Or perhaps a young dude in a hoodie, who also doesn’t care about littering the station.  
If only there was a witness I could ask. The way all the great detectives do. Excuse me madam, have you ever seen this cup here before? 
I think before I answer.  
No, I say. I haven’t ever seen this cup before. I have seen the torrent of water that falls from the roof next to the Pumpkin cafe, the one that is cascading down this rainy day. But I have never seen the cup that lies within reach of the drops that pour and splash over it.  
Am I an unreliable witness? I am here on the platform every day. Every working day at least. Most days I stand right here, where I am now, the best spot to get on if you want to get off closest to the stairs at Richmond. 
Why haven’t I seen the Christmas cup before? On the days I arrive with time to spare, I spend my minutes waiting for the train by looking around. I notice the far away platforms, the workmen’s building opposite, the footbridge. I even remember a beer bottle, Stella perhaps? Surprisingly unbroken despite being tossed away from the platform. But I don’t remember the Christmas cup.
The next day I return to the scene of the crime. A crowd has formed, and I struggle to get a good look at the evidence. Eventually I see it, and I am shocked at how it has disintegrated since yesterday. Of course, this autopsy reveals that the deterioration could not have occurred in such a short space of time. The cup has now been spun around, and I can see the inside of it is not a pristine white as one might have expected upon first viewing yesterday, but instead a dark black from all the dirt contained within. The perfect cup shape was no longer, having turned into more of an oval. The outside, no longer shiny from the rain, was a dull, faded colour. The Christmas motif is still there. We finally have our TOD (Time of Deposit) – which is given as December 2014/January 2015.

The mystery of the Christmas cup solved, I continue on my way to work. I will think of the Christmas cup as the new Christmas cups are unleashed in the coming months, and of course every morning, as I clap eyes on it at Clapham Junction, Britain’s busiest.  

Written 24th August 2015

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.  

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)

Are You There God? It’s Me, Jodie

He didn’t know if he had it in him to be a great writer but he was going to be some kind of a writer no matter what. Why not? He was good at it. More important, he got off on doing it. When the words came right, he got off on it in a big way. And they wouldn’t always be able to withhold the money from him on a technicality. He wouldn’t be eleven forever.

The Dark Half, Stephen King (1989)

I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wish I could say that I wrote stories as a child, but I didn’t. I wrote one for my English class when I was eleven, and my teacher, Mr Pearce, obviously thought it was good as he read it in front of the whole class. I was beaming until I got the paper back, and there were red pen marks around the characters’ names, which I think I had sub-consciously taken from that great writer, Judy Blume, who I was a fan of at the time. My innocent plagiarism aside, I would not write any further creative fiction until the age of 32 when studying in Judy Katz’s Women and Lit class at Juniata College, during my study period abroad.

Like Thad Beaumont, the eleven year-old whose quote I have borrowed for my opening, I don’t know if I have it in me to be a great writer. But I know I can be some kind of writer. And like Thad, I get off on writing. I can re-read my blogs over and over with a sense of pride, and sometimes excitement that it was me who actually wrote it. I’ve never felt like I was good at anything until I started writing.

Of course, writing hasn’t always been an easy path. This blog is a testament to the journey I have been on through my thirties. My blog has been criticised for being too negative, but what do you expect from a blog called 33andlostinlife? Sunshine and roses? Well maybe some of you would. Those of you who have learnt to see the world with happiness, no matter what your situation. For me, that has always been a difficult thing to do and I envy your ability to see the world in a rose-tinted way without the need for spectacles.

This Wednesday gone, 28th January, was the third anniversary of starting this blog. As you will know or can calculate if you can do basic maths, I am no longer 33 years old. I am in fact 36 now. I have given much thought before to changing the title, and with each birthday I do consider changing at least my age. But I just haven’t been able to switch the title, because I still feel lost in life, and at times more than ever.

I now realise though that it is time to change that title. Perhaps it is the fact that I am defining myself as “lost in life” which keeps me on that path.

So soon, I will write my final blog as 33andlostinlife. I am sad to say goodbye to the one place I have felt safe to admit my feelings, frustrations and fears for the last three years. But I’m excited to be moving on to what will be a new…time in my life. I almost said chapter, but as I’ve learnt in the 21 months since I left Lincoln for London to start a “new chapter”, I’m just not very good at finishing things. Especially chapters, both written and in life. Creative writing is not my forte, though I hope one day it will be. But I am good at writing blogs, and yes I did just say so myself. I met American crime writer, Jeffrey Deaver, at a book-signing in Waterstones Picadilly last year, and I asked him for some advice on writing. He told me not to make it personal. Oops, epic fail. Anyway, one thing I struggle with is self-confidence, and if I think I am good at something, then I should continue to do it, no matter what the advice from one of my favourite authors.

I have thought long and hard about whether to just change the title of this blog to something different and carry on from here. In the two years since I started this blog, I’ve written 257 Posts, which have been viewed 15,723 times. Those posts provoked 221 comments and gained me 222 followers. That to me is a huge amount, and I have worked hard to build my following. While I hate to start my following at a big fat zero, I hope you will understand that I wish to keep 33andlostinlife for what it was – a way for me to journal my thoughts and feelings during this whole thirty-something crisis, and to give others the knowledge that they are not alone in what they are going through. It wasn’t meant to be a woe is me announcement board, although some saw it as such. What I will take with me though is that I had far more positive comments than negative ones, and not just from friends and family, but from other bloggers and readers from all across the world.

So I hope you will continue to follow my journey once my new site is in place, and I promise to blog regularly once more. This last two months has been a big transitional period for me and I hope you accept my apologies for disappearing off the virtual page. My apologies especially go to my reader, Angel, who has commented twice during my absence, to say how worried she was by my lack of posts. I wouldn’t normally avoid responding to comments, but in typical Jodie way, I couldn’t bring myself to write because I didn’t know if I should write anything else as 33andlostinlife. So I buried my head in the sand and ignored even the comments.

But I couldn’t avoid it forever and so here I am. Once I have found my new blog, you will be the first to know. I want 2015 to be just as productive blogging-wise as last year was, and for my blogs to be full of the positivity in life. I also want to expand outside of the blogging sphere and into other forms of writing.

In the spirit of new starts, I do accept that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I won’t become the greatest writer overnight. But perhaps with a little work, and a lot more effort, I can become some kind of writer.

Gone Goal

On Saturday night I finally had the pleasure of seeing Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl at the cinema. As much as I love going to the movies, visits to the big screen have been few and far between since I moved to the big city, but Gone Girl was one of those few films I was desperate to see before it disappeared into that black hole between the big screen and my DVD collection.

Having read the book last year, I knew the storyline. After seeing the film adaptation, the screenplay having been written by Flynn herself, I was not disappointed. Gone Girl is still one of the most amazingly clever novels I have read and if I could write something half as good as that I would be happy. What am I saying? If I could write something half as long as that I would be grateful.

Since I did my first piece of “creative” writing in 2011, I have struggled to write any fiction with the exception of the odd fairy tale. They say everyone has a book in them, and while I have ideas, I have failed to write more than about two pages before giving up. Every so often I give it a go but the truth is, I just don’t feel comfortable with writing fiction as I do with writing about real life in my blogs. They (whoever “they” are) say you should write about what you know, and at this point in my life, while my sense of direction is skewed and I may not be able to make sense of my thoughts and feelings, I do at least know I am having them. With the help of some popular culture, I can usually successfully transfer them onto the virtual page and into reader’s minds.

One thing I take from Gillian Flynn is that she published her first novel at the age of 35. Author Jodi Picoult published her first novel at the age of 37, and crime writer Raymond Chandler published his first story at the age of 45. Perhaps the best-known contemporary novelist of our time, J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book at the age of 32. Proving that novel writing is not the monopoly of the teens or twenty-somethings, some of the best come from those with more life experience.

So for now, while writing a book seems like a gone goal for me, I take inspiration from writers like Gillian Flynn, and hope that one day I will be able to craft characters who are as deliciously complex as Amy Dunne and her husband, Nick.

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