It’s all just like…playing on monkey bars

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It started as a flippant description of how I was feeling about work – my friend described his graduate job as driving a car with no windows – I felt mine was like playing uncomfortably on monkey bars in the wind. However the past couple of months or so I feel like that description is taking on a life of its own. It’s scary how accurately is describes everything I do, not just with work….

Like playing on monkey bars in the playground, whatever I’m doing, whether work or life, I should be enjoying it. It’s meant to be fun, people ask how I am and expect a positive response.

After all the lunchtimes of playing on the monkey bars, or years of living experience, years of training, I should be used to it by now, even good at it.

But in reality, it’s pretty tough! Muscles strain in the arms, the metal grips are cold and uncomfortable. Gusts of wind whistle past to knock you off balance. Things I should have predicted, but didn’t see coming. A few gusts from the past week: trying to cancel Virgin Media account from where I moved out of over 6months ago…DPA=nightmare. Discovering that my (foreign) driver’s licence expired on my birthday and I can’t renew it til I’m physically at home again. Empty fridge, dirty laundry. Forgetting 10 hours or so on my timesheet at work and now no idea what to write down.

There are so many things that knock me off balance, which make me just want to hide in a corner til their gone. Except I can’t, life doesn’t work like that. Like on monkey bars, you can’t just go away and come back to the same point. For a start, the ground is a long way down, and there’s already a queue of children behind you ready to take your place. The only thing to do is to grip a bit tighter for a bit.

At the moment I’m lucky enough to have parents and family willing to help out, even from 1,000’s miles away. Like the teacher’s hands helping hold me up when I get stuck. But really I’m getting a bit old for people to have to drive hours on ‘mercy missions’ (as my aunts call them, I’m very grateful though I think that’s a bit melodramatic) to sort me out, and anyway, like on the monkey bars, needing help takes away the fun after a while!

During lulls, the constant uncomfortableness goes away a tiny bit when I release my grip and take a swing forwards, yet that then opens the perils of dangling over a dusty hard floor that can only be painful and isn’t where I want to be, it’s what I’ve worked hard to avoid. Working my way along the monkey bars is so difficult and exhausting. It seems endless and the only end in sight is the end: where it drops off and the game is over. done. finito. Back to earth, 6 feet under. each rung past can only be celebrated in terms of having left the previous rung. Or getting one more rung towards the end. Either way not a very reassuring celebration.

It’s not all negative – on the up side, sometimes you can get into a nice rhythm, swinging from one rung to the next. Building up momentum each bar seems easier to reach, it’s practically fun as you twist your hips side to side, you bet that people watching think you’re pretty cool and want to be like you. At some point though, there’s the sting of lactic acid building up, another gust of wind comes, someone laughs when they see your zipper half down. And it all starts again.

The words ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ come to mind (SG’s – Stress Guy’s – favourite phrase). I need to find a more appealing image and maybe that will help a tiny bit. Maybe, I live in hope. On the whole it is a fun game. If it weren’t, I’d just hop off and play on the see-saw, right?

Or I just need to get a grip…


Welcomed to the World of Work

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I’ve managed to survive an entire week of work!

It feels like everything has happened so quickly: within a month of flying over to England to job hunt, hearing about a potential job, applying, being interviewed, then offered a job, I’ve been working as a real live landscape architect for over a week! The speed of this is only rather offset by the fact that it has taken me over a quarter of a century to reach this point! Though then it is probably equally understandable why this past week and month have felt like a total blurred whirlwind!

Although I am only on a temporary contract, and it’s a slightly odd situation as I am just filling in til the person they want to employ can start, I am so grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to be able to take up this opportunity.

I’d been imagining the inevitability of work and life for me as an upside down parabolic curve: When I was younger, getting older meant starting work was evermore inevitable. At the age of 18 that’s what you do, right? – leave home, go out into the world of work, set up a new home and begin your life. Although going to university achieved the first bit: leave home, it initially pushed away the inevitability of work, and further still when I didn’t know what I wanted to do or had the skills to do, so started a post-grad course. On the back of a bad reaction to stress in 6th form, again during undergrad and rather more than just stress during post-grad, I began to really question whether I could ever cope with combining looking after myself healthily and do something else at the same time. Getting older and still not working made it seem like the inevitableness was turning slowly, then faster and faster towards inevitably never doing anything.

As for the third and fourth bits of the inevitableness: set up a new home, begin your life. Ha! The worry of work has taken care of those things not really happening. I feel like that’s the saddest thing to admit, because of course working should just be one portion of life. But for now I’m trying to ignore that, as I’m already doing a pretty good job of making myself feel like a crap person. I wish I could multitask, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about myself in the last few years, it’s that I really can’t cope when I get ahead of myself, and one thing to do is to take things gently, step by step, clearly, simply, logically.

Which is why I’m grateful for this job. Hopefully it shows my life isn’t a crashing parabolic curve after all, and will give me the confidence to apply for a full time, permanent job so that soon I can tick the box on going out into the world of work. Now I can look forward to the next step of putting my energy into setting up a new home. Well, not to get ahead of myself, I’ll do that once I actually have a permanent job in a permanent location where I can start to feel settled and not be living on a sofa! (I’ll also continue to ignore that life isn’t meant to happen in nice step by step stages…)



I’d like to be…a palm tree

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Recently I read a post over on Monkeytraps, ‘Human Treeings‘. Referring to attitudes towards control, Steve said:

Hurricane Irene swept through here the other day, reminding me of a conversation I’ve had with many clients over many years.

“Let’s say you’re a tree, and a hurricane is coming,” I say. “ Which would you rather be, an oak or a birch?”

The oak versus birch question was refering specifically to attitudes towards control: do you stand firm against a problem, but possibly be knocked down (oak), or do you flex to accommodate the problem and then bounce back? That got me thinking, and, seeing as Hurricane Maria swirled past here today, I thought I’d write a post about the tree I’d be.

My answer to Steve’s question would be, a palm tree. I’m not sure what Steve would have to say about me wanting to choose a different tree altogether…

Watching a palm tree in a storm makes me marvel: at the first breeze, the leaves rustle and dance elegantly, more alive. As the wind picks up, the whole trunk begins to sway, and the leaves are swept away from the wind. In this way, nothing is damaged and once the wind drops, the palm tree will look picture perfect again. On the other hand, if the wind strengthens even more, its second defense comes into action: its leaves will rip off. Perhaps no longer elegant, but by reducing its surface area and resitance, the tree becomes a javelin and is barely be buffetted by the wind. After the wind dies down, the new leaves, protected by the hard sheath in the centre of the crown, can unfurl. Then slowly but surely, as the sun comes out again, the palm tree will be living vigorously and growing once again.

In direct relation to Steve’s analogy, the palm tree is like the birch: being flexible and accommodating the problem, then bouncing back and being resilient. I’m not saying I am the palm tree or have its qualities (at the moment I feel like a sickly little seedling scuffed off the edge of the path under some dark leaves, but trying its utmost best to bat its way up and through those dark leaves to reach up to the light and become stronger), but it’s what I’d like to be:

  • I’d like to be able to float on my experiences, take them in my stride and enjoy them elegantly.
  • I’d like to be able to be flexible and bend if an experience begins to be troubling.
  • I’d like to have backup plans, and second lines of defense. Just like a palm tree will loose its leaves, I’d like to be able to shed my excess activities and unnecessary responsibilities, knowing that I’ll be able to develop new ones when the future’s calmer, and in the meantime they can be adopted and enjoyed by others (not wanting to draw a direct correspondence between the bugs and grubs that will recycle the leaves as energy and shelter for themselves…but the idea is there!)
  • I’d like to be sure that while my heart is protected, it’s never so tightly packed away it can never open up agai.
  • Best of all, palm trees always look their best in clusters or shoulder to shoulder, they’re rarely lonely.


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I mentioned in my previous post, a report on my CBT session with Celine yesterday, about her mentioning ‘resilience’ and that striking a cord with me. I think it deserves a proper post of its own as well.

As I said before, ‘resilience’ is common when talking about catching colds. I’ve also come across in it in my landscape architecture uni work, to do with adapting to climate change and a movement called ‘resilient communities’. I probably sound like a man (I’m not!) now likening health stuff to towns and cities. But it’s true, I’m familiar with the term, but for completely unrelated reasons, so it has felt a bit of a break through to see it applied to my own mental health.

I’ve often tried to think about what benefits I’ve had from antidepressants. The best I’ve been able to describe it is that they help make tears a bit deeper and further away. When I’m not awash in tears, its easier to think things through more clearly or have a sensible conversation with someone to work through problems and find solutions. When I can see a solution and a clear plan that will lead me towards it, then I get less anxious and am more likely to be able to keep to the plan and sort out a particular problem. Conversely, when I’m in tears, then everything is backwards: I can’t think clearly, I can’t get help, I can’t identify a solution, I can’t formulate a plan  to get me there, and then I feel even worse off, with anxiety thrown in as I watch myself going even further backwards. I suppose that anti depressants have been giving me resilience, in the same way vitamin C tablets help stave off a cold.

I’m excited that Celine has pointed out how there are things I can do to improve my mental resilience, even as simple as making sure I get enough sleep, eating three proper meals a day, and thinking to myself that ‘I can do it, it’s only because I doubt myself that then I have trouble’. I’m excited that with these concrete things (which I’ve been able to learn because I haven’t been in floods of tears, thanks probably to both mirtazapine and Celine’s calm, un-upsetting attitude), I can make a conscious effort now to build my own resilience and hopefully eventually no longer have to rely on mirtazapine!

I feel a bit ridiculous that it’s taken five sessions with an NHS therapist to help me see such a simple thing. I feel like I must have been totally wasting her time/their money. Yet  I need to remind myself that that shows how badly I needed help: I’d reached such a state that I couldn’t see such simple things for myself. Hopefully it’s been money well spent in the long run.

Or maybe I’m just feeling overoptimistic again. I hope not though!

26th March: I’m just like…a fisherman with fishhooks in his hand (and sticky out-y ears)

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So I am an idiot
I don’t know what to do.

I wish I could just start this year over again. Except that I still wouldn’t know what to do.

I feel like when anyone suggests I ‘just need a break’, then it would be as useful as saying to a fisherman who keeps getting fishhoods stuck in his hand, that he just needs a break. But duh, if course as soon as he started handling fishlines again, he would be getting them caught in his hand again. What he needs is to learn how to avoid getting fishhooks stuck in his hands, while still continuing his job. Isn’t that obvious? so it should be the same obvious for me: I just need to deal with my work properly.

But I don’t know where to learn/how to learn/who to learn from about not getting fishhooks stuck in my hand. Or my work upsetting me.

Whenever some tells me I’m doing fine, I feel like it is the same as if they were trying to tell me my ears didn’t stick out. That doesn’t help anything! Because obviously they (the ears) do! In the same way that obviously I am not doing fine with my work. Because I’m so far behind with my deadlines, and no one else seems to end up in tears over their work or clawing at their skin over it.

I do feel a tiny bit of comfort knowing that I will be seeing Celine (CBT Lady) this Thursday. But that seems like so many days away. Days keep drifting my so fast, and if I’m just waiting for Thursday to come, then that will be yet another week gone by without achieving anything. And there’s nothing to guarantee (obviously) that there’s anything that she can do to help me. Especially as she isn’t a university person or knows anything about my course etc. Or knows anything about me at all, for that matter.

So what do I do? Today’s Saturday:

  • Talk to parents this weekend? Don’t want to worry them. Nothing they can do anyway.
  • Talk to tutor on Monday? Two days gone. What help can he be? (see ear story, as well as I don’t want him to know my problems with my work in case he doesn’t care anymore to help me)
  • Phone dr’s on Monday? Two days gone + more waiting for Dr to get back in touch/be able to see me. I don’t think that medication is the answer anyway. Am coping ok with mirtazapine even though it isn’t helping much/at all yet. He’d just say to give it a proper chance to work. University wise there is nothing he could say from his position to help (see fisherman story). 
  • Phone Enise (uni nurse shrink) on Wednesday? She’s always too busy anyway, would have to wait to see her properly, that would be another week gone. She’d probably just say wait for my appt with Celine anyway. 
  • See Celine on Thursday. The only thing already set up. But not sure what she can do with helping me find practical solutions (see fisherman story). 

Don’t know what to do. I guess just wait til Thursday to see Celine as that is already planned. Just accept this week is a write off and try to get what I can done in the meantime.

22nd March: I’m just like…sticky spagetti

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My brain is either all sticky, or is like paper in a hurricane. I feel like I have a thousand and one thoughts swirling round which really don’t matter yet I’m trying to juggle them all in case some of them are important or useful.

But trying to keep them all is just counter productive as I spend the time trying to keep hold of them, rather than deal with the important ones. Or even identifying them.

Hmm think I should keep an art diary.

I have the image of me tangled up as spagetti. I really still honestly believe that I have all the things and thoughts I need to do well, but they’re all tangled up with each other, and with a lot of other crap I don’t need, if only I had the time to de-crap them.

That doesn’t make sense but it doesn’t matter.

I just need to straighten out all the tangles, get rid of what I don’t need and I think I could be nearly there. But need help to do that as I’m just tangling myself up further. Especially not writing them down. Maybe if I did write them down then I could detangle them myself. Except I really need to be getting on with my essay and don’t have time to even write that I need to spend some time detangling myself.

Anyway. Will start that process later. At least it is written down that I will do it. One less thing to keep juggling in the air.

Too tired start. Spent whole day telling myself, others that I’m happy with my work, I’m keen on it, and enthusiastic. So exhausting! And trying to convince myself that I’m not tired, that it is just my body/mind playing tricks on me. Which is exhausting in itself too. Mind conservations make me tired…but even more too tired to do anything about it. It’s now 12.51am, so maybe I really am just tired. Don’t know. So much still to do. But need sleep.

So…the options:

  • sleep in the studio – wake up early to continue essay?
  • Or go to sleep at home – better sleep?
  • Need shower badly, but going home to a broken shower won’t help either. But maybe it isn’t broken. I suppose worth a try.

What a crap load of options…

<29th August: I still often feel like I need a good dollop of extra virgin olive oil in my spagetti brain. But I think I am getting a bit better at just calmly working bit by bit at whatever I am trying to do, doing my best not to overwhelm myself. I have no idea which option I went for on the night of the 22nd March. Hopefully I did find a working shower somewhere.>

13th March: I’m just like…a fungi ridden field

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One of the things Enise (uni mental health advisor) said to me in trying to convince me to reconsider antidepressents, and it’s something I’m coming round to agreeing with, is that there is not reason I should be unhappy. So I ought to change something to let me enjoy myself more and be happy. Perhaps, as I say it isn’t the uni work itself that is upsetting me (evidence against: everyone else can cope, I’m not normally dumb, I’m already doing as much as I can to keep up with it), and I’ve been doing my best with SG’s guided CBT, I need to look at something else to change, like chemicals. And that means a change in medication.

I made up the analogy to help me figure out what I feel like. As I’m studying landscape architecture, it seems apt to think about problems with vegetable crops (and yes I’m weird):

I feel like I’m a field of soil with a fungal problem: if the crop were being damaged by caterpillars, then you can see them and could go out and kill off the caterpillars. But if you have a fungal disease in the soil, the crop will die off even though there is nothing visibly wrong with it. And for a fungal disease, you can’t go out and manually pick it off, you have to go after it with horrible fungicidal chemicals. aka anti-depressants. Similarly, if you have a fungal disease in the soil, if you trashed the affected crop and replant the following year, you’d end up with just the same problem in the next crop as you haven’t dealt with the root of the problem. aka if I deferred the modules I am taking this year, I would still be just as stressed by them next year, unless I change how I am feeling now.