Monday, 31 December 2018

2018 - A Year Survived

Hi Everyone

Image result for goodbye 2018

So here we are, on the cusp of a New Year.   I don't believe in the New Year, New Me bollocks, but I do enjoy the looking back and seeing how far I've come (or not) and what that means for the path ahead.

2018 really tried to do me in. It's been a year of challenges, but crucially, a year of survival. It's been a year where depression got lonely, and invited anxiety in as an unruly housemate, and at times this year, that anxiety has been pure terror.  Mentally, I've had some of my worst times this year, but I've also learnt more about how to manage it.

For me, control is quite important.  Well, very important.  Some of the worst times in my life have been when I've been stuck, whilst the best have been when I've been fearless and free. Money is integral to that, and the last few years have taken a huge toll on me financially - if I could do it all again, I definitely would.

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Each month became a financial cringe.  Anxiety about my bank balance left me on a constant seesaw - what was worse, not looking and not knowing, or looking and hating what I saw? I became adept at playing the system (use your credit card before the interest goes on to get a little extra spend out of it) but eventually the margins became tighter and tighter.  It was time to grow up.

So finally, properly, I am living on a budget, with no credit cards.   And it's terrifying.  There is no spare cash for all those lovely little extras that make life fun, and without a partner or savings, there is no safety net either.   Bills increase every month and I haven't had a pay rise in 2 years.  I like that I am surviving, but I hate how scary it is.

Money has caused me a lot of anxiety this year, and as I said, that anxiety has often been pure terror.   I spiral quickly from financial concern to homelessness, and it's sometimes taken every ounce of the little mental strength I have left to keep my mind under control.

Key to my mental survival this year has been Matt Haig, who wrote a brilliant book called Notes On A Nervous Planet.   It's full of truth, perspective and illumination, all in small chapters that the scattered mind can absorb.   It's taught me a lot about myself, particularly destructive thought patterns that I didn't realise I had.   I recommend it to everyone.

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Beth continues to be the centre of my world and a reminder of how fragile the world can make us.   Her teenage challenges are so much more acute than they were in "my day" and I'm really glad I'm not part of her over-digitised generation.  She's probably needed more parenting this year than ever before - but I think we've laughed more too.   Parenthood is a proactive thing. We can't just let our child loose in this world and hope they will be okay.  Yes, allow them freedom, but be concerned and interested in their travels.  And more importantly, CARE.

I also had an epiphany late in the year.   The last 10 years of my life have been tough, certainly not the years I envisaged for myself, and I've realised that I have been so focussed on survival that I have forgotten to focus on LIVING. I'm going to write about this separately because it's such a big topic, but I've become so lost in the struggle, that I literally stopped seeing the wood for the trees.   And the wood can be so pretty, and magical.   And my trees had thorns.

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We all make mistakes in life, and we all fail sometimes. In fact, it's crucial.  Without failing, we don't learn.  As you look back on 2018, be kind to yourself. By all means identify your mistakes, reflect on them, and learn from them, but DON'T beat yourself up about them.  They are what will shape the YOU you become in 2019 and beyond.

See you in 2019!

Monday, 24 December 2018

Why Christmas Eve Has Always Been The Most Important Night of The Year

Hi Everyone

Image result for christmas eve

Tonight is Christmas Eve and it is without doubt THE most special night of the year.  Throughout my life, it's been a time of magic, but tonight, it will pass without notice.  So what's changed?

As a child, Christmas Eve was always precious.   I am of part-Polish descent, and in the Polish calendar, Christmas Eve is IT.  We always spent it at my Polish grandmother's, hearing stories - it was like living inside Grimm's fairytales.  It was the one night of the year we were allowed to sit at the "grown up" dinner table ... and the one night of the year I couldn't sleep.

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As I grew older, I was a good girl. It never even occurred to me to find presents or unpick the wrapping, and the one time I did, I immediately regretted - one, because I knew I'd ruined the thrill (for me and my mother), and second, the other present was an alarm clock and I'd just set it ticking.

As I got to my late teens / early twenties, me and my mother started another Christmas tradition, one of our own. She would pick me up from work at lunchtime, we would go and have a chinese, then we would come home, drink, and from 6pm, on the hour, every hour, we would open a present.

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As I grew older, and earnt more money, it became everything to thrill her and take her breath away in those moments.  Often, the present would be something she mentioned months ago, or something she lacked the confidence to do herself.  One year her biggest present was a pair of gold earrings and she was overwhelmed by the extravagance.   Yet always, they only reflected my love for her.  The presents allowed her to see herself as I saw her - wonderful.

Then one year my mother died - 3 weeks before Christmas - and the pain of finding presents she had already bought and stashed away for me was heartbreaking.   I think they were the usual stocking fillers - smellies, knickers, a book - but I vividly remember crying my heart out over the panda slippers (Panda and Chi Chi being our nicknames for each other).

Image result for panda love

From that, we zoom to my soon-to-be parents-in-law who had agreed to host us on Christmas Eve night.  It was the first year I and the then boyfriend spent together and I knew he had bought me a ring (not THAT kind of ring).  All week he insisted I would have to wait for it til Christmas Day until I literally broke down and explained why that year, more than any year, I needed a link to Christmas Eves past.

Just before midnight, he relented, and went downstairs to wrap it. He was a boy.  Why would he have wrapped it before the last minute or bought his own wrapping paper?  I heard him put on the TV and laugh along to some comedy program as I waited upstairs in bed. And this ladies, is why you should never have a single romantic notion in your head.

Despite calling him, he didn't come to bed for an HOUR AND A HALF. He hadn't heard me calling and hadn't "realised" I was awake. He just slid into bed, and when I "ahemmed" to said "oh, I thought you'd be asleep"and threw, yes THREW, the now wrapped ring at me. 

I remember sitting there speechless, too stunned to cry, to numb to even know where shoving it would hurt him the most.  No words of love.  No making this night special because my mum wasn't there.  No understanding my tears.   Eventually "well I didn't think I needed to do that cos you knew what it was".   It would take me 8 wasted years to realise this was a template, not a one-off.

So, zoom on a couple of years and we get married on Christmas Eve (partly because I needed to keep that link alive and partly because I needed a date he couldn't forget).   Turns out it's a shit day to get married (and not just because your dad refuses to come). People struggle to get time off work, and every anniversary you'll be torn between struggling to get a restaurant booking, and running out of time to prepare the daughter's Christmas.

Still, later,with your daughter, you start your own traditions, steeped in the past.  You religiously follow Norad from mid-afternoon.  You overdose on Christmas movies, and you write Santa a thank you letter (Facebook has been just precious today in reminding me of some of those times).

But then you get divorced, and suddenly, Christmas isn't Christmas anymore.   Christmas is whatever time you can grab with your daughter, regardless of what day it is.  And as you've always hated roast dinners anyway, shall we just have a curry?  We did, and another year we had sausage and mash.

Then you get a cat, and it's a perfect excuse not to put up the Christmas tree, because she's exactly the naughty little bugger who will climb it, and then one year becomes five, and then you're throwing all your Christmas decs away, including those amazing red disco balls from Christmas Angels in York.  You loved them almost as much as the dream of the life they belonged to.

And now this year, there is no Christmas. Literally.   Beth is the only person I need to buy for (other than the office Secret Santa) and like me, she likes it before Christmas.   She likes to have a budget and pick what she wants, and that works for me.  I refuse to wrap anything, because I can't believe we all buy a product purely to rip it up and put it in the bin.   Oh and I hate turkey.

Tonight, as on every Christmas Eve, I will remember my Polish grandmother, and I will remember my mother.   This is one of the hardest days to endure without her.  It's almost as if her absence on this day of all days represents what I lost when she died.

But do you know what I've learnt?   Christmas isn't a day.  It's not a mad dash to the shops.  It's not queuing for hours in a car park.   It's not armfuls of presents.  It's not grinding yourself into the ground making the perfect meal for everyone.  Christmas is your heart.  It's family, and it's absence of loved ones.  It's a time to be grateful for what you have and raise a glass to what you've lost.

You don't need a calendar, and you don't need a turkey. You just need a good heart.

All my love.  Merry Christmas.

(And for the record, I achieved my goal and I've managed to avoid the John Lewis advert lol).

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