Friday, 24 December 2010

It's gonna be OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?
(Author: Kate Inglis)

This is a tough one as there have been so very few moments where I felt everything was going to be OK this year.
Truth be told (and I am not looking for sympathy-just telling it how it is), this year has been a bad egg for me, personally...never mind what has been happening to this country and the world at large.
Things became so unbearably bad that when my long-term friend and fellow soul-mate begged me to let her fly me out to Australia for her wedding and six weeks of healing sunshine, I thought to myself, "What have I got to loose?"
I had already lost practically everything bar the roof over my head and the clothes on my back.
The flight, as I am sure you can imagine, or know from your own experience was horrendous. I didn't sleep, I was fed a diet of seeds and carrots and possibly grass because I had been booked on as a vegan (I am not a vegan) and was seated next to a very fat lady. We had two brief stops: Dubai (I got lost trying to find my connecting flight) and Bangcok (I got lost and was also treated like a suspected terrorist because of my leaking nail varnish.)
My friend came to meet me at Sydney airport but almost walked past me as she didn't recognise the pale, bloated,broken-looking woman that was limp-waddling towards her.
Other friends from the UK were staying at her house as well as me. I had the sofa and therefore no personal space. With my condition, I NEED personal space. It was a bit of a 'mare for the first few days. I had gone from a confirmed agoraphobic and Princess stay indoors and sit in the darkness to someone with absolutely no escape route surrounded by loud people continuously.
After about three days of being "forced" by my situation, to do things I wouldn't normally do, I found myself brave enough to wander around Newtown by myself, engage with my friend and her fiance's Staffie dog and even be civil to the partner of our mutual friend staying with us, who was the most despicable example of humanity I had ever encountered.
On my third night in Upside Down Land, I met my dear friend, the bride to be, for a shared bottle of Cava in a beautiful roof-terrace bar near the station at Newtown after she had finished work.
This became a regular ritual over the next six weeks and she always referred to it as "Lizzie Time"

I had not talked much about my situation because she was due to be married and things were frantic as all of us had been helping to prepare for the day.
However, she insisted upon me telling her all my woes, so I did.
I told her about how I had got sick without warning, my terrible symptoms, how frightened they had made me, how it had impacted on my (well paid and well loved) job so profoundly that the new Head booted me out despite 11 years of exemplary service, how my OH didn't really love me any more and was using emotional blackmail on a daily basis, how I had no money and there were no jobs out there and how I was so SICK of this condition and how my doctor had been of no help and how I feared losing my home...and other things that were happening in my life.
It all poured out.
She did what she does best and held my hand, calling me "sister".
"We'll sort this out Baby Girl," she said.
"For the next six weeks all you will have to worry about is getting enough sunshine and proper food in you. Don't let money worry you. The best wedding present I could ever have is you being here and me being able to help heal you."

That's when I KNEW.
My dad hadn't been there for me. My OH and his family hadn't been there for me and neither had the NHS or my Union when my evil ex-boss shattered my world with a harsh and unnecessary decision.
I hadn't been there for me either- I had given up trying.
But she was there for me.
She believed in me.
She loved me.

It was then that I knew things would be OK somehow. I had the strength to get myself to Oz even though normally I barely had the strength to leave the house.
I had the strength to allow someone to look after me for the first time in my life because, and here's the thing, I had the strength to ADMIT that I needed help.
With Lou by my side, I could do ANYTHING.

And, over the weeks, I DID do anything and everything. I slowly began to remember what a wild, adventurous, bright, inquisitive, stupidly optimistic person I was- the real me.

Lou bundled me back on the plane six weeks later- brown as a berry, a stone lighter, completely off the Beta Blockers and other meds and ready to face the crock of shit that awaited me back home.

Now, the tan is faded, I still have an OH that is less than attentive, no job, no money and all the same fears and worries.
But thanks to my time in paradise- a window into another world that could be mine, I cope.
Were it not for my Lou and her loving friendship, I am not sure if I would even be bothering to write this by now.
Were it not for the mantra I have now indelibly etched into my subconscious- "What would Lou do?", I would not have had the self esteem to try and whore myself on the job market again. I would not have had the confidence to phone a random stranger and say "Gis a job mate, I'm brilliant me and just what you need!"
I would not be in a position where I now have my first interview lined up since I lost my job. Sure, I probably won't get it, but the important thing is, I have built up enough self-esteem to at least try.
Without my "inner Lou" I would not have made the decision to change my behaviours and bite my tongue enough for my rather cold and distant OH to be tempted into this whole Christmas malarkey.
The skills and confidence I gained in Oz have allowed me to brave crowded shopping centres with fearless abandon and chose my Christmas gifts for the immediate family myself. Last year, OH had to do it as I was too afraid to leave the house.
I am now able to drive again and go to pubs and see friends and do all the normal things that many people take for granted.
It is like being reborn. EVERYTHING fascinates me and almost nothing vexes me or sends me straight back under the duvet any more.
I get bad days, oh yes- but now I hear Lou in my head, whispering gently to me: "Come on Baby Girl. It's just a blip. You can do this, beautiful."

My future is very, very uncertain.
However, thanks to my friend, who knows me better than anyone in the world, I feel that I can at least face the unknown as it bites-and I shall bite right back.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Giving emotional intelligence a try. I gave it a year.

Why I did it: I tried to be more in touch with my emotions. I thought it might help my boyfriend be more open if I was, too. I thought it might make people like me better if I was more like them.
My emotions are pretty simple at one level as in:
I am angry. Why am I angry? I dunno I just am.
I am happy. Why am I happy? I dunno I just am.
But they can also be so very complex that I can't give a name to them.

How did it go? I have spent nearly 40 years not knowing the hows and whys and wherefores of my emotions, let alone trying to share them with anyone else!
Whenever I have tried to this year, I have made the little voices in other peoples' heads go; "Run! Run away from the nutty lady! She is frightening me!"
I can see it in their scared, rabbity-headlight eyes.
I am the metaphorical 4X4 about to make another victory road kill with my attempt to make contact.

Lessons & tips: Some people are brilliant at being emotionally intelligent. I watch on with an "oooh" and an "aaaah" as if they were the most impressive firework display in the Western World as they wind their way effortlessly through the minefields of human emotion in a public display of competence.

When I try, my firework equivalent is a manky old catherine wheel from the Pound shop that goes "fffftzzzzz....fizzle....pft."

When I tried, I just frightened people and mothers locked their vulnerable infants in the panic-room as soon as I was in the vicinity.

The lesson I can provide is this:
There are some fundamental elements to each individual's psyche that they CANNOT change. One can IMPROVE them, polish them and make them a shining example of their own uniqueness, but you can't turn a boxer into a ballet dancer.

I think people preferred me as I was: fun to be with, kind and loyal, but above all, practical and pragmatic.

The lesson I have learnt is that some people are happy to share their emotions comfortably and others are not.

After a year of trying to be emotionally intelligent, I have decided that my brain just ain't wired that way.

I am going back to:
"Ooooh! Sea! Must swim in it!"
"Oooh look, friend! I like that friend, let's see if she wants to come out and play!"
"Oh, dead cat. That is sad."

That is pretty much the extent of my emotional intelligence and having tried to "out" the more deeper emotions, I can tell you that for me, it has lead to nothing but social disaster after social disaster.

I am happy being me, just as I am.
You'll find me with the special needs kids happily thinking up 100 things you can do with a paperclip.
Resources: A year of trying to tell people how I am feeling, them going "Holy crap, you are mental!" and then the sudden realisation that I was just fine as I was to begin with!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Age of Austerity.

I am slowly getting used to being a member of the "benefits underclass" that is currently being despised and vilified if current opinions are to be believed.
I fully expect to have an egg thrown at me soon, if I don't get a job.

The thing is though, the climate is depressing out there right now. I would prefer to be working at something I have always excelled at- teaching. However, given that I am also battling a disability, I can't see myself elbowing my way through the long line of eager,fresh-faced, younger and fitter teachers all fighting for one little job offering reduced rates of pay and a temporary contract. My self esteem is in tatters as it is.
I'd be happy to do some supply teaching if there were any. I'd also be happy working as a teaching assistant- I am not picky! I just want to be able to do what I do best and that's work with kids.

However, I draw the line at going for just any old job as I know I would be useless at it.
I don't have very good people skills as my brief sojurn into retail demonstrated. (I can't operate tills!) No, really! I have an honours degree in a science subject but I still can't fathom how to make a cash register do what it is supposed to do. In the end, they took me off the till and stuck me on the shop floor because I kept losing money. No idea where it went. "The till ate it," I wailed mournfully after my ten billionth time of being "under".
I loved the shop floor at first. There is something very satisfying about pricing up stock, arranging it nicely, daydreaming of sangria with Johnny Depp as we languish by his private pool...until a blimmin' customer comes along and expects you to want to help them!
How am I supposed to get my work done with all of these stupid people wanting to know where the plumbing section is?!!! I work in the Garden Centre section! I only do plants! To be fair, I really liked the plants...

I returned to retail many years later when I first moved to Brighton as a way of earning some money as I launched myself into supply teaching. It didn't go well. I hated all the old people. You know, the sort who don't want to put money in your hand and then dump their change all over the counter, expecting you to pick it up. I also didn't like the way that they would call me "Miss". Only the kids at school are allowed that privilege.

I later procured a dream job at a dream school by day and ran a night club by night. I also sang in a band that took me all over the world.
I wouldn't say I was rich on a teacher's wage, but I was happy, fulfilled, busy and life was, to be honest, perfect.
And so it went on until two years ago when I suddenly became very ill with a long term condition. The school wasn't so fond of me all of a sudden and who can blame them?
I'm not much good as a teacher if I'm not there to teach. In the end, as I wasn't going to be getting better any time soon, I realised that I would have to leave with a wonderful reference and hope in my heart that some day, another school could benefit from lovely, clever, wonderful me.
That was almost six months ago. And here I sit: in my jim-jams at 9am because I don't have to get up and dressed to go to work. I don't even have to get dressed to job hunt. It can all be done at the touch of a button...until you quickly realise the words "NO VACANCIES" are pretty much the only ones I see.
Day in, day out...same routine, same frown etching itself ever more deeply into my un-botoxed face. I can't even afford a decent face cream. However, there is a certain retail outlet that I would thoroughly recommend where everything, including face cream is only £1.
I have learned to live on my meagre benefits. It's a case of: no new clothes. Ever. No food unless it is on offer. NO going out or seeing friends. No driving because petrol costs. No visiting anywhere that isn't free to get in. NO luxuries- no hair cuts or occasional massage for me!
Society likes to have a right old dig at us benefit scroungers, but actually, it IS NO FUN.
If I could have my old life back working 70 hour weeks, getting up early on dark mornings and cycling in the brisk, Winter air there and back, with the sea beside me and my self-esteem fully intact, I would.
In a heart beat.

Instead, I am now sat at home spiralling ever further downwards into depression and low self-esteem. All because I got ill.
It can happen to anyone. It happened to me. Don't think for a moment it can't happen to you.
I stand to lose everything I worked for including my home and not just my marbles...

NEXT INSTALLMENT: How to live on £50 a week.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Fight or flight.

Here's an interesting article for the whole bunch of you out there that battle depression like myself.
There is a wonderful new web site called Moodscope that has some great links to mental/cognitive brain-related web sites and this one came from them.

I don't take anti depressants. I was encouraged to try them by my doctor last year and they made me very ill.
Classic case of mis-diagnosis. I suffer from Anxiety disorder NOT depression and actually, the only drugs that are going to help me are the ones my own body produces! Depression, for me is a symptom of the anxiety but not a natural condition for me. Anxiety symptoms can be crippling and as such, they make one spiral into a cycle of depression because (in my case) they can be so debilitating. Take away the anxiety and the depression will magically disappear because people like me actually ADORE life and all that comes with it and, quite frankly, would simply like to be able to live it to the full!

So, after an interesting little thread on one of my friend's LJs last night, I have noticed too, like her, that the paradigm of LJ has shifted very much from "everyone is on it and writes about their top weekend" to a bunch of close, supportive individuals who love to write- many of whom are reaching out for fellow folk to share their woes.
It's become a bit of a support group and agony aunt culture. In short, it has found its niche and indeed its best-fit purpose. Even better, all the people that are leading busy lives and don't care to write have shifted over to Face Book or Twitter. That's fabulous for them and fabulous for us, the remaining stalwarts, that believe writing is pretty much the be-all and end-all of happiness, self discovery and the sharing of thoughts.

With that in mind, I have a blindingly obvious theory of my own that is never explicitly put but certainly implied by the Science bods that you may or may not wish to read.

Right, we all know that stress is caused by over-active adrenal glands responding to the basic "fight or flight" mechanism. Most of us know that the naughty little amygdala in our brains has yet to keep up with our ridiculously fast evolutionary path and therefore goes awry when we become frightened and feel trapped. We all know that when this happens we often have nowhere to run to and therefore the poor body's beautifully designed endocrine system goes into overload.
We know that serotonin is our friend and modern life depletes it. The modern diet depletes us of vitamin B12 and that is a vital vitamin for energy levels. It is a vicious cycle.

I am not a doctor, heaven forbid! But I am a Scientist by nature and my area of study for my degree focused very much on finding patterns in mass extinction events and indeed, the reasons for the successes of certain species in harsh habitats.

Look at it this way. We are a species that evolved so very recently and we have placed ourselves by our very aggressive nature in a harsh habitat. Aggressive species like to branch out and conquer. A classic example would be the Angiosperms. These are all the flowering plants that you are all familiar with. They evolved from the Gymnosperms (pine trees are a fine example of these.)
Before that, when the dinosaurs rampaged around the Earth, the only plant types we had, propagated themselves by spores. Spores don't travel very far. Pollen does. Hence now, our predominant plant-type is Angiosperm.
It was an evolutionary advantage and a fine example of Natural Selection.
At this point, I should point out that I am no expert when it comes to anthropology as I specialised in plants and marine creatures- but the patterns of convergent evolution are remarkably similar for species that branch out and become ubiquitous. Sadly, their fate is often not a happy ending but that is for another post.

So. here is where we stand.
Humans are supposed to be running around a lot. They are built to eat frugally and find what they scavenge or hunt with some level of effort involved.
Our digestive systems have not evolved to keep up with the evolution of our brains which are far too big and clever for their own good. When the Egyptians first started falling foul to ergot poisoning, it should have been a wee warning for us wheat intolerant Westerners that societies that developed agriculture might just have jumped evolution a wee bit too far and too soon.
We are designed to run and climb and develop strategies for hunting prey and finding where the best fruits and vegetables are growing. We are designed to procreate and spend all of our time raising those progeny with no distractions other than finding ways to provide for them. We are designed to help out others in our tribe- but only if times are good otherwise the social nature of our species reverts back to survival of the fittest.
These patterns are played out time and time again in the office, among our families and friends and when we are queueing at the checkout in Tescos.

So here we all are then. Surrounded by tarmac, a self-created environment, disassociated from Nature for the most part and, to be honest, existing very much like bees in a hive. We all know how ruthless bees are when it comes to how their own particular societies are run. But even the drones get to fly from the hive and hunt and provide for their siblings. They live according to their nature.

There have been interesting studies where some highly intelligent animals kept in zoos show visible signs of depression and agitation. Tigers pacing and pulling their fur out, monkeys electing not to eat and becoming lethargic or listless, that kind of thing.
If an animal is deprived of the things that they must do according to their evolutionary nature, their bodies will react accordingly the same as ours.

It is blindingly obvious that we, as humans have pretty much been self- harming OURSELVES never mind the ecosystem!
And at what cost?
One in four of us suffers from a mental disorder at some point in our lives. One in three of us will get cancer.... you know where I am going with this.

Of course, there is little we can do now. We have replaced trees with concrete and tribes have been replaced by groups of like-minded individuals. A classic example of when we re-engage with our tribes could be the common comradery that plays out when the World Cup is on. Another- how folk all mucked in together during the war.
Think about how you felt when you last did something active, engaging and as part of a group that shared your passion. You didn't have time to introspect and mope and not get on with things, yes?

So my theory is that although Scientists are well known for saying that we need the "caveman Diet" for optimum health and exercise is good for you, this is not strictly true.
I think the human brain may well be harbouring a "reptile brain" that governs our basic survival needs...but it has a cerebral cortex and that is the bit that's the problem. We question everything. We have a desire to learn, to spread out, to try new things. It is what our species was designed to do!

So I think this:
We, as a species have not yet learned how to marry the two aspects of ourselves (higher thoughts and creativity with basic instinct) all that effectively.
But given that we are armed with some AMAZING cognitive abilities, we should think more carefully about every action that we choose to make and ask ourselves if we are balancing our opposing sides as we do so.

If you have read thus far, then good.
Because the important bit is here:

Next time you go to Tescos, bring a club with you or some other blunt instrument. Steal the food you need (non-dairy, non-wheat, non- imported exotics please as they are not good for you) and then run like the wind with your shopping basket coshing anyone on the head as you go if they try and stop you.
Once home, cook the food simply and frugally, then have a good old bonk with your OH.
Perfect. Your body and brain will align themselves for optimum functioning in no time.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Something that EVERYONE should know.
Have you ever found yourself thinking, "Oh, for Heaven's sakes just pick yourself up you layabout?" when you read of someone being on benefits or on long term sick pay for a mental disorder?

I think we all have and you know what? You should stop RIGHT NOW and think again.

I can't speak for what other people are going through but I would like to share a little analogy with you that might just make you think twice before judging others in the future.

Imagine if you will, some nasty person injects you with a poison that gives you the following symptoms:

• Uncontrollable shaking
• Nausea and vomiting
• So much tension in your arms and legs that you cannot walk properly or indeed even hold a cup of tea.
• Terrifyingly dark, racing thoughts.
• The constant urge to run and hide.
• Heightened hearing so every noise makes you jump.
• Heightened vision so that the world looks very “trippy”.
• Loss of appetite.
• Inability to concentrate on even the most basic of tasks.
• Insomnia.
• Pins and needles.
• Headaches.
• Crippling stomach pain.
• RACING heartbeat.
• Sweating like a stuck pig.

Not a very nice poison is it?

Now imagine you are told that this poison may well stay in your system for up to three weeks.
What if you were told that the symptoms would occur again and again for the rest of your life?
What if you were told that the only antidote was somatisation or mind over matter?

Next, imagine if you are then told that despite all of these rather frightening symptoms happening all at once and all day long, you would have to:

• Get yourself out of bed (with legs that can’t move) and walk to the bathroom for a wash (with hands that can’t stop shaking) whilst vomiting at the same time.
• Get dressed.
• Force food into you having just been sick.
• Brush hair/shave (razors?! With hands like this?!)
• Get on your bike and cycle to work with your vision flashing and your eyes exploding from all of the noise whilst trying to make those legs work.
• Get to work and manage to talk to collegues, do your work and try your best to “appear normal” knowing that they can see your shaking hands, your beads of sweat and the way that you walk like a robot.
• Deal with having to buy food after work that you DO NOT want to eat or cook because you feel sick.
• Spend time with your partner in the evening trying your best to pretend to be normal for them because you know that you are stressing them with your illness.
• Or even worse- go to a pub or a party full of loud, drunken, hectic people once again having to PRETEND to be normal.
• Finally fall into bed knowing that you won’t sleep as the dark thoughts are turned up to 11 in the silence.
• Wash, rinse, repeat the next day and the next and the next.....

Could you do that easily?
Would you want to?

I think most mere mortals would rather curl up and die than have to live like that?

Well folks, that is what it is like to be me day in and day out.
And that is what it is like for millions like me.

Do you still think we are layabouts who should pick ourselves up and just get on?
Because actually, me and my brethren pick ourselves up and get on with it EVERY SINGLE DAY and you know what?
That actually makes us far more courageous and worthy of praise than the rest of you healthy folk out there.

Finally, thank what ever God it is that you pray to (or not) that you never have to think in the way that I do.
But if you find yourself in that situation...come and find me and talk to me.
You shall have all the empathy and compassion in the world.

One good thing that comes from being ill- you become a kinder, more caring and open minded individual and that has to be good for the world, right?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A few bits of hurriedly thought out poetry innit?

When my parents decided to exchange primordials for flesh, I wonder if they mused upon the flesh they would create?
Would it wish to swim like a fish Grandfather style?
Drink like a fish Uncle style?
Hide from dreams Mother style?
Make dreams Father style?

I was conceived as a result of a vodka ruse.
My father was making dreams Uncle Style.
Something from him swam Grandfather Style.
My Mother hid from dreams in her style several months later.

Genetics is my religion because I grew up to do all four.
There is a lot to be said for a good swimmer.

“Write me a poem about tea,” he said.
“Why?” I replied.
“Because I like tea and you said you might write me a poem.”
“But I don’t like tea,” I said.
“Meet me half way and I shall write you one about vodka.”

“Pass me a biro,” said my work collegue.
It was a flippant gesture as common as sleeping.
I passed her Galileo’s ill thought out invention and one hundred years of hard-core chemists’ blood, sweat and tears.
“Thanks,” she said.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The House

Someone is in my kitchen.
They are concocting curry but not with the raisins my mother always added.
Someone is gazing out of my bedroom window, hating the view.
They don't see the land beyond and a wild expanse of adventures. There is magic in that view but they only use their eyes.
They do not have Bauhaus up to 11 but instead, have chosen to sully the place I slept with a radio.
My bathroom, where I discovered my face for the first time is now littered with different towels and lotions that belong on adverts.
My lounge- where my rabbit once chewed the wires has the same carpet but different slippers.
My garden, the one I tended with such passion is now a mere after-thought. No one is gazing at the stars there.
The stairs I always slid down are now merely walked upon- the familiar creak lives on unloved.
The garage wall I chalked upon lies exposed. No modern car could fit in a garage that size these days. But they do not erase the past and keep it as a folly.
The bedroom where I flew on my father's hand past the flowers on the curtains is now a shrine to Xbox comfort.
I have been erased.