Tuesday, 17 July 2018


TL:DR Summary: There are a lot of nice things about the FitBit Charge 2 but they don't make up for the substandard construction and the fact it is sold as having features which are not actually fully available to all users.

First post in an absolute age! I've not really been very successful at training for much for the past couple of years; depression, anxiety, tiredness, busy-ness.... all of these conspired to take me off the trail and onto the sofa. However, I decided that 2018 was going to be my year to pull it back before I hit the literal middle of my 30s. And I've achieved a lot, I'm pretty pleased with myself which is not a familiar feeling for me. I am going to write more positive posts later about what's worked for me and how & why I think things have improved.

But why not start on a slightly negative note?! After all, that way, things can only move on up.

Let's talk about fitness trackers.

Early in the year, I made, what for me was, a big choice to invest in a fitness tracker. Big, because I basically work for myself and have very little in the way of cashflow. Apparently, starting a social enterprise doesn't make you rich, so dropping £100+ on something means I have to go without something else. That's obviously fine, if the benefits outweigh the cost, so I made sure to do my due diligence I put some time into research, and the FitBit Charge 2 seemed to fit best with what I wanted namely:
  • Step counting
  • Activity monitoring
  • Heart rate recording
  • GPS tracking (through your phone)
  • Partial phone notifications
  • And crucially; Windows Phone connectivity
(Aside: for what it's worth, I know the snort of derision you just let out. I hear it every day and tbh I'm kind of over it. Yeah, I've still got a Windows Phone - why the.... why would I waste the resources (both mine and the world's) on getting a new phone when I have one that functions well? Basically the only reason is: app writers don't write apps for my phone any more - that's not my phone's fault. We're mates, we've been through a lot together. 20 years straight with a Nokia phone; it'll be a difficult break when it happens. /end rant)

Aiight so the Charge 2: pretty enamoured with it, for a few hours. Before I launch into the moaning, let me lay out some general likes & dislikes.....

I like:
  1. The app
  2. The range of activities covered
  3. Auto-detection of exercise (especially for walking)
  4. The silent alarms/notifications
  5. The hourly notifications to move
  6. Active minutes tracking (mostly)
  7. Sleep-tracking, though I'm not sure how much I trust it
  8. Battery life is decent
  9. Reasonable accuracy of HR detection - at slower rates anyway

I dislike: 
  1. The heart-rate monitoring "tops out" at a certain level, maybe about 177 bpm, which I definitely go above when training really hard. Perhaps this is due to sampling errors, or maybe the tracker can't believe my heart can work that hard and still function (SURPRISE FitBit, this heart is an absolute beast) 
  2. The fact it records steps when you're asleep (what??)... only like 20-50 but still, how difficult is it to NOT record steps when the tracker think you're sleeping??
  3. The ridiculous number of extra steps it records when I'm getting dressed or folding stuff - we're talking a couple of hundred if I've got a couple of loads of washing to fold
  4. Proprietary charger means you gotta remember to take your one charger with you or end up with data-less days (and a data-less day is a sad day for Angries)


Despite its claims it does NOT have full WP connectivity, so I was basically mis-sold it. It does connect to update the app, but it cannot use the phone's GPS for activity tracking or phone notifications. When I raised the issue I was told they were working on it and it could well be fixed (spoiler alert: it hasn't been), and I was given a 6 month subscription to FitBit premium which is kind of pointless after about a day. I don't really get why anyone would pay the monthly fee for this service - mostly what I get out of it is a daily total from calories-from-activity, which would really be better that the calories-from-time-in-heart-rate-zones available on the app.

In addition to not being able to track using GPS, there is no way to alter the length of your running gait, so FitBit underestimates my running distances by around 10-20% (I know this because I have to wear my trusted Garmin Forerunner 410 as well for running or cycling if I've any interest in distances covered).

I could have put up with that happily though. I'm used to a crappier service from everyone. Really the only issue here i that I felt FitBit had purposefully mis-led me.

But then.

Within 3 months, the screen had cracked.
10th May - after purchasing on 29th January

17th July - cracks more pronounced and strap coming apart

Now - at less than 6 months old - the strap is coming apart, the screen has continued to crack, it's less responsive to finger taps (which is how it's controlled), it no longer gives me details of activities after I've finished them and I'm pretty sure it's underestimating my steps by around 10%. It's DEFINITELY underestimating the number of floors I've climbed, and I'm worried about it getting at all splashed because that could be the end of it. Not being funny, but these things should be supposed to last for years.

When I raised this issue with FitBit, I was told in no uncertain terms that this was NOT covered because this was user damage - it is not; no specific impact caused this to happen - or wear & tear. Let me just lay it out: if this sort of damage is counted as wear & tear within 3 months, this has not been designed with sufficient resilience for the purpose for which it's intended. In refusing to accept this, FitBit have effectively said that a) I am lying and/or b) they have not used sufficiently hard-wearing materials or design. Given that this is a fitness tracker, likely to be worn by active people, which they literally advise you to wear as much as you can, and that I do not have a particularly hard-wearing life and if I do activities like DIY which are more likely to result in damage, I take care to protect the tracker, or - more usually - take it off..... given all this, I think it's beyond unreasonable to shirk any responsibility for mis-selling a piece of kit.

They wouldn't budge - they had the gall to offer me a discount off a new tracker, but couldn't tell me why I'd buy something else from them when my only purchase so far has proved so disappointing.

Basically.... it has helped my fitness but I kind of wish I hadn't been effectively forced into choosing a FitBit and instead had been able to go with a Garmin. Obviously my next phone will not be Windows system at which point I'll have free choice, but I'll definitely be going with another make.

All-in-all; I'm not surprised FitBit are losing their lions' share of the fitness tracker market if they consider the Charge 2 to be a decent piece of wearable fitness for anyone with a vaguely active life.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Great Jettison - emotional catharsis through physical catharsis!

Last year, as a Christmas present, I unashamedly asked for a pretty valuable gift. I asked my mum to gift me some of her time to help me sort through some of the mountain of stuff I have in my house that I don't want.

It's difficult to describe the effect that owning so much stuff has on me. I inherited an awful lot of things from my dad. He died on the 29th May, 2009, and I spent a large part of the subsequent summer trying to sort through his belongings, but there was just do much, it was impossible for me to do, despite the amazing help I got from so many friends. Eventually, when I'd reached my limit in both time and effort, I hired a removal van and stuck it all in storage. When I moved into my house a little over four years ago, I moved all this stuff in. I've been slowly sorting through it, and every now and then I have a bit of a breakthrough, and I feel a little more space.

But last Christmas, I still had so much stuff. The problem is, I feel the need (and I mean, I NEED) to sort through it before getting rid of it. Then I have to decide what to do with it - throwing things away is an absolute last resort (often a necessary resort, but still). So I have to sort things into sell (sub categories: eBay, carboot), give away (sub categories: friends, charity shops, freecycle), re-use (scraps of cloth, wood, metal - could well be useful!), and then recycling (sub categories: collection or dump).... and very last, bloody bin it. And that's just deciding what I should do, let alone actually getting on and listing, posting, packing, going to a carboot, giving away..... So getting my mum in with her disinterested viewpoint was a real boon. I had a big breakthrough, I got rid of quite a few things - but this seemed to pull out some vital stone in a wall I didn't realise I'd built, and promptly lead to a depressive episode. At the time, this felt horrible, as anyone who read this blog or spoke to me at the time will know, but ultimately it was a good thing. I hit rock bottom - but this gave me a platform from which to push off. It's been a journey, and I'm still occasionally stumbling, but the last year has seen some important changes - I'm still in counselling, I gave up my PhD, I got involved with Riverside Sourdough - something I love and truly believe in. I've slowly learnt that all the hallmarks of success and happiness that I thought I should be aiming for are not necessarily the ones that will actually make me happy.

This is the main theme of "Everything that Remains", a memoir by The Minimalists, which my friend Sally suggested I read as part of her new online book group (join in on Instagram! #pageturners #readcreateshare). A lot of it wasn't applicable to me (I do not have an insatiable need to buy new things, I don't always want new gadgets, I can't remember the last time I bought an item of clothing (bar socks and pants) at full price - most of my stuff comes from charity shops!). But, yes, I have inherited a lot of stuff.

I feel almost like a custodian, with a responsibility divvy it out the best I can. But that is a herculean task when you know how much of a collector my Dad was, and that's not even counting my Grandpa, whose stuff I have inherited after his death in September 2013. My dad's sister is still around, but there has been a massive breakdown in communication, and it doesn't seem there is a way to sort things out reasonably, without me being subject to accusations, including stealing from my Grandpa's dead body or whatever else she sees fit to make up and bandy about to anyone who will listen to her (a group which has pretty much diminished to zero members). All that is to come, and while I hope it will be easier that my dad's stuff, I am still terrified of letting go of some precious family relics. The worst thing is, all these relics.... I don't even know what they are, but I would still find it nigh on impossible to chuck away photographs, diaries, letters..... I know this may not make sense to everyone, but I've been brought up by a hoarder (sorry Dad, it's true) and it's not easy to break those early-learnt behaviours.

The authors, Joshua Fields Milburn & Ryan Nicodemus, made some really good points - a big one that I've taken away is to ask "does this add value to my life?" which is great in a lot of situations, but often I find that is a difficult judgement to make. Also, the main author really quite brushed over getting rid of his mum's stuff - he didn't even mention what happened to her dog! But as a direct result of reading this book, I've set myself small tasks. The first was to sort things into: eBay, Freecycle, car boot, and then begin to act on the first two. The carbooting will have to wait for a couple of weeks, but everything that comes back from that will either go straight to donating to charity shops, or if I enjoyed the experience and have a small number of items left that I still think someone would like. I'll head to a different market. The great thing is, once you start getting rid of stuff, the catharsis that results and the space and order that it inevitably leaves behind is such a big motivator that actually I start enjoying getting rid of things. But it's always good to let people know of your intentions and think that there might be someone who's tracking your progress, so with that in mind, here are some pictures of the first wave. (Well, almost.... Mum 'helped' me clear out my wardrobe recently, so a whole bin bag went to London to be sorted through by my sister and her friends.


Post-sort: The eBay pile is front-centre, the Freecycle box front left, and the car-boot/else-wise pile behind

The starting point - Freecycle-a-go-go!

But the main thing I took from the book can be summed up in this quote:

"These days, I have little desire for new material possessions (although that baleful yearning still lingers from time to time), but I do want to be successful. And success for me has little to do with money, or possessions, or status. Rather, success is a simple equation: Happiness + Growth + Contribution = Success. That's the only kind of success I know. Hence I want to partake in work that makes me happy, work that encourages me to grow, work that helps me contribute beyond myself. Ultimately, I want to create more and consume less. Doing so requires real work"

I have had some moments of self-doubt since jumping off the track I was on - have I made the right decision? What am I doing with my life? Where will this lead me? Can I still consider myself a valuable member of society? Reading this brilliant book, and especially what is says along the above lines, helps me to appreciate that I can uncouple success with what I thought I should be doing, and just focus on things that actually bring me really joy, contentment, satisfaction and - yeah, growth. Mainly into all that space I'm creating by shifting my stuff!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Dear Scotland, from Wales

Dear Scotland,

Hey mate. Sorry we haven't chatted properly in a while. We've both been pretty busy, I guess. You with your brilliant Commonwealth Games (well done, btw - you did a bang-up job!) and me with those world leaders that came to visit. So I thought I'd write you a quick letter to say some of the things I want to.

I know you're thinking about leaving, and obviously, it's totally your choice. I do understand why. England sometimes acts as though, because its Mum owns the house, it's in charge. And whenever its annoyingly loud little brother London comes round, it acts like this is his home, and England just quietly mumbles behind its back. I think we all know that London is the favourite child, anyway. And I know there's that massive utilities bill that we're all having to pay now, which was without a doubt mostly London's fault that time it came to stay and got steamingly drunk every day, on both its own power and also, I suspect, a large amount of Carling Black Label, and just started pissing all over things and leaving the kettle on. That wasn't cool. Also, I know how frustrating it is when everyone else refers to the house as "England's" and totally forgets that it's the UK (Uber Koolz)'s.

But we've had some great times! Do you remember that cracking party we had in 2012, with all the sports? It was so much fun! And your mates, like Chris and Andy, they came and made it a party to remember. Yeah, it would've been a good party without you, but it was a life-changing party with you.

I know the idea of living on your own is mega-enticing, but what if you can't find a nice place? What if it's damp? What if the front door sticks? At least you know the problems you've got in this house. And who knows, maybe England might actually take our concerns a bit more seriously now it knows you're serious about getting out.

I know if you went I'd probably get a bigger room. But I think England would sulk a lot, and there'd be no gaining control of the remote. It'd be reality and faux-reality shows until I die of TOWIE overdose! And England will probably eat all my Caerphilly and only buy mild Cheddar :-/. Maybe Northern Ireland would come down from the attic room once in a while. Maybe the Isle of Man would actually come in from that weird shed it's been living in. But it just wouldn't be the same. You and I come from pretty similar backgrounds, and I really enjoy living with you.

But like I said, it's your choice. If you really want to leave, I'll totally respect that. You're great, and I hope you find somewhere that you deserve. Somewhere Enlightening (see what I did there?!). And if you go, can I please come round for a monthly telly-night? If it goes well for you, maybe I'll start looking as well.

I just wanted to write this to you so you know how I feel. Best of luck with your difficult decision, lovely.

Your loving housemate,



Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Why I gave up my PhD after almost 4 years

Today, I had a meeting with my supervisor, for which I felt I had to write a letter, because I wouldn't be able to say the things I wanted to. In it, I told him that I didn't think it was feasible that I continue with my PhD, so I wanted to walk away. 

As many of my friends will know, I was diagnosed with depression in January. Depression, as I'm sure you all know, can be a difficult thing to get diagnosed, but suffice to say, I think I'd probably been suffering for a good while; at least a year but potentially longer. I have worked hard over the last few months to "heal" myself, and most of the time, I've been feeling better. But over the last couple of months, during which I've been trying to get back to work, I've felt like I've been on a downward slope. One of the things that made me realise how insurmountable an obstacle this was was the utter dread I felt in coming back from Scotland last week. For the first time I realistically considered the prospect of walking away, and it soon became obvious to me that this was the best option available. 

My PhD has been difficult from the start; my industrial sponsors pulled out, thus deriving me of any kind of external framework, and I could no longer expect the industrial experience that I had been happily anticipating. So a few months in I had to redefine what I was going to research, with my supervisor and I coming up with the plan to carry out the work on a specific type of furnace. We were very lucky, and managed to source one of these furnaces for free, but we had to deconstruct, transport, and reconstruct it. The time it took to get this furnace up and running was over a year, and it was longer than that before I started my own work on it. The capabilities of the furnace and associated equipment proved significantly less than I was hoping, and I was a matter of months away from my first (3 year) deadline. During this time was the first time I sought help for what I felt to be depression, but despite speaking to a counsellor I was not diagnosed. She gave me tips on time management. Steadily my motivation was draining away, and the constant small failures of not gathering results fast enough, not doing the tasks I'd set for myself, not advancing my work fast enough, led to a really quite toxic cycle of vitriolic self-criticism and inability to do anything about it. 
The actual issues I faced with my work would not have been insurmountable, were it not for the external issues I was facing in my private life, with the still-continuing fall-out of Kevin's death, his inquest and unwanted responsibilities in my grandpa's ill health and death, my aunt abusing her position of authority in my grandpa's affairs and effectively casting me out of "her" family because I wouldn't back down when she wanted to inherit more of my his money, one of my best friends becoming chronically ill, stressful home-ownership issues, and faulty brain chemistry; and then all the boring tribulations that any life well-lived brings. I went to speak to a woman in social sciences who has seen it all as regards PhD students, and we she said to me "I'm not surprised you've lost motivation; I'm surprised you manage to get out of bed every day!".

I had been feeling so much better, so I thought I would be able to make the PhD work, but as I began to assess how much work I would do, I would get a ringing noise in my ears and it felt like part of me would shut down in panic. I wasn't using my time constructively, outside of the time I'd allotted to working in the bakery I've become involved with. This had all been the case for a while, but the thing that made me make up my mind once and for all was the tragic death of Robin Williams. I tried not to read too much around it, because, to be frank, I'm miserable enough with the state of the world. But I did read a couple of articles about the reporting of depression-linked suicides in the media, and the statement "depression can be a fatal disease" made me feel a bit sick because to be brutally honest, and this is incredibly hard for me to admit, the horrible voice inside my head had questioned the point of continuing to struggle at all when the alternative would be so much easier for me. I'm given to understand that, contrary to what I've believed for years, vivid thoughts of harming oneself are not in fact normal when you're upset and stressed. So since I couldn't make myself feel better about my situation, I decided to change it. It was an incredibly difficult choice, and yes, I do feel like a quitter, and a failure, but I also feel that it takes a big person to admit they've made a mistake. I truly believe it is the right thing for me, and I look forward to having a fresh page on which to make my next decisions.

I want to thank all my wonderful friends to whom I've spoken in the last couple of days, for being so supportive, and not letting me feel like a failure! You're all my rock and I've so lucky to have you, especially Mum, Penny, Rhys, Sally, Sophie, Lizzy, Ceri and two Kates (D and K!).

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The art of moving on

What a day. Within a month of the 5-year anniversary of Kevin's death, we finally had the inquest. Many of you will know the story, but for all those who don't know; my wonderful father died suddenly and tragically in a hot air balloon accident in Turkey, on the 29th of May, 2009. He largely brought me up, and we were incredibly close. Not only to me, but he also was a dad to both of my sisters, who have different fathers, he was my mother's best friend despite not having been a couple for 23 years, and his death left many of us terribly adrift. Quite simply, he was adored.

I was coming back from a night out in Brisbane, where I was living, and our very good friend John called me to tell me he'd been contacted by The Daily Mail to ask him for information about my dad after his death. After a few moments of complete disbelief, I felt like someone and hit some critical spot at the centre of my entire being, and I had exploded out into thousands of different pieces. It's five years later, and I still don't feel that all of those pieces have re-coalesced, and losing both Kevin's dad and uncle last year, along with finally having the inquest, have really brought many of those desperately sad and hopeless feelings I thought I'd got rid of to the fore again. So really, the last few months have been a case of really trying to solder myself back together and be the person I know he would want to have left in the world.

The inquest itself was, for the most part, boring and bureaucratic. Whilst I'm frustrated at how long it's taken, I can't fault Swansea Coroners' Court - they have been awaiting information from Turkish authorities, and response from the pilots involved, and details from their interviews with the police following the accident, none of which have been forthcoming. The finding of the inquest was basically thus: his death was accidental. The basket of the balloon above collided with the actual balloon ("envelope") of the one he was in, tearing it and resulting in it dropping like a stone about 150 metres to the rocky ground below. My father was killed, one person was permanently paralysed, and a number of people, included my dad's partner Juliet, were severely injured and still suffer almost constant pain and lifestyle-limiting injuries. The accident likely occurred as the result of two balloons being too close together, because they took off very close both in distance and in time. They couldn't say which balloon "went in" to the other, because both pilots declined to attend the inquest, which is fairly discouraging. There have been criminal proceedings in Turkey, but the conclusions of these were not made available to the coroner It was postulated that the balloons were so close together so as to allow the tourists in the different balloons to take pictures of one another when at altitude. So basically: my dad probably died for keepsake pictures.Sometimes, it's not easy not to be bitter.

But he was, in so many ways, the person I want to be, and he would do his best to eschew all bitterness. So that's what I strive for as well.

So this is a special day for his memory, and as part of that I'd like to include what I wrote as his eulogy and read at his funeral:

From the moment I came in to the world, Kevin was always there for me. I doubt if there was anyone more born to be a father. He listened when I read through “Little Red Riding Hood” for the first time, and he proof-read my essay postulating the existence of Dark Matter. From introducing me to the concept of angular velocity on a roundabout in Agnes Riley Gardens one summer’s afternoon after nursery, to watching me collect my physics degree 20 years later in Bath. From picking me up when I was too drunk to walk home, to being a spectator at my cricket match the following day. Watching continuous episodes of “Firefly” with me when I was dumped on Valentine’s day, supporting me when I couldn’t find work in Australia, through nightmares, bad exam results, good exam results, the bike-crashes, the burns, the illnesses, the screaming fits, the slammed doors, the ambition and the apathy, from the mountain tops to the bottom of the sea – and I mean that literally –he never underestimated me, whilst simultaneously he never failed in being there for me.

I always wanted to do the best by him simply because he always wanted to do the best by me.

More than anyone, he has influenced who I am, my values, my fears, my hopes, passions, bugbears, delights, slightly nerdy leanings, generosity, and empathy. We shared a sense of compassion, a sense of humour and a spirit of adventure, and ultimately a logical and relaxed outlook on life.

I have been prodigiously lucky in being taken on so many of his adventures, both large and small, diving, skiing, climbing, clay-pigeon shooting, windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, the Glastonbury festivals, visiting NASA, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, The Red Sea, The Rockies, and the Alps, right down to the gardening and the road trips, where we would sing the entire Rocky Horror Show album, from memory. 

Kevin was ever unfailing in his enthusiasm and pride in me and himself, with his almost constant smile which I have heard referred to so many times over the last 3 weeks. 

He had an indomitable sense of humour, which was at different times acerbic, witty, or downright slapstick – He was possibly the funniest person I’ve known, and I would like to relate possibly the funniest moment in my entire life; we were in Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps on one of our many skiing holidays. We were walking to dinner, him wearing his big bright blue skiing jacket, when for whatever reason, he decided suddenly to insert his entire head into a roadside snow drift. As I laughed hysterically, trying desperately to continue breathing, I asked “Did you really just do that?” to which he responded “What, this?” and promptly repeated the manoeuvre. As I fell onto the floor, completely incapacitated, he exclaimed “Well, it could be worse, I could have done THIS!”, and proceeded to run slap-bang into a person-height snow drift, leaving a cartoon-esque imprint in it. I can’t recall much after that, except that I had to be bodily lifted off the road because there was a car approaching….

I know that everyone will have their own memories of Kevin, and I would like to urge you, if you so wish, to share them with me, either in the book that we will have at the party this afternoon, or at any point in the future, in the days and years to come.

I would like to conclude by passing on a message to everyone, that I feel my dad would be proud to have as his epitaph, namely; do not, in the course of your lives, forget that you are never too old to learn something new, and you are never, NEVER too old to go on a new adventure.

I miss you so terribly much, Da.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Taking Courage....

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster few weeks. About a fortnight ago the Sertraline began to kick in, and I had a brilliant week. I felt like I was waking up, and remembering what it was like being me. I still felt worried and fearful, but that was put on the backburner, and I actually began to feel like could carry on with my work, and salvage something from the wreckage I feel I've made of my PhD. Wonderful! And this coincided with a meeting with my supervisor, and an evening with some friends, and a wonderful weekend away... Things felt pretty marvellous, actually........ and then came the Monday, and a depressing chat with the joiner who's going to put in my windows about the complete hash job left by the previous builders. There's nothing like a man patronisingly repeating the same upsetting things over and over (I HEARD "dry rot" very clearly the FIRST time. The next 3 times were, at best, superfluous) to really kick the stuffing out of cautious optimism. That was all I needed to send me back to bed for the next 36 hours. Poor Penny - I'm pretty antisocial when I want to be, and therefore pretty crappy to live with at times. Luckily I had an allotment trip planned on the Tuesday afternoon, which forced me to get outside and be active, so happily I was back up to somewhat-reasonable friend on Wednesday. Dizzying heights indeed.

One of the most problematic and insidious things about my on-going struggle with depression is the vacuum where my motivation should be. There are so many things that I want to do, but actually getting started feels impossible. I keep trying, and feeling like I'm crashing up against an invisible wall. I basically find myself offering up distraction after distraction and ultimately whiling away all the available time for whatever task is at hand. This is worst when it comes to work, and ultimately I end up feeling useless, lazy and stupid, with a big handful of other negative impressions of myself thrown in to boot. I try to tell myself that is not who I am, I can point to a great number of examples to prove this, but ultimately that does not matter when standing at the cliff-face of my own certainty that I am, in fact, rubbish. I don't want to turn up to my next meeting and have to admit I haven't done any work, because I cannot adequately explain (to myself or anyone else) why not. How can you explain to someone expecting sound results from cutting edge, novel research that, on some days, just having got out of the house feels like a productive day?! This problem can only be solved by actually cracking on and doing the work I need to, and the only way I can do that is to keep trying, I guess.

I went back to the doctor's for a scheduled appointment  and she said that it's quite common to see an improvement followed by a dip or plateau, and that I was on quite a low dose, so she upped it to 100mg/day - I should see the benefits in another couple of weeks. Obviously I'm continuing with counselling, and this is going very well - It sounds stupid but I'm finally getting the hang of what she's trying to encourage me to do. Basically, letting myself have feelings about things and accepting them for what they are instead of trying to force them into a pragmatic and rational mould. And also letting myself listen to the positive things and not let them be drowned out by the negative. What can I say? It's a journey. I'm taking my lead from the card that my lovely friend Lieke sent me:

Thursday, 6 March 2014

And the take-home message is....

I wish I could say that I've learnt some deeply profound lessons in the last month as the result of my Facebreak (tm)... but would be adopting the same simplistic view I had of the world when, in my early teens, I was convinced adulthood would be an endless adventure, thrilling, exciting and fulfilling at every turn, and not an endless barrage of should-dos, direct debits, difficult personal situations and truculent tradesmen. And I think I have a relatively fun life compared to a lot of people who work A LOT harder than me, either at their jobs or their families.

It has been a month of considerations though. I decided I would try a course of antidepressants so I'm now on 50mg/day of Sertraline, which is an SSRI - which basically means that your brain doesn't absorb seratonin quite as quickly, meaning there's more of that "happy hormone" kicking about. I had a long think about this step, and spoke to people trained in mental health, people who'd had good and not-so-good experiences, I read through my GP's British National Formulary which goes into medical-level detail about treatments for various illnesses, and obviously did my own research. I considered that I have a difficult 6 months ahead, and that I'm having weekly counselling to deal with some of the reasons I ended up where I am, and that I'm taking positive action in other ways to get better, and thought that everything that could help should probably be tried. I started about 10 days ago, and apparently they take 2-3 weeks to kick in, so, besides a pretty persistent low-level nausea which happily has gone now, I haven't noticed any changes as yet.

So the other steps I'm taking are many -

  • I bought a lovely notebook in Edinburgh which I'm using as a journal/notebook of my journey back to the top.
  • Working on my allotment which I now share with the lovely Kate & Vaida - I'm really excited about this as, like I've said previously, I've always wanted an allotment, and OH MY GOSH I MIGHT FINALLY BE SUCCESSFUL WITH PUMPKINS!
  • I'm trying to get out for a reasonable walk (at least 30 mins) with Alfie every day, although he was being very unhelpful in this last week when he very uncharacteristically didn't want to go to the park for 3 days straight last week. He actually behaved on the lead! Very worrying, but luckily he seems to be back to his normal, straining-at-the-lead self. Whew!
  • I'm trying to be more open with people, even if I think there might be some negative effects - I asked someone out a couple of weeks ago! They said no.... you would think that would be pretty rubbish but actually, after a day of feeling a bit glum, it was nice to reflect that, actually, it doesn't really make any difference to me at all - which is satisfying to remember.
  • I'm reading up about mindfulness, which, so far as I've read, is a philosophy of being more present in your everyday life, and not spending quite so much time on autopilot, effectively sleepwalking through your life. One of the core tenets is taking periods of time (They want you to start off with 45 minutes a day, 6 days a week, for 8 weeks.... I have not put aside this much time yet) and simply witting quietly, listening to your breathing and simply being present, instead of thinking about things that have happened, will happen, won't happen, might happen, are happening elsewhere, and letting ones mind relax and take time off the hectic pace which we pretty much all subject ourselves to.
  • I'm trying to stop telling myself what I should be doing, and instead ask: a) what I would like to do and b) what I would like to have done, because I feel like I'm constantly telling myself off for not having done things I think I should have done as a responsible adult. If anyone else did that to me, I would get the <expletive deleted> out of my life.
  • Just saying "yes!" more - I've definitely spent more time with friends in real life during February, more time out, more time talking (actual talking!).... long may it continue!
I guess the biggest thing I've learnt was: I didn't miss Facebook. I never once regretted not being able to go on it, and I considered not logging in again. If I found a reasonable FB-messaging app for my phone (the curse of the Windows phone user....) I might have chosen not to go back. I have spotted myself going to check FB to see who's responded to any posts I've put up - but I find I can just ask myself: "Why, though?" and the answer is normally "dunno...".

I did miss the people, though. I value the relationships I've forged with people very very strongly. But, on that note.... I've also decided to make conscious decisions about who I want in my life, and consider the net effect of individual relationships, and those that come out in the red - considering why I think I need those people. Happily, the vast majority of people I know are heavily in the black - which is just one of the many ways in which I'm actually a <expletive deleted> lucky sod. So to every single person who's messaged me, hugged me, called me, texted me, sent me handmade monkeys (Thanks Sarah :-D), or just let me know that they are there if I need them: thank you so much from the very bottom of my heart. You have buoyed me up when I really needed it, and you really do make life worth living. Go and tell yourselves that you are wonderful!!