A Merry Christmas signals the start of a New Year

Christmas tree

Christmas: end of the old and start of the new

Typically Christmas has been fraught with feelings of dread, a sense of underwhelming and a general despise borne out of a lifetime of broken family Christmases which never ceased to surprise by sinking to new levels of low; there were bitter family feuds, car crashes, meals for two in the silence of a big empty house; one of the more “eventful” ones featured a trip to Tunisia, being hounded by Arab men offering my dad copious amounts of camels for me, while  I befriended a baby frog who I turned to after crying about being subjected to the Golddigger and her God-awful old-bag of a mother. Very eventful indeed.

Also until about 2 years ago I had suffered a New Year curse, never-failing every year to be very ill with a variety of different ailments over the years: There was chronic vomiting, fever, tonsilitis, cystitis; and when I wasn’t ill I was just generally having a very depressing time. It is a culmination of these far from merry festive season experiences that had left me anything but festive. Some have taken to calling me “Scrooge”, my response to which is to guilt tripping them for making light of my sorrowful past.

Given that I have been all but merriment in the recent months, with the loss of a treasured era and the gaining of a persistent ailment, I have been most surprised about how I have regarded Christmas this year. Logically I should be especially weary and mournful of Christmas this year as last year was probably the worst one yet and this one has been preceded by a large amount of stress and ill-health. But do you know?! This year it is quite the opposite!

A few months ago I remember discussing Christmas with my boyfriend and I got most over-whelmed and worried – something which he could not quite understand. Yet as time has drawn on, I have become more and more excited for the whole festive period. Not only have I been most prepared when it comes to buying gifts, the allocation of time spent with various family members (mine and the boyf’s) has been done, I believe, to perfection. I am a great fan of perfection and this pleases me greatly.

Rather than feeling resentful about last Christmas, I have found a renewed urge to make things work out happily and have felt really gratified that it seems to have. Usually each Christmas I have felt that I am missing out on what so many others have; a large family, running jokes, fun and merriment. In contrast I have felt very much isolated. I have longed for the “conventional Christmas” with a large table full of close relatives, a traditional English Christmas dinner, hymns on the stereo and mulled wine all around in the warmth of a log fire. In all truthfulness, it has made me very sorrowful in the past and I have often found myself crying or feeling extreme anger and irritation. In that typical teenage way, I have said to myself “it’s so unfair! Why don’t I get to have a lovely family Christmas?”

What is different this year? I think whatever is different, it is so subtle that it cannot be stated. However, what I can say is that something within me has changed. Perhaps I can bestow something positive on the illness I have now long had; to cope with it, I have had to adjust the way I address things in life. I don’t think that this has been a conscious readjustment at all (that would give me far too much credit). But with the help of my family (including extended family in the form of step parents/siblings and close family friends) I have started to react differently to a whole host of challenging things, not least my ongoing ailment. Now, rather than obsessing and agonizing over things that stress or worry me in a big way, I have started to let these reactions go.

There is a mindfulness approach that I try to keep firmly fixed in my head; when negative thoughts or emotions arise, acknowledge them without reacting to them. This means when I get a sharp stabbing threatening to develop into a persistent bout of UTI, I don’t automatically go in to crisis mode and crumble thinking that it is going to ruin all of my plans. Instead I think “oh shit, that hurt. Let’s carry on and see how it goes…” It’s an approach that is very much easier said than done, and how I’ve actually managed to do it, I have no idea. Two things that it may be possible to credit for this changed internal attitude are a visit to Scotland to see the Tibetan doctor (yes, you read right) and becoming more and more comfortable with my free-falling in love (again you’ve read right).

A few weeks ago I took a weekend trip to Scotland to see a Tibetan doctor as means of an alternative cure. We stayed with one of my dad’s old friends, Diana who I have always been very fond of since I was little. Rather than the visit to the Tibetan doctor (will keep you posted on that one) I believe that it was the stay with Diana that did me a world of good. She has a modestly sized house, pretty much in the middle of nowhere and lives with four cats, with her daughter and granddaughter living across the road. There was something so peaceful and calming about every aspect of the visit, that I truly believe has stayed with me since. The food we ate was simple, healthy and delicious, the entertainment consisted of a giant puzzle, a game of Pictionary and “A Good Year” (an amazing film).  But there was something so wholesome about everything that I gradually started feeling comfortable in my own skin again. Perhaps it was the reassurance that even if I don’t end up making heaps of money and charging through life getting to the top, I’d do well in a simpler, quieter existence such as this. I can’t explain it really, but ever since, I have felt happier and healthier and stronger.

Another major internal battle that I have had going on ever since I’ve struggled with my health and the transition from university life, is the feelings of dependence on my boyfriend. I am fiercely independent – to a fault at times – and have had real difficulties surrendering pieces of myself to others in any capacity, especially romantically. The more I have come to rely on my boyfriend for emotional support, the more I have been troubled by this tendency, the more it has therefore created problems in my own head. This too seems to have abated. No longer to I reproach myself for feeling weak when I open up about feeling less pleasant emotions. Long gone are the feelings of caution as I fall deeper and deeper in love; it doesn’t feel thought-out it feels natural and light – the way I expect that it is meant to be. Now there is no more conflict between head and heart, the two are in blissful sync and I feel so much calmer for it.

Whether these two factors are causal or results of another factor is up to debate, but I hardly care. All I know is that I have never felt so  at peace and now all that overwhelms me are feelings of excitement, love and joy. This year although still far from conventional, (we are having a Middle-Eastern feast for Christmas dinner and my dad’s girlfriend’s ex-husband is at ours for Christmas!) it truly has been a happy Christmas, which does indeed signal the start of a glistening brand new year.

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Please leave old baggage well alone!

When the bags have been put down, there is little point in tampering with them

I have for the past few weeks been seeing a therapist, which is exactly what prompted this post. The reason that I decided to push my pride aside and let my extensive psychological knowledge (yes, I am boasting!) go, was because I knew I needed help. The reason that I needed it, was because I am suffering from ongoing health problems which significantly afflict a large portion of my life (sob). With no quick and clear end of these health problems subsiding any time soon, I decided that I wanted help with reducing the psychological stress that arose from them. Thus I opted to see a therapist…

Now baggage can come in many different shapes and sizes; formed for, and as a result of, different factors and exerts its influence in a whole range of different ways. Many of us, I believe are born with a certain amount of ready packed baggage in the form of personality traits which aren’t always helpful. Then of course there is the amount of baggage that is accrued as we travel through life. I have always been very much aware that I have been prone to the acquisition of such baggage due to a lifetime of difficult events and situations. From early childhood I have very much struggled to overcome challenges, which I believed made me  resilient to a lot of other situations that I had to face through the years.

It is maybe due to this awareness that I have always been keen to tackle these problems head on. Maybe it was ever since I learnt about Freud’s concept of repression and how damaging it could be, that I have been determined to lay my issues to bed in the best ways possible. I think this is why I find it very hard to be dishonest now, even in situations whereby lying would be the kindest thing to do: “No you don’t look fat”, “yes, of course I think you can do it”, “no, I don’t mind”. It is almost like an allergy to dishonesty. Personally I like to be told things straight, so that any problems can be addressed and misunderstandings can be avoided. This naturally applies when I am dealing with myself. I don’t like to pretend I’m happy when I’m not. I want to examine what it is that I find difficult or what causes unsavoury emotions because otherwise how will these things be rectified?

There are a lot of issues from my childhood and teenage years that I found although I could address them, I couldn’t lay them to rest. There was a part of the healing process that was out of my hands. These came in the form of acknowledgement from my parents of certain difficult times, when perhaps they conducted themselves in a way that made things particularly hard for me at the time and therefore rendered a lot of unresolved emotion. I am lucky in the respect that I later became able to have candid conversations with my parents whereby I received apologies, reassurance and explanations. I genuinely believed that this enabled me to let the past hurt and destruction go.

This may be true, at least on a cognitive level and I really do not feel that I harbour resentment for anything that I was put through as a result of my parents failings. I know it wasn’t easy for either of them and both of them had to battle to find their own happiness, which meant that they couldn’t always put me first. I don’t blame them. They are only human and they possess amazing qualities that not only do I admire them for, but I have them to thank for some of these qualities being instilled in me.

My problem with baggage seemed to be a fairly recent one. It is a problem that unnerves me a fair bit, having always endeavoured to let the past go and look ahead. My problem comes when the baggage resurfaces in the worst and most powerful form possible. It is a sweep of such drowning and sorrowful emotion that I never feel that my tears are enough to relieve it. This is a very strange experience to me, as I cannot recall a period where I have felt so knocked, vulnerable and helpless. Explanation of such phenomena would benefit from a partial explanation of some themes in my life.

Betrayal: My mum left my dad when I was about 5 years old. I remember that there was an element of betrayal in how I felt about it. Maybe because I was a daddy’s girl, maybe because my dad felt betrayed and this transferred down to me, maybe because she quickly moved in with her friend who then became an unconventional step-father figure.

When I was 14, my mum then left me for a quiet life with a fat stupid man, instead of helping me through some of the most difficult years of my life so far. Not long after that, my dad seemed to transfer all of his love and attention to his gold digging girlfriend and her “IVF” kid.

I suppose this is sufficient to set the basis for a sensitivity towards betrayal, which I also suppose runs hand in hand with the other predominant theme of baggage in my life: Abandonment.  It is the two of these themes that sets perfect conditions for feelings of isolation which have been primed further by the fact that I am an only child, I don’t have a close family, I have tended to live geographically apart from where my friends and school have been and, I suppose, I err on the side of being alone because it beats the hell out of being left alone.

As you may be able to tell, I am frightfully aware of all these “psychological frailties” and so it truly does unnerve me when I feel emotions that I have not felt for years now enveloping me. Or do I? Actually I think not. As previous blog posts (and the lack of over the past month) have shown, my health has been pretty Goddamn awful. It is this, in actual fact that makes me feel so bereft, as I am sure it would to anyone who had a limited social circle/family nearby, a demanding job, a limited bank account and a preference to jolly well be healthy again!

I did in fact, warn the therapist straight away that I am an individual that has always psychoanalyzed myself, which at times may not be very productive but on the most part has fared me well. So I thought that I would bear with him when he wanted to discuss my past;  I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he wanted to explore my past and had little to say when I was not forthcoming in such a subject and wanted to discuss my present problems. But there is only so much patience and bullshit that I am prepared to take. Let me please illustrate for you a little how one of my lasts sessions went:

Me: I get really upset and feel really lonely because of this illness… it stops me from being able to do things and I feel isolated because I feel I can’t join in with everyday life. I’m just constantly stressed out and worried by this.

Him: lonely? What makes you feel lonely?

Me: The fact that I have to keep going through this illness and no one can really give a quick solution or make it better and nobody really understands how it feels to have this day in day out. (I kindly embellish to give him an opportunity to say something sensible) I get frustrated because I communicate clearly to others what the problem is and how it makes me feel and they seem to understand, but then at some point – be it a couple of hours, days, weeks- they will do or say something, that makes it seem like they don’t understand at all. (I give him an example of my mum listening to me tell her what the health problem diagnosis was and then suggest advice from a woman who had something vastly different)

Him: So you don’t feel understood?

Me: No I feel understood but I feel like people forget.

Him: You feel forgotten? You must have felt forgotten when your mum kicked you out, or your dad bla bla bla.

__________________________________________________________________

Yes quite. I am all for therapy but I am not for amateur therapy, especially not when it entails dragging up emotion from the past unnecessarily. The next time I got upset about the stress of my health condition, I was actually convinced that all of this awful unresolved emotional trauma was still weighing down heavily on me. I believe I sobbed to my boyfriend that this was so. Sorry boyfriend, I was misled. I know that I have resolved my issues a long time ago, and I know that sometimes naturally there may be some residue of left-over emotion at poignant points in life. This is not reason enough to indulge in past grievances that have well and truly been laid to rest. In fact I am aggrieved that a “therapist” would prey on someone emotionally vulnerable for quite different reasons and seek to dig up past woes, when in actual fact all the person wants is some better coping mechanisms for stress arising from a physical ailment.

I am all for exploring the past and I do think that this can be a terribly helpful process for those who’ve never endeavoured to before, in some cases. I have though, and to rehash old news is frankly a waste of my time. I look to better the present. So dear Mr Therapist, I will reiterate: please leave old baggage well alone!

Surviving the cracks of a broken family

It's worthwhile making the break through

As long as I can remember I have never had a “conventional” family. Neither of my parents came from families that were particularly close – emotionally or geographically; my mum’s family having moved to England from India when she was a young age and my father having emigrated from Holland after a substantial period at medical school. Both of my parents were the oldest of their siblings and neither of them maintained much of a relationship with them. As my parents divorced when I was about 4 or 5 years old, there was not much of a chance (and even less of an intention) for them to provide me with any siblings and so I remained an only child hopping across the stepping-stones between parents as they separated and experimented with new partners and families.

In the absence of socialising with siblings or cousins or children from family friends, I was to all intensive purposes a cripplingly shy child. To a ridiculous extent at times. I remember being sat alone at lunch time when I was no older than 5 or 6, surrounded by a lot of other well-socialised kids with their generic packed-lunch boxes. They had the usual: Ham sandwiches on white bread, packet of crisps, fruit yoghurt, chocolate bar, carton of juice. I had salad sandwiches on brown bread (organic no less!), no yoghurt or sweets but a cellophane wrapped mango cut in half and into squares. I had just started to eat the sweet, juicy and delicious fruit when a girl sat to my right asked incredulously “what’s that??” I remember freezing, much like a startled mouse in the presence of a cat and wonder what to say (explaining that it was a mango was somehow not an option!

I remained very still and very quiet, even when she persisted and asked again. Eventually her friend sat opposite to her said, “oh just leave her” and added dismissively, “It’s probably a gone-off watermelon or something”. Welcome to the kids in Toxteth, ladies and gentlemen! I remained rather shy throughout primary school and for the first two years of secondary school, although it subsided considerably to allow me to make some friendships and answer simple questions from strangers.

The thing was, there was no denying that I was always rather “different”. Having been alone to amuse myself for considerable periods of time whilst young, and having quite interesting – if not eccentric – parents, I had a rather active imagination and played acted-out imaginary games in public well into year two, and thereafter, in private. I never felt particularly lonely in primary school, when I wad playing on my own, rather I was in my own little impenetrable world which I suppose now, was a very instrumental buffer for the years to come. Nevertheless, I noticed that certain children slowly gravitated towards me. At the time it unnerved me a little, as I didn’t really understand why. I suppose my disregard for conventions then, was appealing to them. Especially to those that were getting a raw deal in the usual playground politics (i.e. not in “the popular group”).

My mother soon moved in with her former male best friend who turned into a sort of ambiguous step-father-like  role. His two daughters lived in London with their mother, but I had always been socialised with them when possible, from the day I was born. For a period of time, we formed what was known as “The Tough Girls”. I remember fabric painting t-shirts for us all and proudly presenting them to the girls when we were reunited again. The eldest was 2 years older than me, the youngest was two years younger than me. I was perfectly in the middle. My mum’s relationship with their father was complicated  to say the least and my own dear father was left very much alone and grieving. This is not to say that my mother is the villain and my father the victim. The whole affair was very complicated and not necessarily an issue for discussion here.

The result of a messy break, was years of disjointed Christmases; one year I would spend it with my dad and New Year with my mum, her partner and the kids and the next year it would transpire the opposite way round. Although there were some very lovely aspects to those Christmases, they could never really be described as a jolly period for me. There is something so sad remembering back to my dad and I sat alone at the dining table to our solitary Christmas dinners. I was always very much a daddy’s girl, but even at that age I could sense that a daughters love was not enough to keep the spirit’s up at Christmas. Conversely at my mum’s it was not so quiet, but the noise was rarely consistently jovial. The girls lived to wind each other up which would inevitably result in tears which would wind their dad up, which would cause my mum to make some failed attempt at mediation which would wind everyone up. Usually I would be turned on for not having made a problem and “sitting on the fence” at some point. There was also the competition of presents and their value, which was not just a past time of the kids but a preoccupation of my stepdad with my mum: “But how much are you going to be spending on my kids?” 

By my early teens, my mum had left him, I saw nothing of his kids – despite having know them from birth and my dad had found a woman who lived to take his money and make him unhappier. Needless to say Christmases did not improve and continued their non-joyous bearings when my mother kicked me out and moved to another city with her new partner. Ding-dong-merrily-on-high!

Having left home over four years ago, the impact this has all had on my perception of Christmas has been potent. I hate being the “Scrooge” figure among my friends – it really doesn’t suit. However, when I can honestly say that I cannot remember a truly happy and enjoyable Christmas, it is bound to make its mark into future feelings about the over-hyped holiday season. It’s beautifully (if not commercially) painted as a warm, loving, family occasion where people laugh, talk and get merry around burning fire-places. The truth is that I yearn for this. It would be a pleasure I cannot describe to enjoy a feast with beloved family members, playing old-school games like charades and Pictionary while sozzled of mulled wine and merriment. It is the cliché picture that causes me to envy others who do have big families and running jokes that resurface every year when everyone gets together.

Envy and jealousy are such ugly emotions. I rarely entertain them for very long and instead repress the whole concept of Christmas by concentrating on something else. This year, however, I have been consciously concentrating on my whole “Christmas phobia”. I shall never have a “conventional family” but I do now have great relations in the untraditional and eccentric bunches that qualify as family. Although my mum and her husband shall never join with my dad and his partner (not the awful woman aforementioned) this is not necessary. I essentially have two homes; two very loving and supportive homes. Screw convention, that works for me.

Having considered the whole Christmas period I have worked out that I will be able to fit in time with my mum, my dad, my boyfriend and his family and my best friend. Now I can’t think of anything better than this. Having a broken family has been hard, upsetting and unsettling at times, but it now makes me much more grounded and settled in my own skin than I could have ever been without it.

The key to surviving the cracks, is jumping over them and not dwelling on what’s down them.

Misery loathes company

Misery loathes company... with the exception of a cat

It is true that people love to moan but that isn’t necessarily them being miserable. Quite the contrary in fact; there is something rather cheering about moaning on occasion to one’s peers. “What is with this weather?”, “Aren’t our lecturers shit?!”, “If I have to hear about the recession one more time!…” etc, etc. Moaning is, to all intensive purposes, therapeutic. The mere proclamation of how crap something is, is satisfying providing a feeling that is qualitatively different to any other. The reward produced by moaning is much more accessible than a reward gained by praising someone/thing- and even then the reward doesn’t necessarily come from the expression of praise, but more the feeling generated directly by the object of praise.

Misery, however, is not so jolly (forgive my stating of the obvious). Misery is so aptly communicated in the very word itself and leaves little need for synonyms. I found myself this past week in a very miserable state indeed. It all arose because of my current health predicament which is ever unpredictable, and positively crippling at times. So it was that I was in a great deal of discomfort and pain, wondering why this had occurred and when I would even begin to see an end in sight. I have already covered the whole feeling of despair and desolation and do not intend to dwell on this again. What I have become more interested in is my mental tendencies when I am oh so miserable. I have come to closely monitor these tendencies and attempted to explore and overcome them in solitary “self-psychoanalysis”.

Tendency 1: Self Deprecate

This is a funny tendency because when I’m not miserable, I really am rather impressed with myself, discounting those natural periods of uncertainty and the odd wobble! However, this dirty and altogether unconstructive tendency slowly rears its cruel and spiteful head as I bury mine deeper into the tear-stained pillow (or blanket or scarf – these days, whatever’s handy!). It’s that niggle telling me that I’m weak for not coping, I’m a fraud for boasting about how resilient I usually am, a hypocrite for dismissing other peoples’ problems in the past. The truth is, it’s pretty fucking hard to cope recently, I don’t boast about my resilience, merely comment on past triumphs over trauma and I haven’t really been dismissive of people who quite clearly are struggling, just those who are being pathetic. Nevertheless, in the moment of misery, I like to pile it all on!

My best friend has said to me that she has also been guilty of “emotional cutting” and that there is really no good in doing it and that I should just stop it! Obviously she is right, but I am increasingly having my suspicions that there is a part of me that likes to kick me when I’m down. It’s on my to-do list to put that part of me in its place. Will keep you posted.

Tendency 2: Get Angry

This can come either before or after the self-depreciation. If it’s before, it usually then neatly follows that I think I’m a horrible person for getting angry/ a mental person/ both. If it is afterwards,boy am I angry. I often think that if I was a male I would be one of those testosterone twats that go around thumping things. So intense is my anger that I do feel that I have to physically release it somehow. Fortunately for my furnishings and those close to me, it is usually just expressed in a howl of anguish. Sometimes that helps.

Why do I get angry? It can be the whole “why me?” martyr routine, but I rarely tolerate that because even in my own head filled with the roaring of anger and sadness, it sounds pathetic and very narcissistic. More frequently, it is the undefinable anger that has no cognition behind it, just this whole overwhelming and physically consuming emotional impact. It serves no purpose and usually it is fleeting, although it has been known to linger a little. My anger then peters out to be replaced by the next tendency.

Tendency 3: Guilt

This is such a hard emotion to feel for several reasons, one being that it conflicts with a stubborn part of me that thinks “Why the hell should I feel guilty?!”. I also find this emotion a much harder one to overcome through internally talking myself through things. There is an obstinate certainty that will not be shifted through inward reasoning that asserts that I should be sorry for my behaviour, my thoughts, my feelings. Sometimes, it may be a little accurate by illuminating something which I have overlooked in my haze of misery tendencies. I frequently find myself apologising to my boyfriend for being unwell, for crying, for not being able to be more fun. I genuinely do feel guilty for all of these things.

He is wonderful and reassures me that it’s not my fault and that everything will be ok. And then I feel guilty for feeling like I’m being needy for wanting reassurance, even though I apologised without that motive at all. And thus the guilt cycle follows.

Tendency 4: Run Away

This is by far my most strongest and recurring urge, driven in part by the force of all of the other tendencies. It is borne from a couple of instrumental factors; the first is that I have always been fiercely independent and only really cried out for help when things have gotten really bad. I am used to being able to get a grip of myself, look my problem in the face and fight it with words, determination and a renewed outlook. It therefore unsettles me a great deal when I am not so successful at this and people see me as I usually appear only to myself and on rare occasions a few other unprivileged spectators: Messy and shaken. I get such powerful urges to retreat away into myself until I can grasp a better handle of my own feeble state.

The second instrumental factor runs parallel with the first. I have always been able to communicate rather well, whether through confrontations, conversations, written word or action, when I have a problem I can generally outline it effectively to those around me (where appropriate of course!). Yet when I am battered from a constant cascade of tears that continually and torrentially fall, weak from the accompanying sore and heavy head, exhausted from the illness, the worry and those tears of misery, the words don’t come. The breath is there, but it comes as nothing but a pre-empt to yet more tears and then there is no more energy. And it is not just that. In the continual tirade of worry, anxiety, internal turmoil there is barely room to formulate what it is that you would say if you could. So I find myself curled in a foetal ball, waiting for it to subside so that I can once again speak clearly.

I’m hoping that by directly addressing these tendencies in written form, no less, I may be more equipt to overcome them as and when they may next occur. Clearly it would be easier if circumstances did not arise as frequently as to allow these emotional daemons to rise, however life is not always that relenting and the best I can do is saddle myself up for the ride.

I’ll never love company when I’m miserable but hopefully I won’t loathe it so much.

You Are Who You Meet

My friends are my family

“My friends are my family”. This is what I remember anxiously imploring my dad, tears in my eyes, at about 16 years of  age. This was in response to his announcement that he intended to move us from our abode in Liverpool to Manchester to meet the requirements of his girlfriend at the time. I was shocked at his callousness; not least because it was in the middle of my GCSE years and I was already functioning poorly due to past upheavals but mainly because I did not know how he could expect me to be happy without my friends!

To many parents, I’m sure this matter would sound little more than trivial; children and teenagers are particularly resilient and built to adapt, rendering a relocation unremarkable. However, the proposition was that I would remain in my school in Liverpool and commute from Manchester which meant that there would be no adapting, just clumsy readjusting which I could see was likely to fail.

I remember at the time considering just how much support my friends actually gave me and I was convinced that this was much more than I was or would ever get at home. I would always be content in their company and meetings with them would always provide so much more than could ever overtly be observed. There was that underlying trust that they would always be there for me, when things got difficult and this meant more than anything. Perhaps this is what is taken for granted in most friendships at that age, but I always valued it so much.

I was an only child, living quite a way away from the rest of my friends who lived locally to our school. This had occurred because after insisting on enrolling me in a high school nearer to the area my mother was living, she left her partner and went to live in another city leaving me with my dad a good hour commute away from my school. I suppose to an extent, this made me a little isolated. I had the top floor of our old lovely Victorian house essentially to myself and would spend a lot of weekday evenings alone up there. It may be this that instilled my tenacity for independence. Alone with my thoughts, writing, music and faithful cat I can now look back fondly on what I no doubt then found to be a lonely experience.

It is true to say that it was an absence of family that lead me to place such value on friends. They were my resolute support network and I always put a lot into nurturing such friendships. Although I was outspoken, I was rarely the one that people would have a big fall out with. I cared too much to be at fault and they would never find a friend as committed or available as I.

Unfortunately the absence of family also meant that I relied on an array of friendships, some of which weren’t necessarily as good or healthy as others. It was a few years previous to my dad’s proposed move that my mum upped sticks and left. Very soon after that my friendship choices became questionable and I made the cliché of falling into the wrong crowd.

Where I lived meant that I was on the border of the notorious Toxteth; once famous for its riots, now left pretty defeated and boarded up. Having discovered the joys of drinking in the park (I repress the mental image of the memory) I soon met many of the local inhabitants. I can’t bemoan their influence on me, as they were just like me at the time: clueless and unhappy, searching for a way to feel something other than resentment and animosity. It is hard to describe the intensity of the draw towards “the wrong crowd” or to convey the reasons which entice you to do so. I knew that my father would not approve, but I also knew that he was not around. Nevertheless, the connection with those friends ran much deeper than a desire to rebel.

After a year I was heavily involved in a lifestyle that I should have been a million miles away from. Still now I am amazed at the extent of the group’s misbehaviours at the time. But it had taken a toll on me and slowly I was losing myself to the mental impact of such an existence. The psychological strain started to manifest itself physiologically to the extent that I was taken to hospital to have an MRI scan as the doctors suspected that I had a brain tumour.

Inwardly I knew what the cause was and equally I knew that it couldn’t continue. The only way I could get myself better was to cut off that group completely. It wasn’t easy but I managed it and slowly I regained myself.

It was years later when I left for university with everyone’s words still resounding in my ears: “You make the friends that you keep for life in uni!“. “Good” I thought, I was ready to see more of the world and hear more from like-minded people. It was a bit of a shock when I arrived at university – nothing like the abstracted experience that I had anticipated. Everyone was so different and the majority of my flat were male, apart from one girl who had not yet arrived. Nonetheless over the course of the first year there were particular people who I found myself clicking with, despite the fact that they were not necessarily people who I would have previously pictured myself clicking with.

I will always remember my first year of university with a great deal of nostalgia; delicately retracing how my close friendships now were cemented back then. All in all the transition from college to university for me, was fairly smooth sailing. I had many great times that long surpassed the typical university experience of getting drunk. My friends and I would go on random early morning drives into the country, climb hills and build fires; we’d frequent country pubs, break into horse sanctuaries with the pure intention of simply stroking horses and have rounds upon rounds of Articulate.

Sadly I slowly slipped away from these past times as I entered my second serious relationship. This lasted into my third year of university before I decided to give up the uneven struggle of trying to make it work in a situation where it was near impossible for it to do so. By the end of the relationship I felt defeated and in having neglected my friendships I had surreptitiously lost myself. Slowly I had stopped seeing my own value for lack of people I was sharing it with. I suppose the realisation that I needed my friends rather than a relationship hit me rather hard and suddenly but I can’t stress what a difference it made.

I’d become uptight, irritable and sullen. No longer was I seeing the funny side of things. Once relaxed and content, I had become pushy and difficult. Exiting the relationship as I did, positively transformed me back to the me I had been sure that I once was. As my friendships flourished so did I and not once did I regret my decision.

The lurking suspicion that I guess has been with me since my early teenage years, is that I may be able to be happy on my own and with myself but what I can’t help but think is that my friends are part of who I am and without them I simply do not function as well.

Clinging on the career ladder after uni… and considering jumping

"The good old days"

University is something that so many people know that they are going to do after sixth form or college. It is regarded by many as the natural next step (at least before tuition fees went up by a million pounds!). 3-4 years at that point seems endless and usually people expect that during those years you will formulate a clear idea of what career you want to go into, if it has not already been decided. What I feel there isn’t enough warning of, is the fact that you may very well be left in your final year left floundering and uncertain as to where you want to go next and what you actually are able to do next. When degrees are not vocational ones like medicine, it’s a pretty difficult dilemma to find yourself in.

Before uni I had planned to become a criminal lawyer fighting for justice. After my first three months of studying law I drew the conclusion (please forgive me my cynicism) that law was really just about making money; criminal law being possibly the worst paying area of law, I was quickly deterred. Psychology had always fascinated me at A level and that had been the competing option before I had opted for a law degree.  It was this that I decided to change to after completing a rather wasted first year of law.

As psychology is such a broad subject I thought that my degree would slowly but surely guide me into my preferred area and that I would be suitably educated to progress to the next level of my chosen psychology career. Wrong! I won’t get into a rant over how poor I found the standards of my degree education (at least not in this entry) but to cut a long and irate story short, it was pretty crap. Fortunately for me, the year already spent at uni barely applying myself to law and living the uni dream, meant that I was more motivated by my third year at uni -and second year of psychology- to do some extra curricular things that were likely to look good on a CV and more importantly teach me a few important life lessons.

My best friend laughed at me and still laughs at me in retrospect, calling me “Suzy-High-School”: I was social and publicity secretary of the departmental society, putting on man auctions and Amsterdam trips, I was a peer mentor, mentor to a kid in social care and got involved in promoting the “Mental Wealth” organisation. I had a great old time and did indeed learn a lot. It was these activities that put me in good stead for employment. By my final year I was president of the society, student representative  and working as a marketing assistant (soon to be promoted to manager). Great CV. Great experience. However I’m sad to say that in the absence of clear educational guidance and perhaps some other factors, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do after my degree.

So here I am now. Some would say in a much better boat than other recent graduates. I was offered full time employment as a marketing manager which allowed me to get a nice city pad and live the young professional dream. So what’s up? I have voiced my worries to my dad who, at the tender age of 62, tells me he is still searching for what he wants to do “when I’, growed up”. This, I must admit isn’t inspiring. I do not want to be a 62 year old, still discontent with my career.

Don’t get me wrong, I love marketing but I always thought I was destined for something a bit more “academic”. Not in a snobby way- I just did! And although I do enjoy my job, in that I love creating strategies to market the company and put them into action and get results, etc, etc I am not passionate about technology. Yet I struggle to identify what I am really passionate about, at least enough to commit myself to it for a career path. It is the commitment issue that is key here. I worry that once you go along one route, it is incredibly hard to extricate yourself from it for fear of having to start again. Now while the iron is hot and I’m not too tram lined in my work, I want to identify what my real passion is for so I can slightly adjust the tracks to head for a specific career.

It’s not just the anxiety that I put on myself when considering where I’m headed that throws me in this post-uni-life: It’s the lack of time. Oh how I miss the days when if you really didn’t want to, you didn’t have to get out of bed. Sunny day? Why not hit a beer garden?! There’s always the evening to catch up on your dissertation, unless of course you end up getting pissed and going out- there will be time to catch up. Now there is no time, which is particularly ironic as I remember saying to my friends “It will be so good when we don’t have uni work to worry about any more. The evenings and weekends will just be completely your own to relax and do what you like!” Pah. Poor old naive me. True there are weekends and evenings completely to yourself, but guess what? All you will want to do is catch up on sleep! And how many things are you required to do between the hours of 9-5 that you never realised before? Doctors, garage, bank, contacting the council, getting your hair cut, that much needed wax- the list goes on!

Perhaps the worst thing of life after uni, is the sudden lack of socialising. Personally, I am a very sociable person. I love people and company- perhaps slightly a product of early only-child neurosis- but nonetheless people make me happy. Now I remember worrying about this at a certain point whilst still at university. I started reading a book called Happiness by Matthieu Ricard and the message that I gathered is that happiness cannot rely on external factors. I understood and agreed and then I thought how?? 

I know what I love about myself and I do appreciate myself more than most people probably appreciate themselves. I am comfortable with me and I do love my own company, but what if there is no choice but your own company? Thinking you’re funny in the absence of other people laughing with you is not so enjoyable. Acknowledging you are a considerate, kind friend means little when its hard to apply that because no one is around. I was worried.  Maybe it just boils down to social confirmation, I don’t know, but what I do know is that having no friends around sucks!

In university you are in this little bubble where all your friends are in the same place, may even live with you, have the same social circles and schedules. After uni everyone leaves; either on to the next city, or even better travelling, or they go back home- which invariably is not near university. I have struggled with this adjustment the most. Safe to say, I still have not quite adjusted. My job means that the people I meet are generally not in my age bracket and have husbands or wives and kids- maybe even grandkids. As luck would have it, my friends that are still about are on completely different schedules due to their work (bar work, musicians, still at uni). To spell it out, it all feels rather lonely at times.

So how to I conclude, without leaving myself and readers completely depressed? All I can say is that I constantly battle to keep perspective. This is not it. I do not have to get stuck and I am not completely helpless! There are things I can do to give my life meaning- like write this blog! Or read a good book or take a walk and enjoy my own thoughts. I am not without friends and I am not without friends in the same boat. I have a steady income and I do still have lots of lovely times. I try to value what I have now and I try to realise that this doesn’t mean I am settling. I am young, I have options and as long as I remain me I will stay ambitious. Hopefully that should help me out some way.

I am certainly on the ladder, climbing steadily but I keep looking at other ladders to see if a.) I can make the jump and b.) if I really want to! I’m sure all will slowly become clear even if I end up taking a slide instead at some point.

The start of something beautiful, quite possibly emotional and definitely something a bit silly

If only life was always this blissful

Well hello there world wide web.

They always say the hard part is getting started. I couldn’t agree more at this moment in time. I have so many blogs that I want to share, but I am aware that I have to give my thought explosions some sort of introduction.

My intention is to create a running social commentary of life in general- although this will probably involve close social commentary of my life in particular. This is the main reason why I would prefer for the blog to remain largely anonymous. It is not that I wish to expose dark secrets of myself or others, yet as this blog will be fuelled by my personal experience and subjective thought it may be simpler to limit the explicit link to myself. Therefore I ask those of you who know who I am not to make this the main point of mention should you pass the blog on to others (which would very much flatter me).

I imagine that the running themes throughout my “social commentary” will be influenced by my various interests and preoccupations, namely (in no particular order): Psychology, relationships, travel, health, philosophy, fashion, literature, film, photography and marketing. I must hasten to add that I do not pretend to be an expert or connoisseur in any of the aforementioned- although I should probably attempt to assert my expertise in marketing as this is my current profession.

So… a bit more about me: I am what you may call a “young professional”, currently working in the technology industry as a marketing manager. I have recently taken to the city life, landing myself a somewhat chic pad in the citycentre and I must say, it suits me just fine for now. It was only 2 months ago that I graduated from the University of Leeds, achieving a first in psychology. Now I am slowly finding my way through the old weekly 9-5 routine, but I think it is this that has resulted in me starting this blog. I believe that it is this mini-monumental transition that has caused the eruption of thoughts and feelings which I find much harder to deal with and understand without writing them down. Somehow this helps the cognitive-emotional mist that sometimes envelops me, take a manageable form- which may even prove to be insightful! Who knows?!

What I can promise you is a maintenance of some sort of humour- sometimes dry and sardonic, sometimes dark but probably mostly unintentionally silly.

Hopefully all will become clear…ish

I hope you enjoy my writing and always welcome comment and feedbacks.

Lifepsyched