The adventures of Gromit…

This time of year always brings back some memories thanks to Timehop and Facebooks ‘On this day’ algorithm. One of those was the photo below. It’s funny because I’d actually forgotten about Gromit until I saw him in May for the first time since this particular day in 2014. He lives with my friend Ruth (a fellow Wallace and Gromit fan). And it reminded me of how important good friends are that have your back.

Gromit

I’d just been made redundant from a job I’d held for over 7 years. It was a pretty yucky time and to this day I’ve never opened the cards my volunteers gave me on the last day. They are still in the bag I took them home in. It was just too painful. The weekend after I found out I was home alone, and I started going into a depressive state. One of my school friends skyped me from her home in Spain, and demanded that I get out the house and go for a walk. She knew it would help me, and I knew she was right. So I reluctantly left the house and walked into the main ‘village’ where I live. In one of the charity shops I passed Gromit was in the window. I saw him, went in and bought him with the plan of posting him to Ruth because I thought she’d find it funny. The next day was our Soul Surfers community beach day – we used to do them on the first Sunday of every month. I took Gromit to get silly pictures of him doing stuff at the beach. What I didn’t expect was the dognapping that happened. A 4 year old Mini Kahuna did not want to let Gromit go, as shown by his protective hugging…

MK and Gromit

My friends’ son didn’t want to let him go, and my friends were like “You have to give him back”. But I ended up making a deal instead. I knew my friends were headed to the Christians Surfers UK gathering a couple of weeks later, and attending would be a couple of folks from Ruth’s church. So why not let their kids take Gromit on a few adventures first? I told them Gromit was far more likely to have fun with them, than with me as I set to close up the charity I’d given so much of my time to for the past 7 years.

Their daughter took on the mission admirably. Gromit went to watch her fellow Brownies make their promise, went to a birthday tea, the dentist, walks in the rain before he went down to Cornwall where he was passed onto one of the CS UK staff who took him home to Ruth. The pictures I got sent made me smile!

It was something so simple, but I’m so glad on that Saturday that my friend checked in with me, and didn’t give up. She knew that I needed the push and accountability to get out the house because the more I stayed in, the more miserable I was becoming.

On a week where we have had two more famous people leave this earth because of suicide, what a reminder to just check in with friends.

I am in a much better place now than I was this time last year, but still have days where anxiety and depression overwhelm me. I’m grateful for the friends that have continued to be understanding and stuck with me even when depression makes me a really crappy friend.

 

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Searching for doors that are open…

First of all, thank you to everyone who read my blog post – especially anyone who shared/commented/messaged me. Writing is definitely easier with feedback, because you can only know if you’ve communicated something well or worth sharing if people communicate back. Definitely twitter, instagram and the rest have killed that key part of blogging community in the last decade.

I feel strongly about getting more disciplined in writing more and finding ways to improve my writing.

This past week marked an anniversary of the day I got offered two dream jobs in one day. You might think ‘lucky you!’ and you’d be right. I know exactly how lucky I am. There had been a lot of applying and rejection for many years before that. A lot of envy. A lot of friendships lost because it was no fun being friends with me.

The last year has had a lot of change. It’s been positive mostly, but any change requires adjusting your life accordingly. It wasn’t an easy ride. Worth it? Yes. Easy? No.

However, summer is here, I’m now able to focus on one job. For the first time in my life I’m working 9-5. I still go away or work the occasional weekend (ok, at the moment because it’s marathon and sponsored walk season…there’s a lot of weekend work!) but I’m no longer working lots of evenings.

It’s a new era in the life of brunette koala, and I’m trying to navigate how to use this time. It would be very easy to sign up to do lots of things I’m being asked to do by church and Girlguiding. Some of them I will do. Some of them I won’t.

Is it selfish or is it what God wants to also use this time to pursue things I’ve always wanted to do? Like creative writing, dancing, surfing, photography and learning languages?

Last year, a few days after I got the phone call to invite me for an interview with the organisation I now work for, I snapped the above picture in Pressmennan Woods. A door that said ‘Open Me’. I saw it and felt the need to capture it, hoping with all my being that the door I had knocked on that seemed to be opening a crack would open fully this time. Rather than slamming it back in my face as so many doors I’d knocked had in the previous 3 years.

There are many more doors out there.

And I feel now is the time to search for them…and open them to see what’s on the other side.

 

 

How not to deal with your mental health…

Trigger Warning: Suicide and Self Harming mentioned here.

For the first few years of high school, I had two choices of how to get there. The first two years I took the main road, until one day a guy tried to pull me into a stairwell on the premise that he needed help reading the names on the entry phone system. I got the gut instinct that he wasn’t legit, and I ran like the wind. After that I began taking the shortcut along by a river and then a cycle path. It was usually deserted and I rarely encountered anyone walking along the river path as it was usually so muddy.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s on that path that I had what I think was probably my first God encounter.

It was 1999. Devolution had happened, and I with many others took to the streets the night before the last day of the school year to celebrate the opening of Scottish Parliament. Garbage were playing (for the young’uns out there, they are a band, and I loved them). I was thirsty and I drank my older friend’s cheap lemonade. Turned out it tasted gross not because of it’s cheapness but due to the vodka she had added to it.

This was to be our first night of seeing why me and alcohol don’t mix well. I don’t remember much but I do remember getting hysterical at one point and feeling horrific the next day. Soon after I started having panic attacks and I had no idea why.

I don’t think I dared share with my friends about it, they saw me have panic attacks I think. I would also black out. I don’t really remember properly. I also began self harming. I would actually sometimes wake up and find myself with tools for self harming in my hand. I did not understand what was happening to me, and I was so ashamed that I didn’t have it ‘together’.

What I do remember is about 9 months later leaving school and walking not to my house (we had moved) but with my friend who lived close to the cycle path. I said goodbye and I remember thinking that’s the last time I’m going to see you.

I walked down to the river.

As usual it was completely deserted.

I climbed onto the railings.

I took a breath, and got ready to launch myself in…

…and something pulled me off the railings.

I thought it was a person, but when I turned around there was no one there.

That freaked me out even more.

And then I heard a voice, asking me what I was doing.

By this time I was sobbing “I just want to die, I can’t deal with all of this anymore”

And I heard so clearly, “No, you need to live, and one day you’re going to help people that have been through these horrible things you’ve experienced

I think I had a conversation with this voice for a few minutes longer, and I honestly don’t remember now what was said. I just remember hearing someone saying ‘No’ as I got pulled back off the railings and telling me that I needed to live so I could help others.

And no one being there. That really freaked me out.

Afterwards, I took a few deep breaths, wiped my eyes and went home. I did confess to one of my friends outside of school a little of what happened later that night. Not the hearing voices part. Just the trying to throw myself in a river and ‘deciding’ not to part.

That friend told one of my friends from school, who rightfully told a teacher. I was so angry with her, even though I knew deep down she had done the right thing.

At that time, I had two family members who were really struggling with their mental health (one was in hospital). I knew knowing I was unwell too would not help and their reaction would probably add to my problems rather than solve them. A school nurse or psychiatrist called a girl out of class to assess her because the girl had a similar name to mine and thought she was me. This girl also happened to be sharing a class with me the following period and I overheard her talking to her pals about how she’d been pulled out of her last class and asked all these questions about why she wanted to kill herself.

Next thing I was being pulled out of class and being made to do a questionnaire. I was smart enough (or dumb enough) to doctor it. It was fairly obvious how they needed you to answer, so I answered enough to not seem too fine, but enough to make it seem like I was perfectly ok, and convinced both this health professional and my Guidance teacher that I was just having a case of teenage melodrama and begged my Guidance teacher not to call my Mum.

They left it at that, and I was relieved.

I made a decision that I needed to survive, and really did work on it.

A month later I took part in an exchange, met my high school boyfriend and in some ways life got better.

My mental health illness did not go away.

Neither did my physical illnesses – I developed migraines, psoriasis, and continued to experience what we now know to be symptoms of endometriosis.

My Mum got concerned and went raiding my bedroom until she found my journals from the previous year, and went with my Aunt to the school. They then told her about my pondering suicide.

The reaction was pretty much everything I expected and worse.

My GP was pretty shocking when I went to them about multiple issues, and even told me I was to blame for my Mum being ill. She (the GP) had no interest in my health whatsoever.

I turned 16, and I took charge – staying at my boyfriend’s and various friends to avoid being at home. Because I was now an adult I was able to change to a different medical practice and saw a GP who began to treat my illnesses. However, I never confessed about my depression, self harming and panic attacks.

I got scared by the extent to which I would feel like I’d never escape my life. Although I never tried to attempt suicide again, I did fear I would at points where I felt hopeless. I even wrote letters and asked my friend to keep them for me just in case something happened to me.

I should have told the good GP. I should probably have told a friend’s parent (who I trusted) about what was really going on. My blinkered teenage mind who didn’t have enough knowledge and thought I knew enough didn’t know that there was help for me.

In the end, I left Edinburgh and went to Aberdeen. Only then did I feel safe enough to share with trusted friends and process the cause of my panic attacks. They encouraged me to go to a good GP (thanks to freshers flu and other first year uni dramas, between a group of us we had met several of the university GPs and so knew which ones were good and which ones were likely to seem a bit clueless or dismissive). I went to counselling for a bit, which wasn’t helpful because the counsellors weren’t a great fit, but I lacked the courage to try again. I also lacked the courage to go to the support group my GP gave me the contact details of. In the end, it was a friend coming to my flat after overdosing on painkillers and accompanying her in the ambulance that shocked me into doing something to change things once and for all.

Because of not facing the problems head on, and being so ashamed, I drove a wedge between my friends and family in Edinburgh. It was always hard to come back. And on the day that I decided to come back 11 years ago, the thought of living in this city again filled me with a lot of anxiety and fear. Fear that only subsided because a good chunk of friends from Aberdeen moved to Edinburgh in the months before I did, and that made me feel better about it.

So in all honesty? This is a tale about how not to deal with mental health.

I didn’t seek medical help.

I didn’t understand that just like not all GPs are the right match for you, it matters even more when it comes to counselling. And counsellors are not going to be offended if you try them and want to try someone else.

I let shame and fear of stigma stop me from telling the truth to the people that loved me for way too long.

I let fear of seeing how others reacted to medication stop me for trying it – and I probably needed it at some points.

Things got better when the secrets were out. It meant that friends could be supportive, empathetic and understanding. I learned who my true friends were, and they were the people who didn’t call me crazy. They were the people who had my back and didn’t judge.

I’ll also say that the best decision I made was to stop drinking alcohol. I do occasionally have a drink, but I only got better when I stopped drinking. Alcohol makes me hysterical and then brings me crashing into a depression. I also got a bit scared when I used it to numb myself when my insomnia was insanely tough to handle. Because of the timing of this decision tying in with when I started going to church, a lot of people assumed that being pretty much teetotal was to do with me being religious. It’s not. Friends in church were used to people not drinking for religious reasons, so they were cool with it. Friends outside of church wondered where the Bacardi Queen had gone, and used to tease me and pressure me to drink. After a while, I stopped going out with those friends out of self-preservation.

If you are a school teacher or GP reading this…if you have a teenager dealing with mental health stuff, please be sensitive to the fact that teenagers are smart. They know when something is out of the ordinary like pulling someone out of class with no explanation (especially if the staff member pulling them out is not someone who is a known staff member). School gossip will stop kids talking when they need to. Equally if you are a GP, treat a young person with the dignity and respect you would an adult. They might not have the same knowledge as an adult with a bit more life experience, but they aren’t stupid. They just need to have information explained to them, and they are likely going to be terrified about asking ‘silly’ questions, or embarrassed to talk about their bodies.

If you are a parent, your child may need to talk to someone different from you who is outside of the family. Unless your child asks you to be present, let them have the space to talk freely without the pressure of fearing that you won’t like what they say or you getting upset. Your children might know how hard it will be to hear that their baby is in pain…and they want to protect you. Protecting you from hearing stuff may indirectly silence them. Equally they might need you to talk for them or be in the room. Also, know that you probably are going to need support so you can support your child better, and that’s ok. It takes a village (that cliche is incredibly true).

If you are someone who has had depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, I’m not going to say JUST TALK. Because you need to choose the right person to talk to. Talk to someone who has the tools to help you. That might be a Guidance teacher, school nurse, your occupational health person at work, your GP, Community Psychiatric Nurse, a counsellor or a charity like The Samaritans. Likely all that’s going to happen if you randomly choose someone you’re going to find they don’t respond the way you hope, because they don’t know any better. And that’s not necessarily their fault. You might end up feeling more hopeless as a result…but there are people that can help. There are tons of charities as well as the samaritans, like Mind, Scottish Association for Mental Health. It might be you need to find an organisation that will give you support about another facet of your life which needs dealing with and is causing your mental health to take a dip. Do not give up until you find the person with the tools you need. They are out there.

 

The story I don’t talk about so often…

When I first started blogging 11 years ago, it started as a journal. I was in my early twenties and the world was my oyster. I had healed from so many things during my years in Aberdeen and then all of a sudden all of that came undone. It made so little sense, and writing was the way I was able to talk about it, process it and unexpectedly found community in doing that.

A lot of my blogging was very personal, and I’ve always been an oversharer. I think it’s rebellion against my grandfathers who were all masons. I don’t like secrets. Secrets have a way of eating away and letting things fester and rot.

I used to share a lot on my blog about my faith too. I stopped doing that over the years, because I became a little ashamed about the church and how it treated people. I didn’t want people to make the assumption that because I held a belief in God that I would also follow very prejudice views that have hurt so many and therefore feel I should be avoided for fear of me judging or rejecting them.

A lot of my lovely friends that I made through blogging don’t share my belief in God, and yet they’ve all been very open to hearing about my experiences. They haven’t been weirded out when I’ve wrestled and questioned my beliefs. Or talked about some of the wackier moments like the day I was lying on a floor of a warehouse and got a vision of a woman in South Africa. Or how I came to work in a pregnancy crisis centre. Or the time God told me to pull off a motorway to drive to my Dad’s house before I even got a call saying he was being rushed to hospital. Or when God woke me up at 7 a.m. and told me to get baptised the following week.

Yep they’ve heard them all.

I’ve been a Christian (whatever that means) for 16 years. It’s now so every day that people just assume I grew up with a family that took me to church. Nope. Over those 16 years people ask how I ‘became’ a Christian. I will talk about how I went to university, met my friend who had been praying for an opportunity to share about her beliefs with her fellow residents and I provided that opportunity on a platter. I’ll talk about meeting other Christians, my friend from high school who was a Christian and going to an Alpha course.

I never talk about what I think was probably my first encounter with God. Not that I would have dared acknowledged it as that at the time.

But this is mental health awareness week. And maybe the time has come to take a big gulp and be open about it.

Knowing that after reading it you might think I’m ‘crazy’ or ‘deluded’ or ‘mad’.

Knowing that sharing this on a public forum could risk people I work with reading it.

Knowing that my family may read this, and most of them likely had no idea this event had even happened.

But I believe that the only way we can reduce stigma is by sticking our neck out and saying: “Hi. I’m BrunetteKoala, and this has happened to me…and I’m still here.”

And honestly? I don’t know if it’s scarier talking and no one reading or knowing that anyone could read it…

2018 so far…

There’s a lot been going on lately, and have to confess that my laptop playing up, the screen cracking and my iCloud having a wee life of it’s own, I’ve not been able to share life as much as usually do. Life over the last year has been incredibly busy, and last week marked a year since I got the call to invite me for an interview that has caused life to do the complete 180 I had been waiting for so long.

Please don’t misread that last sentence. I don’t believe the idea that life is all about luck. I wasn’t sitting on my butt waiting for something to come along. I was going to work, I was applying for jobs and at times I tried to keep studying…but I had so much rejection and it really takes it’s toll. As does living hand to mouth and never knowing how many hours work you are going to get, knowing if you take a holiday you are losing out on pay, being afraid of going to the optician, the dentist, not being able to pay a mortgage, losing friends because you can’t afford to socialise in the way they choose to. Knowing that every month you are away from the career you worked for is making it even tougher to get re-employed back into it.

There’s a lot of lucky people in the media who like to give inspirational interviews saying how they’ve worked hard and it’s not about luck. Well, quite frankly my experience tells me you need both.

The last 10 months I’ve worked in two jobs that I felt hugely passionate about. It’s not been all rainbows and kittens. First of all there’s the guilt of feeling like giving 100% to one is taking away from the other. Second is the exhaustion of trying to work flexibly to do both well. I naively thought that working full-time would give me my life back. It has to an extent, but actually there’s parts of the previous 10 years that I probably took for granted.

If you look at the friendships I have made in the last 10 years, a lot of people my own age and life stage aren’t a huge part of my life anymore. Mainly because I couldn’t go on big group holidays, go drinking at weekends and all the rest. For the last 3 years I worked pretty much every single weekend. The people who were around when I wasn’t working were people who were free daytime on weekdays. And they tend to be folks who are retired or stay at home parents. Hence, all the kids in my life.

Cue last summer, when all of a sudden I was only free on weekends. Add to that a late finish on a Friday night so would often be peeling myself out of bed on a Saturday. Sometimes if it had been an eventful shift that would still be playing on my mind and I wouldn’t have slept much. So Saturday was all about recovery! There’s been no play dates over breakfast or lunch. There’s been no meetings at the Zoo when my friend and I have been excited at opening the curtains to discover it’s not freezing/windy/bucketing rain. I miss it. I’ve been so lucky to have that time with my friends’ kids watching them grow up.

However, in January, I started getting my act together and booking in time with friends further afield. In February I decided to book an extra night in London to see my friend Judith and we discovered that Robert Pattinson actually lived 100 years or more and was painted by one of the Impressionists and was featured in an exhibition at the Tate Britain.

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And though we booked it a year and half ago, I also decided to take my time in London again when Ruth and I finally got to see Hamilton.

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This experience really needs a post all of it’s own. I’ll pop that on my to-do list. In fact today I’m with Ruth at her home in the West Midlands today because we accidentally ended up with two sets of tickets, so we’re going to see it for a second time this week. This time her friend Claire is coming with us. 🙂

And I followed this up with a couple of days with Nicola, Ben and their incredible son (my second godson). Unbelievably littlest godson is walking and talking. We went on a train, he introduced me to ‘Foffle’ (Waffle the Wonder dog), his “chuck” (toy kitchen) and I’ll be forever known as ‘Yaa-Yaa’.  They also introduced me to this amazing restaurant called Bill’s in Marlow when we were on a wee day trip. I was craving one the other day so badly I almost hopped in my car to drive all the way down there.

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Though I’m still nervous to book annual leave and take holidays as I feel horrific guilt and anxiety when I’m not working, I have booked to take a week off to do Surf Camp again. I’m hugely happy to have my friend Craig back this year and not only will be leading worship we’re also going to be archery instructors (!). I managed with a little bit of difficulty to pull myself out of bed on a Saturday to drive us up to the SU centre in Kinross where we were trained by a coach from Scottish Archery. We aren’t quite at the level of Merida yet, but by the end of the day we were at least hitting the circles on the target. I’m also hugely grateful that I got the chance to do this with the young people at my work when I took them on a residential weekend – so have got lots of ideas for games to use from the instructors at Rock UK! I’m hoping the rest of Craig’s clan are able to visit as they are another bunch of friends I’m missing since working full time.

I became a member of Stenhouse Baptist Church.

And haven’t been back to church since that happened due to being away for work (and struggling a bit with endo/IBS symptoms). I’ll hopefully be back next weekend though.

I’m also getting better at dragging myself out of my hotel room when I’m in London for work. And when you’ve got pals like Judith who have such great knowledge of the cheapest things to do in London, which lead to seeing views like this…

…you realise that you are so incredibly blessed.

There’s one last bit of news. I’ve actually left one of my jobs. It was a decision that fell into place, happened very quickly but was totally gut wrenching at the same time.

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I’m now full-time in the other job and very happy with that, but it doesn’t mean I’m not missing youth work hugely. I sat on Tuesday afternoon almost waiting for young people to wander into my office room as they usually do when I am in the youth work office on Tuesdays. Last week has been hard getting used to working from home all the time, and it’s going to take some readjusting and getting used to. However, I’m also really happy to have some long-term stability for the first time since I was at university really.

And so that’s you all caught up on the BrunetteKoala life.

What I’ve been reading…

Ok. It’s been a couple of months since my last blog. But I’ve now got a computer with a screen that isn’t cracked, so this makes blogging a heck of a lot easier. I need to ease into this, so I’m going to begin with a BookPouch post. These are the books I’ve read so far this year…

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Born A Crime by Trevor Noah – I love autobiographies, and I love stand up comedy, so you’ll find a lot of autobiographies from my favourite comedians on my shelves. Thanks to the fact the Edinburgh International Book Festival coincides with the Fringe, quite a few of them are signed by the authors too. But this book, is one for everyone. Perhaps because my experiences and conversations before, during and since my trip to South Africa are still so vivid, I really appreciated Trevor’s observations from a sociological point of view into the history of South Africa which every chapter begins with. This goes beyond simply telling a ‘my life so far’ story. It’s about understanding power, the importance of education and being taught to question and think critically. For this time we are living in now, where we see us moving backwards into being more prejudiced, more racist…it’s an important read.

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A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle – My American friends will probably be shocked to learn that I had never read A Wrinkle In Time, which I believe was a staple of people’s childhood in the US, much like books such as Matilda or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe are here in the UK. I had seen the trailers for the movie version, and interviews with Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey about it. I was buying books for my godson and this was on a Buy One Get One Half Price deal in Waterstone’s. And so it became my travel book. I really enjoyed it, and was surprised to see elements of Christian teachings in there. If I’m honest, it felt like the ending was rushed, but I can totally understand why so many people hold this story in great esteem. I especially loved the characters of Meg and Calvin.

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In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham – Yep, you knew I’d be reading this, because you know I’m a huge fan of Lauren and the fact she has played roles in two of my all-time fave TV shows, Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. I saw the book was coming out the day before I was travelling to London to go see Hamilton, so I pre-ordered as a birthday present to myself. It is a short book, and a bit like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, is adapted from a speech she gave. In this case, her commencement to the graduates of her old high school. It was perfect to pop in my handbag, and read in bits as I was waiting to meet up with various pals in and around London. I love Lauren’s ability to impart a little real life wisdom with her quirky wit, anecdotes and sense of humour.

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How To Be Champion by Sarah Millican – Yep, it’s another comedian. I told you I loved autobiographies and comedians! I’ve been a long time fan of Sarah’s. She wears specs, she loves cake and doesn’t hold having to have a new outfit for every occasion as a matter of life and death. Hurrah! I remember applauding her when she wrote this article when she got ripped by shallow “journalists” who like pick apart what people wear to award ceremonies. There may have been yelling out loud of agreement and raging at whoever was on Lorraine. What I didn’t expect is to have so much in common with her. She also loves books, writing, buying stationery (several mentions of Paperchase), doesn’t drink alcohol much, cats (and now dogs) and has had very similar health issues to me too. At the end of each chapter she imparts little nuggets of advice for life, some more serious than others, but all of it worth sharing. This was a fun read, and if you are a Sarah Millican fan, you won’t be disappointed.

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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher – I haven’t quite finished this yet. I have to confess I slightly skimmed the middle section reading through her verbatim journal entries as I didn’t really get what she was writing. That might be my lack of patience with people when they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. If you’re getting drunk, I’m likely going to head home because I just get irritated. Sorry Carrie. It has been interesting to hear her thoughts on the early years of her career, her lack of confidence in some ways balanced with her chutzpah in others. I really miss having Carrie Fisher around on our screens, because man was she smart, funny and I especially loved her way of doing things her way and cutting through the BS. It still feels unreal that we’ll never see Princess (General) Leia in another Star Wars film.

What have you been reading lately?

I’d say give me some recommendations, but I currently have a pile of about 20-30 books to-read. Eek!

The one where I try to write a blog again…

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It’s been a while since I blogged, and the main reason for that is that my laptop screen is bust. I have been pushing through but as time goes on the damage spreads across my screen and so writing, editing photos and so on is becoming increasingly challenging/impossible. So if you see any ridiculous spelling and grammar errors, it’s likely I’ve not spotted them as they’ve been covered by the balck lines of doom.

Why not get the screen fixed?

Well, today I took it to the computer repair shop, and to do that will cost me £400 as there are currently no refurbished parts in stock for my model. (If I’d bought my laptop a year earlier it would be a bargain of £290 to fix). Then there’s also the ridiculousness of Apple and their desire to make you spend as much as possible on new laptops and extra parts which take up so much more space on your desk (or a train table!).

So decisions, decisions….

It may be time to ditch laptops and go back to old school DESKTOP COMPUTER. As these seem to be the only ones with all the handy connections for USB cables and SD memory cards as part of the computer!

There has been much to write about lately. Life has been busy with work, work and more work! I love my jobs so I don’t mind all the work, but the downside is that it leaves me with little energy in the spare time away from work that I have. I’m about to be ‘welcomed into membership’ at the small baptist church I’ve been going to since last summer, and I’m trying desperately to keep volunteering with Girlguiding. Our Guide unit continues to grow, and what has been so lovely is some members of the Senior Section who have been trickling back since I closed the Ranger unit in December interested in coming back as adult volunteers or doing Chief Guide and Queens Guide award schemes.

I sense more change ahead. The challenge is to work out what is simply stuff I’d love to do and what is meant for me to do.

I know that I want to continue doing youth work, to build community and to write more. And maybe sing a bit more often too. I got such a wonderful opportunity to sing with my friend Craig last month at an open mic afternoon run monthly at a local café. We had no time to practise, but we’ve led worship together at two surf camps and numerous church services over the years. I didn’t realise until we were standing in the café and the words came out (hopefully in tune) the freedom in simply singing a song that means a lot to us and our friends. Selfishly, I miss singing because often it’s the time I feel unburdened, empowered and content.

It’s been 9 months now since life changed drastically for the better. I’m still navigating new routines and trying to have a good work-life balance. I’m trying to reconnect with friends who due to circumstances I was rarely able to see. Now I have the means, but finding the time and energy* is the new obstacle

*I don’t mean this to sound negative, it’s simply a reality that often when I’m not working, I’m literally peeling myself out of bed because I’m so exhausted. I know that the best way for me to stay healthy is to sleep off any sign off illness. Bearing in mind it’s been 10 years since I last worked full-time and when I did I was constantly ill because my immune system sucked so bad! The fact that I’ve only had 1 day off sick in the last 9 months is a flippin’ miracle (especially if you know how many nasty bugs have been going around flooring my colleagues, friends and family left, right and centre).

And so I can’t promise that this blog means that i’m going to be back here writing and sharing more regularly like before. But it is a sign that maybe I will. It’s especially lovely to see some friends coming back to the blogosphere. Like Grace (and Ailsa), Holly, Vicky and Brian. I definitely miss the conversations that used to happen on blogs.

Hopefully see you around here soon…and if not, I’m always on twitter and instagram!

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.

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.