Tuesday 24 January 2012

Home is where the heart is

The Boy and I have spent much of the last couple of weeks preparing to move - we've been to see financial advisers about mortgages, we've scouted out some homes in the village we want to move to, we've had an early Spring clean to dispose of unwanted items, and later this morning we are having the energy certificate done for our flat so we can go on the market. We should get the flat valuation done in the next few days as well and once that's done and we accept the valuation, we are all systems go. We're in a strong position and seemingly there is demand from both the housing association and the open market for buyers for flats in our development.

I feel a real mix of emotions as our days in London town begin to draw to a close. I've lived in London for over a decade, first renting for 18 months and then as a mortgage slave. I've had some real highs and lows in this city, but it is incredibly special to me.

In this flat, I have mostly happy memories. I bought it as a single, independent woman over five years ago and as soon as I moved in everything began to fall into place for me. A few weeks after I moved in I began volunteering at the bereavement charity in Kentish Town where I still work on a weekly basis, and within a matter of months I had begun the job where I still am now (the longest I've stayed in a job by far) and I had met the Boy. Hence the flat has always been filled with love and light, and people comment on the warm and happy atmosphere when they come round for the first time.

There have of course been sad times here for us - the losses of last year were cried out inside these walls - but for the most part I've been happy in this flat. The Boy and I have had some wild parties here, some decadent dinner parties, and some silly nights together just us two. So I feel a little sad leaving this beautiful flat behind, as we begin to prepare for what will be our next home. I hope those who follow us will be as happy as we've been - and I hope our new home will serve us just as well as this one.

Thursday 19 January 2012

New beginnings

Earlier today I had my last appointment with the counsellor who I have been seeing about my anxiety issues. I don't like endings or saying goodbye so I normally dread these kind of occasions, but I was looking forward to the session because I feel in our short time together (our first session was on 1st December) I have made a great deal of progress - with his help.

When I started the sessions I felt anxious nearly all of the time. The heavy losses of 2011 had left me frightened and fragile, and I felt a nagging sense of impending doom and that another terrible thing was going to happen. I was worried something dreadful would happen to the Boy, I found it difficult to switch off and my sleep was haunted by gharish nightmares. In my session today we looked at a form I had filled in during my first session on my sense of well-being - looking at your sense of self, your relationships, your work and your lifestyle. It surprised me to see I had scored well below 50 per cent, but casting my mind back to then, that sounds like a fair assessment of my mood.

I didn't think my feelings would change - I wasn't aware that I could get back to the Elly Beans I had been before last year had taken its toll. In honesty, I thought that was it for me. That the shift to a more cautious, nervous and vulnerable person was a permanent one. Fortunately I was very wrong. Sometimes in life, exactly the right kind of experience comes along just when you need it, to help you along when you are struggling and to restore your faith in yourself and the human condition. And this is what happened for me. The counsellor I was referred to quickly grasped where my problems lay, and helped me work through what was causing me such distress and negative thoughts.

We had six sessions together over the last seven weeks - so not a great deal of time in the grand scheme of things - and I am amazed at what we have achieved. I feel completely different and now my scores on my well-being are much higher, around 90 per cent. I feel like I'm back in my own skin, that life has much to offer once again and I am no longer tormented by nightmares or visions of doom. The nerves have gone, the ship is steadied, and more often that not I feel genuinely good. There are of course some difficult moments and bad days, but the difference now is that everything is in perspective and this is normal - whatever that means! My brain in functioning in a balanced way again, and - touch wood - it seems the distorted and paranoid thoughts that so plagued me are a thing of the past. I feel confident that if my thoughts slide and become irregular again, I now have the resources within myself to stop the process and get back on track before it's too late.

It's a good feeling. I am happy in the here and now and I feel so strongly how blessed I am. I am able to stop in the moment and enjoy life again, and look around at the beautiful elements that surround me. Even though it's raining today, I feel light, warm and safe. I'm comfortable in my own skin again, and I'm reminded and aware that life has much joy to offer, as well as much pain.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Body clock

The Boy and I are now 18 days into 'dry January' and I'm still loving it. I've lost 8lbs in the last couple of weeks, which was well-needed as I was rather resembling a barrel after the Christmas and New Year excesses! My skin is the best it's been in months and I'm sleeping a steady eight-hour shift every night. Gone are the nightmares and night terrors that so haunted me last year, and sleep is no longer something to be frighened of - instead I welcome the clamber into bed and the easy slumber that follows. For that reason I haven't missed socialising or seeing friends in evenings at all. I feel much more relaxed, and the relief that I'm not always supposed to be somewhere, doing something and entertaining someone is pretty palpable.

I've noticed that while I haven't been drinking, my body clock has shifted slightly. I'm waking up much earlier than I would normally - around 6.30am seems to be the norm, even at weekends - and I am getting tired much earlier in the evening, I've often been asleep by 10pm in the last few weeks. I find this fascinating, as when I'm out and about, socialising and drinking, my routine is very different. I won't go to bed until midnight and I set my alarm for later - 7.30/8am. It seems left to my own devices and my body's natural rhythms I am, as much as this surprises me, 'a morning person' and not the proverbial 'night owl'.

I wonder if that's why I sometimes get so worn out and stressed - because I'm constantly resisting and trying to change what my body wants to do. It's worth bearing in mind at any rate when life inevitably becomes busier again from February. Right now I'm getting so much done with the extra time which is really great - this weekend I managed to get even more writing done (I only have two chapters left to write now!) and I had a great clearout of our bedroom, sorting some bags of clothes for charity, and finding some bits for ebay. I spent a few painful hours uploading items to sell onto the ebay site, but it seems my efforts were worth it as the items are mostly under offer now.

And extra pennies will be welcome at this time. The Boy and I are in 'moving' mode again. I have slight deju vu (!) but we're in a far stronger position than we were financially this time last year, when we were trying to finance a move to the Charlton/Greenwich area. We've decided to leave the big smoke behind - a big step for me having lived in London for more than a decade and having owned flats here for over eight years. But it's the right time now. We've identified a village in Kent as our ideal place to move to - 10 minutes from my parents and around 40 minutes from the Boy's family, and we were given a mortgage in principle agreement from the Boy's bank yesterday for far more than we want to borrow - so far the signs are good. The next step is to get our place valued and on the market.

It all feels exciting - if a little scary when you look at the figures in black and white - and I am really proud of the Boy and I, and the work we've put into making ourselves financially strong and solid, and enabling this move to happen. Fingers crossed all continues to go well. Few piccies of Otford below...

Monday 9 January 2012

Looking back, over my shoulder

A few weeks ago I had some time on my hands and I took a look back over this blog for the first time in a while. It was an interesting experience and a bit like rediscovering an angst-ridden teenage diary many years later.

In parts I cringed at my naivety and was frustrated by my negativity, but my overwhelming sense was a longing to put my arm around the Elly I was for quite a lot of last year and tell myself things would get better. When you first experience a loss or you're in the midst of a trauma it's very difficult to believe that the state of sadness or grief is only a temporary one. You know logically that time is a healer and life will become better again, but when the pain pierces your heart with that initial intensity, it's easy to lose sight of this and despair.

It is difficult to read some of the entries I wrote last year, but in some ways I'm glad I have a record of it. I can remember a little of how I felt back then, but it is hard to re-live exactly how sad I was. I feel so different now and as the months have passed, life has become much happier and more colourful again. The sadness will always be there, but now it feels like it's bearable and manageable - and I feel optimistic and excited about life again.

Health kick

It's the 9 January today and so the Boy and I are now on day nine of 'dry January' and our health kick. I have to say - so far, so very good! We were out and about so much at the end of November and into December that it feels like a real relief to be able to stretch out and relax, and have some quality time together and some quiet time at home.

Towards the end of last year we'd got into the habit of drinking alcohol most days - mostly out with friends or work colleagues - but also splitting a bottle of wine with dinner in the evening, so at first it felt a little strange not to have a drink. But I can honestly say now that we're not missing it at all. When we walked into work this morning (a three mile journey so good exercise) the Boy was saying how pleased he was to be doing dry January with me - I did it last year while he just cut back - and how much more alert he felt and how much more energy he had.

I feel just the same, and I was thrilled to find when I weighed myself on Saturday that I have already lost five pounds - although there are plenty more to go where that came from! I've always been a curvy girl, but have generally hovered around the size 12/14 mark since my late teens. After the miscarriage, I lost interest in many things including exercise and healthy eating. I was aware the pounds were creeping on and all my waistbands were getting tighter - I even bought a couple of bits in a size 16 - but I didn't care enough to do anything about it or put a stop to it.

Now that's changed and I care a lot about my health and well-being again. I'm worth it. I wonder if perhaps this means I have forgiven myself for what happened. I know and believe now that the miscarriage was completely not my fault, but I think subconsciously a woman can wrongly blame herself and feel guilt, even though it is unjustified. Perhaps I was treating myself unkindly and putting 'junk in my trunk' as some kind of warped punishment. I don't know - but I do know that moment has passed, and now I want to be the best that I can be again. For myself and for the Boy. And he feels the same. We're both really committed to this and I hope than rather than a 'detox' or 'diet' this can just become a more well-rounded lifestyle for us both.

Tomorrow I am biting the bullet and going back to Weightwatchers. I did this a long time ago, in my early 20s when I finished university, and I found then that with a bit of discipline and willpower the diet worked for me. I have dipped in and out of it over the last decade and whenever I have taken it seriously, it has been effective. And I hope it will be again - as I certainly feel that for once I am in the right frame of mind to get my head down and get on with this. By my reckoning there's at least a stone still to shift, probably more, so I'm in this for the longhaul. Wish me luck!

Friday 6 January 2012

Blossom in the trees, you know how I feel

I've had a really happy few days being away from work this week. It's been good for me to take a few days for myself while the Boy has been back at work, and to indulge myself in what I want to do - reading, writing, cooking, tidying, going to the theatre and watching some interesting films.

I can't even remember the last time I had free moments like this, where the day was my own to structure as I want to. When I look back at last year my overwhelming sense is one of chasing my tail and being on a merry-go-round that I couldn't quite escape from. A bulging diary that seemed to be relentlessly pushing me along. Sure - when you're on a fairground ride there are some amazing highs, but there can also be dips, twists and turns, and when you can't find a way to escape the roller coaster then you can be left dizzy, nauseous and fatigued. And I feel that's what happened to me.

These precious few days have helped get this year off to a positive start for me. I feel like a tree coming towards the end of Winter, my branches have been cold, heavy and barren - but now it's Spring and there's a tingling in my trunk and blossom petals are beginning to open around me. Life feels like it's there for the taking again - and that's what I intend to do.

A place for everything

If I tell you the Boy and my sister fondly give me the nickname of 'Monica', perhaps that will give you an insight into certain aspects of my personality... I like order, control, clean lines and minimalism. Chaos confuses me and spontaneity can be difficult - although not impossible - for me.

I spent all of yesterday undertaking a Spring clean of the flat, a job I know some people dread and find mundane and arduous. But I loved every moment of it! Throwing out bags and bags of rubbish and recycling is therapeutic for me. There is something about clearing our home of unnecessary 'things' that purges my soul and refreshes me. I feel lighter for having less 'stuff' and take a real satisfaction and pride in the fact that everything that remains in the flat looks neat and tidy, and is in its proper place.

My friends laugh gently at my desire to have all my bookshelves organised by genre, my CDs in alphabetical order, and my wardrobe organised by colour - but all these things give my life a sense of structure and make me smile. For how my home looks and feels is incredibly important to me and my state of mind. When the flat is clean and ordered I feel happier inside, and I feel confident that I can be creative and achieve my goals. When the flat is cluttered and disorganised, I feel unstable and anxious.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that anxiety can be an issue for me. In recent times it has been my default state, and - while I feel it is becoming less of an issue as I understand more about how my thoughts and feelings work - my propensity to worry and become tense is something I must be mindful of. Taking the time to create a home that I find happy and secure and that I am proud of is really important. It alleviates unnecessary strain and helps me be content in the here and now - my mission for the year!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Writer's block

I've taken this week off from work (a) to use up my remaining days of holiday (b) to ease the pain of going back to work after the Christmas holidays and (c) to crack on a bit with my writing. By the end of last year I had got to 45,000 words and had written over half of my novel. I was feeling pretty pleased with what I had written and I had received some really positive feedback from my little focus group of readers.

Throughout the Christmas break I had been looking forward to this week as a time when peace would reign again, and I could happily sit down and while away the days writing more and more of my precious book, and begin to edge towards its climax. One thing I hadn't anticipated was rather a sharp a dose of writer's block. I'm struggling to write much of any real quality and have only managed another 3,000 words. For the first time the doubts have begun to creep in - is what I'm writing really any good? am I wasting my time and indulging myself? has the text begun to lose its spark and energy?

I seem to be up and down like a yo yo - looking out of the window, watching the news, planning the evening's meal... there seem to be no end to the reasons why I can't sit still and carry on with the task in hand. The task I am committed to and want to achieve. A moment or two on Google - yes, another distraction - leads me to believe this is a hugely common episode, and most often found when writing the middle passage of the book. Apparently Joanna Trollope often has the same problem, so perhaps I am in good company!

But I won't let this beat me. I do have confidence in what I am doing and I know where I am going with it. I have discipline and if I have to wade through treacle for a short-time then so be it. I won't give up or be beaten off course. And those voices of doubt won't halt me. I will get there in the end... even if it really is one word at a time!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Happy New Year

So here we find ourselves in 2012 - an open road stretching in front of us, and a blank canvas waiting to be painted with new, hopefully happy, memories.

Somewhat against the flow, I've always liked January. There is something in its freshness and austerity that helps me focus my mind and I feel optimistic and hopeful about the possibilities, opportunities and chances a new year can bring. There is an excitement for me in the unknown, because while it might bring sadness it also might bring real happiness. I catch my breath in my throat as I peer round the slowly opening door, intrigued to find what might be hiding behind it.

This year I have one main resolution - and it's one I really hope I can keep. I want to be kind to myself. It sounds so simple - I am a warm person, and I spend a lot of my time loving, encouraging, coaxing, nurturing and forgiving those in the circle I have around me. For reasons I still do not entirely understand, it has been a lifelong battle to do this for myself. I am a perfectionist, a hard task master and I expect the best from myself at all times. But I am human, sometimes I don't achieve all that I envisage and sometimes I fail, and there shouldn't be anything wrong with that - I think it was Oasis who put down in music that perfection can only be found in imperfection, and I whole-heartedly agree. But I can be very critical and unforgiving of myself, which only succeeds in battering my already wavering self-esteem and taking away my confidence.

This year, when there are good times and I do well, I want to take some time to congratulate myself. And when things sometimes go wrong, as they must, I want to take some time to take care of myself. I want to be as good a friend to myself as I am to those around me. I know I am good at making others happy - so now I must learn to do this for myself.

And I think it begins well. We had a really good break over Christmas and New Year, spending quality time with loved ones and also precious moments on our own. The Boy and I are in a good place as 2012 begins. I had a few wobbly moments towards the end of 2011 - when it was hard to hear of new pregnancies and friends beginning their maternity leave - but on the whole I am mending. And I suppose that's the crux of it with loss. You can only really lose something you love, and while you may heal and move on and learn to laugh again, that loss when it comes through death is finite and can come back at any moment to tap you on the shoulder and demand to be let in.

But I accept that now. It's as it should be and the pain does pass quickly - the days where the sun shines are plentiful and the time when I find myself in the shadows is minimal. The anxiety counselling has taught me how to keep calm and keep perspective, and to try to ignore the unhelpful and paranoid thoughts which were upsetting me so much and making my grief difficult. I feel strong, and I feel happy in the here and now. And that's what counts.

Perhaps like most of the country, we are beginning the year with something of a health kick, which I think is very important for the body and soul - and also the psyche. We had a very indulgent and excessive December, and it feels right to be investing time in rest, reading, writing, healthy eating, and giving the booze a bit of a wide berth for a while. It is a test of my willpower but I remember well how much I achieved last January, how positive my mind was, and how content I was. I'm aware alcohol and I are not always the friends we should be, and January reminds me of the importance of moderation and balance. Some people need this in their lives more than others and as the years pass I realise it is vital for my well-being.

So here I am, another year older, hopefully a little wiser, and ready to jump on the roller coaster again and see what 2012 has to offer us. I hope there will be happy times - and I hope the strength that I gained last year will help me again when the times are harder. I can't help my mind wonder if the Boy and I will end the year living somewhere else, or if we might finally become the family we so want to be. But I wait patiently in today, and I let tomorrow worry about itself and come and find me in its own time.