Sunday, 30 August 2015

They say love ain't fair, but I'm doing fine

I am sat at the Wine Vault, reviewing my lesson plans for the next week and doing a few other adulty things (paying property tax, checking emails, looking at mortgage rates, making sure the dog walker is booked, and other such grown-uppery), as well as some less necessary but fun stuff like looking at house listings online and reading this week's Post Secret.

I am happy. I am so very happy today. And I need to remember to write about that. Because whether it's an hour, or a day, or even (fingers crossed!) a whole week, being happy is to be celebrated and enjoyed and noted.

I've had an amazing anniversary weekend with my wonderful boyfriend. The fact that it's been a year since we decided (slash he told me he'd kind of already told a few people, ha ha ha) we were "official" is mind boggling in and of itself, as it's flown by. And yet so much has happened, changed, and been experienced, together and individually. And he really is amazing. We make the best team and I feel so lucky we found each other.

It would be possible to write more, about him and us, and about life here being as blessed as it is. But I think it's about time that I just admitted he makes me this happy. I know I'm more than fine as and by myself, just me. Crazy-anxious, energetic, anally retentive, generous, diligent, dedicated, nervous, passionate, loyal, stubborn, sensitive, caring, and resilient. All just me. But I also know that having him as a partner, him loving me, and us being us has made me joyful in a whole new way. Thank you for that, my love. You are the missing piece. Here's to many more years on our team. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Underground, overground

I am pretty sure that anyone who follows the QE Facebook page will have already seen the glee-filled photos posted earlier this week, but last weekend I got possibly the biggest and best surprise of my life: my parents showed up at my local. Just casually strolled up to the window, held up two Womble cuddly toys to it (Orinoco and Madame Cholet, if you were wondering) and waved at me with them. Because they'd "popped over" for a couple of days. As you do...!

Please enjoy a) the still chosen for this video; b) the utter shock on my face; and c) the fact that I simply hand off my things (wine, handbag)
to Buddy and Jess and RUN at my parents. Standard Rogerson greeting.
Thank you to Austin for this footage!

The cheeky sods had been planning this since April, along with Jess and then Buddy to make sure my schedule was free and that I was kept in the dark. On top of this, all my wonderful friends, as well as the entire staff of the Wine Vault, knew what was going on. I could not really get any luckier with the amazing people in my life, and I don't quite know how I'll ever thank you enough for one of the best weekends I've ever had.

Once the initial shock had worn off (and we had calmed our nerves with some much-needed bubbly), I got to spend 48 hours with my beloved Mum and Dad, and it was just absolutely wonderful. I had no time to prepare emotionally, so I was simply overjoyed. Magic.

Saturday was a the busier day of the two, but it was still very relaxed. Mum and Dad came over and we drank all of the tea (of course), and then we and Buddy headed over to NoDa for a late lunch. The afternoon was spent with our generous and lovely friends Austin and Maedchen (as well as Jess and our friend Jamie) out on Lake Norman, followed by a dinner all together in Mooresville. It was an absolutely amazing day! In particular, the lake and being on the boat was especially wonderful as it's a place I find an immense amount of peace and delight. Sharing that with Mum and Dad was very special.

No huge wonder why I love it so!

Sunday was spent in the University area, and Mum and Dad were up (and at the Wine Vault!) before Buddy and I were even out of bed. We meandered over and grabbed some food and cocktails at Bar Louie, before spending the afternoon and evening outside on the Wine Vault patio. As well as more of our amazing friends, Buddy's wonderful mom and sister joined us, and our families got to meet each other for the first time. Yay! My heart was ridiculously happy.

Family. :)

Not only that, but I was able to share the beautiful music that Jared plays at the Wine Vault every Sunday, too. I've often commented - especially to Dad, as we have a deep, long-term, and shared love of the 'Graceland' album - on how wonderful his Paul Simon medley is, and I'd also previously mentioned to Jared (who has a website - check it out!) that his playing that makes me feel a little bit closer to home when I'm missing my folks particularly badly on any given (Sun)day. He's since been kind enough to sometimes even wait for me to arrive before playing it, which is just so lovely! But this time, I could sit with Dad and listen, and dance with my Mum. Perfect Sunday - done.

I would write about how hard it was to see them leave on Monday morning, and how the wrenching in my chest continues today, but that much I think is obvious, and it will happen whenever we part ways simply because of distance and time between visits. I love my parents so very much, and being so far away from them by choice (however good of a choice for me that is!) comes with some seriously conflicting emotions. But the important thing is love, and the joy that love brings not only when we're together, but just knowing we're family. That won't ever change. This visit was an absolutely incredible surprise, and I am overjoyed having been with Ma and Pa, even just for two days. Thank you both, and thank you to everyone who made it happen. Ah! This life.

Wombling free.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

"Sorry I was late, there was a turtle in my driveway."

What shall we call him?
Okay, so that's not the usual way to start one's work day, but it's totally true! Take a look at this little dude on the right. He was just chilling on the driveway this morning, so I had to herd him on to the flowerbed in order to get my car out of the garage without smooshing him. He was a scuttling little thing, and moved pretty fast, thank goodness! I didn't want him out in the open for too long, especially as it was getting pretty warm already. Not quite the same as being held up by a group of cows crossing the road on Minchinhampton Common, but I enjoyed the parallel nonetheless.

The presence of a turtle on my driveway somehow was the catalyst I needed to remember that I now live in North Carolina. Turtles do not tend to happen across your route to work back in the UK, and this is the first time it's happened to me since I've lived in the States. So funnily enough, it prompted me to consciously think about my expat presence for the first time in a long time.

Unicorns are less common in NC,
but I seem to have found one.
Normal things are happening here, other than random reptiles making house calls, but they're all, inevitably, in the context of being a Brit abroad. I'm making progress at work to the point that I've been asked to apply for internal promotions, and I recently celebrated two years in my current role in the Office of International Programs. It makes me really happy to be forging a formal career in a place so totally new to me, and to be able to be part of a team that promotes and celebrates the importance of an international education and perspective.

Later this year, my beloved Neldie is marrying her Ryan in Jamaica, and Jess and I get to go have a mini-vacation there to celebrate with them! I've never been to Jamaica, so that will be a new adventure as well. A little before that, the ridiculously wonderful man on the left there and I will be celebrating our anniversary, and starting to make plans for next spring when we hope we'll have our own place together, too. This makes me think more about how much change and growth, in practical terms, has happened since I've moved to NC. Making travel arrangements, looking at properties, knowing who to go to to ask questions: all of these things have taken time to learn how to do in terms of doing it from NC rather than England, but it's almost second nature now, and I'm filling in gaps of procedural knowledge, rather than starting from scratch every time.

No, you cannot steal either of them, Steve.
So far this year I've been lucky enough to have several visits from beloved friends back home, with one currently still here (!), and one more just confirmed this morning! Steve has been at The Clamstead for just over a week, and many shenanigans have been had, mostly involving food, friends, the Wine Vault, a visit to Concord and to Salisbury, and the inevitable welcome party (which was rainbow-themed, this time). I'll be very sad to see him go, as we currently seem to only get to catch up every two years or so, in person at least, but we still have a big dinner planned tonight, and there's the likelihood of me being able to visit the UK more as of next year as I'll have more vacation days stored up. Fingers crossed! A dear friend from university messaged me this morning to say she can take a work trip detour en route back to England this coming September, so I will get to see her for the first time in almost three years. I'm so very excited! Having people to stay and, at last, being at liberty to travel more myself, is just wonderful.

And of course, my two fluff monsters, who are now the grand old age of three, are as fantastic as ever. Satine was recently a little poorly with a stomach upset, but because we have the most amazing vets, she is now right as rain and back to her silly self. Bertie is inevitably Queen B, with her rule-making and smarts. I couldn't love those two more!

Finally, my roomie Jess, who may as well be my sister, along with some of the best humans I've ever met, continue to be part of my daily Queen City life, and that is the biggest of blessings. I still cannot believe I am so lucky to have this amazing community of wonderful people in a place that I hadn't even set foot in five years ago.

So, thank you to a certain turtle for making me want to write this lunchtime. And thank you to you, life in NC, for love and loveliness for one lucky Brit.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Guard your heart, don't build walls around it

It's been almost two months since I last wrote. How did that happen?! It seems to be about my standard blogging pace these days. Initially I slowed down in my writing because I was busy, then because I thought I was getting used to being an expat, then because it was too hard and there was too much to say, then because it was still too hard and I didn't know what to say, and now because... I guess a combination of the first two reasons? I'm busy, and I'm pretty used to being a Charlottean these days. No bad thing!

It's no longer too hard to write. My anxiety issues are still there, but they're incorporated and manageable, rather than the main feature. I can attribute this to my own willingness to heal, the amazing encouragement and unending backup I've had from family and loved ones, and the benefits of medical and therapeutic support. These past few months have been painful and a struggle for different reasons to those with which I have an ongoing wrestling match. The loss of two people I loved, differently and at different times, but loved and didn't get enough time with regardless, has been and continues to be very difficult to process (and that's just my stuff - my heart is truly with those closer to them who have lost a parent, partner, or child). I don't feel right writing about that on here, or at all, as nothing seems appropriate in terms of doing the loss any kind of justice, and I certainly don't want to speak out of turn. Suffice it to say that both were taken too soon, and I wish it could be undone.

Running 3-4 times a week again. :) 

So, what to write, then? Over the past eight weeks or so there has been another shift for me. I guess the lessons of the past few months, or year, or two years are that nothing is certain, that shifts happen all the time, and that perhaps you only become conscious of that when a big one pulls the rug out from under you. This has begun to settle as a revelation, and has become more of a truth I always really knew. There are days when I feel inconsolably lonely, days when I just want to sleep (and usually can't), and days when I think I'm okay and then panic rears its head as though to remind me that I can't be assured of anything. But I'm so very well. My strength has returned. I'm happy and aware and fortunate and me - more so than I ever really thought I'd be again. I might even be so brave as to venture that I'm a better me; a stronger, more resolute, resilient, compassionate, assertive, and more comfortable person. Regardless, I'm not constantly anxious or worried about who I am or how I'm perceived any more. At some point, that fear just left me, and that persistent nagging voice is either absent, or so quiet I can tell it to bugger off because I have better things to listen to. It's such a welcome change.

Perhaps I've stalled in writing because subconsciously I've wanted to write an "I'm all better!" post and then move on from there. My naive, optimistic, overly-hopeful brain likely thought that this would be the case some day, and that I should wait until then. But not only is it not the case, it also shouldn't be. As the wise Doctor (Capaldi, in this case) said:

The Doctor: Are you okay?
Clara: No.
The Doctor: Good. There are some things we should never be okay about.

With that in mind, then, let's move forward knowing that things are different and that I may not write as much (for a plethora of reasons!), but when I do, it's from a place of strength and peace and happiness.

And possibly this lake. :D

I am a water baby, and thus am never happier than when near or on/in water,
I had the loveliest July 4th this year.

This man and this derp. Just love.

My sister. :)

They're so creative.

I choose strong.

Ah! These two! Furry loves of my life.

I've even become brave enough to say hello to famous people I admire!

As ever, my Neldie. :)

Love and laugh.

Love wins.

And a bit of humor.

"Never live your life without love and patience; find your way on board before your train leaves the station."

-- Carolina Story, 'When I Was Just a Boy'

Monday, 11 May 2015

Just another panic Monday

Just over a month ago, I started writing this post, and it began as follows:
"It's Monday, it's 1/5 into the working week, and I have had something akin to what has become "normal" for my first day back after the weekend. I wake with a feeling of fear, a need to replay the weekend to eke out the last details of what I could possibly need to apologize for..."
Further to my last post about over-analysis, fear, and acceptance, I appeared to take an even bigger nosedive into fully-fledged physiological panic, even in light of extensive contrary evidence showing that everything was in fact fine, and especially when experiencing something happy. Twice in one week I made myself ill over my sense of inevitable misery and lack of worth, and became inconsolably upset with my being "this way", because I can see my own irrationality and yet can seemingly do nothing to stop it drowning me. It had become compulsive to look for the negative, to desperately search for what would potentially go wrong, to find it before it happened (as though that would protect me), to check in with others that everything was okay, and to search for the minute and most insignificant things that might eventually bring me to my 'downfall' were I not to note them. The compulsion has become so strong that I was beginning to believe that if I didn't do this "check" then it put me at a greater risk of these things coming true. OCD at its finest.

But this is just one story. It doesn't have any basis in fact, and really only exists as a reaction to crisis. It's a story my brain has been telling me, the story that has protected me, that has stopped me from relaxing into my own happiness and belief that I'm alright, just in case I'm torn apart again. And this weekend, in therapy, while not quite as dramatic as the "breakthrough/breakdown" I had a month or so ago there, my therapist gave me a technique to work with (not against) this story. We gave the story a name. The "I'm Not Good Enough" story. The "Aha! You've Been Found Out!" story. The story that ends with me revealed as useless, disposable, alone, and deserving of that status. This allows me to recognize what my mind is doing, acknowledge and accept the story's existence, but not give it the power to take over.

So while there are so many more important things going on right now (and in general!) than my panic issues, I wanted to take a minute to out this story, because part of what helps keep it going is believing it's true and not sharing those fears. I want to be stronger, for me and for others I love. I don't want to sabotage my own happiness, and weigh on the people close to me each time something good happens. When I acknowledge that I know the story, and let other people close to me know that this story is being told a little too often, I can face it, thank it for trying to do its "job", walk away, and start to write a new one.

This past week and weekend, I didn't tell myself the story. I wanted to. Badly. I thought I should. But I couldn't find anything to pin it to. When I got a little more anxious about that and wanted to search harder, I told people. I told Buddy, and I told some of my friends that I would do this, and they listened. They helped me out it. I can't stop the story from existing, but I can call it out when my brain tries to turn it into compulsion, or even fact. I already know how that story ends. I can and will start to work on a new story that involves me doing what I do best: appreciating people, letting them know excessively that I love them, making connections, smiling at just being, letting myself be happy. Lately, I so frequently feel on the precipice of being "better", and I think this is a big step towards truly being me again.

"I'm Not Good Enough (so expect the worst)" is not the story I need to hear. It doesn't serve me, even though once it did. So I choose to tell myself a different story. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Confessions of a panic disordered thirtysomething

I am sat at my kitchen table, waiting to be found out.

For the past week or so, I have had an increasingly sickening, panicky, overwhelming sensation of not being good enough. Of never being good enough. Of being so utterly unlikable and unpleasant that everyone, secretly, cannot stand to be around me, and it's only a matter of time before they let me know. Or don't even tell me, and just pull away, disappearing forever in a puff of ignored text messages and 'forgotten' plans we had.

When I sit down and analyse this panic, I try to find reasons that people would feel this way, what I could have done to cause everyone to want to eject me from their lives. What I mean by that is I not only go through things that have actually happened (conversations, interactions, everything that has ever occurred since I've known each person and before), but my brain will also ask questions of me like, "Are you sure you didn't ask something totally rude? Did you say something that came across as anti-equality? Perhaps you were insensitive about race issues. You talked too much. You ate too much of your friend's food that they offered you. You were annoyingly hyper and happy. How is it that you are so irritating to be around?" - consciously looking for and making up reasons people could, should, will not want me as a friend, sister, child, or partner.

The next stage in this analysis is panic and self-loathing. Panic at how utterly true all of these awful things seem, and self-loathing because I am very aware of the fact that people do not spend their time thinking about me - they have far more important, internal, personal things going on. The egocentrism required to think that people are that concerned with me and what I do, as well as being so stuck in my own head while the world turns around me containing so many bigger, more important things than my crazy thoughts, makes me dislike myself even more - and so the cycle begins again. There is even now a compulsion developing after any social interaction where I need to check in with people to make sure they don't hate me.

Being left, or feeling leave-able, has always been something I've feared for as long as I can remember. It doesn't seem to have a basis in any kind of fact or experience (up until a couple of years ago, which doesn't explain the previous years of this fear). I'm blessed with generous, patient, kind, and open-minded friends who haven't given up on me in my worst moments (and there have been several really not-good periods that they've stood by, held me up, and loved me in spite of not only my heaviness but their own trials and challenges needing their attention and energy). I'm incredibly lucky.

Yesterday, in therapy, I had what I guess people would term as a "breakthrough". My anxiety is serving a purpose. It is protecting me, or has been protecting me, while I struggled through being left by the one person I thought would never leave me. Anxiety gave me an elevated awareness of risk, a way to assess and distance myself from anything that might hurt me. It gave me an avenue for worries, a process by which I could block what was really causing my pain. Now that I am healing, the anxiety is preventing me from moving forward, because doing so is risky. Anxiety does not want me to risk anything. Yes, I can survive pain, but that in itself is not a reason to risk it. Being able to cope with something doesn't mean it's okay to go through it.

I've not talked much at all about my marriage breakdown specifically on this blog, because it's just too public a medium, but I think it's important in the context of this post to write in a little more detail. I need to work through the way in which I'm now handling myself and my own worth: badly. I'm constantly looking for reasons to hate myself. I cannot let go of the insecurity I feel, despite coming so far and healing in so many ways. I feel that being like this is letting people down, too - I have forgiven, moved forward, feel peaceful, sometimes. No one needs to know or deal with the fact that I am fighting myself constantly. They have already done so much to help me, to reassure me, to show they care and they aren't going anywhere. I feel guilty for struggling still. I feel like it is my fault - all my fault - that everything ended, because something about me isn't good enough. I tried and tried and tried, but I still wasn't enough, and I didn't know until the last minute, when it was already over, and I had no say in the matter. Now I just wait for everyone else to do the same thing, and knowing somehow that it is me that has caused it. I am disposable, and I probably deserve it.

But that's not right, is it? I didn't cause it. Sure, I was involved and, as with every human interaction, there was probably a lot I could have done differently (not necessarily "better"), but I didn't cause it. Being me didn't make it happen. My therapist says I have to forgive myself, and grant myself the agency in my life now that was taken from me in that breakdown. I have to admit that it fucking hurt and that, despite now not wanting that relationship anymore, and also not being angry about how it ended, I am also still not obligated to absolve, or act like everything is okay. It's not okay. And it's alright to not blame myself. I am working on sitting with emotional oxymorons: I can be both healing and troubled, upset and forgiving, confident and terrified. I can move on but remember.

The end result of letting anxiety win is not just denying myself happiness and potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also not allowing myself to be me. If who I really am pushes people away, then I'm not hanging out with the right people for me. If friendships dwindle or people decide to leave, it's not because it's inevitable - it's because people are complex, lives take us in different directions, and we change all the time. Leaving does not mean that I am or people are disposable. It can mean a million other things. And I also have a choice to leave, to set boundaries, to decide what I want, what is good for me, what isn't, and to say "this is me, and I'm alright". I have choices. I have agency. I can say yes or no, too.

Sometimes I am a hyper, happiness junkie that bounces around and talks too much. Sometimes, I am introspective, paranoid, and emotionally overwhelmed. Anxiety is an element of my personality that can actually be an asset, but is sometimes destructive. I care deeply for people in general, and for those closest to me more than I can put into words, but I continue to try, and am ridiculously affectionate in myriad ways in the process of attempting to get across how much love I feel and how grateful I am. Sometimes I am oversensitive. I suck at being criticised. I do not read enough books. I like wine too much. I love to run. Poetry and live music feed my soul. I like to sit in cafes or pubs by myself and just be amongst other humans without having to be with them. I am passionate and loud, but not dominant. I have no interest in winning. I have every interest in connecting. I'm smart and a fast learner, but I'm not the smartest, and I'm not fierce enough or concerned enough to try to be. When I fall in love, I fall entirely, and I am steadfastly fearless of loving that way. And I do not want to be afraid of this person, ashamed of this person, to stop this person existing. I want to live comfortably in her skin, knowing that I'm not all that bad and, even if things don't work out the way I intended or people misunderstand me - or even don't like me - I'm still all of these things, and that's good enough. That's really all this is about: I am me, and admitting who I am and that I want to be her doesn't equal people realising I'm not enough. It means I'm choosing to tell myself I am.