‘Yes, it WAS worth it’

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Back around the New Year, Enise (uni MH advisor), asked me: ” I wonder, when you look back now, if you think it was worth all the stress and effort?!!”.

I finally had the confidence today to write as a reply: “It’s taken me a while to decide, but I think that it was worth the effort, if not the stress, last year! (sometimes even find myself missing university and the strange landscape architecture studio life!) Thanks again.”

It feels good: It took six months from my last appointment with her, last June, to feel I could reliably thank her for helping me feel more positive and sorted. It’s me taken a further six months to decide that yes, persevering with uni and staying where I was living was all worth it. It may have been a flipping long ‘blip’ (as my friend tried to reassure me it was), but it feels good to look back at the good memories of the last few years and enjoy them, and also know I’ve learnt a lot about what I can do for myself in the future!

When I read Celine’s CBT competion letter to me, I was at first a bit miffed that, despite feeling she got to know me quite well, she’d just sent me a bog standard letter: “continue to work on your new rules for living – getting better balance in your life with work and play, sleeping well and having fun”. Then I re-read it and realised quite simply she was speaking directly to me, referring to my own silly little saying she helped me make:  “Don’t lose heart, Don’t lose sleep, Put fun in wherever I can”. I’m grateful to have discovered that three such simple things (in idea at least) can have such a powerful effect. I haven’t perfected the art of it yet, but seeing how quickly I can slip when I stray from those three things is enough incentive to make a conscious decision to keep trying everyday.

With that, good night x

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Learning to Drive (again)

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A bit of a mind splurge/really roundabout argument in my head, trying to figure out what it is about driving that I have a such a mind block about, and why I feel so freaked about trying.

Firstly I need to remind myself that actually I CAN drive. I have a valid license from home, for which I took at least a half way decent test (my friends who failed their early attempts would concur!).  But it’s true that I haven’t driven at all since last summer, and even in the years before that I haven’t driven a car that much, mostly because of the lack of necessity and lack of easy access to a car. So it’s not unexpected/a weakness/failure  either that I should need some refresher lessons now.

I love my bike (50cc, which I drive at home, not UK). I love my bicycle. So it’s not the roads or travelling in general that I have a problem with.

Danger

I haven’t a clue what the chances of dying are as a driver in a bike or bicycle accident compared to a car accident. But I’d put a lot of money down that it’s a toss up between bikes and bicycles. So that would mean I should prefer driving a car, right? Wrong! What rings in my ears is my bike instructors words (from when I was 15): “When you ride a bike, you’re the one who’s going to be killed. When you drive a car, you’re the one who’s going to kill someone else”. I don’t think I’m strange in concluding I’d rather be the one to die that to find I’ve  killed someone else.

Trust

You can be  the best driver in the world, but if a maniac driver comes swinging round the corner on your side of the road at twice the speed limit, my guess is that in a car your life flashes before your eyes, as well as for the pedestrian who stands perilously close to you on the pavement. On a bike however, you can easily swerve and slip along the edge of the road. Accepting that it’s impossible to trust that everyone will be a sensible driver, or even trust that they won’t make an honest mistake of hitting the wrong pedal, being a smaller target and one that is nimble (bike) makes me far less scared than sitting like a turkey squat in the road (car). Likewise if I were the one making a mistake, I’d rather do it on a bike where others can avoid me and I’m the only one to be hurt, than in a car where I mow someone else down like a tractor.

Learning to drive

All of those things though are things I knew before learning to drive a car. Yet I was still keen to learn to drive  as soon as I could (the summer after I turned 18, the age you can drive where I’m from). So something about my attitude to driving changed after I first began learning.

I found learning to drive quite humiliating. I seemed to be the only one of my friends who hadn’t driven before, so I felt like a I was starting from several bases back. Also, because my parents have a manual car, that was what I learnt with. My friends, on the other hand, all learnt on automatic cars, so they were out and about learning the ‘feel’ of roads and traffic while I was still getting to grips with just trying to get the car to move, without conking out!

I like to think I’ve got over that embarrassment. I’d like to think I don’t suffer embarrassment. However I guess I do, and I think it made what I’d looked forward to a disappointment, and I never found that ‘fun’ again in it. It’s always felt a bit of a chore ever since.

Gears

My bicycle has gears. I can deal with them, they make sense, I use them and am grateful for them. On the other hand, my bike is automatic and I just rev the engine and go. I love that too! So why am I intent on wanting to drive a car everywhere in third gear? Maybe because it’s obvious to me that a bicycle will need its gears changed, so I’m happy to do that. I choose a gear as often depending on the road as how I’m feeling (low gears going up hills = the road, low gears when I’m tired and want least resistance  = me). But a car? If my bike is smart enough to know what gear to change to, and can do it, then surely a car can too?! I do accept though that automatic cars can be hopeless (once driving up a hill with my foot all the way down on the gas and the car only barely pootling up). But if a geared car can get pretty much everywhere in third gear, then can I be happy with that? I would be if it didn’t seem a waste of the other gears and have my mother muttering (in real life or in my mind) that I should be changing up or down. Ah my mother.

Cost

Another biggie: my parents went halves with me on my bike as a 16th birthday present to me, so I it cost me $1,500.  I’d been saving for it for years and it was by far the biggest single cost I’d ever paid out. Yet even the full price of $3,000 pales in comparison to anything resembling a functioning car.

My bicycle’s chain snapped and slashed the back tire as it flipped off. Replaced all of that + got a new cog for the gears = less than 40pounds. Punctured the front tire and could have fixed that for 79p courtesy of Wilkensons, though for the luxury of 10pounds I took it to the bike shop to be fixed for me. It would make me cry to see the minimum charge at a car fix-it shop 😦

And gas. Petrol. To make it fair I won’t compare my bicycle to a car. But my bike, I’ve never fit in more than $10 of petrol, and that lasts me about a week to 10 days. I’ve never made a direct comparison but my parents’ car tank can hold $50-$60 gas and they always seem to need to fill up.

Responsibility of a car

When I learnt to drive, I was at home where you’re only allowed one car per household, so owning my own car didn’t really factor into the equation: the only option was to use my parents car. However now that I’m away from home, driving a car would more or less mean that I own a car. Aaarrgghhh !

Seriously I wouldn’t have a clue what to do if something went wrong with it! I know people talk about calling out the RAC or AA, but how do you do that? Presumably you need to have a contract with them, or that scary word: insurance!! Double aaahhh ‘Compare the Market.com’ ads have put me off ever trying to buy car insurance (no matter how cute the meerkats are!). And then there’s licences. I now have a provisional license as well as my home country licence. But I think you need one for your car as well? What about tax disks? I’ve heard that term but haven’t a clue what that is or what they’re for or where you get them from….and ‘tax’ = scary thing I’d rather just chuck money at and hope it goes away than deal with it. But at the same time don’t want to do that either! All in all I think I could just about cope with having an illegal car and keeping it til something went wrong with it and then dump it at the side of the road. But I don’t want to do that either, so maybe the simplest thing is just to not bother and keep going on my bicycle?

Multi tasking

Accepting that I should try driving a manual car, because automatic cars don’t have artificial intelligence so their gear systems are perfect, and besides they’re more expensive to buy and hire, and if I only drive an automatic then I’ll be stuck if I did have to drive a manual in an emergency, there are still so many things to think about all at the same time. The AA have all sorts of acronyms that are seriously doing my head in. Even when I think through what I should do, in what order, it then turns out there were things I was meant to be doing at the same time, or by the time I’ve thought it through there was something else I should have done by then. My instructor encourages me that it’s ok to make mistakes. But I’m not sure it is! Sure when I’m with him he has brakes and clutches so probably we won’t come to much harm, but the whole point of learning is to drive alone! I may be feeling a bit feeble in myself generally, but I have had 26+ years of experience of myself to know that I’m not very good at doing two things at once! And then it comes back to the same problem: that making a mistake while driving can kill, and I don’t want to do that!

Glass

I should wear glasses, I have two pairs of glasses even. But I hate wearing them, I hate having anything between me and the world. I hate feeling distant from it (I get that feeling easily enough even without an additional layer between me and it). I’m the only person I know who prefers bugs and grit in my eyes to putting a visor on my bike helmet or wearing sunglasses. Most of the time I can get away with not wearing glasses, only when I’m in lectures (hooray for no longer being a student!) and when I’m driving (dun dunn dunnn). Having to wear glasses and sit in front of a car windscreen really makes me feel like I’m in cotton wool, and I can’t hear things properly either. I’m not sure how to get around that one.

Well then I won’t drive’

There are a whole host of other reasons I could come up with for why I don’t like driving. But basically I think it comes down to the problem that it is too hard to ignore how often my automatic response to car related problem is ‘Well then I won’t drive’:

Vehicle/repairs/gas is expensive? ‘Well then I won’t drive’.  

What if that car side swipes you and pushes you over the embankment? ‘Well then I won’t drive’.

You need licenses/insurance/tax disks? ‘Well then I won’t drive’.

You need to be able to work the gas and break pedals/work the clutch and change gears/check mirrors/indicate/watch out for pedestrians/watch the speed limit/read sign directions ALL AT THE SAME TIME? ‘Well then I won’t drive’. 

Cars (drivers) kill people? ‘Well then I won’t drive’.

Well then I won’t drive.

EXCEPT I THINK I DO NEED TO DRIVE

I’m back to my original problem of trying to take refresher driving lessons so I can feel comfortable driving and pass my British driving test before September 2012, when I have to give up my home licence because of living permanently in the UK for 1 year, but not feeling comfortable doing it. I’m wanting to drive again because it is apparently socially expected to be able to drive and to have a car, and the other part is that my job is putting pressure on me to drive, mostly to be able to make site visits and surveys.  In my interview I assured them, truthfully, that essentially yes I can drive (which, according to my licence is true), but that I don’t have a car.  They’ve now offered to pay the cost of the rental car for when they really need me to drive. I’m running out of excuses, and as I don’t feel comfortable jumping in a car and zooming off, I feel I now need to learn to drive (again).

I think I need to come up with a longer list of reasons why I should drive to overcome the response ‘Well then I won’t drive’.  I’m also desperately trying hard not to come to the conclusions, ‘Well then I’ll just quit my job’ , because that’ll really open a whole ‘nother can of worms!

I’m trying to remind myself it will be a good thing to have a British driving license after September,  so that if I did need to drive, for work, in an emergency or some other unforeseen event (heaven forbid I might actually persuade myself to buy a car and deal with all its problems issues), I could. So I should get my licence now, accept it might be difficult and not enjoyable, but at least not have to worry about it afterwards, and so be it if I never actually drive again.

For now maybe I should write out my list of concerns so I have an answer to give my instructor when he asks why I seem so nervous. At the moment I just say ‘I don’t know. This is just normal’, which doesn’t help me or him much. But I don’t want to feel like I’m plonking him down in a therapist chair either!

In conversation

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Maybe it was because my friends, family and uni lecturers feared I’d be sensitive and take something the wrong way, but for whatever reason, last year anything mental related was strictly avoided in everyday conversations. So now at work, with people that don’t know about my past wobbles, I am caught off guard the way mental health speak is flippantly flung. Just within this past week…

I was being briefed on a new project north of London and at the end commented that I couldn’t get over how much the map of Epping Forest District reminded me of a taxidermied West Highland terrier’s head mounted on a wall.  The response? “Goodness what would a psychiatrist make of that?”

It heartens me to be fairly certain that a psychiatrist wouldn’t care less one way or another if it reminded me of a flying rat’s ass!

I know I’m not a fan of cold (or even luke warm) tea. So I was a bit grossed out when I’d offered to make fresh tea and then see my boss gulp down the last bit of his tea, which had been sitting around for at least quite a while, to give me his empty mug. Another colleague commented, “God you’d think you had a phobia of drinking tea, the way you recoiled with horror watching him!”

I may shiver at something, and can’t see why someone would want to drink something so disgusting when I’d just offered to make some fresh tea, but really, if they think that was a phobic reaction, I’d like to see what they’d make of someone’s real panic attack!

I was trying to explain a piece of work, but as I didn’t understand the work myself and knew she would have a better grip of it herself, I was having a hard time explaining and my words were all in a jumble (normal thing. I remember a uni tutor explaining she could mark any essay because ultimately if it makes sense, we clearly understood the subject and therefore she could trust that what we wrote was good, regardless of whether the topic was in her research area. Annoying that essentially it was our grasp of the English language that would affect our geography grade, but actually there is a grain of truth in her argument).

Anyway, another person overheard me and suggested I ‘might like to take time off for stress’. Haha very funny. I don’t think he knew that the previous time that had been suggested, they’d been dead serious.

By the way, try arguing that Epping Forest District doesn’t look like a highland terrier! (Or that the next time you see a westie in profile view, that it doesn’t look like Epping Forest District!):

Epping the Westie. Maybe with a touch of Schnauzer thrown in too.

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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…

‘Scuse me while I get my 9 hours sleep

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For the past 366 days I’ve kept a mood and sleep diary (thanks to moodtracker.com). It might have produced some interesting data for a school maths project. But since I’ve obliterated all memory of statistics, here’s a simple graph I’ll keep in mind:

Image

9 hours Good. 2 and 13 hours Bad.

An updated graph: When I looked at that graph last night I thought it wasn’t telling much of the story. (For a start I was surprised the figures were not more positive, after all 22nd March 2011 was after starting mirtazapine. The graph would have been more exciting if I’d kept it in the preceding months!) But averages are averages they’ll make almost any bump look flat.  This graph, which shows all the days, shows the relationship is a little bit more chaotic! Though the trend line did still find the pattern of my first graph:

One thing to conclude is a happier day requires 6+ hours sleep, but sleep on its own won't make that happen. Shucks that's too easy I guess.

Seeing the good: Week in Pictures – 12th-18th March

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Pne of Dream Electric’s recent posts, ‘Three Good Things – The Positive Data-Log’ struck a chord with me – it was what Celine (CBT Lady) encouraged me to do back in June last year, and what I aimed to do by starting the challenge of photographing what I did or saw each day! I find have a tendency to automatically see the bad side of things, so challenged myself to end each caption on a positive note, regardless of how it started out. It must be a positive thing to be able to do that (see what  I did there?!)!

Monday, 12th March: I've been keeping an eye on the buds on the shrub by the office door,. Reassuringly they'd sprung open over the weekend.

Tuesday, 13th March. This photo is meant to represent my Tuesday night running activity (our club runs start and finish at this tennis club but). After feeling a bit knocked by one of my bosses telling me my drawings weren't good enough, I appreciated going running and being competently able to put one foot in front of the other!

Wednesday, 14th March - Juicy kiwi berries (basically what it says on the tin: grape sized very sweet kiwis, eaten whole!) were on a sale offer at Budgens today, seemed very exotic in a corner of Suffolk!

Thursday 15th March: My birthday! Went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the old fashioned but perfectly decent Riverside theatre. Although at 26 I have to accept that I'm more than a quarter the way through my life, the pensioners in the film made me feel young still!

Friday 16th: Hazy Sunshine. I tried to line the sun up as a light bulb on the mast, but then forgot and missed half of it from the frame! I hope you still get the idea.

Saturday 17th: Came back from three hours of rowing to find I'd 'locked' my bike like this! Though I was thoroughly frustrated with myself for being so inoompetient, I did sort of persuade myself to see the funny side of it (my post on FB got quite a few '*likes*) and to be grateful that I live in a fairly civilized town with an undesirable 10pound granny bike.

Sunday 18th: I visited the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex. It's a quiet time of year for the gardens, but the woodland bulbs and scree garden sempervirens were worth the logistics of 3 trains and a cycle ride to get there!

Doodling

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Today project boss man inferred I should practice drawing with a pen and making more expressive strokes. Should I meekly agree that I’m not very practiced at it, or show him my weekend’s train journey endeavors?

I HAVE doodled with a pen recently! Though I suspect showing this page of my sketch book would raise more eyebrows than it's worth! I'll just continue to nod and agree my drawings skills aren't up to scratch yet.

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