I’ve just been out to buy myself an easter egg. This is not good. I used to struggle with binge eating and bulimia… so overeating is a part of me, but a part I’ve largely had under control for the last 10 plus years. In recent years I have had the occasional bad day (even then nothing like they used to be – thankfully) so hopefully this is a minor mishap.
As I stomped down the street to the shop, with the express intent on buying and then eating aforementioned egg, I reflected on how I was feeling. I was cross with myself – why am I not doing the things I want? why do I feel stressed? why am I not finding time for important things like writing my blog or dating?
The answer was not far away. ‘Work’ that pesky four letter word. This morning I had felt vexed, crossed, frustrated and mildly tormented all within 30 minutes – by my work. And simply because ‘I care too much about work’. As I made a conscious move last year to a lower graded role to try and avoid work stress this acknowledgement is more significant. But as my sister said this is as much about me as it is work. Whatever I do I will probably care too much.
As I stomped on – shop in sight – I did my usual self-flagellation. Is it wrong to say I care too much? what would my boss think? Does this mean I’m a bad person?
Fortunately my brain was working well today, I only did one mental loop before I realised the real issue here. The issue is not caring too much, as to care is good, but its about my caring hierarchy, and the fact that I place my own self-care behind my care for work! I cancel plans for work, I deprioritize exercise for work, I don’t cook good meals because of work. Wow …. of course I knew I overworked but this was a simple but fascinating realization when I looked at it through the lens of a caring hierarchy.
They say that ‘awareness’ precedes change so this is good, but I think it could take some time to re-programme 30 plus years of my working life. So in the random way that I work, my middle name is ‘left field’, I decided to add something in as a new priority. For the next 30 days I will try and blog every day..
Will this make me less stressed? who knows, but my bizarre thinking is that blogging is partly self care as it is a creative way to get to know myself better – lets see.
What do you care about more than yourself ? ( saying ‘your children’ is an acceptable answer)
Is decisiveness a gene – like height and eye colour and I’m just recessive in this respect?
I often wonder what I was like as a child in terms of decision making. The narrative around me as a child (from my siblings and parents) was that I was bossy. I was the youngest, I was confident, I was supposedly dad’s favourite – I remember sitting on his lap driving the car, (a few years before the pressure to ‘clunk and click’ your seatbelts on every trip) but I don’t think he was around that much. I also remember throwing a few strops. The best one I can remember was arguing with my sister (we always did) and then going upstairs and trashing her room – I can see that was not good behavior, but it also makes me smile a bit, I also remember slamming doors and on one holiday when I felt I was being left out I locked the door on our joint bedroom and fell deeply asleep so the others could not get in; in the end they had to climb through the window. I don’t think I was a spoilt brat – I really don’t ….
I also remember at one point hearing my aunt refer to me as ‘a right little madam’ and that hurt, it hurt deeply, and my response was, an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude. How I ‘showed them’ I now recognise is part of an unhealthy occasional pattern in my life. ‘I”ll show them’, translated into starting to withdraw. I can see now that when I feel misunderstood by those I love and care for, I start to retreat. I felt unfairly labelled and the way I would ‘show them’ was by going quiet, by withdrawing, by not asking and not engaging and all my focus moved to my friends. I’ve always had great friends.
I know my parents loved me; I have never doubted this. But as the youngest of four in a crazy busy house, where I seemed to be ‘ok’ relative to my brother, who was always in trouble, my elder sister deal who was grappling with being a teen mum, another sister who struggled with friendships and felt bullied. In this cacophony of needs and problems being quiet was good, so I was often left to my own devices.
Then when I turned 11 there were four generations living in the same house – my ailing grandma, my sister and her baby – my mum was stretched beyond belief.
So I became incredibly self-sufficient. I loved learning and loved school and I did well there, I liked running and exercise. I didn’t ask for anything I slotted in and built my life around the ‘rest of them.’ The only thing I asked for was clothes. I loved to dress up, so did my mum and we would shop together, they were special times.
I began to spend a lot of time in my room, I would write, draw and do yoga – I was an early yoga adopter, my mum had a great book on yoga, I would look at and copy the poses, I was very practical. I think, and hope I still have that book.
I have this theory that as I felt slightly ‘out of the picture’ and felt I needed to be relatively ‘silent and undemanding’ I began to suppress some of my nature during these formative years. I didn’t learn how to tap into new thinking, or inner desires. I think I metaphorically ‘shoved a lot of me back deep down inside me’ co-incidentally this was the same time as I began to develop eating issues and stomach problems.
My Uni choice was random, I had no idea what I really wanted and no one to guide me. I started a pattern of making personal choices by ‘moving away’ from things or falling into them, rather than goal setting and go getting. Reflecting now – I’m not sure I’ve ever set a goal for me in my whole life?! Wow I’ve had to pause after that, as its true….
Without realizing it perhaps I’ve had a rather stoic approach, as my attachment to anything (apart from to my kids) is low. In the workplace I have a reputation for playing devil’s advocate – suggesting different ideas / approaches and being able to advocate very well for whatever it is, but rarely ever wedded to one particular route.
Then in my marriage my husband always made the big decisions ……………
Now I’m at a stage in my life when I have only me to think about on a day-to-day basis, where I have so much freedom and so many options, the world is my oyster and it’s time to live those dreams… but I’m not sure if I have any (perhaps just one – which I need to come back to)
This post wasn’t intended to be a sad one but stopping now perhaps it is. Is it sad to live day by day and have no goals or dreams, does that mean I’m more living in the moment?
I’m at a point in my life where I need to make some decisions but finding it sooo hard…. do I stick with my happenstance approach and see what evolves or do I try and work through this – I can’t decide :). Or perhaps I should explore that inkling of a dream – which is to live by the sea…..
Many years ago, I worked for the Police in a non-uniformed role on a short-term contract. I remember my first day walking into the office and seeing row after row of middle-aged men, in grey suits working at computers. I was horrified it looked so bleak and boring. I may have been tempted to run, but I needed a job, it was near to home, and I was there.
I was part of a small team of 4 men, all 40 plus, one of them was also on a short-term contract and we hit it off quite quickly. His name was Dave, he was in his early 50’s, very clever, quite wise and quite bruised from workplace politics over the years. He was clearly capable of and had come from a better, more responsible job, and was looking for more, but he needed work. He based his working life on game theory and was bemused by my enduring positivity, naivety and bonhomie in the workplace. And even more enthralled by my early dalliances in the post-divorce dating world.
After a few months of friendship, I was flattered to be invited for tea and to meet his wife, who was lovely, and told me that Dave liked few people but somehow, I’d cut the mustard so to speak.
Sadly, we have since lost touch, but I remember a few wise and profound things he told me, I also think he helped me understand more about the male psyche in the workplace, where pride kicks in and (massive gender stereotype warning ahead) how I think redundancy etc seems to affect men more than women.
One of these lasting memoires was his view on the fairness or not of life. In my view its simple – life is not fair, but it’s not something I dwell upon, life is what you make of it. I remember our conversation on this, and I sensed a degree of bitterness in him on this subject, as he talked of those people, he knew who in his words ‘went through life without touching the sides’ i.e., who lived a charmed or easy life. As I get older, I realise that I don’t know anyone who fits this brief, my close friends have suffered losing a son to a brain tumor, bankruptcy, affairs, husband’s suicide, the deep tragedies of mankind.
Yesterday as I was laughing (in a trying not to cry way) about my current challenges and Dave’s phrase ‘without touching the sides’ came to mind. Fortunately, none of my current challenges are the tragedies I’ve listed above, but instead I seem to be moving through a series of minor to mid-level annoyances / stressors, the polar opposite to the easy glide, I seem to be touching and bouncing off multiple sides of life, getting caught on one twig, wriggling free to then get caught up in another.
A few weeks ago, I was really struggling on the friendship front. Uber keen to ‘find a friend’ in my new location, someone I could connect with, who seemed to have similar references points and interests. I thought I’d met a couple of such people in the first few months since my move, we’d meet for a walk, arrange the next, then it fell through, then the next fell through again and again. I consider myself a fairly flexible and understanding person and know that things often change, and that it’s easy to overcommit and for things get in the way of plans. But after 3 or 4 last minute bails and on one of these occasions I saw one ‘potential friend’ who’d told me she was ill heading out later that evening. I was hurt, questioning my friend-ability and also annoyed that I’d wasted time when I could have gone out on my own. After some reflection I decided enough is enough and these early forays and hopes for friendship were officially dashed.
About a month ago I met someone who again I thought I could click with, we first met round the campfire of a women’s circle, then the next day bumped into each other at a wild swimming event – clearly, we have similar hobbies. On chatting, chatting and more chatting (all good signs) more similarities appeared. Since then, more swims, texting, sharing jokes its looking good… Then a strange thing happened, two other women stepped forward keen to do things, keen to share secrets… scarily I seem to be making friends .. I’m in danger of feeling fully settled.
But just as one part of my life feels calm and comfortable, the car begins to make strange noises, the plumbing in my house decides it wants to be more than just a set of pipes, it now wants to make music all night long. I’m not sleeping and without sleep I just want to cry….
Then came the rain – the real rain, and after a lovely day out I returned to find a flood in my garage, wood store and back porch, I feel as if I’m lurching between these minor challenges. I think there’s a lesson in here – I just haven’t found it yet. Instead, I can feel myself getting cross, getting indignant as the flooding could potentially have been avoided if my landlord had undertaken essential maintenance. I feel the anger rising I want to hit things, to whack things in true whackamole style. But I know that if I whack something down, something else may well pop back up….
Better still to aim for balance and calm, and put my whacker away…
Thursday evening was beautiful. The sun was shining and the heat was building up in the car, I probably should have put the roof down – but I was on the motorway, so it was too late. I was playing some of my favourite music, Rag n Bone man, on repeat. I recently went to one of his concerts and I am proud to say I knew ever lyric – I could have stood in for him if needed …. well apart from the fact I don’t have his amazing voice, and the audience would have been mightily disappointed! I love the soul and power of his voice and his lyrics touch me deep inside.
This week has been a weird and tiring one. My son was due to make his first visit to me this weekend – but he got Covid and so was unable to come, this has really upset me, and I’ve shed a few tears. I have some ongoing admin stuff to work through with my siblings which has also been very draining, and I’ve been toying with lots of things in my head. So, as I started the drive, I was tired and deep in thought.
I knew Thursday’s route reasonably well. With the sun shining, the scenery seemed even stronger than usual, the hills even larger and I was driving mulling over issues, against a backdrop of ‘wow this place’ is so beautiful thoughts running through my head. The traffic was fairly light, it usually is on this stretch, and I drive fairly slowly. I’m not a great lover of speed (in any aspect of my life) and definitely not on a motorway … feeling the pressure of someone driving on my tail really stresses me, I soon get hot, flustered and so I prefer to stay in the inside and slower lanes.
After a while I had this slight nagging thought – where am I ? do I usually drive into this range of incredible hills, what signs am I looking for. It was a slightly scary thought – not as in I’m lost, but more a wow where have I metaphorically been… and I’m driving a car – how can I have such little awareness of my route … but yet at the same time I did.
We talk about auto-pilot, but this was more about being fully absorbed, I was in the ‘flow’ .. I realised that my mind had dropped all my worries and contemplations I was (as Wiki would define it) ‘fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full enjoyment in the process’ and as a result something weird happened to time (again according to Wiki) ‘transformation in one’s sense of time’. I was no longer driving home.. I was absorbing and feeling the beauty of my surroundings, I felt rewarded and ‘filled’ by this. Then a moment of panic, I began to wonder and worry about my driving during this time, had I been safe .. but no one had beeped at me, I was still in the same line, at the same speed – yes, I think I was safe.
A sign appeared on the motorway – I was not where I should be, I had never been this far before on this motorway. As I headed towards the exit I realised that I was not one, but two junctions past mine, and when I checked later this equated to, 20 miles off course. 20 minutes in the complete flow of driving and connecting to the surroundings. I began to doubt myself again – had I drifted off, but no it was the hills I was in those hills.
I got off the motorway, did a full 360 and got straight back on in the correct direction. I switched off my CD and focused hard for signs – I needed to get home.
As I drove back fully attentive for road signs, I had a huge realisation. I may not be fully settled in my job, I still miss good friends and family, but I realised I could never fully leave this area.
Five months ago, when I moved up I was nervous, unsure and convinced that I would return to Warwickshire. At the time I told myself as much as others, that I would aim to do at least a year and then see how I feel, and at the same time I gave myself permission to not stay if it was not right. Now after 5 months here, I realise that what most people say is so true ‘once you come to the lakes you never leave’.
That evening I realised I can’t let go of the beauty, this ‘living on the edge of opportunity’ feeling, the lakes, the hills, the nature, the fresh air, green algae and all – this is now in my lifeblood.
Would I have realised this if I had not got lost… I don’t know, I don’t need to know. I know that I need to get a base here, I may not always live here, but I need a base so I can choose to stay here or visit here as and when I want.
I’ve signed up with the estate agents…. let’s see what happens now.
Just over 4 months I crammed a small selection of my worldly possessions ( I am never going to be that minimalist poster girl) into my small convertible and headed north… At the time I was houseless and jobless or footloose and fancy free – depending upon what’s important to you.
I joined the M6, one of the many soulless motorways in the UK, sat nav on, CDs playing (yes you did read CD!) and headed north to the lake district. A mix of trepidation, exhaustion, excitement and sheer relief as just an hour earlier I could neither close my boot or put the roof back down, and I had thoughts of hire car flashing through my mind. But somehow it all just fitted, the roof and boot closed and off I went. Most of the journey I was in that zombie driving state where I intersperse routinely checking speed, mirrors, ahead, behind ( back off big lorry why do you have to get so near!) with moments of singing, basic thoughts such as when will I eat/ stop for the loo. It was far from being a wistful moment of reflection.
The journey went pretty well and I began to pick out familiar landmarks around the lakes – which are unbelievably stunning, and then I landed, physically anyway.
I had taken a new job in a charity, on a beautiful lakeside estate with a house to rent included. Sounds idyllic – but I knew no-one…. but I was still feeling very rough after Covid… but the day I arrived it was grey and drizzly and there was no real welcome (maybe I expect too much)….
I opened the door of my new little house, I was literally opening the chapter on my new life. At this stage I was not fearful, I had rationalized any fears with a ‘ if you hate it you just leave’ mantra, and knowing there is always a room for me at my brothers….
The house was furnished, nothing fancy and way too much grey, but furnished. The the main thing I initially noticed was – oh boy was it cold! Still March, old slate built, no real insulation. I whacked the heating up, I found my chocolate (I’m never far away from some), sat down and breathed long and hard… well this is it! No turning round now, although my mantra is ‘I can go back’, I’d also committed to giving it a year.
I now had a house of my own, I was starting a job in two days… I was rejoining those established social norms distilled into me since a child – I’m not saying they are right but they are definitely there! One thought creeped into my mind – had I actually been brave enough..?
4 months prior when I’d idly typed ‘jobs in Cumbria’ into the Guardian jobs search engine I’d wanted a change, I’d wanted excitement and this ticked many boxes but there was just a whisper in my ear….. ‘had I been brave enough?’
So here I am middle aged, and I find myself between jobs, between houses and potentially between lives … Scary, liberating, confusing, exciting, a myriad of emotions and thoughts, and for someone with an overactive and uber creative mind the opportunities are infinite. Well, perhaps slightly curtailed by my energy levels, and my own, others and society’s perceptions of what a 56 year old single women should / should not do. In practice I find my mind is more adventurous in the mornings when I’m likely to consider catching a plane somewhere on a whim, then by the evening putting on my slippers and pjs and simple home comforts are much more appealing. I was going to say this was never in my life plan, but I rarely plan, I’ve certainly never had a life plan. I am not sure I ever really considered it, I find thinking too far ahead bizarrely scary and as I’ve aged I’ve realized the true futility of planning as life events are bigger than any SMART plan I may have been advised to make or considered writing. Reflecting though there have been decision points in the last year where I could have opted for another less transformational or less extreme choice, but I chose not to. I’ve lived most of the last year driven by the stress ‘flight’ response, occasionally interspersed by a desire to ‘hide’ deep in the duvets on my bed; against this emotional backdrop I was not well placed for moderated or considered responses. And I suppose even before this year I would occasionally mutter under my breath that I needed a bit more adventure or that I would regret it if I stayed in this well-paying and enjoyable (am I crazy) but exceedingly long hours (I couldn’t continue to work 50- 60 hours) job – until I retired. But I did not make a conscious plan for so much simultaneous change, and I don’t have a plan yet for a way out. Feeling stymied by choices and indecision I’ve decided to live this part of my life, which I’m calling Chapter 4 (more to follow) along two principles; one is happenstance (as this has governed most of my life so far) and the other is sustainability (again much more to follow).