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!!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Into double figures and the cold sweats have ceased......

It's been a week and a half and not checking Facebook is actually feeling normal by now. I did, on autopilot, open a tab for BBC News, and type "f", hit the down arrow and smashed that Enter key before I knew what I was doing - happily I obviously logged out so I just got the Log In page - but I found it funny that I'm so conditioned I can end up on the page without actually making a conscious decision to do so. See what I mean? Compulsive! But I have to say, FB is trying to convince me it's not just one-sided:

Hurting poor FB's feelings aside, there are a couple of things I feel have changed a little...

Stupid as it may sound, it's quite nice to be reminded that things I do are no less enjoyable because I don't post them on FB for everyone to see. I don't know if anyone else does this but I suspect some people do, but I've been struck by the amount of times I've thought about the best way I could phrase a status to sum up the utter fun-ness of something I am in the process of doing - thus most likely detracting from the actual fun-ness I want to share (boast) about experiencing... I have eye-rolled at myself a good number of times over the last eleven days.

Of all the things I might have posted about, here are the ones I actually remember (and hence maybe the best ones?!):

Jenny Jones did amazingly well, but I can't stop thinking about poor Alain Baxter who got our ACTUAL first medal on snow in 2002, but got it taken away because he used a Vick's Inhaler he bought in the US.

I didn't think I would like anyone less than Owen Patterson but Eric Pickles is making a damned fine run for it!

I'm re-watching Firefly and would like to state the point that it was probably the best series ever cancelled.

I got home from a night out at 9 am and consequently, happily, was NOT up for the Ireland-Wales game... I guess what had happened when I got a text from my mum saying, simply; "Oops!"

My GP was well impressed at my Vitamin D levels - and I'm not anaemic! WOOOP!

I hate builders so so so much - This one I'm actually going to go one better on and post a full account tomorrow about Prescient Builders who've possibly messed up so bad that they may have compromised the structural integrity of my house.

I also have definitely been less likely to distract myself before getting out and doing something, but this effect has been somewhat reduced by the fact that I've become a bit addicted to a bloody game on my Lumia called "Kingdoms and Lords" which is basically a bit like what I assume Farmville and all those other irritating, FB-notification-spawning games to be like. It is fiendishly addictive but tremendously irritating as it's obsessively trying to make me recruit my friends to it (pyramid selling, anyone?) and also, gameplay is severely limited if you're not willing to pony up actual cash for diamonds, You can get them without paying for them, but at such a ridiculously slow rate that they're almost pointless. Yet I am still addicted. Touché, Gameloft.

Right-o. The sun is shining - I'm taking the hound out for a wander, after I've supplemented the banana which is all I've eaten so far. And to the cinema later, which is something I've not done in ages - hooray for real-life socialising!

Until  tomorrow - and a post which will consist of irate ranting. Can. Not. Wait.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Day Three of the Great oh-Fourteen February Facebook Freeze

So - how is it going?

Well. Day one was rubbish. I had a very difficult day in which I was told I had done things that I have not and would never and spent the day feeling frustrated and under attack. I kept thinking in FB status updates - some pretty passive-aggressive ones that I would never actually post. But also, I found I really wanted to log on just to see notifications and be reassured that there are all you hundreds of people out there that know me and wouldn't level ridiculous accusations at me. I was really interested that already I can start to see the more profound role that FB has taken in my life - it genuinely did feel like craving. It didn't help that I just didn't get out, although that was partly that the rugby was on and it was raining - a totally legitimate excuse for a sofa day! Although I briefly considered writing my thoughts on post-its and sticking them up on an actual wall. My immediate reaction to this was "you bloody idiot!". My secondary was "couldn't that be considered an art project?!"

Ultimately, I took the much more constructive step and spoke to one of my besties, Andrew, for about an hour and a half, in which he happily ranted, but rationally, on my behalf which was about the best balm I could have had. He also told me that I need to stop thinking that I can make anyone understand anything by explaining things logically. I think of all of my fundamental beliefs this might be the hardest to rid myself of.

Sunday I pre-empted any navel-gazing by packing my day as full as I possibly could - starting with a "Bokwa" class at 10.45 (this is basically a dance class in which you get taught moves that apparently equate to tracing letters out on the floor, but in a way devised by an incurably energetic spacehopper who has probably never seen actual letters and numbers, and whose knowledge is largely description-based, developed after consumption of one of those huge cafetieres of full-strength coffee. Also, the instructor knew less moves than most participants in the class, and hence her hour got hijacked for a considerable period. There were 3 of us who were actually learners so I wasn't the only Year 7 kid watching the cool sixth-formers practise their totally rad dance moves, running a dangerously high rick of accidentally smashing into a wall whilst trying to do a "four"....). This was followed to a visit to the lovely allotment which I have been lucky enough to get in on, and the community garden, from which I made off with a bunch of lovely kale (it was going to waste!!). Haven't even done any work and the plot's already yielding bounty! Then a couple of hours down the beach with Aimee & Rico and, of course, Alfie. Rico is so lovely and he makes me feel so happy when he's so full up of excitement that some of it has to come out as barks. Warms the very cockles of my heart!! N.b.: Aims is not so keen on this behaviour because she is a responsible dog owner, and so very sensibly discourages it.

Then came my first counselling session which was interesting. I hate explaining negative things to people. I feel like I'm giving them a ridiculous litany of woe. I keep trying to crowbar in positive things or saying "it's not so bad as I'm making out!" which is a bit ridiculous, if I think about it. I guess that means I've already got something to work on....

Anyway, I felt pretty wrecked afterwards but luckily for me I have this malleable tangled ball of fur and sand to cuddle:

Friday, 31 January 2014

One step beyond....

I knew I'd get some response but I didn't expect quite so many - on top of comments I have had almost 40 people contact my through email/text/messages/whatsapp, all overwhelmingly positive and supportive so thank you SO MUCH! Lots of really good suggestions but mostly, people telling me that they share a lot my experiences. I knew that depression was quite widespread but there's a difference between knowing it and so many, very different, people telling me: "I know where you are and it gets better". Of the personal recommendations of things that worked for people, counselling was definitely up there, but then other things like CBT, mindfulness, taking up an activity to occupy your hands, like knitting or origami, painting rooms, getting outside, screaming if you need to, amusing animal videos....

Also this interesting piece about the why constant access to the internet can ultimately end up making things more difficult.

I have already actively made some choices: I'm attending my first counselling session on Sunday evening, and I've found myself a friend in search of an allotment buddy! I've been thinking about allotments for a while but I know I would find it too hard to run a whole one on my own - but this is a marvellous opportunity and I'm so excited about it! Even just the act of writing my last post means that it makes it infinitely easier to ask for help when I feel I need it, because I don't need to bring up & explain the awkward subject of why I need help in the first place.

Thank you so much in proving to me once again the amazing friends I have and the wonderful people I've been fortunate enough to surround myself with over the years. I'm going to print out all your messages and emails and read through them when I need to. And I might.... I think I joined FB in 2005, so this will be my longest time without it in over 8 years, which is a pretty terrifying fact in itself!

Don't do anything too fun while I'm away, will you.....?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Facebook Free February


(Deep breath).

I am depressed.

I don't mean; "I'm very sad" or "Sherlock has ended" or "Tesco were out of Sauvignon Blanc". I mean, I'm currently in a place where I stare at the world and all I see is things I cannot do. Most of these things are things that, logically speaking, I can do. Like working a 9-5 day, or cleaning my house, or sorting out wayward builders, or walking Alfie, or deciding on the direction of my research, formulating a plan, and following that plan, or going out with my friends. Or getting rid of the piles of stuff in my house which were my dad's that I've been carting around for almost 5 years with no idea what to do with (this last point my mum has very kindly helped me out with by attacking it with an undaunted vigour, and just left me the simple stuff, like Freecycling the Freecycle stuff, eBaying the eBay stuff, and dumping the rubbish - I still have not been able to finish this). Every now and then when I think of all these things, I start to feel tight-chested and sick and there is a roaring in my ears. Sometimes when I'm walking down the road, I feel like something dreadful is about to happen to me, and I will not have the energy to fight. For a fortnight I couldn't sleep until the early hours, and even after ten hours sleep, sometimes I would wake up and be too exhausted to make myself some breakfast. I feel stupid and like I have no concentration span - that might be a surprise to a lot of people, but I spend most of my time feeling like a thick idiot and I just don't feel that I can retain the useful information that I need. I have to go through my friends person by person and prove to myself that they actually like me and aren't just putting up with me. Also; I have a note from the doctor.

Yes; I do know how lucky I am. I don't think I deserve better - in fact, I often think my family deserves a better person than me. I have so much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for, and dramatic as it might sound; those fact have saved my life. And I feel ashamed for not being able to buck up my ideas and get on with the business of life, as everyone else seems to be able to do. Up until the point my GP responded to my first sentence, I was sure she was going to tell me to get out and stop wasting her time. But I am here and I have tried and it has not worked; so I need to do something different.

Inasmuch as it can be broken down: obviously the main reason is that I still miss my dad terribly. Every single day I want to speak to him. In 2013, both my dad's father and uncle died, leaving so little of my family left. Kevin died five years ago in May, and only now is his inquest going to be held - but I still don't know when. For the last 3 months it's been "within the next few weeks". I thought it was going to be fine but as we edge closer but still haven't had it, I think about it all the time. There is just the basic reason that I have a family history of depression. The stress of owning a house by myself and having lots of decisions that are ultimately my own has not helped. I can't even make simple decisions without mulling them over and weighing up the pros and cons. There are lots of other things that I won't go into here. I imagine not doing enough exercise is playing a big role; but I've learnt that there's a big difference between knowing why something is happening and being able to stop it from happening.

Everything came to a head last week when I had breakfast with a friend of my mum's and listed all the things that I was stressed about in my normal pragmatic way. Then I spoke to my colleague whose father died suddenly recently, and all the horror and gaping chasm of reality I felt when Kevin died came looming up in front of me again. It's not the first time I've cried in the Combustion Lab but it is the first time I've had a witness. Then I spoke to my secondary supervisor and was barely in my seat before he was hurriedly getting me a box of tissues. We both came the the conclusion that I am not actually able to handle this myself, and need medical help. This sounds horrific, but actually, after at least a year of struggling this feels like a blessed relief.

There are a lot of things I'm going to do; predominantly organising some counselling, stop telling the people that care that things are "fine", shoehorn exercise back into my routine, prove to myself that I'm not totally inept, eating better, do things that make me happy.

Another thing I'm doing is; I'm giving up Facebook for a month. The shortest month of the year, but still. There are two big reasons for this: Time, and "brainspace".

1. Time: Even if I was able to measure it, I would be ashamed to admit the amount of time I waste on Facebook. Not just when I'm sitting in front of the TV, or on a train, or otherwise occupied, but times when I should be working, or when I could go out, or have house tasks to get on with. It's not just on FB, it's all the flipping links I click on whilst on there, which leads to the issue of attention; or as I'm just brashly going to call it, with no courtesy to neurology, brainspace...

2. Brainspace: I'm genuinely interested on how people's lives are going, and read tonnes of blogs etc. that people post, get involved in discussions that I know something about - but I never stop to ask myself how all the things I read are useful to me. Sure, they are interesting, but reading a blog about why Macklemore & Ryan Lewis didn't deserve the Grammy but Kendrick Lamar did, or why Miley Cyrus twerking is so bad, or so good, and what Sinead O'Connor thinks about the matter, or the various sides of the 20-year-old allegations of abuse against Woody Allen or BLOODY CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS USING THE SAME DISPROVED ARGUMENTS OVER AND OVER... ahem. But........ how does that improve my life?! It just gives me more bloody decisions to make! It's just too much information and that stresses me out. I feel like I want to know everything (except maybe anything about Hollyoaks/TOWIE/Posh version of TOWIE/Welsh version of TOWIE/Geordie version of TOWIE/American versions of TOWIE and Embarrassing Bodies....), and it's hard to accept that I can't. My mum made a very interesting point earlier: that taking on more information is a very effective way of ignoring the things you need to work on if you're depressed.

Also, counter-intuitively, I think FB has made me feel more lonely, as is very well described in this video by Shimi Cohen.

So that's it. For February. We'll see how it goes, but I have to be honest, I'm pretty scared. I think I'm going to miss out on tonnes of information, at least some of which will be valuable to me. Most of my social life is organised through FB so it'll be interesting trying to make sure I actually know what's going on. And all those cute pictures of animals, goddamnit!