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!

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Wear sunscreen

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A friend recently posted a link on Facebook to the ‘wear sunscreen’ graduate advice speech written by Mary Schmich and later turned into a cool Baz Luhrman song. The whole speech is great but one line really stuck out for me as I re-read it this week:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

The original point of this blog, although it may have sidled off into a different dimension or two now, or at least the basis for the title, was not to let fear hold me back from trying new things. Not to get to my death bed and be full of regrets for the things I was afraid to do. Or rather, it is my fear of being full of regrets later in life that motivates me not to let other fears hold me back from taking advantage of opportunities now.

On an overall scale I feel like I’m doing my best to live up to this grand philosophy. I’ve not been afraid to take risks with work or moving to new places, although I accept I’m at a point in my life where it is easier for me to do this than it would be if, say, we had kids or our parents weren’t well or for any number of other reasons.

But I was thinking about this line and how often I actuallyy incorporate that philosophy into my daily life. I’m not always great at this. There are many times when I’m ensconced in the comfort of my flat on a weekend and I might pass up spontaneous opportunities that arrive to try new things as I dig deep into nest-like mentality and fear the possibility of something out there being less enjoyable than the cosiness of being in here.

However I am a lot better at trying new things than I used to be and this week has been a good week for that.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try and complete a half-marathon this year but I became disheartened when the two half-marathons I had intended to train for I realised I wouldn’t be available to participate in, owing to immovable factors like a wedding and work (for lack of money reasons the races needed to be in the local area). I stopped running in January and felt a little sad at the thought that I wouldn’t achieve my 2015 goal.

Then, last week, I discovered another half-marathon in the Geneva area in September. Having not been training regularly since January, and worried by the challenging time limits for completion, I ummed and ahhed about whether I should go for this or not. On Sunday I decided to quit worrying about why I shouldn’t do this and just sign up. Overthinking can often let fears take charge, so a bit of impulsiveness now and then is good for you!

Now I am motivated to train again, on the internet I found a proper training schedule for beginners and I’m determined to give it my best shot. It may be that on the day I fall behind the time limits and my attempt isn’t officially recorded but if I can still complete the course, even if in my own time, this will still be an achievement. Even if I don’t complete the course at least giving it a go is something to be proud of. I’m not running to win or compete against others, I want to do this for me.

On Monday I was presented with another intimidating notion, that of auditioning for a play with a local drama club. I have wanted to get back into acting for some time, having enjoyed this at school, but although I tried for a couple of things at university (mostly unsuccessfully) I have been lacking in confidence to put myself out there and audition for anything since.

Nonetheless, as part of my realisation that a large part of acting like a grown up is just that, I thought I would start with the acting before I got to the audition. I decided to act the part of someone who isn’t afraid to audition.

I wasn’t expecting to get a part in a four person cast so lacked any real fear during my audition. I enjoyed reading lines in a couple of scenes and I took on the director’s request to read in an American accent without flinching. And although, ultimately, I wasn’t cast in the play I enjoyed the process and was gratified to be told by one fellow auditionee that he thought I was the best actress, and for others to say my American accent was really good (years of watching American tv shows clearly paid off).

After the audition I expected to be rejected, not because I failed but because the director showed a clear preference for a number of actors. However, it still stung a bit this morning to officially hear I had not been cast. But that’s okay, sometimes putting myself out there is going to smart a little bit and I suppose it is this that makes it scary.

The idea of failing at something can often be used as a valid excuse not to try. Not trying can save you from a bit of hurt every now and again but the not trying can also prevent you from finding out who you are and what you are capable of, from bringing you closer to success on future attempts.

Whilst I wouldn’t advocate doing things only because they frighten you, no way would I want to have some up-close experience with a room full of tarantulas, but where fear holds you back from things you do want to do then that’s where it becomes a problem, if you let it. And I have no intention of letting my fears get in the way of who I want to be.

I wonder what potentially frightening challenges next week might have in store for me? I hope I’ll be brave enough to face them.