Summer Retrospective

Summer was pretty stressful. I had dental problems and we moved house in August. The mouse infestation at our previous flat was just awful and has made me quite jumpy and hypervigilant in my living space.

We’re much happier with our new place, but we took it unfurnished and that’s turned out to be more work than I anticipated. At least it’s far nicer than our old flat and located in an area of the city with better air quality and closer to nature. I still can’t quite believe that I can walk to the sea in half-an-hour and watch cormorants roosting, not to mention the nearby wetlands, where we saw a kingfisher and a water vole just the other day.

So, overall, good outcomes, but I do feel like I’ve had very little time to myself and, perhaps unsurprisingly, my anxiety has been back. Big time. I started having anxiety attacks when we were flat-hunting in July. Since the end of September, I’ve been having them fairly regularly, mostly over small things. For example, I was staying in a hotel room with a noisy air vent and phoned my partner having a panic attack because I thought it was going to kill me. I haven’t been doing a great job of dealing with it, honestly.

The cultural highlight of the summer was a trip to London to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Gwendolyn Christie at The Bridge Theatre. I thought it was a wonderful production, probably the best Shakespeare I’ve seen. It was just so gorgeous and inventive. We had tickets for the pit, so we got the full immersive experience. I won’t attempt to describe it, but you can watch the trailer for the cinema release if you’re interested.

We took a trip to St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life which we do periodically because we like pottering round the exhibits. I saw Avenue Q with a friend for her birthday. I’ve seen it before but it’s always fun.

I had a go at #20BooksOfSummer and managed to read fourteen books. I thought that was pretty good, considering I don’t like reading challenges. I did it to make a dent in my TBR pile, which it did. I didn’t keep up with posting about the books, but I’m hoping to write about a few more of them over the autumn.

So, that was my summer. I’m hoping life will calm down over the autumn and winter.

Happy Autumn Equinox

Photograph of a tree with orange autumn leaves

We’ve had an extremely busy summer, which has mainly been taken up with moving house. Things are calming down now and Autumn is one of my favourite seasons, so I’m glad to see it arrive.

I feel like I’m ‘harvesting’ quite a lot of good stuff this year. Moving has been a big achievement and we finally feel happy with our living environment. I think this will make a big difference to our general wellbeing. My own self-care has improved enormously and I’m getting better at managing my mental health.

My goal between now and Samhain is to sort out a whole bunch of life admin that’s been building up over the last couple of years. It’s a long list of small things that aren’t terribly urgent, but which need me to take action. These are the kind of things that trip you up when you least expect it, so I’ve decided to get on with it for the next two months and work through the list.

April/May life round-up

The top of a tree covered in pink cherry blossom against a bright blue sky

Obligatory spring blossom photograph

Life has continued to be hectic and stressful. I have a lot going on at work. The mice returned and we had to get pest control in to deal with them. I felt bad about it, but nothing else worked. Then a couple of weeks ago, I had a terrible toothache. Apparently, the tooth is fractured and will need a crown. That’s gonna be expensive.  

It wasn’t all bad though. There has been some nice weather. We visited the Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing Exhibition and it was pretty amazing to see the drawings close up. Then we saw Thea Gilmore live and that was excellent. 

Film 

We saw Captain Marvel and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I’m not really into the Marvel universe, but this was a good time. 

Reading 

I read a few crime thrillers. The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson is a proper literary thriller (post coming). I enjoyed The Dry by Jane Harper, but didn’t think it quite lived up to all the hype. The Old You by Louise Voss is a twisty thriller that’s probably best read on a plane, or the beach. 

The Ark by Patrick Tomlinson is quite a fun SF thriller and I really liked Una McCormack’s novella, The Undefeated. I’ve got a big pile of science fiction novels on the go at the moment. 

I’m chipping away at The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin. He’s a brilliant poet, but I am finding all the self-loathing and mid-century sexism a bit hard work. Still, he did write my absolute favourite poem set in the month of May, ‘The Trees

Television 

Of course we’re watching the superb Gentleman Jack. 

We started on The Orville, the premise of which is basically Star Trek: The Next Generation if the crew were ordinary people. I am a little surprised by the high quality of the storytelling on what appears (on the surface at least) to be quite a silly show.  It has me hooked. 

 

8 Years (Part Two)

My father died eight years ago this month. The anniversary surprises me every year. I feel restless, unable to settle to anything, abandoned and uncared for. I start to look for attention in all the wrong places. Eventually, I remember that I have been “abandoned” by the person I was closest to for most of my life, the person who made me feel seen and upon whom I could depend for a response.

I still grieve the loss of his support and the way he died. My father did not have a good death. We watched helplessly as he suffered terribly, both mentally and physically, through his last few months. I feel haunted by regrets, and sometimes guilt, even though I know he would not have wanted me to feel this way and that one of the last things he said to me was, “Enjoy your life”.

Eight years on, what do I want to say to you about grief? First, you don’t “get over” the loss of someone close. You can adapt to it and, if you’re lucky, your life expands around the loss, so that it no longer feels as all-consuming as it did at the beginning. But you always carry it with you. I remember a colleague, who lost his mother when he was five, telling me that even as a middle-aged man, he could always be pulled back into that pit of grief.

I still feel like I’m adjusting to the situation. On the one hand, it seems like my father has been gone for a long time, but on the other, if I walked into the kitchen in my parent’s house tomorrow and found him sitting there in his usual chair, it would just be a relief to discover that I had been mistaken.

I think that one of the biggest adjustments in bereavement is accepting the changes to yourself. We construct our identities in relation to other people and losing them changes us, often in ways we do not like. I feel like I did not, and would not have, consented to these changes in myself.

That’s another thing. Grief is such a bizarre and unexpected experience. It does not manifest how you think it will. I expected to feel sad and miss my father, but I did not expect to be having panic attacks almost every day for years. I’ve got the anxiety under control now, but I still have anxiety attacks whenever I’m confronted with a problem that my father would have supported me with. I’m just more able to recognise that this anxiety is actually grief.

Your relationship with the person doesn’t end with their death. It just changes. In a way, I feel like I know my father a lot better now that he’s dead and I can see the whole story of his life. I can also see that I did not address the difficulties in our relationship and never confronted him about the ways that he failed me which, if I’m honest, were as significant as the ways that he supported me. I think he knew this too, but we never talked about it because it was too dangerous. I never would have been able to think, let along say, this when he was alive.

Despite the silences and unacknowledged difficulties in our relationship, I still think about my father every day. I will always regret the way he died, miss him and feel the loss of the support he gave me.

Part One

For grief support “that doesn’t suck”, see Megan Devine, Refuge in Grief

Managing Emotional distress

Ever since October 2017, I’ve been experiencing attacks of what I can only call extreme emotional distress. I don’t want to get into the details of what happened back then, but basically, a particular “event” seems to have somehow released all the emotional pain that I’d been repressing for about twenty-five years.

This has made my life really difficult. I feel like I can be ambushed at any moment and plunged into a pit of grief, despair and rage. Once I’m in there, it’s very hard to climb out again.

After a few weeks of feeling okay, I had another attack yesterday. I felt awful all day, aching chest and head, depressed, constant intrusive, negative thoughts, and it ended with a full on screaming/crying meltdown in the kitchen.

I’ll give myself yesterday, but I really need to get on top of this. The first thing I think I have to do is accept that these feelings aren’t just going to stop or go away, which is what I’ve been hoping. The gaps between attacks do seem to have got longer, but I think that’s more down to me getting better at avoiding the things that trigger the feelings, then any actual healing. When the feelings do come, they are as a strong and overwhelming as ever.

I know could get more proactive about managing my emotional state on a day-to-day basis, but here are some things that I think I could put into place for those times when I do feel myself being dragged into the “pit of despair”.

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