A need to connect

Like many people, I’m saddened by the tower block fire in London. I don’t know anyone that lived there, but just watching the news coverage over the past two days has affected me. The fear and despair that the families must have experienced, and some continue to experience as they try and locate those missing is unimaginable.

Whilst there’s many questions regarding how it happened, and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again at a different tower block, I prefer to focus on the positives of how communities and emergency services have pulled together to make the best of the situation.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t help being made aware of my own mortality and that of those I love and care about. Yesterday, I felt an emotional wreck watching the coverage – experiencing emotions such as devastation, helplessness and anger. Listening to music, watching daft clips on YouTube, even watching Coronation Street brought out extreme emotion in me. I didn’t feel there was anything I could do, yet I felt compelled to message people, just to connect, to say Hi, to let them know they were in my thoughts, to let them know I care, to give them some sense of their value in my life.

Things will move on. I’ll go back to feeling normal quickly. The people in the flats will have a much longer recovery period. I’m not sure what I can do to help yet, but I’m sure I can do something.

A welcome confidence boost

I’ve always loved music, from singing along in the car to the radio in the early 70s, so recording my favourite tracks on cassette, to learning to play the recorder and auto harp at Junior school, to learning to play clarinet at senior school.

I was never particularly talented at playing music. I never practised enough. Most of my clarinet practice was done on Sunday mornings when the rest of my family were at church. The neighbours would bang on the wall as I practised pieces by Beethoven and Schubert. It was years later that I discovered that their banging was actually due to the fact that every Saturday they bought a commemorative plate which they’d hang at 11am the next day. I also had an old piano for a year, but that had to be sold as the woodworm in it spread to the floorboards.

I enjoyed playing clarinet in the school orchestra – playing at outdoor events, and playing the musical score to the school plays. I didn’t progress as quickly as my more talented peers, but that didn’t matter, I was having fun.

After leaving school, I went to polytechnic and joined an orchestra there, I also bought a cheap acoustic guitar. But then I met my ex-husband. He wanted to spend as much time as possible with me and I enjoyed his attention and so stopped going to band practice. So at 20, I gave up playing music and instead just enjoyed listening to it.

When I left him, music was one of the first things I started exploring again. I bought some clarinet reeds and started to play some of my old pieces. A burglary at my flat meant the clarinet was stolen. I didn’t replace it, choosing instead to put the insurance money in an account for when a child of mine wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. Instead I bought a second-hand keyboard and a vintage bass guitar. The keyboard was fun. I could hit a button for a pre-programmed rhythm, and play along to that. I wrote a few songs of my own and perfected playing them. The bass guitar was used more for just playing along to my favourite songs on my record player. I was in my own little world writing and playing music, with only myself to listen to it.

But then I met someone else and lived with them. I felt self-conscious of the fact I wasn’t very good at playing music (their comments and laughter didn’t help), so I kept my love of playing to myself and once again, just enjoyed listening to music.

Last year I set myself the challenge of learning to play guitar. I can play a few chords and play a bit of lead guitar, but my fingers don’t stretch well, so anything using four fingers is a struggle.

A friend suggested I try and learn to play ukulele as the frets are a lot closer together, so just over three weeks ago I bought one and have played for at least 30 minutes each day since. My chord changes aren’t smooth and my skipping pattern finger-picking needs a lot of practice, but I’m getting there. I’m using Chordify to help me find the chords for my favourite songs and I’m really enjoying playing along.

It was also suggested that I join a group, so I had a look online and found a local ukulele group. I dropped them a message and they said that beginners are welcome. So, yesterday I went along to the group. I was very nervous, this was the first time I’d have played any musical instrument in front of anyone else for 30 years. That’s a heck of a long time of feeling that I wasn’t good enough to play with others. When I got to the car park, I sat in my car for a while taking deep breaths. I almost reversed my car out of its space to drive home. I manned-up and walked in. I was immediately welcomed and a seat was found for me at the main table next to the leader who handed me a book of the lyrics and chords they use.

As a group we decided on the set-list for an upcoming live event, and I was made to feel included and wanted when they asked me to be part of it.

We worked our way through the songs on the set-list with the others showing me how to play the chords that I wasn’t familiar live. It felt great to be part of a group singing and playing along to classic songs. I came away feeling I’d really achieved something, that my confidence in being able to play music had been rebuilt in that session.

Lots of practice this week – I’ve a gig to prepare for!

More indecision

Never has my future seemed as less clear than at the moment.

It’s almost a year since I first gave up my established career path for something new. Lots of friends have commented on how much happier and healthier I’ve been since I stopped working where I worked before. I don’t think I’ve had a full blown vertigo attack since and have been much better at taking a break and resting when I’ve felt I’ve been pushing myself too much.

I’ve had a successful time at the work placements I’ve had, and have been able to enjoy assisting refugees with English conversation. I’ve started to increase the amount of exercise I do, I’ve made good progress with editing my novel and I have started to learn to play the ukulele. Everything on those sides of things is going great.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that I need to make a decision about what to do come the end of August. The world is my oyster – I have loads of options. I’m applying to train to be a secondary school Maths teacher, I’ve seen a great job in my old career path that would be perfect for me, and I’ve been offered a job to teach English in Shenzhen, China.
The opportunity to live in China for a year is an amazing one. It would be a whole new way of life, a new culture to immerse myself in. The accommodation looks OK, the school ID be working in has good facilities. I’d need to get a lodger for my house in the UK, but it’s doable financially to work over there and keep my property here. So what’s stopping me? A year ago I would have jumped at it. The chance of escaping the rubbish life I had then. But since then, I’ve built better relationships with friends, and I’ve felt more included and more committed to my voluntary commitments. A year ago I could have walked away from them all so much more easily, now I’m less sure that I can or even that I want to.
The chance of doing secondary school teacher training in Maths is very appealing. The chance to make a real difference to children in this country. I’m not near to getting an interview for that though. I can’t submit the application until references are in and I’m still waiting for one. At the speed things are going, it’s getting less likely that I will get on a course this year.
And the job in my old career. I could do it, it’s better money than I’d be on as a teacher. But I’d need to relocate as it’s over 60 miles away and far to far to commute each day. I love the city I live near, and the friends I have here. Again, I don’t want to lose them, but at least I’d be in the same country and it would be easier to visit friends than if I moved to China. But this job could end up as bad for me as my old one was. I have a few more days til I need submit the application.
The opportunities in England might not come to anything, the only definite option at the moment is moving to work in China. I’ve a few days to decide.

This be the verse

I’ve written before about how affected I’ve been by my father’s lack of wanting to be in my life since my age of eight.

Nothing has changed. I still keep making the same mistakes – craving affection from men emotionally unavailable to me.

Today I was reminded of this excellent poem by Philip Larkin:

This be the verse

They f*@k you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f*@ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

 

 

 

 

Trying to run

All my life I’ve had people stare at me because I can’t walk properly – my knees aren’t straight, so if I put them straight it means my feet are at an angle. If I put my feet straight my knees point inwards. I was called ‘spastic’ by other kids in school and by people in the street. I couldn’t do sports at school and my PE teacher sent me for a medical because of my deformity (not my words).  I did all I could to get out of the continual humiliation of PE lessons – no-one wanted spastic on their team. I avoided people by staying in and listening to music on Radio Luxembourg or I cycled to wherever I needed to go.

Even now, I avoid walking whenever I can. I try and hide my knees, and the rest of my ugly, overweight body. I mainly go to places where I can sit down, or where it’s too dark for anyone to see how I stand or walk.

Last year I did a favour for someone I used to know  I’d not seen her for years but her first comment was ‘I’d recognise your walk anywhere’ and she laughed. I felt like I’d been transported back to being the ‘spastic’ teenager I once was.

So why is this relevant now? It’s the context behind why my current challenge is so difficult for me. I’m trying to learn how to run using the Couch to 5k app. And it is a struggle. It’s a struggle physically because I get out of breath walking quickly. I used to have great lung capacity, I played clarinet in the school orchestra. Now I can nearly play a few notes my breathing is so poor.

It’s a struggle because I get shin splints after a couple of minutes and that’s so uncomfortable. It’s a struggle mentally because I’m fighting all the demons of my past. Every time I see someone look at me I think they’re wondering why I can’t run, why my legs go at funny angles and why I’m in tears trying to beat the impossible.

I’m only on Week 1, and it’s not the first time I’ve tried it. I’m spurred on by other people I know that have completed this. I might not make it, but I’ve still got that point to prove from 35 years ago.

 

 

 

Sometimes I need a hug

Yes, I admit it sometimes I need a hug. This is quite an unusual occurrence for me. I was brought up without physical affection in my close family. The main affection I remember from my childhood is having to accept slobbery kisses on the cheek from old aunts I hardly knew. That kind of affection I drew away from.
As a result, I rarely initiate hugs from even very close friends, and when I do it feels awkward and I expect my hugs to be rejected. I am happy to receive hugs from friends though, and those hugs usually feel natural to me.
So, when I’m going through a bad time, when I feel I can’t cope. When I want to just be held and not have to speak, but just let myself drown in the comfort of not being totally alone. When I just want someone to hold me and let me sob and shake and have snot pouring down my nose I sometimes really crave the physical closeness of a friend.
However, it still feels wrong for me to admit that. When I tell close friends that I need a hug, I feel I shouldn’t be doing so. It feels I’m being a desperate attention seeker, that I’m imposing on their time. In some ways I suppose I am desperate, after all I’m in such a state due to not coping well with things going on in my life at times like these.
Yet, if a close friend asked me for a hug, I’d drive miles to be there for them to give that physical support. So, why is it so difficult for me to do that myself?

Feeling old

Tonight I used a term when chatting to someone that I thought meant something different to his understanding..

I use the term ‘hook up’ to mean ‘meet up with informally’. To me, the term can be applied to males or females, friends, colleagues, anyone. Yes, it can be a sexual meeting, but it could equally be for a friendship, a work collaboration, getting together to brainstorm a project, etc. So, tonight when I was trying to make a friend feel better about things and I was listing the things he’d got to look forward to, I was surprised when he took offence at me saying he’d a hook up with a girl he’d previously mentioned to look forward to. He’d thought I meant a sordid sexual meeting. I was sure he’d mentioned that the girl was much younger than him and had a boyfriend, so I’d assumed their meeting would be about music or something. It hadn’t occurred to me that it might be something else. The more I protested my innocent use of the term, the more he seemed to think I was suggesting otherwise.

After this conversation, I suddenly remembered that a male friend had suggested a hook up with me this week. I’d assumed he meant a chat over drinks and a meal, but after my other friend’s reaction I felt mortified that he was expecting something else which I wasn’t offering. I quickly sent him a message and was relieved to get a reply saying that he wasn’t expecting more himself. Phew!

I’m often intrigued by the English language and how different people interpret things differently. I wondered if it was an age thing, whether it’s because I mix in different circles or what. I wish I knew so I don’t make similar mistakes again.

It’s only a cold

So, I’ve been back at work a week. It was a struggle keeping awake in the afternoons and I needed early nights so had to cancel a few things I had planned for the evenings to ensure I got enough sleep. But, the important thing was that I did it – I got through the week’s work and commute successfully.
However, on Friday evening I had a sore throat, and yesterday I felt wiped out from a cold. I had to cancel volunteering at football and cancel going out with friends in the evening. I possibly could have pushed myself to go, but it was the sensible thing to do – to just stay wrapped in a duvet sipping tea and taking paracetamol.
A few friends have been sympathetic, but some have suggested I went back to working too soon, or that I should have just gone back part-time. A few have criticised my vegan diet, not realising that I probably monitor my nutrient intake a lot more closely than they do. Last night I started questioning these things myself – had I pushed myself too far? Should I have had another month not working? I felt bad. I felt I’d let myself down and I felt I’d let others down by agreeing to a contract that I might not be able to fulfil. I considering writing my resignation, I considered giving up on my course again, I didn’t know what to do. I felt a complete failure again.
But then I remembered all the statuses I’d seen on my Facebook feed over Christmas, all the people who’d had colds. I wouldn’t tell them to give up work because of a cold. It was a huge thing for me to get through last week, why was I letting people tell me I shouldn’t be doing it? I should at least give it a few more weeks to see how it goes before making a decision – preferably when I’m not suffering from a head cold!

New Year, New Me?

The New Year is traditionally the time for people to make decisions about new directions in their life. I started my process in the middle of last year when I left my career of 28 years with the intention of pursuing other things. Since then I’ve been able to spend a great couple of weeks volunteering in a school in a Buenos Aires suburb – something I’d wanted to do for a few years but hadn’t been able to as I was always denied the time off.

I still have dreams of teaching abroad for a longer period, but I’m not going to do that yet. The time has come for me to find paid work again (partly spurred on by the fact I want to go to LA in March for a gig and to meet some great friends). I am lucky that I’ve secured a 3-month contract that will see me through financially for the coming few months – as well as find my trip to LA!
I’m feeling ready to start working again. I’ve had a few wobbles where I don’t think I’m good enough and worry whether stress will lead me to have vertigo attacks again, whether I’ll have another breakdown, whether I can make it through the next few months. A lot of people think that a 3-month contract isn’t long, but for me it was the longest period I was able to commit to. I can get through this right?
As part of this new start I’ve bought new dresses to wear to the job – I want to feel like a different person. Well, still me, but more confident and together than I was in the middle of last year. I know new clothes won’t make me different, but if I feel better in myself, that’s a start.
I’m also re-assessing my diet. I considered going raw – but I’m too disorganised for that, and I do like the odd bit of processed food, and I would struggle to give up bread and rice. So, I’ve settled on cutting down (but not cutting out) processed food. I’m going to make myself bean and pasta salads for lunches to minimise spending in the work canteen. I also intend to bulk make food so I have food in the freezer and don’t reach for fast food when I can’t be bothered to cook after a long day.
Another step has been to re-assess the Photography course I’m doing. I was about to stop doing it, but a chat with my tutor and some encouraging words from a friend have led me to re-commit to the course and I’ve set out a do-able plan to ensure that I catch up and complete the course ready for assessment in the coming months.
I still want to write my novel, I’m still committed to working for my football club, I’m still here for my friends, and I’ve various other projects I want to move forward with. My plans for the next three months involve all of those.
I’m by no means confident about achieving any of this, I’m aware I could fail at all of it, but at the moment I’m aiming to give it my best.

Anniversary I’d rather forget

I always hate today. Even if I’m doing something fun I can’t get away from the fact that December 2nd is the anniversary of what should have been. December 2nd 1989 was the happiest day of my life – both of us couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. Lots of people said it wouldn’t last, but we didn’t believe them.

It didn’t last – for various reasons. I never stopped loving him, even though by the end I didn’t like him. I left for my own sanity. I think I had this vague hope that that would be the catalyst for him to get the help he needed. It wasn’t. It sent him spiralling further into the depths of his problems.

I can’t help but remember the date. I wish I didn’t. I wish I could’ve woken up this morning positive about the rest of my life instead of going over and over what might have been if I’d tried harder, if I’d stuck by him, if I’d just done something different.

I woke up feeling numb. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I told people I was sad about coming to the end of my placement in Buenos Aires. I tried to chat to people online to distract myself, I tried being cheerful but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t really care about anything. I felt everything I was saying or doing was wrong and although I didn’t want to hurt anyone, I didn’t want to talk today. I tried to arrange meet-ups and telephone calls with people for when I get home from this trip, but everything felt a blur. I felt worthless and not for the first time contemplated if I’d rest in peace if I took the same way out as he did.

I went for a walk along the docks of Puerto Madero. All of a sudden the numbness went and the tears started and they wouldn’t stop. Local sellers tried to tempt me with their patter to do a tour or go to their restaurants. Couldn’t they say the mess I was in?

I staggered the mile and a half back to my room. I thought about having a drink to try and be sociable, but I just want to sleep.

If things had been different, we would be living happily together now with our children and maybe even grandchildren. Instead I’m alone wondering if I will ever be capable or ready to have a relationship again. Wondering what my purpose is in life and whether anything will give me a sense of fulfilment for more than a few minutes.