What now?

The Start and Finish Line of the "Inishowen 100" Scenic Drive

Earlier this month, I took my last ever undergraduate exam. It’s taken me eight years to get to this point and it’s hard to believe I’ll officially be a graduate in a few weeks’ time. I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have had the means to finish my degree with the Open University as well as the support of my partner and other people around me. Without them I would never have got to this point.

Yet, as much as I disliked the pressure of revising for my final exams, it didn’t half keep me busy. I don’t do well when I’m not busy.

Again, I’m very lucky that I’m not in a position where I have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, rendering free time an impossible luxury. However, having a lot of unstructured time and a lot of things that I could or should do, but aren’t urgent or for the benefit of someone else, means I need to have a lot of discipline in creating structure. My difficulties in doing this could be seen as a mental health problem or a personality trait, but either way it’s something I need to work on. It’s also helpful to remember I’m not alone – if I were, there would be a lot fewer self-help books published.

For now, here’s what I’m doing.

Reconnecting with hobbies

I finished a book the other day. A whole book! And I’m knitting a scarf, because those things take so long you have to start them in summer. I have even watched several films without having an anxiety attack about all the work I should be doing instead.

Preparing to job-hunt

I’ve been offered a part-time science communication job for the summer holidays and I’m going to start applying for full-time jobs in July. I recently attended a group job interview that ended in failure and made me question whether I should try to change my personality to be more extroverted or accept my limitations. Having grown up being told I wasn’t talkative, outgoing or ‘normal’ enough, I’ve done a lot of work to try and shift my mindset, only to find out my family may have been right all along. Ah well – at the very least, the job I’m doing over the summer will involve training in the more performative aspects of science communication, so maybe I’ll learn how to fake it ’til I make it.

(Still) using Todoist

When I started using Todoist I didn’t think it would last very long – I’ve tried lots of productivity tools that didn’t stick. However, it’s been almost a year now and I’m still using it every day, slowly adapting it to my needs.  I’ve found it invaluable for recurring tasks, particularly in conjunction with a labelling system that separates out tasks according to how long they take, so I have no excuse for not doing that thing I know will take me less than five minutes and save me a lot more in the long run. However, I’ve been less successful in using Todoist to work towards personal projects such as writing more, redoing this website or learning new things. I think part of the reason why is that there’s so much I want to do that I get overwhelmed and do nothing, so having a way to prioritise things and turn nebulous goals into concrete actions will help.

Trauma-focused CBT

I started getting CBT a few months ago and it seems to have had an impact already – I’m having fewer flashbacks and am ruminating less, despite going through a stressful period with the exams. I’m still not one hundred percent there yet, but I am a lot more aware of the cognitions that have resulted from my childhood experiences and the behaviours I’ve developed to cope. I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over being abused, but hopefully it won’t always rule my life in the way it has done so far.

Relaxing!

Because people keep telling me I should do this and it sure beats the dark playground.

Springing forward

I recently received an email reminding me of my domain name’s auto-renewal, which also reminded me that, oh yeah, I have a blog that I pay money to maintain! I’m under no illusions that anyone is eagerly awaiting me posting something here. However, for my own sense of achievement (or, at least, not being completely lazy and useless) I’ve been feeling the need to do just that. At the same time, something significant has stood in the way.

I made a conscious decision recently to focus on my final exams in June, which has involved me saying “no” more often than I’m comfortable with and deferring a lot of things until after June 9th – not just things to do, but things to think about (including what I’m actually going to do once I have that very expensive piece of paper). I’m still not studying as much as I should be, but now I have fewer good excuses to not be studying.

This blog is one of the things I need to defer and not resort to as a distraction. Not that I’d actually write stuff as a distraction; I’d just think a lot about the fact I wasn’t writing stuff and that would be distraction enough. In fact, it would be more distracting – at least if I wrote as a distraction it would result in something tangible, rather than a cycle of stressful thoughts. So, it goes onto the “after exams” list. I’ve had one of these lists every year for the past five years and it’s become a vital part of my exam preparation: it stops me ruminating, helps me remember the things I want to do and reminds me that I have things to look forward to as well.

I also need to figure out what I want to do with this blog, particularly as I enter the world of finally being a real adult and potentially using this website to further my career. That isn’t something that needs to happen in the next couple of months though, so I’m mentally and physically filing it away for later.

So, this is yet another blog post about how I haven’t been posting on my blog, but this time I’m not saying I’ll try to do it more often. I’m saying I’m not going to do it for a while, which is a bit more honest. We’ll just have to see what happens on the other side of S382, SM358 and SMT359.

P.S. The title of this blog post doesn’t really have much to do with its contents. It’s what I started with, but the focus of the post changed and I can’t think of a better title. At least it ties into the very quick redesign that I did recently and the contentment I feel when it’s this time of year, the sun is out and things are growing again. I’m also conscious of how time is moving forward far more quickly than I’d like it to at the moment!

Twenty Sixteen

Happy New Year!

I’ve seen lots of 2016 review posts on my various social media outlets, so thought I’d join in and do one myself.

I haven’t published anything here since August, and the posts I’ve started in the meantime haven’t panned out. I’d be lying if I said that part of the reason for this wasn’t receiving the following comment on my last post.

comment
I’m not really sure what to make of it – people I’ve shown it to have told me that it’s not accurate and to ignore it, but in my head all I hear is that I really haven’t experienced anything bad and I should stop complaining. At the same time, I’d never say something like that to someone who had told me they were abused as a child and talked about the issues it had caused, so why should I trust someone posting it anonymously on a blog post where I did just that, particularly when there are people who care about me and know the situation better who say the opposite? Part of me wanted to publish a blog post detailing exactly what happened to me, even though that would have been really unpleasant both to write and to read, plus it probably wouldn’t have even changed that one anonymous person’s mind. Either way, this comment, along with some other recent developments that I’ll discuss later in this post, has definitely led me to reconsider what I write about on this blog. No matter my intentions with keeping its focus broad, it always ends up just being about my mental health and wellbeing – I’m fine with sharing this aspect of my life, but I don’t want it to be all I share. There are lots of other much more interesting things I could be writing about instead.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this, but it will possibly involve making everything private and in essence starting again with a more focused idea of what I want to be posting. We’ll have to see.

Anyway, here’s a quick list of things that have happened this year, in no particular order.

  • I started off the year doing some CBT, which didn’t really help much. Since then I’ve been receiving life coaching on a pro bono basis from someone I know, which has been far more useful in helping me reframe things and move forward rather than constantly thinking about the past. I also started the year on medication, but have slowly tapered off as it wasn’t really doing much for me and was causing some unpleasant side effects. Right now I’m experiencing discontinuation symptoms because I took my last dose on Monday, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end. I am also looking into getting some more specialist support for the things that happened to me when I was younger.
  • I started following Slimming World back in July after someone at work convinced me to come along. I’ve lost just under three stone so far without having to change too much about my lifestyle. December as a whole derailed things slightly as I stopped paying attention to what I was eating and indulged way too much, but I’m gradually getting back into it. I still have five more stone to go but I know I can do it if I put in a modicum of effort.
  • I’m still working at the job I started in February 2015 and they seem keen to keep me on as long as funding permits. This year I also took the plunge and registered on a tutoring website, only to be recruited shortly after by a local tutoring centre. This has been a real learning curve and I still have to work on becoming a better tutor, in particular my organisation skills and confidence, but it’s been enjoyable. Another big development was starting a new volunteering role at the Science Museum and realised that what I do there is the sort of thing I’d like to do as a career. (This is the other thing that has made me re-evaluate what I put on this blog. I never post anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable with potential employers reading, but I think I’d rather have my science communication and creative stuff front and centre instead of my mental health ramblings.)
  • I took two university exams, one in June as planned and one in September because I had a panic attack during my first try. I scored Pass 2s (2:1) in both of them, which puts me in a good position for this, my final year. I think I’ll probably end up with a Pass 2, which I’m not happy about because I know I could do better and I’ve really let myself down, but it will be enough to get onto a masters course in 2018.
  • Plus, lots of meeting up with friends, enjoying the fourth year of my relationship, knitting, good books, films, food and other stuff along the way.

So, all in all, even though 2016 has been a bad year for many people I know and the world as a whole, it’s been quite positive for me. I regularly consider how lucky I am in so many ways even if there are things about my life that I wish I could change.

I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions, though I am considering what I’ll be focusing on in January and moving from there. I do have a few big things I’d like to achieve next year – graduating, getting a job and reaching my target weight – but I need to think about the systems I need to put into place rather than concentrating on the goals (thanks to someone at the Science Museum for this insight). The month-by-month resolutions I tried last year worked really well until I got derailed by exam stress, so I’ll probably try this again on a smaller scale.

Thank you for reading! I hope that 2016 has brought you at least some good things and that 2017 will bring many more.

Hello (again)

“Mixed Media Installation by Peter Liversidge: Hello, 2013 (58 Light bulbs, powder coated steel, motion activated sensor)” / Ingleby Gallery / Art Basel Hong Kong 2013 / SML.20130523.EOSM.03963

Long time, no blog!

At first it was my exams that kept me from writing, but more recently it’s been just a general sense of apathy and lack of motivation. Also, to be honest, what I really want to talk about isn’t necessarily prime blog material. I’m continuing to deal with the aftermath of being abused as a child and young adult and realising how much it has affected me. I did have a significant week recently: on Monday I shared my story with a group of 16 and 17 year olds, on Thursday I spoke with a friend for the first time about it, and on Friday I used the word “abuse” for the first time to describe what happened to someone in particular.

At times it feels all-consuming, but keeping busy definitely makes me feel more like a person than simply a victim. The problem is my lack of motivation makes keeping busy quite a bit more difficult! I’ve done a couple of interesting things recently, at least. The first is fulfilling a long-time ambition: volunteering at the Science Museum. I’m working as a Learning Activity Volunteer and so far have helped with storytelling sessions and workshops, including testing one of the latest activities before it “went live”. I also get asked where the toilets are quite a bit. It’s pretty cool.

I’ve also started doing Slimming World. I attended my first group session on the 4th of July, with the encouragement of a fellow member and ex-colleague, and since then have officially lost 1 stone and 2 pounds. My ultimate goal is to lose 8 stone in total, so I’m one seventh of the way there! I’m finding the programme quite easy to follow in general, though I have struggled a bit today – because of this blog post, actually, because thinking about the bad stuff that’s happened in the past tends to make me comfort eat. I’ve managed to resist that urge on quite a number of other occasions though, so I’m quite pleased. Previously I was just using My Fitness Pal to log all my calories, but that was a bit of a pain because I cook from scratch so much and would have to add in everything individually. Slimming World helps give my meals a bit more structure to work with than just “here’s 1400 calories for the day, use them however”. I think the key thing for me has been the group setting – going it alone means I don’t have any accountability and struggle with the motivation to keep going, but the group helps me keep on the straight and narrow. I was hesitant at first as it costs £5 a week to attend, but I’m probably saving more than that by not buying junk food any more. I would definitely recommend it as a sensible way to lose weight, as long as you are able to understand and follow the principles.

My exams were a mixed bag. I ended up getting a Pass 2 for S283 (I only got a Pass 3 in the exam, but my TMA marks pulled the final grade up). Unfortunately I had a panic attack in S383 and couldn’t complete it, but thankfully I’ve been granted a resit in September. I was hoping to be very organised and do loads of studying for that, as well as starting on my new modules, but that hasn’t really happened.

When you’ve experienced difficulties as a direct result of someone else’s actions it’s very hard to strike a balance between taking responsibility for yourself and acknowledging that the other person acted very poorly and you’ve suffered as a result. In the past I’ve gone too far towards the former, basically letting the adults who mistreated me off the hook because oh, they were depressed and couldn’t deal with their feelings and therefore can’t be blamed for taking them out on someone who wouldn’t fight back, even though I know that depression doesn’t work like that. but when you start do the acknowledging that you’ve been badly treated it’s very easy to just get angry. I think I could have achieved Pass 1s in all my modules so far without too much effort if I hadn’t had all this other stuff to deal with. That makes me feel angry, but at the same time I need to take control of my own life. It all ends up being very frustrating. At the very least I can be happy that I’m not going to repeat the same things that were done to me. It really isn’t that hard to not abuse someone, particularly a child.

Anyway, I’m not really sure how to end this post, but I hope I’ll be back to writing regularly soon.