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)
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…
Today I saw a blog entitled ‘when your soul is tired’, it grabbed me, not because my soul is tired – quite the contrary, but it made me acknowldge my own physcial tiredness and change my plans for the day accordingly.
Many years ago when I was going through my divorce I started counselling. I remember the counsellor well, and I saw him on and off for 4 or 5 years. I felt very comfortable with him, lets call him Pete, he listened well (I suppose this is pretty fundamental for a counsellor), he regularly asked me, ‘how did that feel?’ and would often gently challenge my response. His common line was ‘I know you, you can rationalize anything- you’re a very rational person’ but what did it feel like, below your head?’
He had a good point.. I can explain, make sense of, logically forgive, understand, rationalize and talk my way through most things,, but the feeling side, well they’re so well packed away down there (not neatly, but securely) and ‘beaten’ into submission by my logic that they may not emerge for years and years…
Pete also used to regularly referred to the four perspectives of life, and how these need to be fulfilled and in balance to achieve a sense of wellbeing. These being the spiritual dimension, our physicality, mental perspective and emotions.
The year of 2021 was a tough one for me. I had to move out of my family house due to a nothing less than a nightmare neighbor. He would shout, and he was a big man, he would swear and occasionally he would bang. This could go on for literally 12 hours a day… during the autumn 2020 lockdown, he shouted on and off for 6 weeks solid. I felt trapped and was literally at breaking point… I screamed back, I shouted back, I stopped, I cried, I sobbed, the only thing I didn’t do was sleep – and I am someone who needs sleep. I was a wreck ….
All the agencies knew about him, people tried to help, but there was so much bureaucracy as he owned the house, and he presented as a vulnerable old man, and he said he couldn’t help it. I won’t continue as I feel my old anxiety coming back.
At the same time there was a huge change at work and I didn’t like the direction of travel, so I opted to leave. At the time it was a huge shock and it wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but I knew it was the right thing ( and I don’t regret it) but it was painful. I was going through such a lot on every front. I was exhausted physically and emotionally. Mentally I think I was ok (others may disagree) I knew that if I didn’t leave my house my mental health would be in danger, but I think at that point it was fine. As for my spirituality, I had, as I always do faith.
I had faith (my own personal faith) that it would all be ok. Against the backdrop of the pains above, I had this little calling (I still don’t know to what exactly) saying that although that life was good it wasn’t fulfilling my spiritual needs. So the events of 2021 were perhaps an exceedingly painful way to present me with an opportunity to redress this.
So I left my house and job and am now I’m working in the lakes -(it wasn’t quite as easy as that but you get the gist…)
And now I feel that my spiritual needs are being better met – the lakes, the water, the mountains – all speak to my soul. I get excited by the thought that there’s an adventure around every corner, I feel the hills calling me, I feel at home as I climb them. My soul has been awakened. I’m not convinced this is where I will settle long term, but its great to feel this alive and relatively free again. Physically though I’m tired and this is what I knew today …. I’ve been living like I’m still 20 – swimming, climbing, walking, cycling and I need to slow down a bit, rest a bit not for long but for a few days… The blog today reminded me of this and I’m now reminding myself that the water will wait and still be there in a few days .
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).