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!

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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.

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.

Taking the piss; Mind over Matter

When will it all end

When will it all end?

I have never been one to throw in the towel, despair and just want to give up. I pride myself on my resilience and capacity to cope with most things that life throws at me. Unfortunately we all have our limits. I feel that I reached mine. I understand the importance of seeing a bigger picture and embracing the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence and this is what I tend to do when I find myself slipping down a chasm of desolation

It all started around 9 months ago when I suffered from unrelenting cystitis. Now most females are bound to know better than males just how excruciating this can be. No major problem: just take the sachets available from most supermarkets and it’ll be calmed and gone within a few hours – days at most. It becomes a bit more bothersome when that just doesn’t do it; chronic urges to urinate along with painful stomach cramps, just can’t be ignored. Not too worrying, though – just go to the doctor and get some antibiotics. Gone!

Blissful: the feeling of having a regular urination cycle! But not for long. It recurred so many times that I was left sick of the sight of doctors scratching their heads, taking urine samples, consulting their “General Practitioner-ing Guide for Dummies”, bemused by the fact that there seemed to be no infection at all. At length they would say “We’ll try another antibiotic”.

As suspected, the antibiotics didn’t work and by now I was worrying even more after having looked up my symptoms on the internet and scouring forums which all pointed to dreadful diseases and incurable ailments.  The last straw came at the fifth hundredth doctor, who this time after some bewildered “umming and ahhhing” offered the following: “maybe you’re constipated- it can sometimes put pressure on your bladder”.

Having described my symptoms at length, now well-practiced like the words of a play, I was appalled at this whimsical diagnosis. My discomfort was quite clearly a localised problem having nothing to do with my bowel movements, which were in fact regular. I must admit that I had an intense urge to punch her in the face, whilst shouting “If you want to make random guesses, fuck off to Deal or No Deal!”

I had decided enough was enough and as is so often the case when things are free, the NHS healthcare was useless. I sought the advice of a private gynaecologist who gave me a quick and accurate diagnosis: Urethritis. The medication helped and I was cured.

I’m sure that you can imagine my horror when, quite unpronounced, whilst still taking the long-term prescribed medicines, the symptoms all returned. I went back to my local doctors, dejected and requesting a consultation with someone other than the constipated moron. Fortunately this doctor had a clue and on my second visit to her (which must be making my total number of doctor appointments circa 2281) I was given an alternative medication after being informed that I was unlikely to have an infection any more. This medication was instead aimed at dulling the nerve signals from the urethra to the brain, which now had been eternally “switched on” due to the returning infections.

Although this tactic worked for a while, like everything else so far, its efficiency diminished and I was left in chronic discomfort and a state of despair. Aside from the physical hindrance, the mental impact was the worst. What was once joyful in life was now drained by the anxiety that I was filled with as I evaluated: Can I do that or will I be too uncomfortable? No gym, to relieve you of those inevitable fat days which are becoming much more frequent now; no going out drinking with friends as it makes you feel worse when you drink and boring when you don’t! ; no sex, so you feel prematurely “passed – it” and unsexy as you flinch every time your boyfriend’s hand near touches your thigh.

All of this contributes to the worst part of the sorry situation: The sensation that you are losing yourself. Once positive and light-hearted, resilient to most things if not all, you feel as though you want to curl into a little ball and hide from the world that now must surely see you as a weak crumbling mess.

The last consultation confirmed what I feared. In the absence of an infection it was likely to be psychological/neurological/same-thing. My central nervous system had gotten into a pattern of firing that now would be hard to counteract. Having been intensely interested in health psychology, I was horrified when the urologist likened the condition with “phantom limb syndrome” which I have learnt is often intractable and chronic.  The most effective methods of relief are – to my knowledge – often complex neuropsychological techniques.

The worst part of the unidentified condition was the impairment on my psychosocial well-being and general distress levels. I suppose as a psychology graduate I should have welcomed the opportunity of putting faith in the power of the mind-over-body stance, which I had always advocated. I can’t quite explain why, but the prospect filled me with fear, quite possibly because I felt that I had little energy left to invest in mindful practice to relieve my discomfort. I wanted “a normal” problem – one that could be fixed with antibiotics or strong pain killers.

Although I have always embraced the fact that I am not “normal”, embracing my as-of-yet undiagnosed condition in the same way was rather hard. Getting the feelings of anxiety and worry to subside, is no easy feat. Having said that I suppose it is time to put my money (or mental health) where my mouth is and practice what I preach. During my studies I was put in awe of the brain’s plasticity and capacity to respond physiologically to different patterns of thinking.

In a study this year “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter densityit was demonstrated how just 8 weeks of mindfulness training could reduce grey matter density in the amygdala (the brain region principally responsible for emotions such as anxiety and stress) which was consequently reflected in the participants’ own subjective feelings.

Perhaps it is the untamed neurosis within me that makes it difficult to suppress feelings of helplessness that only ever really arise when my health is involved. This in itself presents an opportune subject for examination which may help in my attempt to assert mind over matter.

I suppose that all is not lost while you still have your mind. Referring back to the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence; nothing remains the same. What cripples me now is likely to be nothing but a distant memory in time to come.  I must remember that I am what I think  and have faith that my mind will surely overcome matter.

The Buddha

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much
as your own unguarded thoughts.

The eX-Factor

Leave the past behind

Recently the subject of exes has come up a fair bit, ironically at a period around which the X Factor blessed our television screens once again. This got me thinking about the synonymy between the X Factor and the ex- factor. I have amused myself by identifying a fair few which I now present in a much edited form in this blog. This all started when I recently moved to my new apartment only to find that my ex had also recently moved to my apartment block a couple of floors above me. This brings my to the comparable point number 1: Much like X-Factor contestants you either never hear anything from them again apart from the odd underwhelming and non-consequential local update which also eventually fizzle out, or you can’t bloody get away from them being rammed down your throat!

It then followed that I had quite a few bumps into my ex which understandably lead to the discomfort of my boyfriend. In addition to this coincidental relationship inconvenience, I then started getting prompted by facebook to make friends with two of my boyfriends exes- which is never really a heartening experience. Note to facebook: it is never really going to be logical to prompt partners to commence a friendship with exes of their other halves least of all attempting to do so over the internet. That would never be creepy, would it?! Meanwhile one of my boyfriend’s exes was sparking up communication with him.

As the situation stood, our relationship was pretty much being bombarded by past partners wishing to engage in communication. My question is why? I have always liked the idea of remaining friends with ex boyfriends, yet they never seemed that keen on it which is understandable. However, years down the line when that part of your life has happened, been accepted and moved on from, what is the appeal of restarting repartee? It would be different if you had remained friends, but when the split is rather final and to some extent abrupt, what makes someone then want to be friends again? Maybe their memory suddenly becomes clearer and less tainted by emotion involving the split and they now remember the qualities that would make you a good friend these days. Are they really lacking in friends so much so that they want to revisit their past consort of acquaintances  to start forging new friendships with? Perhaps that’s not fair and the intention is completely transparent and favourable but I think if they want to start making friendships in this way, it deserves a frank and honest discussion straight off!

In absence of this and in presence of everything else ex-related they then come to share their second similarity with the X Factor: causing a lot of unnecessary noise! In this period of ex-bombardment, there was a lot of tension created leading to some pretty heated arguments within my relationship. Looking back in retrospect it was rather unnecessary, but the problem was the sudden presence of an ex/exes causes confusion and it is not always clear how to behave. I initially was of the opinion that I had never had hostile feeling for my ex so wouldn’t see the problem if he wanted to be friends again. Not like go-out-and-grab-dinner-friends and welcome-to-my-inner-circle-friends, but have-the-occasional-catch-up-friends.

I have to be honest I didn’t think much further than that which neglected thought about the possible complexities arising from final details such as the venue of the catch up. Of course these details are important to the comfort of your partner and hence there was some rowing. I think another factor was my stubborn inclination to remain fiercely independent and not allow anyone else to have influence over who I chose to become friends with and how to conduct my friendships. This of course is silly as relationships are about consideration and compromise. I now recognise that that inclination was misplaced in that situation. However the cause of the inclination arising was the rearing of the ugly ex head which consequently can have attributed to it, all of the unnecessary noise that occurred.

I think part of the noise that exes create is down to the third feature that the ex-factor shares with the X- Factor: They are overrated. Just as in the X Factor when I find myself sitting in disbelief as I watch judges cry, smiling tearily as they emotionally clap a decidedly average performance from a contestant with a sob story, exes are given too much emphasis. The conceptual consideration of a partner’s ex is that they will have had a big impact on their life, therefore will mean a lot to that person; they were once in love, therefore there must still be some feeling there and similarly they once had lustful feelings for each other so may well do now.

Personally I disagree with all of these statements due to my own personal experience. Just because I have loved once, doesn’t mean I do now – there is a reason a relationship ends and stays ended and it ain’t because a couple remain in love! Following on from that, just because I once fancied someone doesn’t mean I even consider them in that way whatsoever now when I was a kid I fancied Jarvis Cocker! Strange, I know, but my point is that this is far from my reaction to Jarvis Cocker now! I concede that exes can be big parts of a person’s life and have been to me, but what I value is the experience that has allowed me to progress to where I am now, which does not involve them at all. That means a lot more than what they may have contributed in my past.

This is my logic anyway, but I realise that logic does not always overcome emotion and these are inevitably raised when the ex-factor comes into play. For the many of those for whom this is an issue, it may be possible to construct a friendship with an ex based on terms that keep your partner comfortable and happy, whilst struggling to mentally adjust their natural and automatic conceptions of friendships with exes. However, in my opinion it is not likely to be worth the combat against such naturally occurring emotions that are bound to be felt by your partner. The ratios of reward to hassle is going to be way out-balanced. What real reward are you going to get out of a friendship with an ex? And how much is this going to upset and unease your partner?

In contrast to how it may appear in this entry,I am not militantly opposed to friendship with exes or indeed the X Factor. I do however, regard both as relatively non-consequential with some very poignant flaws. My feelings are that if you didn’t remain friends post-break up there must be a reason for this and it is likely to lie with the ex that then decides to get back in touch way down the line. I would therefore give the exes the same advice that I would give unsuccessful candidates of the X Factor: move on and get a new direction, mate!

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