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!! 🙂

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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.

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!

The one where I catch you up…

Long time, no blog!

I thought before I headed to London once more, I should probably check in and let you all know (if anyone ever comes here anymore) to let you know I am indeed alive and well.

Not starting both jobs turned out to be a blessing in disguise. There was so much to do before Surf Camp (and I didn’t get it all done). But also some old friends from university were in my neck of the woods for a family holiday. So we went to the Zoo with their two kids, and it was lovely. We got rained on, then the sun came out. The pandas hid from us, but the tigers were out! We also saw lots of penguins including the now toddler penguin chicks. Their five year old daughter helped me choose a keyring for my car key…

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Surf Camp this year felt very different to previous years. There were new challenges, and it was unnerving to be leading worship for the week. Especially without people I knew and had led with before. I have been very happy to be the background of the band for many years and have never really gotten over an incident that made me totally lose confidence in leading from more than 10 years ago. And I think that insecurity came through and just ugggghhhhhhh. I hate looking back and thinking what a terrible job I did. One thing I did feel God challenging me on was giving space for Him to speak. My poor friend doing DTP joked by the end of the week that there was no point in me giving him a ‘setlist’ because I’d probably not do what I’d planned. He said it with a smile and I had to laugh too, as it was true so often. I am trying to make sure that things are easier for whoever does the job next year! It was lovely to be a group leader again, and had a lovely bunch of girls. I was also fully appreciative of there being more first aiders willing to answer the call this year too. We had the usual grazes, cuts, bruises and sprains along with a trip to A&E.

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Within a couple of days of returning, I started my job with the youth project. My first week ended with a visit from the local police after a youth drop in. It sounds weird but it’s really nice to be back in a place where you know you are needed and have a purpose!  All the young people I’ve met are lovely and some are very lively, filling me on the ins and outs of the local area where the project is based. Some young girls in the area gave me their suggestions for a name for our young women’s service and that discussion will continue over the coming month as I get to know the community.

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While I was at surf camp, my Mum had a special birthday. Luckily I wasn’t the only reason she had to wait to celebrate….our next door neighbour had an even more special birthday turning 100 and receiving a card and telegram from H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth! The weekend after I got back, I had booked my Mum into a spa in Edinburgh for a fancy manicure before going out that evening with her sister and female friends who lived close enough to come for a meal. A waiter recognised her from her previous visits and as we finished came with 2 bottles of prosecco, which did make her a little bit tipsy (nothing bad, just a bit giggly). She told me I had to wear my ‘interview dress’, which I did and this was her at the end of the night making sure her manicured nails featured in the photo with me! Love you Mamma Bear! I made her drink water and take some paracetamol before she went to bed, and there were no after prosecco effects the next morning. Yippee!

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The other thing I’m trying to do more is exercise. A friend from my new church who lives close by has a similar goal, with both of us having been spending too much time sitting on our bums over the last year. Having a car again and having less financial constraints makes this so much each easier, as we can make it fun! We have been for a walk, another friend convinced me to take a sunset surfing lesson (and drive her down to Dunbar so she could too!) and I’m hoping that once I get into a routine with both jobs that I can do some dance classes again. I’m sad that going back to ballet classes with my favourite teacher isn’t an option as they only run on Friday evenings when I’ll be working at the youth project but I have discovered some adult drop-in ballet and jazz classes in a few places…so fingers crossed! The hardest part is constantly fighting fatigue…if I get too tired I often don’t have energy to cook (which makes things worse of course) and then exercise will more than likely go out the window too! Having people to do it with definitely helps give me motivation as I hate letting people down if I’ve said I’m going to do something.

So there we go! That’s you all caught up on the life of Brunette Koala. I’d almost caught up on my reading challenge for the year, but I’m behind again. If it doesn’t make me feel too sick I’m going to take a couple of books to read on the train down to London. I’m super excited that this trip will end not with a train to Edinburgh after work on Friday but a detour to visit my lovely friend Nicola, her husband and their gorgeous squish of a son (my youngest godson) before returning to rainy Scotland.

How has your summer been? I’d love to hear all about them!

 

The one where life changes…

I’m sorry for not blogging. I’ve actually blogged a lot…if you count all the half written posts in my drafts folder that remain unfinished.

Life has changed a lot in the last month.

My last month in my previous job was pretty horrible. I’m not surprised to hear more people have left since I have left. It is a shame, because it wasn’t a job I hated it. For sure the hours were pants, and the pay was awful. But it was a job that was often a privilege, had fun in the hard slog of each shift.

One week off turned into two – not for good reasons unfortunately. But two weeks ago, I finally became employed again. And I hope I never take it for granted.

For in the last 3 years I’ve discovered that being employed is a privilege that can too easily be taken from us. My parents grew up in an era of working hard and jobs for life. Being able to save to buy your own home. Knowing you had a job to earn money to pay off the mortgage. If you were really lucky you could afford to go on a cheap holiday to France or Spain once a year.

That is not the case anymore.

As we travelled on the train to London, a new colleague asked me why I was taking two jobs. It’s not a daft question – I live with my parents so my rent is minimal, with one part-time job I’ll be earning almost double what I have in the last 3 years. I could survive without working full-time like I have done for the last 10 years. The answer? I want to be able to save up again. To perhaps go on a holiday. To have a car and afford to put petrol in it so I can drive to friends further away. Even my parents who have kindly loaned me money to purchase a car so I could buy it outright and pay them back rather than the garage’s financing agency, have told me not to rush to pay them back as quickly as I would like to. They want me to have the ability to do things that I’ve not been able to do for so long. My Mum wants me and my brother to go on a road trip in the USA next year. Something I’ve dreamed of doing for a very long time.

(We may have to knock me out to get me on the plane mind you…)

My jobs are not guaranteed. There are probation periods. They are both short-term contracts that will come to their end, and if there is no funding, they won’t be renewed.

Hence the desire to save money.

In fact this weekend I met up with old friends, and two of them have this year had to move back in with parents due to redundancies and financial struggles. My generation are struggling in this world of capitalism.

I still fear the phone call to say that I’m going to be unemployed again. I think it will take a long, long time before I can accept this new life. But already, I’ve taken advantage of free weekends and requested a work day swap so I can spend a weekend with a friend who lives close to London before coming back to Scotland. I’m looking up car insurance quotes and going to church on Sunday mornings again. A new friend has asked if I want to try exercising regularly with her on weekends. Old friends are being contacted in the hope of reunions a long time in coming because of train fares I’ve not been able to afford.

The only negative is I’m going to miss weekday visits with my friends who have babies and pre-schoolers!

There are still more changes coming, new routines to work out. Medical issues that still need investigating and sorting.

But I gingerly want to say (and hope this doesn’t jinx anything) that things look to be turning around for the better.

And I have a lot of patient friends that need to be thanked for pulling me through these last 10 years. Those friends are worth more than gold.