The black dog at my heels in 2015

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So I haven’t blogged for about a month. I think this is partly conscious of the fact that the Christmas and new year period is usually my time for a yearly review and I haven’t really wanted to review 2015.

There have definitely been highlights. I have been to some great weddings, caught up with old friends, made some wonderful new friends, work has been challenging in a good way and resulted in my publishing a couple of reports and some great travel experiences. I achieved my resolutions for 2015, in completing my first half marathon (even if it wasn’t quite the triumphant experience I was expecting) and starting writing a novel. The fiancé created and established his own little business that has eased, if not completed alleviated, financial pressures that were stacked against us at the start of the year.

There has been a lot to be grateful for, and I am grateful for the love and opportunities and experiences I have in my life. However this year has also been pretty challenging.

Money issues were a problem for much of the year and although there has always been enough to pay the bills and put food on the table there hasn’t always been a lot to spare beyond that. Having to carefully plan and spread budgets with no flexibility to respond to last minute lunch or drinks invitations, etc. making me probably seem a little unsociable at times has been tough.

Work has been great, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to undertake more challenging projects but this additional work came at a cost. For a period of several months I found myself working every evening and most weekends. I was probably averaging an additional two working days of unpaid work on top of my normal working hours every week. Whilst I am happy to roll up my sleeves and put in the extra miles every now and again for intense working periods, trying to maintain these kind of working hours over a prolonged period definitely took its toll. I also used extended work hours as an excuse for eating constant amounts of junk food and energy drinks, whilst these may have helped in the immediacy of what I was doing they also made me feel sluggish, when not under the influence of sugar, and gain a lot of weight.

The results were exhaustion, weight gain and an unsociableness and irritability which I tried, although not always successfully, to keep hidden from my friends and family but there was no hiding from the poor fiancé who had to live with super enjoyable me during this time.

I lacked enthusiasm for previously enjoyable pursuits, including blogging, and used excuses for not indulging in the kinds of activities that would probably have helped, such as exercise and healthy eating. There might not have been so much time for the running before or after work but I could have gone on walks or skated at lunchtimes. I may not have had the funds to buy and time to prepare healthy and tasty food options, not when instant sugar and salt hits are so much more satisfying in the short term, but I probably didn’t have to resort to quick cook pizzas and packs of gummy bears with such enthusiasm.

pretending to be me - bp image

 

For the first time I thought that depression might not just be something that happens to others but something that also happens to me. I remember one distinct thought that led me to this conclusion. For whatever reason I was thinking about the fact I used to want to live by the sea in one of the remoter parts of the UK in Cornwall or Devon and then I dismissed this idea thinking that living in a remote location wouldn’t be practical when we are too old to manage easily by ourselves. I had just dismissed an old dream by imagining away the next 30/40 years of my life in a meaningless flash.

Despite all the love and support I have available to me, when the going gets tough, I don’t so much get going as go into retreat mode. When I can’t see a solution to my problems, on the whole, I don’t like to bring them up with others. If I express a worry and people share that worry then I automatically go into resolution mode and do my best to make sure that person feels reassured and that everything is actually okay despite any appearances to the contrary. This in itself is exhausting, it was easier to just communicate with people less and just vent occasionally to those in the know.

I did eventually mention the way I’d been feeling to a doctor and jokingly asked if there was a magic pill to just make everything better. When actually they spoke of medication options I was pretty tempted, if a little alarmed at how easily available the option seemed to be. I had always assumed medication was a final resort for those who can no longer function, I could function but I felt like I was often acting, pretending to be a happier version of myself so as not to burden others. As I could point to the cause of my stress I didn’t see how medication would be able to help me, it wasn’t going to buy me more time or help me win the lottery, and as the doctor told me it would take a couple of months before it made a difference anyway and I thought there was a good chance that some of those stressors would be relieved in a couple of months I declined the offer.

Even now I am wary about posting this blog and potentially worrying others, I am doing so now because 1) I’m in a better place and don’t need to pretend any more, 2) it is cathartic to do so and 3) it occurs to me that I cannot be the only one who occasionally suffers and that it might be helpful to talk about this openly so that those of us inclined to suffer in silence can perhaps take some solace in thinking that we aren’t alone in this.

To reassure anyone who might be worried – this year is off to a good start! I took a cheaper health insurance option and have used the money saved to join a gym, I’ve cut back on the alcohol and chocolate, work is significantly less intense, and money worries will be a non-issue in a few months when I’ll have paid off a couple of loans. Here’s to a Happy 2016 (and some more lighthearted blog posts in the coming weeks!

Dear 15 Year Old Me

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As I happen to be in Johannesburg for South African Women’s Day I thought I’d post something in keeping with the day. So I’m posting today to raise awareness of a campaign a friend of mine has set up to combat depression amongst teenagers. Her idea is to invite no-longer teenagers to offer a bit of advice to their younger selves, so that teenagers of today can read through some of the issues the seemingly confident adults around them experienced at their age, and feel a little bit less alone.

This is not an exclusively women’s related problem but I think it’s appropriate for the day as I am a woman and I was a young female once upon a time. But I’d invite anyone who wants to take part to do so, you’ll find no gender discrimination here!

If like me you think this is a great idea and would like to get involved you can add your own advice to the Tumblr page http://selfesteemat15.tumblr.com/, where the words of advice to many a younger self are swelling the archives on a daily basis, or you could create your own blog entry and link to the twitter feed #SelfEsteemAt15‬. If you want to see what other people are posting follow @SelfEsteemAt15.

If you’d like to share your words of wisdom or a link to your entry here too, I’d love to know what 15 year old you and 15 year old me might have had in common.

Below is the advice I quickly scribbled out to younger me.

Dear 15 year old me

I will give you a quick piece of advice because I am currently taking a quick break from a job I am passionate about. So it is possible to make a difference in the world and to ‘be the change you want to see’, even if you currently have no clue what to do with yourself. I can’t remember who said that but even at 15 you had the internet so you can google it.

There are two pieces of advice I would like to give to you. Firstly, be true to what you know is right. Sometimes we all get led astray and it’s easier to join in with the crowd mocking others than to be the one who is mocked but you know this is wrong so if you aren’t yet brave enough to defend those lone rangers at least don’t add to their misery and maybe throw them a little bit of kindness now and again. It will help them and it will help you more than you can realise.

Secondly, don’t be afraid of failure. Yes you have always been pretty good with the smarts and I know you embarrass easily and are currently afraid to try new things, unless everyone else is already on board, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes they will work out amazingly well and you’ll wonder why you were so worried in the first place, sometimes you’ll fail a couple of times before you get it right and sometimes you’ll just fail. But there is nothing wrong with that.

Finally, I know that sometimes you will reach points when everything seems so terrible and you want to curl up into a ball and disappear, but trust me, these hurts and pains you experience they will heal and you will be a stronger person and know yourself better because of it. So don’t be so hard on yourself and when everything really seems so terrible then just trust me and just keep putting one foot in front of the other because these times will pass.

Oh and very quickly, as for what you look like, give yourself a break and stop comparing yourself to others, you are you and that’s damn awesome.

Love 30 year old me xxx

p.s. life doesn’t get boring as you grow up, I’m excited to meet 45 and 60 year old me, I think we are going to be great 😉