Forging positive relations

You need more than a psychology degree to cope with my family

I have always been and will always be open about my rather conventionally unconventional family background. Although in Britain nowadays, it can hardly be considered uncommon for a child to be brought up by divorced or separated parents when I have considered in a linear fashion, the exact events that took place in my childhood I allow myself to safely consider my own childhood somewhat uncommon. But even if I disregard such events, I remember always feeling that my family set up was very much different from my peers whether their parents were separated or not.

Growing up as a younger child in the not so wealthy part of South Liverpool bordering on Toxteth, I met many children who’s parents could be considered unusual on the basis of age, sexual inclination, marital status or socio-economic status. However one thing that they all seemed to share that I didn’t, was the existence of a substantial extended family in close proximity to themselves. Whether little Chloe’s mummy left her daddy and ran off with one of the dinner lady’s son or not, the fact remained that both her and her sister still benefited from a wider support network of a family. Various aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins; there would be no end of support and guidance for the two girls.

In contrast, little old me had no siblings and certainly no other physically or emotionally close family members on either my mother or my father’s side. To make matters slightly more different to those of my peers, my mum moved a considerable to distance from my dad to the other side of Liverpool making it a sizeable commute to go from parent to parent especially for a youngster who could only rely on such parents to negotiate her way from one to the other. Apart from other things it meant that I experienced a rather disjointed and diluted social life for a considerable while.

The lack of a close family network made the inevitable difficulties of parents’ new partners, their failings, challenging step siblings and huge bouts of loneliness and worry a lot harder and more confusing for a developing child and then teenager to deal with. Even as I have gotten older, the fallout caused by the various step-parent dramas not to mention my own parents’  misdemeanors has highlighted the lack of a family unit for support.

A couple of years ago I had decided that I would spend Christmas alone abroad somewhere as it has never been a particularly joyous occasion for me for one reason or another. My dad was naturally dismayed at this and tried to come up with a Christmas that I may actually enjoy where I could feel part of a family. He organised that we would go to Ireland to spend it with the Aunty and Uncle that I have always had more of a relationship with than any other family members (still not exactly close) but I did rate them; my Uncle being hilariously funny in an almost accidental sort of way and my Aunty being a lovely, caring person.

So it was agreed that we would go. The problem was the day before we were leaving to go my dad told me that he and his partner were of the opinion that I was unconscientious, self absorbed and ungrateful and impolite. I won’t labour the conversation that we had or even justify these past allegations but safe to say I was hurt beyond words at yet another betrayal from my father and -needless to say- the sanctimonious full on character assassination. Thus it made for a very hard trip to Ireland, where I could barely stand to hear my dad talk and make falsely affectionate gestures . Needless to say my mood was dark and this definitely showed to my not so understanding relatives, as of course my father didn’t want to admit how he had conveyed his and his partner’s opinion of me to me. Not only would they be shocked at how they could be so callous but they would also presumably make him see that this was wildly inaccurate.

Instead I was presented to them as a problem child (as usual) with no further explanation other than I was finding it difficult to adjust to his not so new girlfriend. Pardon me when I say, “what a dick.” So my Aunty and Uncle who also happen to be my Godparents were too left under the impression that I was rude and ungrateful and all the rest. As there was no wider close-knit family to give the event some context, so their opinion remained, pushing me further from any sort of happy family relationship. Needless to say I was wounded that they allowed their selves to form such an opinion without any consultation or reaching out to myself and even after I returned to England and called my Aunty to apologise and explain I received to comfort or words of reassurance and understanding.

A couple of  years later on the day of my – what should have been a proud – graduation, the lack of a wider family was accentuated as it has been so many times before. A few days before my dad had once again put it to me that I was proving to be a problem for his extraordinarily sensitive girlfriend. Apparently my instances of lack of punctuality were in fact indications that I was rebelling against their relationship; my use of my phone at the dinner table was a direct shun to all present telling them I did not want their company; and my failure to gush over standard practices of decency from the demon-step mother herself was as good as me attempting to shove her head in the oven.

On this particular day, after the repetitious fall out, my dad turned up without any camera and with apparently no desire to buy graduation pictures or do any of the normal activities that the proud parents surrounding us were doing with their newly graduated off-spring. He came with no words or cards of congratulations of other would-be family members, no promises of a later celebration with more of the family clan, just a horrible atmosphere stinking of “my partner’s telling me you’re a witch and I don’t have the balls to say any different”. Sad, but terribly true.

As a result of instances such as this, without the solid, steady and unconditional support of family I am ashamed to say that I had become somewhat bitter and resentful about the concept of families. In a similar way that someone deprived of an obvious talent may become resentful of those who have been blessed with one such talent and indulged with compliments and praise. Although this may legitimately strike you as an odd paradox I can only be honest in my complete sense of having been deprived of the basic privilege of a family. Something which I so badly desired.

Consequently I have always been aware of my sensitivity towards fitting in with other peoples’ families whether it be friends of mine or the family of a partner. I was – childishly so – terribly jealous of the fact that they had one and I had none. It also meant that the inevitable event of family gatherings made me terribly uncomfortable as I had no previous experience of such events. No schemas in these areas had been able to be generated having been completely without exposure to this type of event and the consequential dynamics, etc.

Having such negative experiences in the “family” that I have experienced and having developed an acute sensitivity and resentment to other people merely enjoying their right to have a close family, I considered myself surely doomed. Done over by childhood experiences, in a true Freudian way. I was devoid of the tools and motivation to forge positive relations…

Good news though. It turns out that this is not the case! Having been dropped in the metaphorical deep-end, by the (turns out) happy circumstances of being temporarily homeless during relocation to London, and having to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for around a month has done me the world of mental good. Although I observe that coming from a bigger family is not without its own challenges, I still see these as comparatively small to be in the fortuitous position of having one. Being emerged in someone who is pretty special to me’s own family has shown me that I need not bear the weight of a lonely only child of a broken family of two! I am actually in the incredibly fortunate position to join someone else’s family and perhaps even one day, create a happy one of my own. (Don’t worry darling, not for a few years yet, eh?!)

But much more remarkable than this realisation (I always knew it was theoretically a possibility), is the fact that I can also happily appreciate how wonderful having a family truly is without an ounce of resentment. This probably sounds a minor achievement but to me it is really quite astounding. I know now what an amazingly basic but shockingly beautiful and inspiring pleasure it is to be a part of something almost of inexplicable stability and the amazing thing is… this incredible phenomena doesn’t need good fortunes nor riches nor power to have… and now for the cheesy part…. it just needs love with a hint of compassion.

I have always been living proof- if only to myself- that the past can exert weird influences over us, but now I am happy to say that these can also be overcome as we also have the ability to open ourselves up to experience. In my case, it is an undescribable love for and trust in my partner, that allowed me to open myself up to situations that I whole-heartedly would have shied away from. This has had an effect on my own “pseudo-family” relationships, which have in turn also become much more positive and healthy.

Now it is not so much forging positive relations, but allowing them to happen.

(Apologies for the long post)

… I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.Blaise Pascal

Advertisements

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.

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.

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