A Week of Films & Feelings

Life

This week, sadness was replaced by anxiety. I had one full-blown panic attack (about a mysterious noise, seriously!), and several unpleasant anxiety spikes. I’m definitely in one of my periodic mental health “dips” at the moment, but I knew that could happen, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

My anxiety was not helped by a trip to the doctors for what I thought was a minor issue, only to end up being referred to a specialist for further examination and told I might need surgery. It’s still not a very serious health problem, but it may need more treatment than I anticipated and that threw me a bit.

I’ve been using the Calm app which I find helpful for managing anxiety. I went to my yoga class and kept caffeine intake to a maximum of two cups of tea a day.

The weather finally improved enough for some birdwatching. I saw a stonechat, sedge warblers and greenfinches at our local nature reserve, along with plenty of tufted ducks.

Films

We watched Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows which is an absolute delight. Highly recommended if, like me, you grew up watching 1980s vampire movies.

Yesterday we went to see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. It’s a wonderful film, but I started crying ten minutes in and didn’t stop until the end. A constant stream of tears running down my face and two complete breakdowns. I feel a lot better today though, so maybe I needed the catharsis!

Books

I ditched most of my other reading this week for book five in Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway series, A Dying Fall. I find this series a little silly, but it’s good bedtime reading.

Music

The soundtrack to the week has been Blackbirds by Gretchen Peters, which is a gorgeous album of tuneful, yearning country songs.

January Bites!

Life

Difficult week. My partner continued to be quite unwell. I had a weird rash on my skin and an emotional meltdown. I felt awful during the second half of the week and spent most of Wednesday and Friday evenings crying. When I get like this, I feel like I’ve got a desperately unhappy child inside me who is completely inconsolable. There’s nothing I can do to comfort her.

I think its emotional stress about some things catching up with me. I also failed to protect myself from the internet over the holidays, despite knowing full well that I would be feeling sensitive and there would be a lot of upsetting stuff out there. I had planned to take a complete social media break for a few weeks, and I did step back a bit, but the proper break never really happened.  My desire for connection apparently trumped my boundaries.

But otherwise, I’ve been doing quite well. I exercised and went to yoga and have reduced my caffeine intake significantly. I upgraded my phone, something I’ve been avoiding for ages because it stresses me out. I also bought myself a pair of binoculars to improve the quality of my birdwatching.

Today is the 9th anniversary of our civil partnership. We’re not really the kind of people who bother with anniversaries, but we try and do a little something for this one. We went out for lunch at one of our favourite cafes anyway.

TV

It’s definitely been a week for comfort TV. We watched some old episodes of Poirot, Murder in Mesopotamia, Sad Cypress and The Hollow, all of which were very good.

Then we watched our favourite adaptation of Jane Eyre, the 2006 one with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It’s the only adaptation that really gets me to buy into the romance between Jane and Rochester.

Reading

I finished Semiosis by Sue Burke, a science fiction novel about a human colony and first contact with alien species. I really liked it and will hopefully write a post about it at some point. I also finished my re-read of The Hobbit, which was fun, but I felt I should be reading it out loud to a child. Now those are done, I’ll carry on with Melmoth by Sarah Perry.

I’m also working on Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski which I’m finding very helpful. Recommended if you’re looking for a feminist and intersectional book about burnout.

Photograph of the book 'Burnout'. It has a plain light blue cover with the title and author's names.

I’m going to make a vat of dahl to keep us fed for next couple of days and I hope next week will be a little kinder.

Start of the Year

I hope the beginning of the year is treating you gently. Our first few days of 2020 have already had some highs and lows.

My partner has been ill all week with a flu-like bug. She hasn’t been able to leave the flat, sleep or eat very much. She’s slowly recovering now, but is exhausted and has a very bad cough. Meanwhile, I had an attack of hives. I’ve no idea what caused it, but anti-histamines seem to be working.

The only thing my partner fancies to eat is spicy food, so I’ve cooked the carrot dal from Anna Jones’s The Modern Cook’s Year, the hot and sour lentil soup from Ruby Tandoh’s Flavour and the chickpea and tomato stew from my old Good Housekeeping Book of Vegetarian Cookery. It’s chicken curry tonight, based on a Nigel Slater recipe.

On Friday, I met up with two of my oldest friends, and the little boy who belongs to one of them, so that’s a good start towards my ‘friendship’ intention for 2020. My friend is a very good parent and her little boy is thriving. It’s lovely to spend time with such a happy, confident child. I also made arrangements to see another old friend in April.

We bought a new laptop. Big purchase. Makes me anxious. But our poor old PC is on its last legs and running extremely slowly now. It’s an investment that will make life a lot easier.

I’ve been binge-watching Schitt’s Creek, along with my sick partner. I love this show and was actually happy-crying last night at the episode with Patrick’s parents. Recommended if you want something sweet and comforting to watch.

I’m reading and loving Semiosis by Sue Burke and enjoying Melmoth by Sarah Perry. I’m also re-reading The Hobbit and Jane Eyre.

The soundtrack to the start of the year is Blood by Alison Moorer, a beautiful, haunting and somehow uplifting album about the impact of horrific family violence (Moorer’s father murdered her mother and then killed himself when she and her sister were teenagers). It was recommended on The Old Grey Cat and I think will become a favourite.

New Year Reflections & Intentions for 2020

Every year at the winter solstice I write down some intentions for the year ahead. I put them in an envelope and store them in the back pocket of my journal.

Last year, I set the following intentions:

  • Meaning
  • Body
  • Boundaries

Areas of my life to work on were ‘acceptance‘ and putting myself first.

Our main shared goal was to find a better place to live.

I’m still struggling with meaning, but I think that what I’ve learned from last year is to focus, at least for the time being, on finding a sense of meaning in small daily activities. Going for walks, bird watching, doing something nice for someone etc.

I have improved my relationship with my body and did a better job of looking after myself. I took up yoga and had a more healthy approach to exercise (I have a history of over-exercising).

As for boundaries, that’s still a challenge, but I am getting incrementally better at establishing and maintaining boundaries with people. At least I do now feel that I have a right to establish boundaries, which is progress.

‘Acceptance’ referred to the state of my mental health. I feel that I have got to the stage of being able to accept where I am, rather than constantly wishing I could go back to being the way I was before my ‘mini-breakdown’ in 2017. As the Buddhists teach, a lot of suffering is our reaction to the pain, rather than the pain itself.

My intentions for 2020 are:

  • Creativity
  • Friendship
  • Autonomy

By ‘creativity‘, I don’t mean anything ambitious! I just mean trying to make sure that I get to make something everyday, whether that’s a journal entry, taking some photographs, cooking a nice meal etc. It just makes my life feel more meaningful.

I have always struggled with friendship. I was raised by parents who had absolutely no idea how to have healthy friendships and couldn’t model it for their children. As an adult, I feel like I completely lack the skills to make and keep friends. So, this year I’ve decided to stop worrying about new friends and just focus on improving the quality of the handful of friendships that I have managed to maintain.

Autonomy is an intention that my partner and I have agreed to share. We are both people who have a tendency to shape our lives around the demands of other people and we would like to challenge that. What would our lives look like if we weren’t worrying about the demands/needs/wants of other people? An interesting question to explore.

My main practical goal for the year, is a better work/life balance. My work/life balance has been out of whack for a few years now. I’m letting work dominate my psychological space far too much. I think this is a problem for a lot of women mid-career and I want to reign it in before it makes my life a misery.

I do have a few more things to work on this year:

  • Being clear with people
  • Planning for the future
  • Shame

A lot of the problems I have in my life seem to stem from my difficulty in being clear with people. This year I will strive for clarity in my interactions, even using scripts where necessary, “Just to clarify, what you are saying is …”, “I feel I need to clear with you about this …”

Future-planning terrifies me, especially financial planning. I grew up in a family that didn’t plan long-term because we were too busy lurching from crisis-to-crisis and just reacted to whatever was happening. But I want to try and be more proactive and work towards the life that we want and that means planning.

Finally, but probably most importantly, I want to work on the role that shame plays in my life. I think that shame is an immensely powerful force in the lives of most people and is something that’s used against us relentlessly, to shut us up, to keep us small and scared and consuming stuff. This has really struck me reading Ask Polly columns recently where she talks a lot about shame. I know I have tremendous shame about the lack of markers of middle-class ‘adulthood’ in my life (I don’t own my own home, I can’t drive etc ). I’m also profoundly ashamed of my mental health issues. I feel I should be “better” than this, stronger than this; I shouldn’t be collapsed in a heap over something so “stupid”.

So, those are my intentions for 2020. We’ll see how I get on.

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.