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.

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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!

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Resolving on a great 2015

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“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” – Abraham Lincoln

So 2014 has drawn to a close and 2015 has begun! With the marking of another year’s passing there is a medley of resolutions to be made.

Generally, I want to improve my health. Specifically, I’d like to run a half marathon this year, not really because I think I’d enjoy running 22km but more because I think I’d enjoy telling people I’ve done this and because my best friend did one last year and I don’t want to be outdone! I also want to commit to ice-skating on a weekly basis (whilst the rink is open), to be able to stop without crashing into the sides and to be able to skate backwards.

This year I’m also going to work on the long-standing goal of being able to converse easily in another language, an aspiration that has become a tad more pressing since moving to a predominantly French speaking part of the world and realising my existing language skills are really sub-standard. By the end of 2015 I hope to be confident chatting to strangers in the language.

Finally I am resolved to start actually working on one of those books I’ve always wanted to write, to start undertaking some research, come up with character briefs and a developed plot outline and maybe even start writing it.

So there we go, my resolutions for 2015. As I’ve publicly shared them with you all do feel free to give me a nudge every now and then to remind me about these.

I love making New Year’s resolutions because I think it’s good to put a bit of pressure on myself at the start of each year to strive to do just a little bit better. I make resolutions every year, some I’ve kept and some I haven’t, a lot of them I can’t even remember.

From experience I’ve learnt that the more general the resolution (i.e. be healthy) the less likely I am to achieve that so I hope the specific goals I’ve set will be enough of a challenge to push myself a bit harder in certain areas but not so unobtainable as to be doomed to failure. If I tried to simply cut out a bad habit completely, i.e. consumption of chocolate, the chances are I’d smugly manage one or two days and then thoughts of the chocolate I’ve banned myself from ever having again will infiltrate every waking moment until I cannot take anymore and give in to a chocolate binge of Peter Jacksonesque epic proportions! Approaching my resolutions as goals to be achieved by the end of the year rather than behaviours to be instantly changed from 00:01, 1 January takes the pressure off a bit.

A lot of people are dismissive of New Year’s resolutions and I can understand why when we tend to make and break the same resolutions every year but nonetheless I think there’s something admirable in the whole process.

Whilst I think you can make life-changing decisions at any time of the year I think that New Year’s resolutions provide a natural kick-start to the process of self-improvement. There is something fresh and optimistic about the start of a new year, the closing of one year and looming blank canvas of the next. It’s the perfect time to take stock of where we are, to identify any aspects of our lives we might like to see changes in and to think about how we can attain these.

This year was a pretty eventful one for me. In trying to realise my career ambitions I moved country to start a new job and life abroad, away from family and friends. Thankfully my fiancé and cats have been able to share in the adventure with me, although granted the cats didn’t have much of a say in the matter. I’ve tried a number of new things (shooting, rope climbing, running 10km, book-club and ice-skating to name a few) and I’ve met a staggering number of amazing people. Was I expecting any of that at the start of 2014? Not at all. So it’s exciting to think what sort of things 2015 might have in store for me that I can’t even imagine yet.

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This year I had a really great Christmas with friends I didn’t even know last year and rounded 2014 off with a memorable night out on New Year’s Eve which was everything I could have hoped for and really ended the year with a bang (and not just from the fireworks).

Sadly the first day of 2015 wasn’t the optimistic start that I’d hoped for as we received the sad news that my fiancé’s grandfather had died. Whilst his passing wasn’t wholly unexpected, given his age and several underlying health problems, that didn’t make the news any less shocking or upsetting. The loss of this lovable rogue, who I will always remember with a smile on his lips and mischievous twinkle in his eye, has certainly taken the edge off my unbridled hopefulness for 2015 but it has also caused me to take stock of what, and who, really matters.

I remain optimistic for the year ahead and committed to my resolutions but I am more grateful than ever to have the love and support of a number of wonderful people in my life, who I know will make the realising of my personal aspirations that much easier. Whilst it feels good to be able to reel off a list of achievements each year my greatest ongoing resolution is to be the kind of person that can provide similar levels of love and encouragement to those I care about. Although if I can become a proficient skater in the process then so much the better.