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Following on from yesterday… I have a very special day today. I am ON MY OWN between 9am and 3pm.
Peace – precious peace.
This is my chance to get on with stuff WITHOUT the roaring white noise that is the interference of other people breathing.
Hopefully the kids will come home from school to Patient, Smiling, Tender Mummy, not the Fire-Breathing, Shouty Poison Gnome who has been marauding the place for the last week or so.
Sometimes I feel guilty about needing this recuperation time, but then I remember the instructions on those aeroplane safety cards – ‘if oxygen masks are released FIX YOURS FIRST BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO HELP ANYONE ELSE.’ The first time I read this fascinating sentence I was quite taken aback, and then delighted at how sensible and logical it was.
Of course there is no point trying to ‘help’ a child with their mask first. If you faint or even die, whilst struggling to save your child, then a fat lot of ‘help’ you’re going to be…
And that’s parenthood in a nutshell really.
It’s a balance of being as good as you can be, until suddenly you’re not being good at it anymore; then you do whatever it takes to get you back to fighting form. It’s a skill – recognising that tipping point, or even sensing its imminence. It takes some guts and some determination to say, “This is what I need. Now.”
It took me years and years before I could say that without feeling guilty. I felt I needed permission to look after myself. I thought that denying myself luxuries or ‘me-time’ was the sign of a dedicated parent. I needed validation and justification if I wanted to buy a new coat or have a morning off – all the more so because I was a ‘stay at home Mum’.
You can call it a ‘home-maker’ or ‘principle care giver’ or ‘domestic executive’ or ‘household manager’, or any other bull-sh*t name you can think of – in the end the facts are the same – you don’t have a wage, you don’t get holidays and no one hands you a certificate for being employee of the month. Going to the toilet with the door closed is about as professionally progressive as it gets.
The sad truth is no one will give you what you need if you don’t take it for yourself. To be fair, no one but you really KNOWS what you need – and that’s why it’s ok to ask for it.
Waiting for someone (for example, a husband or wife) to say the words you want to hear is a fool’s game. It’s also not fair on your partner. There is no written script that we should be following. Feeling resentful because they didn’t read your mind and haven’t offered you the precise thing you crave is a massive waste of energy.
If you want something, make it happen. Be in control.
If you’re falling apart at the seams, you’re no good to anyone. However, if you keep yourself ticking along, using whatever methods you need – whether it’s alone time, exercise time, the occasional night out or spa day, getting your hair cut or going for a long walk – you’ll be happier in yourself, and in a better frame of mind for dealing with your family.
Many’s the time I have regretted speaking sharply to my children, and realised that I’m not cross with them – I’m cross with my situation and I’m cross with myself for allowing my state of mind to get so frazzled. It’s the most important job in the world, and yet often we have to do it on minimal amounts of sleep and sometimes in a precarious mental state.
Aaaanyway… that was all preamble to explain why I am not writing a blog today. I’m off to soak up the stillness.
Mostly, I succeed at being a normal person, and integrating with society, and all that. But every so often (and it IS more often, these days) I capitulate, concede defeat, take off my mask of conformist presentability, and let it all hang out.
And it’s ugly. I’m ugly. I hate things. I glower at everything and everyone in the house. I don’t want to do anything. I shout. I wear about 5 layers of clothing, and sit in a corner like Stig of the Grump.
Other odd things happen too.
Noises start bothering me. I mean REALLY bothering me. People chewing, dropping things on the floor, footsteps, rustling paper… I can actually feel the sounds on my skin. I’ve never admitted that to anyone before; I guess it’s some kind of hyper-sensitivity, but I don’t have it all the time thankfully. Imagine what teaching a class of 30 kids, all banging drums, would FEEL like. Like a powerful right hook, I suspect.
I stop being able to think in a straight line. My mind won’t be able to dwell on a subject for very long. If I try to do something organisational in this state – for example, plan the week’s menus – then I stare at the same piece of paper, and fiddle with the same pencil and stare into the corners of the room for easily an hour without achieving a single thing.
The reason for all this irritable discomfiture is very simple.
I need to be alone. For my health. For EVERYONE’S health and wellbeing.
Now, tell me, is this unusual? Am I being unreasonable, or showing signs of my ancestral tendency to hermit-hood? Is it too much to ask that, once in a while, I am completely undisturbed for a few hours?
I’ve looked at others to see what they’re up to – like an insecure Bake Off contestant during the technical challenge - to see if they’re doing things differently to me. Why can they manage to be surrounded by people 24/7, without losing their minds?
I actually dread school holidays, and family holidays. I love having my family around me, don’t get me wrong, and I appreciate them every second… but I also need distance from them if I’m to stay sane, and I get very little during holidays.
It has taken me quite a long while to understand this situation, and it has caused a lot of strain and strife in my close relationships, but I think I know why I need more alone time than most.
Do you know what an ‘empath’ is? I just looked it up, and this ridiculous definition popped up.
It has nothing to do with science fiction, and has EVERYTHING to do with people.
I also don't think there's anything 'paranormal' about it; an empath is just someone who is more sensitive than most – especially to the energies and moods of others.
As a child, of course, I didn’t realise I was a bit different. Well, I DID know, but I thought it was because I was an ethnic minority. I didn’t know why I would cry if I saw an elderly man shuffling laboriously along the street, or why I would feel so frustrated and sad when my parents argued – even if I couldn’t hear them, or why my friends would get angry if I knew more about their mood than they cared to admit.
Worst of all, I just didn’t have any barriers. There was a huge world out there, of humans and their thoughts and emotions, crashing about like rudderless speedboats; there was love and hate, anger and guilt, frustration and regret – and I was standing in the middle of the road, open to any vibes that came within my radius, vulnerable as a blind hedgehog.
I’d feel it all. It was too much.
This is why I need to reset now and again. It’s not enough to say, “I’m going to my room for a couple of hours. Please don’t disturb me.” It won’t work, because children don’t understand the words “Do not disturb.” Bless them. If they’re not marching through the house playing the kazoo or exploding bombs, then they’re ‘not disturbing’ anyone, as far as they’re concerned.
Also, even if the other inhabitants of the house are being quiet as mice, I can still feel them. It’s like having small, gentle, but insistent tentacles pawing at my brain. The air in the house is still spiky with the presence of other people. Different people ‘vibrate’ at different wave lengths too – my son has the knack of making his presence tiny, of flying under the radar, of soothing my soul. My daughter is the vibrational equivalent of a kitten – cute, hilarious, demanding and perpetually moving... with claws.
I need for those vibrations to settle and for complete stillness to descend before my brain will release its stranglehold on my reason, and start allowing me to think again. For that, it has to be complete solitude – nothing else will do.
It’s really important that people like us are not misunderstood. I realise that I can come across as utterly unsociable or even misanthropic, but chances are, I’ve just been overloaded with stimuli.
At the end of the summer holidays, when I’ve had 45 solid days of noise and questions and outings and chores, I’m ready to run away to a cabin buried deep in the woods, and leave everything behind. However, give me ONE day of silence, when I can do what needs to be done, in my own time, at my own pace, alone with my thoughts, (in my pyjamas)… and I’ll be just fine, and ready to interact with humans again.
And failing that, I’m saving up to buy a desert island.
Just doing a little health inventory… Apart from a couple of patches of eczema on my hands, and an imprint of my yoga mat pattern on my forehead from an over-grateful Child’s Pose this morning, I seem pretty whole and well.
3 years ago though, this was not the case. The eczema had got to an unbearable point. It infiltrated all areas of my life, and made every single second a misery.
I could never make up my mind if it was worse to have eczema on my face, or on my hands. If it was on my face, I’d feel ashamed about going out in public, looking as if I’d suffered 2nd degree burns, or I had face-planted in a bowl of acid. But if it was on my hands, the mundane tasks of the day became insurmountable mountains. I remember once breaking down and sobbing because I’d picked up a cup of tea, and I felt my skin break in about three places.
Anyway, during this particularly terrible time, I didn’t even need to make up my mind, because I had eczema everywhere – hands, face, neck, arms, knees and back.
I decided it was finally time to take action. I decided it was time to undertake an elimination diet.
Although I had tried cutting dairy from my diet when I was 8 or 9, it had only lasted about a week or so before the attempt was abandoned. I think my mother was secretly scared that I would die of starvation if I couldn’t eat cheese or butter.
An elimination diet is pretty hard core. I did a lot of research and isolated the foods that were commonly known to be allergens, plus a list of foods that I had always suspected weren’t my friends.
The list looked something like this: Soya, eggs, nuts, seeds, cereals (oats, barley, wheat), beef, pork, chicken, anything cured with sulphur (ham, bacon, salami etc), shellfish, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, chillies, aubergines, ALL dairy products, ALL fats and oils, sugar, yeast, corn/maize, all legumes – peas, beans and pulses. It could have been subtitled – ‘My Favourite Things’.
The idea was I exclude all the above products for 2 or 3 weeks, and then reintroduce each item, one by one, documenting every single response – pulse, digestive health, sleep patterns, any allergic reactions, and mood. This was a looooong-term commitment, but I was determined to get to the bottom of any food sensitivities I might have.
I was left with a tiny list of food that I COULD eat – mainly leafy greens, fish and rice. Which sounds so healthy, right?
I was not prepared for the immediate and visceral reaction of my body to the new regime.
I woke up the next day, having hardly changed my diet at all, with a raw, angry-looking face, swollen eyes, and aching limbs and joints. I assumed that I had coincidentally caught a virus or similar, but the symptoms weren’t constant – they changed and shifted, almost by the hour.
I was grumpy, tired, emotionally unstable and suffering from a hayfeverish wheeze and itchy eyes.
I was also very confused. I had expected to find it difficult to be strict with myself, to turn down my favourite foods, to eschew meals out at restaurants… but I hadn’t expected to feel like crap the moment the diet started. In fact, I thought I would feel instantly better after removing all those possible allergens from my daily intake.
I went through several elimination diet forums, and found that many people had similar experiences, but they put it down to sugar-withdrawal. The thing is, I don’t eat much sugar. I don’t eat cereal, drink tea or coffee with sugar, I don’t like sweets or even chocolate that much. What on earth could be causing this physical deconstruction?
Having tried to approach this scientifically, I’d overlooked the fact that I was a sentient human being with thoughts and memory. I KNEW what was going on, and my brain was sabotaging the experiment in every way it knew how. It was a rather terrifying, instinctive reaction from my body – the mindless snarl of a wild animal protecting itself from intrusion and change.
Over the next few days, the situation worsened. I could barely see, my eyes were that swollen, and the skin on my upper body felt as though it was being eaten alive by fire ants. And yet, I’d hardly made any changes to my life – in fact, just good changes. I was eating fish, green vegetables and brown rice, plus variations of the above. It really wasn’t that different to my usual diet.
I felt as if I had split into two parts. One part wanted to move on and make positive changes to diet and attitude. The other part hated the idea, and felt threatened by these new concepts. In the ensuing tussle, my physical body was the collateral damage. If my body was a control room, those two thugs were battling it out in there, like the climactic scene from a James Bond film; crashing into levers and buttons, causing malfunctions and sirens to blare, tripping circuits and releasing poison gas into the system.
That experiment proved to me, beyond doubt, that the mind and body have to work together to achieve health. They ARE separate things, but they each hold the life of the other in their palms. Forcing a new, healthier diet on my body was pointless until I had dealt with my psychological food hangups, because part of me would resist the change and make progress impossible.
I did stick it out for several months, however, and the violent reaction gradually calmed down. When I reintroduced some foods, there were a few surprises. I assumed that wheat and dairy would definitely be triggers…but they weren’t. There was no reaction whatsoever. But I DID react adversely to potatoes and barley. However, none of the reactions were significant enough that it was worth making any permanent dietary change. I went back to my usual diet.
The conclusion: My experiment was inconclusive.
My advice to myself now? ‘Eat what you enjoy – IN MODERATION. If there are foods that make you feel bloated or uncomfortable, then leave them out. But don’t think of them as banned foods, otherwise you’ll crave them 24 hours a day. Think instead of substitutions – enjoy the challenge of creating recipes which use approved ingredients. Be creative. Be clever.’
P.S I have LOTS of recipes that I devised and perfected, through trial and error, during those difficult months. I was determined not to be deprived of the meals I liked, so I was at my most inventive, conjuring up gluten/dairy/fat free biscuits, creamy curries, chocolatey treats with no chocolate, cheesecake with no cheese, and flatbreads and pizzas with no flour. Please message me if you find yourself in a similar position and you’d like any of these recipes and tricks. xx
I like cars. Don’t care that I know very little about how they work; or that I can’t take one apart and put it back together again. I just like driving.
‘Car’ was my first word (in Danish though). Instead of dolls, which I absolutely loathed, I had a cardboard carton full of matchbox cars – my favourite being a metallic purple Porsche, although I quite liked the black London taxi too. I drove them around on the floor, made stunt courses for them, and simply liked to have them and hold them.
(I also had a fine collection of toy guns, swords and other weapons, and enjoyed tying my friends up with rope – but that’s probably a psychoanalysis session for another day. Or never.)
When I was 14, I had a boyfriend who was a real car enthusiast, and he taught me how to recognise pretty much every make and model of car inhabiting UK roads. I realise that sounds a bit geeky, but I rather liked this new knowledge, and I have now passed it on to my kids. If there was a traffic incident, we’d make good witnesses anyway.
Reaching my 17th birthday and receiving my provisional driving licence was hugely exciting for me. I seem to remember pestering my dad to take me driving on the first available Sunday after my birthday. We went to the local train station car park, which was completely empty. (Remember those days? When the weekend was actually a time for resting and relaxation??)
He showed me how to get the clutch and accelerator to ‘bite’, and then he put his seat back, and had a post-lunch nap. I fooled around, trying to master a smooth gear change, and summon up the courage to go into third gear.
Again, although my dad was not the most reliable of men, he was fabulously laid-back about things like this. Where most parents would be tense and hyper-controlling, he explained that a car is designed to move forward, and the only thing we had to do, as drivers, was control its speed and direction. Good advice that.
He actually slept too, so I can’t have been that awful.
My first car was a Mitsubishi Colt Tredia. We’d owned it from new, but by the time I started driving it, the body work had started to rust a little, and the dark red paint was dull. However, like many Japanese cars from that era, the engine was an absolute gem. That Mitsubishi was the most responsive and exciting car I have driven, to this day. It was hard to beat me when the traffic lights turned green.
(Yes, yes. I know that drag-racing at traffic lights is frowned upon these days. I’ve grown out of it now. Anyway, my Honda Jazz isn’t up to it…)
It was a trusty car, and I was so sad when it rusted away almost to nothing. I bet that engine would still be going strong now, if it had been placed in a new body.
Since then, I have owned a Proton (Mitsubishi engine, but tinfoil body – it would dent if you breathed on it), a Honda Civic (fantastic, reliable car, and SO comfortable), a Mitsubishi Carisma (an attempt to relive the glory days… but no), and then several generations of solid, reliable, excellently designed, economical, mechanically undernourished Honda Jazzes. I do like my current car, but there are hills near our house which I dread tackling in it, because I end up in 1st gear, being overtaken by elderly pedestrians.
Anyway. As I said, I love cars. But I don’t like what happens to some people when they get inside their cars and start driving.
These days, viral videos of screaming men and women, hanging out of their cars, hurling filthy abuse or even physical objects at each other are two a penny – they pop up every day. We are anaesthetised to the drama, the horror and the sheer wrongness of road rage.
What happens to some perfectly ordinary people when they sit down, buckle up and start driving? What makes some of them lose their minds? React in a way they wouldn’t dream of reacting usually?
I observed a nasty piece of work in a white van (sorry, but it was) tailgating another car yesterday. He was so close to the car in front, there can’t have been more than half a metre between them, even though they were driving at a good 40mph. I don’t know what the other car had done to anger the WVM but how could it possibly warrant such a flagrant invitation to disaster? The senseless thing is that a crash would punish them BOTH. There’s no reason or rationale here – it’s the mindless anger of an aggravated swarm of wasps.
Once, many years ago, when I had only been driving for 3 or 4 years, I parked my car in a very small space outside a shop. I tried to be careful opening my door, but it slipped out of my grasp and gently knocked the car next to me. There was no damage.
As I locked up my car, I became aware of a man getting out of the car and facing me. He launched straight into full red-rag mode – yelling at me for ‘smashing’ into his car door, calling me disgusting names and jabbing his finger into my face like man in a broken elevator.
I fell apart. I had never, in my sheltered life, been spoken to in such a manner. Although I apologised immediately, he couldn’t stop shouting at me. His eyes were bulging with rage, his thin face hectic and pink; spit flew as he spoke, and the cords of his neck were standing out so prominently, I could have snipped them with a pair of scissors. The reaction was totally out of proportion to the catalyst. He was temporarily insane – clinically insane.
I don’t know what image you see in your head when you picture this man. Let me enlighten you.
He was clean shaven, clean cut, dressed expensively in chinos and tailored shirt. His car was one of those boring, executive mid-range saloons. He was probably an accountant or similar. His natural habitat was probably a country club, gastro pub, and a 4 or 5 bedroomed house on the new luxury estate. He probably never used the ‘f’ word in front of his wife and kids. Excuse the assumptions.
I couldn’t believe how crushed and scared I felt. Why wasn’t he stopping? Why was he behaving, utterly contrary to most British folks, in such a confrontational way?
Eventually, I got angry too.
Between sobs I asked him, “What’s wrong with you? Do you speak like this to other people too?”
That question seemed to cut through the red mist, and he stopped. I saw the fury draining from his eyes, and it was one of the most peculiar and alarming things I’ve ever seen – as if he’d been injected with a potent drug. He shook his head a little, and then looked at me – at ME. Saw that I was very young, very scared and in tears. He looked a little horrified with himself, and apologised.
His excuse was that his car had been damaged in an accident, and had only just returned from the garage that day. That was the reason for his overreaction.
It wasn’t an overreaction though. It was pure, temporary madness. I believe he might have done something a lot worse in that state.
Thankfully, the situation deflated and he quickly got in his car and drove away, but I was left with a sick, heavy feeling which lasted for weeks. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe how quickly my ordered, tidy life had transformed into a nasty, lawless nightmare from which I might not have escaped. I realised bitterly that, although we floated around in our self-satisfied, oblivious little bubbles – the bubble only gave us the illusion of being safe. And the bubble could pop at any time.
Maybe cars give us a sense of power that we don’t deserve – rather like a superhero’s talismanic outfit and cape. Some of us are recklessly galvanised when we wield speed and status. We forget that we are all fragile, vulnerable humans – whether we drive steroid-pumped flat-bed trucks or diminutive Smart cars. We forget that a car is a way of getting from A to B, not a weapon that we control at our whim.
In our crazy, stressful world we need to pick our battles – and none of them should ever involve a car.
Wherever you’re going this weekend, be happy and be safe. x
Interestingly, since starting my blog, I’ve found that my food intake is more controlled and sensible. Perhaps, I’ve finally gained enough confidence to feel I deserve better than the food-based punishments I meted out to myself when feeling low or insecure.
One of the biggest differences is that I stop when I’ve had enough. Sounds like such a mundane little thing, but I’ve been struggling with this concept since I was a teenager.
I was a skinny child. I didn’t even really like food – in fact, I dreaded dinner times because there were so few foods I enjoyed eating. Meal times were often a tussle. Sometimes I’d be left at the table on my own, with my food rapidly cooling and congealing, which made it even more impossible to eat what I hadn’t wanted to eat in the first place.
Something happened when I turned 10 years old. I was suddenly starving ALL the time. I used to take sandwiches in to school – three rounds of sandwiches (yes - 6 slices of bread). Everything started to taste good – especially savoury, salty food like crisps, cheese, cured meats and bread. My body changed shape rapidly – for both hormone-related and cheese-related reasons.
For the first time, I started clearing my plate. This met with approval all round. Because I wasn’t wasting anything.
I have an issue with this idea that if you don’t eat something on your plate then it’s a waste. Obviously, you shouldn’t take more than you’re going to be able to manage. But if, say, a restaurant served you up a large dish of fish and chips, and you were full after eating half of it, IS it a waste if you leave the other half??
Of course not.
The restaurant can’t give your left overs to charity or send it to a famine-stricken country. Stuffing yourself with food you don’t need isn’t helping the plight of the hungry. The price on the bill will be the same if you eat up or eat nothing. No one gains anything at all if you eat every morsel in the interests of value-for-money… well, except you – you gain something. You gain weight.
I know about gaining weight. I know what it feels like, and I know how it makes me feel – and those two things aren’t the same at all.
What it feels like: Your clothes seem to suit you less and less. Buttons and zips are tighter, but you assume your clothes shrunk a little in the wash. You look in the mirror, and your edges and outlines seem blurred – you assume you’re having a bad day. You stop looking in the mirror. You stop letting people take photographs of you. You master the art of stifling your conscience. Time and consequence are put on hold every time you eat something you shouldn’t. You look down at the body you barely recognise, at the rolls of flab, at the lumps and bumps, and though you feel mildly disgusted, it’s like looking at someone else’s body – and you think, “It’s only temporary.”
How it makes you feel: You start feeling invisible. No one wolf whistles or shouts from the windows of a white van anymore. You pretend that’s a relief. You feel vulnerable - the more of you there is, the more exposed you are. You feel ashamed about eating too much and doing no exercise, but you’re trapped in a miserable vicious circle because you can’t POSSIBLY consider exercising (especially swimming – lordy!) until you lose a bit of weight. You feel angry and resentful because people start making assumptions about you, simply due to the way you look. You feel sad because you realise that you don’t enjoy clothes shopping any more. What’s to enjoy? Trying on 20 different outfits and looking like 20 different versions of a fat person?
One day I saw a photograph of myself taken at a graduation ceremony. I’d worn my best clothes – a bias-cut skirt which swished around my calves prettily, a close-fitting top, and a front-tie bolero to mask the little lumpy indent of my skirt waist. When I held the photo up to take a good look, my eyes cast around skittishly, searching for ME. There were only 3 people in the photo but I couldn’t find myself, because that bovine lump, looking completely ridiculous in a skirt as wide as it was long, could not possibly be me.
It was though.
With fascinated horror, I gazed at a face which oddly resembled a plate of oatmeal, with all my familiar facial features assembled in the centre – like a garnish of blueberries. How could that balloon possibly be my face?
Not long after this, I suffered a health set-back which finally pushed me to do something. I couldn’t imagine doing anything sporty. ‘Sporty’ was out of my comfort zone, even when I wasn’t obese.
We took to walking, Hubby and I. Sometimes, after work and a meal, we’d just close our front door behind us and walk around our neighbourhood. We’d try new paths and cut-throughs, we’d look through people’s front windows (most rewarding around dusk!) and talk.
It worked. The weight started to come off, and I began to regain my energy and my self-respect. I fell pregnant with our oldest child, and after giving birth to him, weighed less than I did before. I continued to lose weight then, because feeding my baby became my number 1 priority – which meant I had to eat a whole, clean diet so I could produce good milk.
Then I became pregnant with our daughter. She was ravenous, even in utero, and I actually lost weight, even as my belly grew huge with a baby who’d evidently inherited Dad’s height and appetite. By the time our daughter was a few months old, I was a size 8, and looked nothing like the sad moonfaced girl in the picture.
However, I don’t think I’ll ever lose that feeling of being overweight. Even now, I can feel a phantom outline of myself, several inches wider than my real dimensions. Every time I look in the mirror, I expect to see that moonface. Every time I have a weekend of poor choices and wake up on Monday looking watery and bloated, I panic and wonder whether I am doomed to return to my obese state.
Losing weight is so much more than changing a number on the scales. Being overweight leaves a psychological imprint, much like the varicella virus remaining in your bloodstream forever after a bout of chicken pox. You may think you are cured, but the affliction lies dormant, waiting for a weak moment to reappear.
The kind of exercise I do now works for me because the emphasis is not about how your body looks. The emphasis is to celebrate what your body can do. The specific aim to increase strength and improve endurance actually takes the focus off your weight. I don’t even weigh myself any more. I have no curiosity about the numbers on the scale. I know how I feel, and I’m content with that.
I read about a popular fitness guru who fat-shamed a woman recently, by taking a photo of the unfortunate lady, labelling her hips ‘love-handles’ in big purple writing, and posting the picture on social media, along with an unamusing caption pondering what kind of food she was ordering.
The most shocking thing about this – apart from ALL of it – is that the woman in question was AT THE GYM! On the treadmill. Trying to improve her life.
What I simply don’t understand is why we live in a society where no one can mind their own business. Why do we think it’s ok to judge people we don’t even know? Why do we already set a standard benchmark of the way we think these strangers should look? And then, we become so infected with the tyranny of body-shaming, that we do it to ourselves. In fact, we are usually our own worst detractors.
I saw a photo of a friend on facebook recently. She was on holiday, wearing a bikini, with a huge smile and a cocktail. I started writing a comment – something like “Wow. Wish I could rock a bikini like you do!”
And then I deleted it. It was all kinds of wrong. First of all, why should I highlight what she was wearing and what she looked like? She was obviously happy and enjoying herself. That should have been the focus of any comment. And second of all, why was I being self-deprecating about not being able to wear a bikini?? A voice in my head suddenly said, “Why the heck shouldn’t I wear a bikini? I may have stretch marks from the babies, but SO WHAT??”
I asked myself, “Yeah… why DON’T I wear bikinis?” And I had to confess that I was worried strangers would think I didn’t ‘rock’ my bikini.
Ha. Well, things are changing around here. It might be time to go shopping…
Yesterday, I started writing a story about what should have been a proud day in my young life – a day when my 16 year old self performed the Mozart C minor Piano Concerto with a real orchestra for the first time. A day which should have ended in celebration and feelings of pride.
I am contemplating finishing this story, with all the relish of someone who has left cleaning the cat litter trays to the last task of the day. Or maybe a better analogy would be someone preparing to dig out a large, hoary splinter from a particularly sensitive part of their body…
It was 10 minutes before the rehearsal started, and my boyfriend and I were driving around in farmland without the slightest idea where we were.
No need to panic, I thought. We’ll just retrace our steps to the last junction and I’m sure all will become clear. The said junction had three or four exits. I knew which one it definitely WASN’T, so we took the next likely road and continued to drive, both cautiously optimistic. Sadly, the optimism didn’t last long – the road dwindled and narrowed until it was barely more than a track.
3.25pm now. Rehearsal starting in 5 minutes.
We turned around with difficulty, and now all my cocky airs and graces had vanished – I was wide-eyed with panic and tension. Not a sophisticated, glamorous young woman – just an anxious little girl, who had not listened properly to her father’s directions.
We took the only other road left to us when we reached that hated junction again. But just a few minutes passed before we realised we were actually going round in circles, and heading back towards our point of origin.
“The first road must have been the right one!” I exclaimed a bit desperately. “We must have turned around just before we got to the venue.”
So we turned and went back along the original road, through the hayfields – beautiful in the early summer, but nightmarishly lonely and isolated in my eyes.
There were no such things as mobile phones. A year later (possibly prompted by this event), my parents would buy a huge cuboid of black metal, weighing roughly 2 kg which, if you plugged it into the car’s cigarette lighter, would reward you with a crackly, hissing line through which people’s voices were indecipherably, uselessly distorted – the mobile phone #1.
We couldn’t look up where we were. We couldn’t phone anyone. We couldn’t even stop anyone to ask for directions – we were in the middle of the emptiest, flattest landscape I’d ever seen, uninhabited by houses, shops or other cars. We drove, insanely fast, past the ‘Oxfordshire’ sign, and continued for miles and miles and miles.
I was crushed. I could barely breathe. The rehearsal had started – a rehearsal that had been scheduled especially for ME, in order to make sure the balance was right and the piano was positioned correctly – and I wasn’t there. Something as catastrophic as this had never happened in my narrow, sheltered universe before. My boyfriend was no longer a smiling, suave guy – he was as terrified as I was. We were just kids.
Words cannot express the horror of that car journey, as we dashed from one road to another, trying previous roads in case we missed something, going in the wrong direction on purpose simply because we hadn’t tried that road yet… as the seconds bled away and my confidence shrivelled to a tiny, intensely hot point of self-loathing and regret.
It was almost possible to believe we had somehow fallen into an Edward Hopper painting – flat, featureless, and sinister – that we were trapped for all eternity, driving in circles, as terror and adrenalin poisoned my blood, and my heart threatened to explode out of my chest.
I have no recollection of how we finally arrived, but it wasn’t relief I felt as we drew into the car park. Life was immediately going to get much worse from this point, for so many reasons, the first of which was the appalling fact I had missed the entire rehearsal.
I stumbled out of the car, and my boyfriend drove off, with one last anguished look at me – already horribly late for his football match – and I fell into the arms of my father who was waiting on the steps.
“We got lost!” I gasped, and then broke into a storm of weeping that I just couldn’t stop.
What makes me cry now is remembering how gentle my dad was with me. There were no recriminations or harsh words. He always knew when to stop talking. Whatever else his failings, that was his gift as a parent.
He must have been sick to the stomach. The conductor of the orchestra phoned my parents when I didn’t show up for the rehearsal. My dad had actually rung around the local hospitals to see if there had been any road traffic accidents.
5 o’clock had come and gone. The rehearsal was over. The orchestra had packed up their instruments and were strolling back to their cars, looking at my tear-ravaged face with curiosity and mild disapproval. Not the triumphant entrance I had imagined a few hours previously.
The next hurdle was going home and coming face to face with my mother - I think I was actually shivering with dread. I knew I deserved every accusation of childishness and irresponsibility, but I really couldn’t take any more. I was very grateful when my dad shielded me from her frustration and anger, and with a stern shake indicated that no more was to be said then.
I changed into my concert clothes, but I felt limp and ragged. I could barely lift my head. How was I going to play in the biggest concert of my life? I’d been through the mill, but the most taxing challenge was yet to come.
Fast forward. I’m sitting on stage. I’m waiting for the usual calm to descend over me as I get into that ‘performance zone’. But today it won’t come. After the ignominious events of the afternoon, I felt stripped of all my dignity. I felt shredded to the core – that I was sitting there in front of a monstrously huge audience (I’m sure it wasn’t) flayed open and raw to the bone. Nothing in my previous experience could have prepared me for how intensely vulnerable and exposed I would feel. I had no more adrenalin left. Nothing came to save me.
The orchestra started the exposition and I sat staring at the piano keys, as if I had never seen them before. Instead of their usual comforting pattern, all I could see was an inimical landscape of potential mistakes.
I don’t remember much from the performance, but one phrase is burned like a brand into my memory. I coped quite well with the fast passages, but in one slower passage involving a big leap of nearly two octaves, my mind went utterly blank. I couldn’t remember which note to land on. I couldn’t rely on muscle memory, because my muscles were quivering like jelly, and tension had shortened my tendons by about 30%. I landed wrongly – an awkward note marred Mozart’s perfect harmonies and every consecutive note in that (mercifully short) phrase became displaced.
I frequently practised without music at home – because I thought that was how one learned to play from memory. I was wrong about that. The only way to play convincingly from memory is to know every note, harmony, phrase and sequence in minute, analytical detail – cerebrally, in other words, rather than relying on physical memory. Muscles in pressured situations are notoriously unreliable.
Anyway, sitting in the debris of a fast-unravelling performance, I realised I didn’t know the music at all. I could play it at home, but I had not given any consideration to the piece’s structure, to its building blocks. This is partly because I didn’t like it that much – the concerto I had REALLY wanted to play was the D minor, but there were no clarinet parts scored so I’d been coerced into playing the C minor instead.
At that point, I hated everything – the piano, my parents, my teacher, and most of all, myself.
Looking back now, I can see that many of my neuroses stem from that black moment on stage. I vowed I would never again allow myself to experience such a nightmare – even if it meant coasting through life, wrapped in a figurative duvet of mediocrity. Every concert I have ever played in since then has been haunted by that pale, despairing incarnation of me – even the successful ones, and I DID redeem myself in my own eyes (and that of my parents) by performing the D minor concerto whilst at University 3 or 4 years later.
There is a recording of that performance, and I should probably listen to it if I really want to be free from this memory’s stranglehold. I suspect it’s not nearly as awful as I’ve built it up to be. The audience have no doubt completely forgotten about listening to a rather lacklustre performance of the C minor concerto, so it’s not on THEIR account I may have stunted my future career.
I was fragile and weepy for many days after the concert, unable to even lift the lid of my piano, questioning whether there was any point in continuing as I was obviously not cut out to be a concert pianist. My mother observed this wallowing from a frosty distance for a while, and then eventually told me to pull myself together. I was not due any sympathy, she said, and this dithering and grizzling wasn’t going to help me to move on. She was right. Life had to go on.
That’s when I put the experience into a strong box, sealed it within an inch of its life, and dropped it in the ocean.
Now that I’ve opened the box, barnacled and stained with 25 years of wear and tear, I can see the contents aren’t really as fearsome as I had imagined. Put succinctly, I wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the concert, and I unfortunately missed the rehearsal because I got lost. That’s all.
I’m not sure that a simple blog post can tie up the loose ends of this particular memory, but at least I’ve opened the box. That’s always the first step. If it’s in a box, in a dark and murky place, it has power over you. If you open it, you know what you’re dealing with.
Let’s start there…
I had a moment of unease earlier when I sat down in front of a blank page and couldn’t think of anything to write.
I wondered whether I had maybe jinxed my blogging ability by blogging about blogging yesterday… but then, another of my acutely uncomfortable memories popped, unbidden, into my head – and this one is DEFINITELY better out than in.
And given that I’m hoping to restart my piano practice regime, and possibly even perform for a diploma, I could really do with exorcising this particular demon.
When I went into the lower sixth form, I was pursued (and allowed myself to be caught) by an upper sixth former – the deputy head boy, the captain of the football team, an all-round charming guy. This was my first proper grown-up relationship in that, when we went out to the cinema, he could say, “I’ll pick you up at 7.”
Yes. He had a car. A Nissan Micra, but still – a car.
This made me feel glamorous, important and liberated. It meant I could leave the house at 7, go to the movies, go for a romantic McDonalds afterwards, pop in to see his friends, and return home at midnight – all without any supervision or monitoring by Mum or Dad. If my parents were anxious about this turn of events, they managed to hide it well – after all, he was polite and smart and well-presented. And it was a Nissan Micra.
We didn’t have much in common – my boyfriend and I. It was an unexpected match in the eyes of our peers and our teachers, but it seemed to work pretty well for quite a long time. I knew nothing about football – a fact matched by his knowing nothing about classical music. I loved reading; he loved watching films. I liked Vivaldi; he liked Queen. He was a conservative eater; we ate octopus, squid and other wriggly things.
We made an amiable effort to learn a little bit about each other’s hobbies and interests. He introduced me to boil-in-the-bag rice; I persuaded him to eat sushi. I went to the odd football match (yawn); he came to a couple of my concerts (fixed grin).
One day however, the stars conspired to clash two desperately important events – an unlucky coincidence that convinced me the world was against us. On the same Saturday evening my boyfriend had an INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT football match, and I was playing Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto as a guest soloist with a local orchestra in undoubtedly the most high-profile concert of my life to date.
I was completely gutted that he wasn’t going to come to my concert. It was such a big deal for me, and I’d been practising for months and months. But I couldn’t expect him to miss out on a chance to be spotted by talent scouts, and maybe be asked to do a trial with Southampton or similar, so I bore it – very stoically, I thought.
He came round to visit me on the morning of the concert, with the understanding that he would have to leave after lunch, so that I could attend the pre-concert rehearsal at 3.30pm – 5.00pm.
After we’d finished eating, and my Dad started jingling the car keys, my boyfriend and I simultaneously had probably the worst idea ever conjured by the human brain.
“Why don’t I drive you to your rehearsal?” my boyfriend suggested.
“Oh yes! Pleeeeease can he, Daddy?” I said, with my begging eyes trained soulfully on my father’s face.
Both my parents looked dubiously at each other. Gently they tried to dissuade me, but I beseeched them with every trick in my repertoire. Eventually they agreed that they couldn’t see the harm in it. Dad arranged to pick me up at 5pm sharp, so that I could come home between the rehearsal and concert and change into my blue concert dress (meringue.)
Dad started to explain how to get there, but I waved him off impatiently – I’d been there before. It was only 20 minutes away and I’d navigate for my boyfriend.
Glowing with pleasure, I got into the passenger seat, and we drove off – me with visions of the admiring glances I would get from other members of the orchestra arriving for rehearsal, when I stepped out of my boyfriend’s car. They’d exchange glances – ‘Ooh,’ they’d think. ‘She’s not only talented, she has a handsome boyfriend who can DRIVE!’
We talked companionably for a while as we headed towards the venue, and I occasionally pointed him capably in the right direction.
Gradually a faint thread of unease crept in to my consciousness. When I looked at the clock, I realised with a crawling prickle of sweat, that we had been driving for 25 minutes, and our arrival at the venue did not seem imminent. I looked out of the window – I mean, REALLY properly looked at our surroundings. We were surrounded by hayfields on all sides. I had never seen this road before in my life.
20 seconds later, we passed a black bordered sign that announced, ‘Welcome to Oxfordshire.’
We had driven right out of our own county.
It’s been over 25 years since this event, but I still feel traumatised. I realise now that I’ve never gone back and relived or examined that day. I was so mortified and heartbroken that I simply couldn’t think about it. I packaged it up, put chains around it and dropped it in Lake Oblivion. Dredging this up now is harder than I thought it would be.
It’s going to be another 2 part-er, folks.
Tune in tomorrow to see why someone with absolutely no sense of direction (someone who is, in fact, FAMOUS for it), and due to perform in the concert of her life, should NEVER navigate to an unknown venue, especially when she is half-crazy with infatuation and nervous energy.
Bring nerves of steel.
Yesterday was my 52nd blog post.
This means that, had I been sane and sensible and planned to write once a week for a year instead of daily, I’d be done by now. Ha.
Only 312 more to write...
I don’t know why I deemed it so necessary to write every day, but I knew it was necessary. The decision to start writing a blog, encouraged by Hubby, was one of those strange instinctive actions that I take when the universe wants me to move on.
I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew SOMETHING would. And it has.
The change has been subtle, but there IS change. It’s as if a pathway is slowly clearing in front of me, and I can see where I’m going. The view is more alluring than I imagined when it was shrouded in fog, and I have renewed motivation to keep a steady pace on this journey.
I have always had a ridiculously overactive brain. The thoughts whirling about in there would probably, after a brief unhappy period of madness, kill most normal people. I deal with this by keeping a diary – something I’ve done since I was about 8 years old – that’s a LOT of books full of scribbled angst.
I thought writing a blog would be the same as keeping a diary, but it really isn’t. For a start, I have to make SOME attempt at writing coherent sentences, and think carefully about what is interesting, and what is oversharing.
Having thoughts knocking about haphazardly in my mind is really not the same as writing them down. As soon as they take form in print, then thoughts, memories and opinions become properly clarified.
The interesting thing is that sometimes, these thoughts and opinions are a surprise – even to me.
It is not only astonishing that I'm discovering more about ME by writing, but also that I find it so liberating to write about memories that are very personal and sometimes painful. It's almost as if I can rob these memories of their ability to hurt me, by pulling them out of the dark place, and leaving in the sun to shrivel.
I looked inwards the other day, to set eyes on that familiar East/West rift – the one that opened up when I realised I looked different to everyone else and that I didn’t belong anywhere – and I couldn’t find it. That rift had been a part of me for such a long time, but at some point over the last few months, it slowly began to heal.
Writing about the difficulties I experienced as a child has taught me a very profound lesson: There was always a reason for the way I struggled or behaved. Writing AS AN ADULT I can see that now, and I absolve my young self of the guilt and burden of being me.
As a grown-up, there was always a little shadow following me around – a small, grey, silent girl who stared at me with big, pained eyes. She never said anything out loud, but I could hear her voice in my head. She was the one who disliked walking into a crowded room or speaking to strangers. She was the one who immediately assumed that any problem was MY fault, and that I should shrink away, protect myself in a darkened room and never take any risks. She remembered every slight – every hurtful comment, every cold shoulder, every rejection – and would show me a slideshow of these snapshots ALL the time. She’d pull on my hand if I wanted to go and do something different. She’d curl up in a corner and cry if tried to move on to the next natural level, causing a widening tear of guilt and exasperation inside me.
It was like having an insecure, high-maintenance, immature child to look after.
And of course, that’s exactly what she was.
She was me and I was her. I was stuck in a nightmare loop, wanting things to change, but thoroughly infected by her fear. I was frozen in time – an unhappy time, at that. My body and intellect grew as I became older, but the ESSENCE of me was stunted and underdeveloped.
But instead of shouting and reacting until I got the help I needed, I adapted and regrouped. I probably appeared to cope quite well with life, generally, until the extra time I bought myself with the ‘adapting and regrouping’ ran out.
I have learned that papering over the cracks simply will not do. Think about it. How can it possibly be a solution?? The cracks are there, probably widening by the day until the structure is irreversibly compromised. And, more relevantly, you know that the crack is there. Papering over it doesn’t give you amnesia. All the problems you’ve ever had are just lurking, biding their time, and probably increasing in strength and potency.
When I started off writing this blog, I was horribly self-conscious – hyper aware of an audience (even though I didn’t have one!) I tried to entertain, and it just came out awkwardly. I spent hours locked away in my studio, fiddling with my computer, writing about family values, reviling digital devices and encouraging people to have proper conversations, while my kids had to amuse themselves.
But, amazingly, I have found that there are people out there who listen, who relate to my rambly thoughts and who have even taken some form of action as a result of reading. You cannot know how happy that makes me feel. It's fantastic to know that not ALL of my sentences are crashing about pointlessly in cyberspace, but are connecting with real human beings.
If you have found my blog interesting or useful or thought-provoking in any way, I’d be so grateful if you could share. Not because I need to increase my site traffic (whatever that means) – after all, even if NOBODY read this, I would still write it – but because opening a dialogue about life issues, whether about depression, parenting struggles, relationships or eating disorders, may help someone; I like the idea that I might help someone, even if indirectly - even if only by showing them that they aren’t alone.
It seems almost unbelievable that the simple act of writing from the heart can help to heal, but that is what’s happening. With every word, the edges and shapes of me become more defined and focused – the colours brighter, my principles clearer. I am learning to accept what has gone, and to look forward to what will be – a minor miracle for someone who has always been of a melancholic and defeatist persuasion.
Most miraculous of all, I looked around and found the grey shadow girl had gone. It’s just me and my own voice.
The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
I am properly grumpy today.
I must have climbed out of the wrong side of bed this morning – which just goes to show that, some days, we shouldn’t get out of bed at all.
I’m wondering how to deal with a cheerfully presumptuous statement from my children that they are going to make dinner today.
Last time they were left to their own devices in the kitchen, it took about an hour to scour the place, degunk the worktops, wash up EVERY pot and pan we own, sweep the floor where most of the ingredients seemed to have ended their lives – and you know how much I love cleaning. Some of the utensils will never be the same again – including a favourite spatula (whaaat? You don’t have a favourite spatula??) which has permanent scorch marks, making me wonder whether we escaped a full-blown fire-engine-requiring emergency by the skin of our teeth.
It would be SO much easier for ME to throw something together in 20 minutes, and spend the hours I saved myself hovering, supervising and cleaning, reading a book or maybe getting ahead on my school planning. Incredibly tempting…
So I find myself at Parenting Crossroads again – like I do almost every day. That dastardly little junction appears around every corner, like a nightmare in a Hall of Mirrors.
Do I take a left towards ‘Tired Mum Avenue – leading to Guilty Mum Close’? I’ll get my evening back, sure, but I’ll have passed up an opportunity to teach my children some self-sufficiency. And just because it was mayhem last time doesn’t mean it will be the same again – UNLESS I deprive them of the chance to improve their skills. Also, the reason I’m tired and don’t much fancy the whole inanely smiley ‘I Can Cook’-type farce, is because I indulged myself last night, dared to go and have a life and dance into the early hours. That is just pure guilt on a plate.
OK. So maybe I should turn right. It’s labelled ‘Do the Right Thing Way’ and it’s lined with Gina Ford-type paragons of virtue, guiding their darling little ones down the path to Responsibility and Life Skills. It involves me changing out of my mum-slob clothes and actually going to a shop, because our fridge currently contains some out-of-date homous, grated Grana Padano, half a turnip, and some pineapple jam. Even I can’t concoct something edible out of those ingredients.
I sigh. Looks like I’m going to be turning right.
But wait. There’s a tiny little path that I’ve over-looked. The sign for it was almost invisible, but it says ‘Cunning Short Cut – leading to Procrastination Village.’
I could just sit here. Sit here while the children are completely absorbed in their play upstairs. Sit here until the shops close, which they will in just over an hour. Then when they finally want to cook (AT dinner time, not BEFORE dinner time) I can shake my head sadly and say, “But you didn’t plan and shop for this meal. The shops are all closed. Today’s lesson is all about planning. Planning is a vital skill in cooking, and today you learned that you didn’t do any. Let’s plan a proper meal for NEXT weekend, and you can give me a shopping list for that.”
90 minutes later:
OK. Here’s a little update on the whole Crossroads thing.
Dearest Daughter told me she intended to make potato croquettes. For the love of God – potato croquettes! Which, as we all know, require potatoes to be peeled, chopped, boiled, mashed; then mixed with herbs and spices, shaped into cakes; then floured, egged, breadcrumbed and deep fried. And it’s not even a frickin main course - it’s just a side dish! Oh, and not forgetting that Dear Son wants to make meringues. Potato croquettes and meringues – sounds like a Dr Who special.
I suggested that we tweak the recipe and make potato latkes instead – grated potato and onion, mixed with egg, salt and pepper, and dropped into a frying pan. The result was a stomp upstairs so violent that the ceiling light in my studio started swaying from side to side.
Although she came around, relations have been frosty. We took a family trip to Lidl, where they both kept disappearing, choosing the wrong stuff, dropping unsolicited items into the basket, disagreeing about whether they wanted strawberries or blueberries with these ruddy meringues, and making the automatic checkout station malfunction. I WAS that mum who talks tersely and impatiently to her kids, who whisks the bags away and walks on ahead with a face like a slapped bum, while the poor kids trail tearfully behind. That was me today.
I feel like I missed a turning. How did I take the ‘right’ road, and still have ended up with this situation – where pulling my hair and eyeballs out seems marginally more appealing?? Where was THAT mentioned on the road sign? WHY didn’t I take ‘Cunning Short Cut’? When will I learn?
Today, the ‘right’ turning was the WRONG turning. I need to understand my limitations and not be driven by an ideal of parenthood seen through rose-coloured spectacles. Because my wish to avoid the guilt-laden path has resulted in both kids thoroughly disgruntled with me, probably totally unenthused about cooking now, and with me needing to lie down in a dark room, haunted by thoughts of whisky. (I don’t even drink.)
Quick update. 4 hours later:
The children made between them delicious latkes and cute fluffy meringues. A few things went wrong and I tried not to be a bitch about it but, as expected, I had to help them out roughly every 2 minutes. The egg yolks kept breaking before they could be separated (so we had to make an unplanned omelette as well) and the first batch of meringue mixture wouldn’t thicken. The little madam decided to play fast and loose with the recipe I gave her, resulting in some very salty potatoes. Blah blah. And on and on.
Anyway. After we’d eaten and I was no longer raving hangry, I explained calmly that things hadn’t been exactly ideal today, and that it was as much my fault as theirs, for allowing them to railroad me into something that wasn’t properly planned or well-prepared.
I told them that their idea of cooking once a week was a brilliant one, and I would back them 100%, AS LONG AS they remembered that they are learning, and need to listen to advice. Any attitude that hinted at arrogance or lackadaisical negligence (such as tripling the amount of salt I said to add) was, in my eyes, dangerous, and cooking club would have to be put on hold.
They agreed immediately, apologised for their erratic and argumentative behaviour today, and we had hugs all round.
I’m still having whisky though.
No long blog from me today, as I’m going out dancing. Twice in a week. I know - I’m practically uncontrollable…
I’ve suddenly rediscovered my dance mojo – which had gone missing for several years.
Although dancing was a life-changing element, and I was addicted to it for a time, the urgency gradually tailed off. Oddly enough, as the children grew older and it wasn’t so difficult for me to go out now and then, the need to escape the 4 walls of my house diminished. When a free evening popped up, even though Hubby was at home, I had no particular obligations and I knew there was a dance event on within 30 minutes drive, I just didn’t have the motivation to get off the couch.
Even when I managed to go dancing – maybe two or three times a YEAR – I felt uninspired, and a little lacklustre. This is by no means a commentary on the clubs I went to or the men I danced with. I just didn’t feel that bubbly joy to the same degree.
After my activity last week, I now have a theory as to why I lost my dance mojo for such a long time.
Last Wednesday found me sitting in my car outside a Kizomba club at 8.09pm, examining my feelings about the impending lesson. I’d never danced Kizomba before (a tango-like dance with Angolan roots) and I didn’t know anyone who would be there. I realised I was excited – a thread of anticipation which I used to feel every time I went dancing. I was, yet again, leaving my comfort zone behind me and trying something totally different.
Long story short – I had the best time, and I came away feeling totally energised. I wanted to do it all again. I realised that ONCE UPON A TIME, salsa had been outside my comfort zone, and it had been challenging, terrifying, inspiring and motivating. However, now that I had reached a certain standard and knew most of other dancers, salsa dancing had actually become my comfort zone. And it’s difficult to do anything amazing when you’re slopping around in the zone.
Although it sounds lovely and cosy, The Comfort Zone is everyone’s enemy. How can we be successful or innovative or brave if we’re oozing around in the developmental equivalent of a soft, familiar, unwashed duvet? When we justify to ourselves that we’ve done enough, what exactly is the rationale for existing, from that point on? When we sit on that seductive Comfort Zone Couch, progress simply stops. We tread water. We coast. And when progress stops, all areas of our lives tend to stagnate.
My inner slob (or is that ‘outer’?) may be happy to watch several episodes of Grey’s Anatomy back to back, or read books in bed with a calorific snack to hand, but my soul gets hungry and restless at such passivity and dearth of stimulation.
It boils down to this. I LOVE learning new things. I thrive on it. Every time I learn something new, I feel previously inert areas of my brain lighting up and pinging with energy. And now I’ve realised how powerfully life-affirming it is to try new skills, I’m determined to keep doing it.
With any luck, I still have half of my life left to me, and I am actually quicker at learning things now than I was when I was younger. I’m just getting started.
I have no intention of fading gracefully away from middle-age, gently deteriorating from year to year until I hobble into the sunset.
My peak is way off.
I’m going to learn to play the guitar and the saxophone, race cars, teach myself to juggle, become a black belt in karate, take up woodturning and then – at the age of 124 – at my dazzling peak, burn out in a blaze of glory.
Just so you know.