2017: My year in review

This is something I do every year, and always answer the same questions. I might come up with different ones for next year. My year in review…

What, for you, was the high point of 2017? Were there any other highlights?

I think without a doubt a day in May when I got offered two jobs in the space of 30 minutes. I was so incredibly depressed and miserable and I can’t believe how different my life is as a result. To be part of a church again, to be able to drive my own car, to be able to afford clothes and shoes when mine have disintegrated…it’s just such a privilege I hope I never take for granted. Not only that but I work with the most amazing people and they have been so incredibly encouraging, kind and supportive. I also had a lovely chilled out birthday  – my friend’s daughter baked me a cake the night before and on the day my Mum and my friend Vicky and her two kids all drove to Alnwick to spend the day at Alnwick Castle and a stop in Barter Books, something I’d wanted to do for such a long time.

What, for you, was the low point of 2017?

There have been a few. The first five months of the year were tough going and I was growing increasingly miserable. My Dad being diagnosed with skin cancer. A week in December where friends lost kids in their family quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Having a breakdown in October. Having to make the decision to shut down the Ranger Guide unit.

Tell me some things you learned this year.

To find joy in the small things.

 Who would be your “person of 2017″? It could be someone you know or a famous person who’s inspired you.

I’ve been inspired by so many women this year, from women finding courage to speak out about sexual assault they experienced that I don’t know personally, to women marching in response to the rise of racism, sexism and fascism, to the grace and strength of many of my female friends.

What was the best film you saw this year?

Hidden Figures.

How the ding dong heck did none of us know these incredible women’s stories?! (I mean I know why…but grrr it makes me angry).

And what was the worst?

I so rarely go to the cinema, that it’s rare that I go to see a film that turns out to be crap. This year I saw Hidden Figures, La La Land, Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars and The Greatest Showman and I loved them all!

What was the best book you read?

There have been many, but my favourite was probably Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham.

What was the best thing you saw on TV?

This year I discovered two great shows on Netflix. Jane The Virgin and One Day At A Time. I genuinely can’t pick between them. But I think Gloria Kellett Calderon knows how much I love them.

What, for you, was the sporting highlight of 2017?

This year has been so hectic I’ve barely had time to even follow gymnastics. But seeing some great floor routines from the UCLA Bruins, and the GB team doing a great job at Worlds.


What was the best album or song you heard in 2016? What song did you play most?

This year it’s all been about the musical. So Hamilton is still played often, along with In The Heights and I just downloaded The Greatest Showman soundtrack and I’ve been playing it all day!

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Going to see Hamilton in London with the lovely Ruth. Cheering on some charity runners doing the Edinburgh Marathon (and maybe the London Marathon too). There are going to be tough times ahead, but I think there’s going to be lots of things to find joy in too.

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The story of my Christmas tree…

So, I put a Christmas tree for the first time since 2013. Every year people have asked to see my tree covered in hats, or what happened to the ‘Elmo Slippers’ after the pregnancy centre closed down. (The elmo slippers became sort of office mascots, and we put them on the office tree every year). I decided that they should be added to my tree this year. They do such a good job of being co-tree angels. For those of you who aren’t aware of the history of my quirky hat covered tree, the story is on an old blog post underneath this photo…

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Originally posted on December 7th 2011…

The first year in my flat, I didn’t have a Christmas tree, as I wasn’t a big fan of Christmas – mainly I think because of my struggles with SAD each winter. However, in 2005 I was much stronger and decided to get a small tree to put up in the living room. I was a student at the time – in my Honours year – and the one I bought was a 3ft faux tree from Tesco for £2.97. In 2006, I discovered the Supergran campaign, and the wooly hats on my tree became a quirky tradition of mine…

Supergran 2006 Christmas tree

When I moved back to Edinburgh in 2007, that tree came with me on all 5 house moves and featured again in my flat in Leith. I guess it was that year that the Pooh bear dressed as Rudolph came to join the fun. I can’t remember who gave me him as a Christmas pressie!

Big Knit 2007 Christmas Tree

In 2008, my Mum refused to put up decorations as we were spending Christmas just the two of us, and she was heading to Oklahoma on Boxing Day so wouldn’t be here to take them down (she didn’t trust me to do it ‘properly’). So my tree got prominent place in her living room.

Big Knit 2008 Christmas Tree

In 2009, my tree was banished to the attic. Because of the sloping roofs it had to go in my brothers’ room…

Big Knit 2009 Christmas tree

In 2010, I’d moved the room around and basically decided that the tree would cheer me up. My photos got relegated to my brothers’ room and the tree went in their place. The Poohbears & Tigger went on my window sill that year. I only got 2 more hats because of the snow, but I sadly began to realise that I had so many hats they didn’t all fit on my wee tree anymore…

Big Knit 2010 Christmas tree

…so this year, I had to upgrade to a 4ft tree. Especially as I got 8 new hats. The new tree JUST fits, but my star won’t stay on top. Pooh bears and Rudolph are on my chest of drawers next to the tree.

The Big Knit 2011 new Christmas tree

I was sad to have my faithful little tree still in its box. Until Sarah mentioned she didn’t have a Christmas tree. So yesterday, when I took back a ton of fundraising event stuff back into the centre, I took in my tree and asked Sarah if she wanted to take care of it for me. It gave me such pleasure to see that my little tree is still bringing Christmassy joy in another new home…

photo taken by Sarah that I downloaded from her FB page!

Thanks Sarah for letting my little tree live on!! 🙂

The reality of the Christmas season…

It’s dark, the rain is splattering against my bedroom window, and I’m once again wrapped in blankets with an unhappy stomach. On my bed there are chord sheets of Christmas carols, some lush products, craft stuff for Guides, Paddy the iPad, my phone, while on the floor are three bags filled with shopping from today and throughout the past year that will be Christmas presents.

I haven’t written on here for a long while because I didn’t really know how to articulate everything.

In October, I had a breakdown. There were a lot of triggers in a short space of time and I think with stress of one of my jobs and not having friends around much it just escalated quickly and suddenly. I came off facebook and one day just got in my car and drove for hours. I didn’t really eat for several days.

Since then, I’ve been better, but still struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve not been able to be involved much with church partly because of the panic attacks, and partly because of work.

There have been a lot of things going on. I have two incredible jobs which I’ve dreamed of and had given up on hope of finding. I have been truly blessed this past summer, and I’ve now passed probation of one of them. I really, really hope that it will work out so I can stay after my contract is up because I love it so much there. The other job I’m still on probation, and it was a tough start for a lot of reasons. It’s still tough, but I hoping it’s going to be rewarding. And then there is volunteering. That’s been hard. I’m exhausted, and we are still short on volunteers which means I haven’t been able to take the steps back I wanted to.

So I’m doing lots of great stuff, and it’s all good. But it means from Monday-Friday I have no social life. Free evenings are rare. By the weekend, I’m exhausted. And everyone (including me) is busy. Most people have families they want to do stuff with at weekends. I don’t have that, so weekends have been incredibly lonely. I think I had this ridiculous dream after 3 years working pretty much every weekend of having friends who would want to go on walks, cinema trips and music gigs because that’s what it used to be like. Now I truly am that tragic spinster. I really need to get some cats.

The other thing that’s been going on is that my Dad has had some health issues. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you’ll know that my Dad and I don’t have the easiest relationship. We have had months of trying to get him to a specialist here in the UK, tests and consultations and waiting. So much waiting.

The events of the last couple of months have really shown me how much I’m lacking in friends. The friends that have ‘been there’ – the ones that have checked in, who have text back when they see a missed call – they’ve all been people who are too far away to be able to do anything. However you know you have a good friend when despite being on a whole other continent they are texting you almost daily to check in.

And I get the “FOMO” thing. It is so hard at this time of year to see people happy and with friends and family. You know you’ve been replaced and forgotten when it’s there to see on social media. On the days when the anxiety and depression has really peaked, it’s just like twisting a knife in a wound to see. It makes it so abundantly clear that you are all alone, and if you weren’t here – life would go on perfectly fine without you, because it already is. It’s a really horrible thing when you feel so resentful of people that you love.

And do you know what, I know that in the past, people have contacted me saying how jealous they are of me when I’ve posted stuff on my blog and social media. It is really easy to portray this whitewashed version of our lives.

So though this post has been sitting in my drafts for a week, I am going to publish it for that reason. Because I want you to know, just in case you are feeling crappy too that you are not the only one. If you have a family that have mostly stopped speaking to each other and you only see at funerals. Solidarity with you – I’m in that place too. If you are living with mental health illness. Solidarity with you – I can empathise. If you are single and trying to navigate what life looks like when you are alone – I’d love some advice on how you deal with that.

Oh, and although I won’t be alone on Christmas Day, I will be on twitter as much as I can be to provide some company to those who are. I’ve been doing #JoinIn since Sarah Millican started it, and I can see how much it is needed more than ever this year.

BK’s YouTube Picks: Unrest

An article about this documentary about ME/CFS popped up on my twitter feed. I couldn’t be happier that this illness is beginning to get taken moe seriously and attention being drawn to it.

I was diagnosed with CFS in 2004.

I became ill with CFS some time between 2001-03.

It’s hard to pinpoint because in 2001, I wasn’t exactly looking after myself. The summer before I went to university I lost all my energy, had a really sore throat. I remember being on holiday visiting friends in the Netherlands and just wanting to sleep all the time. I went to university, got the ‘fresher’s flu’ and it just wouldn’t go away. After a month (and me collapsing twice one night trying to walk from my room to the toilets at the other end of the corridor) my friends dragged me to the doctor. Blood was taken. They discovered my glands were very swollen. They thought I had glandular fever – perhaps that I’d had it for several months.

By the next Spring, I seemed to be better…and was finally looking healthier than I had done in a long time.

Happy days.

Cue Spring 2003.

I’d had a cold, and again it just seemed to keep coming back. I was in the lead up to my final exams of second year and I was just tired all the time. Sometimes I woke up and couldn’t move my limbs. My joints hurt. I got blood tests for arthritis. My Mum panicked that I was developing Multiple Sclerosis. I would fall asleep in the library in the middle of the afternoon and have to be woken up by friends. I would be too tired and sometimes have to be walked home. I would be in tears with the pain in my joints and the exhaustion that no amount of sleep seemed to quench.

I got more blood tests. They tested me for pregnancy. (They never believe you if you say there’s no way you could be pregnant if you are a female university student).

All they could find was that I had ‘some sort of virus in my system’.

And they sent me on my merry way.

That summer was hell.

Some days I could have a normal day.

Other days I couldn’t get out of bed.

I remember my friend coming round and having to dry my hair for me – I couldn’t lift up my hairdryer. I remember crawling to the kitchen to put food in the oven and lying on the floor until it was ready. I couldn’t stand long enough to cook on a hob. I remember going to church and the 15 minute walk there exhausting me so much that I just lay on the floor at the back of the church. I couldn’t sit or stand.

I was really lucky.

I had friends that sat with me and didn’t expect me to be my usual chatty self. My friend kept me on his worship band team, and would let me sit if I needed to. He would even drive to get me so I wouldn’t use up this limited resource of energy walking. I had friends that took the time to tutor me when I hadn’t been able to absorb information in a lecture theatre. Friends that caught me when I passed out. Friends that drove me to the out of hours GP when I passed out in my car – again…I had a ‘virus’ (though once again, they thought I was pregnant and lying about it!). They kept me calm when I felt like I couldn’t breathe and was dizzy, or panicked because I couldn’t move my arms and legs. They send me notes. They gave me music to listen to.

I also had to put up with the people who thought I was faking it. Who labelled me as unreliable – like I chose what days I felt good or couldn’t move. One time I even got told off by a pastor for sitting down to sing. I didn’t often have energy in those moments to respond.

Eventually I got better. I don’t think CFS ever goes away fully. But I got better. I also got better at managing it. When I moved back to Edinburgh, it was difficult to explain to a whole bunch of people I didn’t know but as time went on they discovered it and supported me through it. My friends here are super lovely about warning me if they are ill so I can decide whether to ‘risk’ meeting with them as they know if I get ill…it can take me weeks to get better.

I’m lucky I never had to get a wheelchair. I was only confined to a bed for days at the time and I got respite from it. And I was able to keep working a few hours a week, and never had to take time off from uni. My grades suffered because I couldn’t go to every lecture and tutorial, but I still passed. And over a decade later, I’m rarely off work. I’m working full time for the first time in 10 years. I am discovering that my weekends usually require a lot of down time, but that’s ok.

I just hope more research goes into this. I hope better treatments are found. That there will be better support.

Hopefully this film will help with that.

The one where I cheered on Mo…

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Work is killing my blogging people. It truly is. You know, back in 2006 (the last time I had one of those full-time Monday to Friday jobs) I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t even have facebook. There’s a possibility I didn’t have an internet connection in my house come to think of it, because I don’t think I could afford it!

However, I thought I’d share a few pics for my friends who are athletic fans. I spent the weekend in Newcastle (upon Tyne) cheering on people running for charity at the Great North Run. It’s a major half-marathon event, with elite runners, wheelchair racers and then the everyday ordinary people like me who sign up. Except I would never sign up to run. I just signed up to go down and cheer on the crazy people who trained for months to be able to run 13.1 miles.

I also offered to take pictures of the charity runners for my colleague who is the Running Events Officer. While waiting for the charity runners to have their turn, I couldn’t not get a picture of our British treasure, 4 time Olympic medallist Mo Farah. He wasn’t in the lead as he came up the hill towards Heworth Metro station, but by the time he ran past me and my colleague who cheered loudly for him…he was gaining ground and moving to the lead.

By the time we made it to the charity village, we found out he had officially won for the 4th year in a row.

Well done Mo!

And well done all the Charity Runners!

I walked quite a lot myself over the weekend, carting around banners and cheer sticks and all the rest. Having now walked 35 miles and there still being quite a lot of September to come, I’ve upped my target from 27 miles to 100 miles for my Go the Distance challenge. 

The one where I shiver all month for childhood cancer…

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Today is the first day of September. It means I need to stop sitting on my bum all day and get walking for Bliss.

It also means it’s the first day of a month of wearing gold and yellow for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

I do this for all the kids I know who have battled childhood cancer, and quite frankly deserved better. I do this for all the families who have person shaped hole in them that cancer took away. I do this to raise awareness of the fact that hardly any funding goes into research for childhood cancers.

Last month, a fellow Guider lost her daughter. Keira had defied all odds, having lived 3 years battling DIPG (a type of cancer that has no known cure) when doctors had given her 6 months. She was only 8 years old.

A fellow blogger, Patrice, lost her sister days after her high school graduation. Anna was 18 years old.

The Myers family lost their youngest, Kylie days before she should have been celebrating her 13th birthday.

My friend and his wife lost their son, Oliver, when he was 6 months old.

Kira and Kate, are fighting the effects of treatment having both had 2 relapses as they go to school as much as they can.

We need more awareness. We need safer treatments. We need more funding for more research to make all that happen.

And so I will defy the miserable Scottish weather, and wear my summer clothes in Autumn to go yellow and gold once again. To raise awareness, and also to say to all those who have faced childhood cancer….I haven’t forgotten your battles and losses. I remember your children, your friends, your siblings. We will work and shout to find a cure.

The one where I’ve napped a lot…

It’s a bank holiday Monday, and I’ve spent it how koalas spend days best – mostly falling asleep! In my defence, I’d like to say that I went out to a farm to meet my friend, got ‘the messages’ (as we call a grocery shop here in Scotland) and a load of laundry before hand. Plus I had to work for a few hours yesterday.

But then why do I feel the need to justify it?

I’m learning that though I hate the term ‘self-care’ because it sounds narcisstic and selfish, it is hugely important. When I fail to take the time to rest and look after myself, I quickly get sick and let people down. Life ramped up a whole lot this summer, and as the weeks have gone on more and more has been added onto my plate. There are moments when it feels overwhelming. I’ve realised that I can do  it – if I rest well and eat well.

Working from home is wonderful. Mainly because on those days I don’t have the stress of a commute, and as long as I’ve been disciplined enough to fit in a trip to the supermarket to restock my fridge and cupboards, I can eat a decent meal at lunchtime. The two days a week in my other job I’m still figuring that eating pattern out – it’s slightly more challenging as youth work is an anti-social hour kind of job.

The main challenge has been exercise. It was a problem before, but I was in a job where I was lifting heavy boxes, jumping around at birthday parties and pretty much on my feet for the whole shift. Now I’m in two jobs where I’m sitting down a lot. I actually showed my friend my ‘fitbit’ stats as she couldn’t believe I could go through a day with only 2000 steps. Yep. When you are sitting at a desk all day. When you are driving to work from door to door. When you are sitting chatting to teens. And when your days are filled up with activity but none of it physical…you will find that 10,000 a day goal doesn’t happen.

So I decided to set myself a challenge of walking 27 miles during the month of September for a charity that has supported several friends when their babies spent time in neonatal units.

If you’d like to sponsor me so I feel horrendously guilty if I don’t make the time to go outside in the yucky Scottish coldness and know you’ll be helping 95,000 babies every year…you can donate to my page here. I’d be so grateful if you did. 🙂

And yes, I will also be wearing yellow and gold throughout September once again for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I do like to multitask!

Ok. I must go as even though it’s a work holiday, it’s not a Girlguiding holiday. So I need to wake up, make some dinner and get ready for a meeting tonight.

One more thing, my baby sister has started blogging. You can head to her blog over at Life of an Oil Girl if you want to check it out.

What I’ve been reading this summer…

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Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker – I’ve read Lisa-Jo’s blog for many years, having been drawn to it by friends with ties to South Africa. (Lisa-Jo is South African in case you’re wondering about that connection). I love her realness, her desire to be both encouraging and honest. However I’d never read her book because I figured I was not the target audience since I’m not a mother. Somehow I stumbled across an excerpt from it where she talked about the pressure on her to want marriage and children and fit a certain kind of female ‘mould’ from others in her church and the damage that did to her. That connected with me, and so I ordered a copy of her book. Though it is most definitely aimed at other mothers, I’d say if you a woman who identifies as Christian you may also get encouragement from reading this.

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The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain – I had recommended The Little Paris Bookshop to a few friends last year, and one of those friends found this book and told me if I’d liked that book, I would likely love this one too. She was correct. It’s a short book written from a few different character’s perspectives. Laure is a gilder who gets attacked outside her home and her handbag stolen. Laurent, the owner of a bookshop finds the stolen handbag and sets on a mission to find its owner trying to work out who it is from the remaining contents and how they find each other.

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Walking Home by Clare Balding – This is one of those books that has been on my reading pile for more than a year, as I got it when it first came out on paperback as part of one of the Waterstones’ ‘Buy one get one half price’ deals…because why buy wouldn’t you buy two (or four) books in one go? I loved Clare’s autobiography My Animals and Other Family and so I had to buy her next book. What I didn’t realise until I got home was that it was all about walking. I’m not sporty or hugely outdoorsy mainly because I HATE being cold (good job I live in Scotland then – HA!) so it remained on the pile. And then I picked it up, because since getting my camera last November, I have discovered a love of going for walks. And then when I read it, I realised Clare likes walking for the same reason I do. I had stupidly made the assumption that Clare being a sports journalist would be all about extreme hikes and marathons and stuff. Instead what I’ve got is a collection of real tales of grumbling through walks led by people who say they are shorter than they are (been there), wonderful stories of everyday people and how there is pleasure in walking because it lets you stop and pause to take in the views. YES! I’m loving it, and I would have finished by now if it wasn’t for me trying to finish up books of authors and editors I’m going to see at Edinburgh International Book Festival

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Nasty Women by 404 Ink – There couldn’t be a more appopriate or relevant time to be reading this and The Good Immigrant.  I’m so glad to say that it is not just white middle class straight women who have contributed their writings to this fantastic collection of essays. What is it like to be mixed race and have the white members of your family voting for Trump? What is it like to suffer as a consequence of the cinderella service of women’s health care? What is it like to be a woman of colour growing up in Scotland? I’m learning, and identifying and pausing for thought. I can’t wait to meet some of the people who put this book together next Saturday.

The one where I left you on a cliffhanger…

…and can now tell you that it ended with us sitting in that same spot for a total of 4.5 hours, a visit from the Transport Police, the train running out of food and drink before we’d reached our first stop (York), people hanging out the door of the train to smoke, fights in other carriages, me almost throwing up on the train (I think due to lack of food), a £14 taxi from Waverley station when we arrived in 5 hours late and me getting home at 2 a.m.

I’ve had better train travel experiences!

I had video conferences the next morning, and due to issues with keys and stuff I’ve done a fair bit of overtime this week in one job to make up for being in London last week for the other one.

Hence the lack of blogging.

However I now have a three day weekend, so I’m about to get up, have breakfast and get stuff done that has put to one side due to this whole employment thing. 🙂

That’s a whole other blog post as I realised this week how I’m going to have to choose very carefully how I use my spare time. 10 years without full-time employment meant that I have taken on a lot of commitments to fill up time to keep myself sane (and to try and keep my CLD skills). This is a new phase of life and some difficult decisions are going to have to be made I think.

Anyway. I’m off to breakfast, finalise the girlguiding accounts, and sort out the piles of clean laundry, recycling and stuff that has exploded everywhere as a result of the last month of craziness. 🙂

The one when I’m stuck in a train traffic jam…

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For the last few days I’ve been in the lovely shire of England. Firstly in London for a team away day and then more induction stuff, then when the weekend came I headed West to see my lovely friends and my even cuter godson. (Sorry friends, but I think you would agree he is cuter than both of you 😉 ).

Due to my godson’s decision to sleep in, I missed seeing my friend in vicar action. I ended up getting a taxi to station which meant I caught an earlier train to London. London was bright with sunshine, the tube was chilled compared to Friday evening and had time to walk along the Euston Road to the Pret I know has hot food (the one at Kings Cross Station does not). I got extra snacks for the train after eating my favourite macaroni kale and cauliflower cheese before sitting in the garden of the British Library knowing I’d be stuck on a train for the next 4.5 hours.

Well. What I thought would be 4.5 hours.

As we reached our first stop of York – which is almost halfway to Edinburgh, our train came to a stop outside of Doncaster. We sat for a few minutes, before the tannoy came on with one of those announcements that makes the entire carriage silent. The “um…we are not sure how long we are going to be, I’ll let you know when I get more info” is never a good sign. An even WORSE sign is when 5 minutes after that the driver announces there are 5 trains stuck in front of ours, we are getting free wifi, and instructions on how to claim back the money on your ticket because we will most certainly be delayed for “over 30 minutes”. Do you notice the lack of maximum delay time he gave us.

So we have now been here ‘outside’ Doncaster for closing in on 2 hours.

This might be God’s way of telling me off for travelling home on a Sunday or not doing a good enough job with my godmother duties to ensure that my godson’s sleep pattern means he wakes up in time to go to church.

STOP PRESS: The train driver has just announced. We have now been delayed for 2 hours. Meanwhile, my iPod has just started playing Caledonia. Caledonia, you are calling me, and I am trying to get home…

Right. I’m off to read some books. This may be the only perk of a non-moving train…I can read without feeling icky!