Friday, 31 December 2010

On The Top Ten of 2010

Since it is now almost the end of 2010, I have been looking back on the year. This isn’t really surprising, since lots of people do it!

One of the ways I looked back was to make a list of the ten people on twitter who have been particularly amazing to me this year. They’ve all done something really special, and I’m particularly grateful to them. They’ve made a SIGNIFICANT difference to my life – either by giving me precious things, or by saying something that has been particularly helpful to me, or by helping me in some other special way. I’ve decided to post the list here too – as a way of keeping a record of it so that it doesn’t get lost in the twitter timeline, never to be found again!

Oh, and there is also a “bottom tweeps of the year” list, but since I’m in a good mood, looking forward to a fabulous New Year, and not that sort of person, it will remain in my head, never to be typed. Focusing on the GOOD things in the world and the wonderful generosity that characterizes so much of humanity is a much better plan I think!

So, here are the tweets, as I tweeted them:

Many many of you twitterlings have been utterly wonderful to me in 2010! There are too many to mention you all individually but many thanks!

However, I have selected ten people, who have been exceptionally generous, kind & wonderful and who have helped me so very very much!

These are my #TopTenOfTen, and although there are several more I could have included, these 10 have been amazing!

1 @linda1966 whose generosity has meant nearly a year of tweets on the move, and who is a lovely lovely lady in real life! #TopTenOfTen

2 @codyjames77 who cared for me and understood on the blackest day of the year, and whose book The Dead Beat was fabulous! #TopTenOfTen

3 @MarDixon who helped me to stop wasting my life, who collected my trombone, who is an amazing Mom and the epitome of COOL! #TopTenOfTen

4 @Orchid99 who showed me how life is what we make it, rekindled my love of listening to music & gave me permission to grow up! #TopTenOfTen

5 @5357311 who got me back into flumpophoning and cacti, who broadens my repertoire, and with whom I shall play music in 2011! #TopTenOfTen

6 @awoollyhat who entrusted her precious and beautiful Dexter to our care. We love you Hat and we love Dex with all our hearts! #TopTenOfTen

7 @novawildstar who UNDERSTANDS constantly. Who knows how things are, who I am determined to meet in 2011. *hug* #TopTenOfTen

8 @pbiggs who came to our rescue when we were stuck in the snow. Who made C'mas for us and who constantly helps with computers! #TopTenOfTen

9 @Scharwenka with whom I published a book in 2010! He stuck by me through the blackest of times & is the best best friend EVER #TopTenOfTen

10 @agnieszkasshoes Truly a WONDERspouse! The man is a marvel. How he is still here loving me & still standing I'll never know! #TopTenOfTen

Friday, 10 December 2010

On Facebook Tagging

It happens from time to time, I get “tagged” in a “note” and invited to answer various questions and so on and then to “tag” my friends and ask them to answer the same questions. I don’t mind being “tagged” at all, but I’m always nervous about “tagging” anyone else in case I upset them.

So, since I’m me, and I sometimes do things a bit differently from usual, I thought I’d turn my answers from my three most recent “taggings” into a blog post. That way, if you’re interested you can read it, if not, then you needn’t. If you wish to play the facebook game, then you can always do the pasting and notes bit, but this way I don’t have to “tag” you, just in case you don’t want to be “tagged”!

1. What time did you get up this morning?
6.00 a.m.

2. How do you like your steak?

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
The first few minutes of a Harry Potter (about 6 years ago). We had to leave though because I had a panic attack. I’m not fond of the cinema.

4. What is your favorite TV show?
Too many to list – I love the TV and watch loads and loads. I adore science documentaries, anything with David Attenborough, anything about weather, entertainment shows like Dr Who & Strictly Come Dancing, The Mighty Boosh, Eastenders, Ice Road Truckers, televised Proms and so on and so on and so on…

5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
House in London suburbs, flat in central London, villa in Menton, riad in Marrakesh. These residences would be used at different times of the year depending upon weather!

6. What did you have for breakfast?
Cup of tea, caramel crunchy nut chewy cereal things, glass of smoothie, tin of Ambrosia custard!

7. What is your favourite cuisine?
Lots of them: the Wonderspouse’s cooking, French, Chinese takeaway, Curry etc. etc. etc.

8. What foods do you dislike?
Tomatoes. YUK!!!! Not really a fruit eater generally, wouldn’t get excited about celery.

9. Favourite Place to Eat?
Lots of them, including: The Waterside Inn, Restaurant at the Sofitel St James in London, room service at the Regent Esplanade hotel in Zagreb, Chef’s Cottage Chinese Takeaway, Pelmeni XL in Riga, my sofa at home!

10. Favorite dressing?
Olive oil & balsamic vinegar.

11. What kind of vehicle do you drive?
Suzuki Wagon R+

12. What are your favourite clothes?
Shorts, t-shirt, sandals. Swimming costume. Old fleeces for cold weather.

13. Where would you visit if you had the chance?
Almost anywhere – I’ve only been out of Europe twice & would like to see the rest of the world.

14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full?
Given to the Wonderspouse for a refill!

15. Where would you want to retire?
Retire? Hmmm? Wasn’t really planning on retirement because that means I need a pension and I haven’t got one!

16. Favorite time of day?
Evening time – in that space between not being exhausted in the afternoon and not falling asleep yet because it’s bedtime!

17. Where were you born?
Sacriston, County Durham

18. What is your favourite sport to watch?
F1, golf, swimming, athletics, gymnastics, diving, rowing, most winter Olympic sports.

19. Who do you think will not tag you back?
Can’t imagine anyone will tag me back. In fact, I’ll be surprised if anyone’s still reading by this stage!

20. Person you expect to tag you back first?

21. Who are you most curious about their responses to this?
Curious to see whether there is any response at all!

22. Bird watcher?
Absolutely – fascinating to watch how expertly our cats can tear them apart and get the tastiest bits to eat! Also great to see the weekend duck or Christmas goose crisping up in the oven!

23. Are you a morning person or a night person?
I am a lady of the night! ;-)

24. Pets?
Five cats!

25. Any new and exciting news that you'd like to share?
I want to have pet rats for my next birthday. Just trying to work out how we can fit them in with the cats!

26. What did you want to be when you were little?
An astronaut or a clarinetist!

27. What is your best childhood memory?
Holidays with my Granny.

28. Are you a cat or dog person?
Cat (but not averse to dogs either)

29. Are you married?

30. Always wear your seat belt?
Yes, absolutely.

31. Been in a car accident?
Yes, several. Last one was when a deer ripped the side off the car. Cost a packet to fix & insurance went up. My plea: everybody eat more venison!

32. Any pet peeves?
Chewing gum, people eating with their mouths open. People who don’t THINK!

33. Favourite pizza topping?
Prawns, tuna, meat!

34. Favourite Flower?
Erm, not sure I have one. Passion flower maybe?

35. Favourite ice cream?
Something really creamy with caramel & white chocolate & maltesers & stuff in it!

36. Favourite fast food restaurant?
Lots of them: fish & chips, McDonalds, Subway etc. etc. etc.

37. How many times did you fail your driver's test?
Once – reversing round the corner! Passed second time!

38. From whom did you get your last email?
WHSmith – something about deals on greetings cards.

39. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card?
Musical instrument shop, HMV, Blackwells, somewhere that sells Airfix model kits.

40. Do anything spontaneous lately?
Turned these questions into a blog post!

41. Like your job?
I don’t have one!

42. Broccoli? Cauliflower?
Both! And crinkly cabbage. The best veg look like trees!

43. What was your favourite vacation?
Lots of them. Marrakesh with the Wonderspouse. Iceland – blue lagoon & aurora. France – many times. Zagreb – several times.

44. Last person you went out to dinner with?
Lunch with Parents & Wonderspouse. Can’t remember dinner – was too long ago.

45. What are you listening to right now?
Satie – piano music – Gnossiennes, Gymnopedies etc.

46. What is your favorite colour?
Red, purple, blue.

47. How many tattoos do you have?
None – keep thinking about it though!

48. Favourite drink?
Tea, wine, beer, whisky.

49. How many children do you have?
None, sadly.

50. Last good book you read?
Lee Child – 61 Hours

So, that was the first thing I was “tagged” in. The second asked me to list 15 fictional characters who have influenced me, which I find rather more difficult – I don’t really read a lot of fiction, and what I do read doesn’t generally influence me much. Anyway, here goes!

Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

Kinsey Millhone – Sue Grafton

Dirk Gently – Douglas Adams

Inspector Morse – Colin Dexter

Jack Reacher – Lee Child

Nicole des Jardins – Arthur C. Clarke

Gustav von Aschenbach – Benjamin Britten / Thomas Mann

Leonora – Ludwig Van Beethoven

Francis – from Felidae

Aleksandr Orlov – from A Simples Life

Jack Hall – from The Day After Tomorrow

Vince Noir – from The Mighty Boosh

I know that’s only twelve, but I really can’t think of any more! Pretty hopeless really! I keep thinking of influential people, but they all turn out to be real!


The third thing I’ve been “tagged” in is a music-related thing where, apparently, I’m supposed to go into “shuffle” mode on my MP3 player or computer and write down the first 15 songs that appear.

Since I hardly ever listen to music on my computer, use Spotify only very very occasionally to look up things, and my MP3s are sorted tidily into different genres on different sticks in different places, I wasn’t going to find it easy. I don’t think my MP3 player even HAS a “shuffle” mode, and I haven’t actually got round to putting much music onto my iPhone yet.

So the best I can do is to list the CDs that are currently on my desk, starting at the top of the pile and working down. Either that, or tip the CD shelves over and pick 15 at random, but since I don’t have time to pick them all up again I’m not going to do that!

1. Satie – Piano Works, Gymnopedies, Gnossiennes etc.

2. Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

3. Handel – Zadok the Priest and various arias etc.

4. Bach – Musical Offering

5. The Velvet Underground – White Heat / White Light

6. Kasabian – Kasabian

7. Shostakovich – Viola & Violin Sonatas

8. Feldman – The Viola In My Life

9. Mendelssohn – Elijah

10. Schubert – Symphony No.9

11. Beethoven – Violin Concerto

12. The Beautiful South – Blue Is The Colour

13. Britten – Death In Venice

14. Beethoven – Complete Symphonies

15. Bach – Christmas Oratorio

So there you are! A random blog post if there ever was one!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

On Loving Winter

Those of you who know me well, and even those of you who know me just a little bit, will already be wondering which alien disease has entered my mind and altered my personality, since it’s pretty well-known throughout this universe that I am not a lover of winter. I like my days long, hot and sunny, I adore wearing t-shirts, shorts and sandals, I like letting outdoor air into the house and driving with windows down and the wind in my hair and I LOVE lying out in the sunshine with a good book and a cool beer!

However, these last two mornings I have discovered that there is SOMETHING I like about winter, so I set myself a little challenge (of which more in a moment). However, before I give you the results of this challenge, please permit me just a little rant – after all, my toes are cold, and I’m terribly bad-tempered when I have cold toes!

First off, there is the cold. I do not react well to cold. I have poor circulation, inherited from my mother, who also doesn’t like the cold, and my toes and fingers cool down very very quickly and take ages to warm up. Furthermore, my dry skin is extremely sensitive to chapping, and my legs quite simply start to fall to bits when it’s cold. So I have to bathe in oil and put lotion all over my legs several times a day, which means everything is greasy and never quite feels clean – the alternative is a horrid stinging pain.

Then there are the clothes – lots and lots of them, constraining movement, preventing air getting to my skin, which then sweats and stings even more. If I wear enough outdoors to keep warm then the minute I enter a shop I’m drenched with sweat and feel as though I might faint. It takes me ages to get dressed in the morning, trying to wash all the heavy clothes and get them dry again is a nightmare, and, when I’m all wrapped up I feel gigantic, clumsy and tense.

Along with the cold, it is also dark. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which means that the darkness causes depressive symptoms in me. This means that I have to spend money on lightboxes and sit still in front of them for up to 90 minutes a day just to get enough “sunlight” to feel OK. I’d love to go walking outside, but cannot always do so, partly because of the damage the cold does to my skin, and partly because of the awful weather.

So we come to snow! As those of a soppy romantic disposition think of winter wonderlands and say how pretty it all is, I dread it. Once we can no longer get the car out of the drive I am effectively housebound. One year I did manage to trudge the 2.5 miles into town to try to get some milk only to discover there was none available – after a 2.5 mile trudge home through 18 inches of snow I could barely walk for 2 days. I am simply not fit enough for that sort of exercise. I also miss my daily walks outdoors which are an essential part of staying fit and healthy for me, and as for my favourite exercise – swimming in the outdoor pool – it just isn’t possible because the pool is closed for winter.

The snow wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have to go to work. Because we are very junior workers with dayjobs we are paid by the time we spend at work, not by the work we actually do. This means that when we are in the office we get paid, when we are not, we don’t. So, in addition to spending shedloads of money on heating oil to keep the house warm, we are also in danger of losing it if we run out of annual leave days because of the snow. We cannot walk to work – I cannot walk 50 miles in a day on the flat in fine weather – doing it on hilly terrain in the snow is impossible. We’d love to live in town, but the rents are prohibitive.

Don’t get me wrong about the fluffy white stuff in general, I enjoy snow perfectly well when I’m in Finland and the place is equipped for snowy weather – cars have studded tyres, pavements are all gritted, trains run fine down to -35 celsius, and life continues without a problem. I don’t even particularly mind driving in the snow – I drove in Bulgaria in very deep snow without special tyres even and quite enjoyed the challenge. What I really hate is the disruption – having to miss out on enjoyable events I’ve been planning and looking forward to, being uncertain about getting to appointments, concerts and so on, and being stuck in a stuffy house for days on end. Where we live is hilly – no matter of care can prevent one sliding down an ungritted hill.

And, of course, there’s Christmas, with all its associated schmaltz and palaver about children and babies. For those of us unable to have children it’s one of the most painful times of year. I simply don’t understand the mania of Christmas and the parcels thing and why it suddenly becomes essential to visit relatives who you don’t see the rest of the year just as the roads are terrible and driving conditions are at their worst. Furthermore, my mother always tries to be desperately “organized” about Christmas and starts ringing me up around mid-August asking what I’m buying for whom and so on – it’s all meaningless to me – I’m a typical “go to the offy and get everyone a bottle of wine on Christmas Eve” sort of person!

Then there’s the simple practical business of airing the house - with 5 cats all using litter trays we often can’t keep up with their doings. We go out and return to more litter to scoop, more furballs (which would be left harmlessly outside) to clean off the furniture. Furthermore, it’s too cold to open windows, so the only way to make the house smell halfway decent is to use chemical air fresheners. And just to add to the morning dressing routine, there’s also the “mopping up condensation” thing to do by the windows, which I have to tape up because they are so draughty.


So, there’s the rant! As you will now have gathered, there’s plenty to grouch about and I could go on all day about it, but now, as promised earlier, here are the results of the challenge I set myself this morning.

It happened as I was tucking into my porridge! Yes, porridge, that warm, tasty oaty delight that I never seem to eat in summer, but enjoy in considerable quantities during the winter months. I decided that it was the ONE reason I DID like winter, and then wondered whether, just maybe, I could think of TEN things I liked about this most frozzling of seasons! I managed it, just, after a bit of head-scratching, so here they are!


Well, it was a bowl of porridge that inspired this whole blog post! I love the milky creaminess of it (yes, I’m a soft Englishwoman, so I have it with milk and golden syrup). I love the way the syrup blends with it, making that sweet goopiness that literally melts in the mouth. I love the warming effect it has, and the way that I feel happy and satisfied by it for most of the morning. Delicious.

Related to porridge, I also enjoy a hot drink in bed at nighttimes during the winter – hot milk with a generous slug of whisky is utterly delicious when snuggled up under the duvet on a cold evening. A spoonful of Horlicks added to the mix is also wonderful.


Although I can take or leave most of the Christmas junk that the shops tell us is essential for our “perfect” Christmas, I love it when the cut-price chocolate oranges and so on start appearing on the shelves. When the weather is freezing I abandon my attempts to get seriously healthy (as mentioned above, exercise is difficult enough that I don’t usually manage it anyway) and give in to the cravings – at the moment I’m enjoying a daily Pot Noodle, which is very warming!

I’m also quite keen on pandoros and pannetones and other seasonal delights. Saving the marzipan bit in the middle of the Stollen until last always gives me a slight tingle of pleasure, and the availability of dates, nuts and other tasty snacks is also enjoyed. Furthermore, the “chocolate advent calendar” is a regular fixture in my life – I was never allowed one as a kid, so indulge happily now, eating my daily chocolate whenever I like – even at breakfast time if I feel like it! It’s only a matter of time this year before I succumb to a large tub of chocolates and a whole load of cakes and things. Yummy!


The Wonderspouse and I have goose for Christmas. If we are on relative duty then we have it on the 26th or nearest available day. If, like this year, we are lucky enough to have the day itself at home, we have it that day. It comes from our wonderful local butcher, and “getting the goose” is a big deal in our household. The Wonderspouse also makes me fresh Eggs Benedict for Christmas breakfast, and I drink sherry, wine and whisky all day, which is very pleasurable.

Furthermore, there are other seasonal wonders around – giant pieces of Stilton, whole Salmons (we bought a fish kettle specially – nothing so wonderful as fresh cooked salmon), and, for me, sausagemeat and chestnut stuffing – the Wonderspouse doesn’t bother about it, but roasts chestnuts specially for me on Christmas morning! We never get each other parcels – I’d far rather he roasted chestnuts for me than bought me a pressie any day.

Linked to this is another meal that happens just before Christmas, with my friend Scharwenka. For around 15 years now we’ve been having pheasant dinner with trimmings and exchanged many (small and often silly) Christmas parcels a few days before Christmas. We also succumb to the silliness of the season for just a few hours and listen to Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony as well as some rather better music!


OK, so I admit it, there IS Christmas music that I like. The absolute top of all these pieces is Christmas Oratorio, which I first grew to love in my Upper Sixth form at school. My then boyfriend, a Welsh baritone, organist and impresario, got me into it. I listened to it on my (cassette) walkman on all the train journeys to my university interviews, and know it well. I’ve also sung in it with the Oxford Bach Choir, and played numerous excerpts in various Christmas concerts. I love it, and it will be coming to the desert island with me!

As I mentioned above, I also have occasional moments with other Christmas music. I watch the “Nine Lessons and Carols”, even though the Cambridge descants are not the ones I really know and love, and even though the religion is irrelevant to me these days, and I listen through my Christmas tapes a few times. The other “good” Christmas music I like is “L’adieu des bergers” from Berlioz’s “L’enfance du Christ”, Liszt’s “Weihnachtsbaum” and Schoenberg’s version of “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (Weinachtsmusik). I also enjoy a few of the carols I used to sing at school, although sometimes they do make me sad because I’m no longer part of that sort of life any more.


Yes, and I do like fairy lights. I like the lit up trees I see when I’m driving around in winter. I like seeing gaudy illuminations, Menorahs and Hannuka candles, and I quite like a German market serving tasty Wurst and hot Gluhwein in a town square.

I’m actually quite keen on lighting in general – lamps, bulbs and so on are rather jolly – I love watching my lava lamp and plasma lamp doing their thing and I like getting the house as light as possible. I’m also not averse to a bit of candle pyromania – I’m that naughty person who sticks things into candles and likes to sculpt the wax round the edge with a pencil while the candle is still burning and the wax is still soft and warm.


These are the one item of clothing that I don’t mind wearing during winter! I like hats – jolly hats, crazy hats, warm and snuggly hats! It helps that I’m not the slightest bit fussy about my hair do – it does what it does – so the “hat hair” thing doesn’t really apply to me. I like the feel of warm fleece around my ears (and, come to that, around my neck – I’m not unfond of scarves either).

I own quite a selection of winter hats and I love the way they keep me warm without undue encumbrance. I’m also quite partial to socks for a similar reason – I like them warm and stripey and comforting. I’ve also recently (yesterday) invested in a pair of fluffy footwarmers which can be warmed in the microwave – I think they’re going to become one of the wonders of winter, as my “hot cow” and “warm Bagpuss” already are.


I’m not really an outdoor gardener, and during summer the lawn grows like crazy. If I was rich enough to employ any sort of domestic help then the one person I would hire would be a gardener. Mowing the lawn is one of those chores that neither the Wonderspouse nor I excel at! Furthermore, just as we’ve psyched ourselves up to deal with the mower (which broke half way through the last mow of last summer), then it rains, and the whole enterprise has to be restarted.

We’re no good with vegetables either. People always say that veg you’ve grown yourself tastes more delicious – I can tell you that this is not true. We grew some, picked them, and ate a forkful each. They were truly revolting, so we chucked them in the bin and went to Sainsbury’s instead – in our world vegetable growing is best left to the professionals!

At least in winter the lawn doesn’t grow, the weeds stop their onslaught, and it’s too cold to deal with whatever horrors are going on in the garage – tidying it and dealing with the mess can wait until the spring.


One of the features of adversity is that, although it can cause problems, rifts and tensions, it can also mean that people cooperate more. Clearing the snow from a communal driveway can mean that we get to know our neighbours better. People help each other to achieve a common goal, and we often see a kind side to people who usually remain unknown and hidden in their houses.

Being outside clearing snow also brings us into contact with neighbours we wouldn’t otherwise see and gives us something to talk about with them. Furthermore, when the first person out in the morning returns from the bus stop or town or wherever, they bring back a report on road conditions, which helps with planning. One of our neighbours has kids at the local school and lets us know when it is closed, and we also support each other and back each other up when less-than-sympathetic employers insist that it is possible to travel when it isn’t.

On a larger scale, I enjoy the UK snow map on the interwebs, which is of real help, and gives good, real time information. It’s another example of people doing something that helps others, and is another of those little winter gems!


OK, I admit it, I love it when the news is about weather! I derive pleasure from seeing what is going on at airports (which I’m interested in anyway, snow or no snow), and I’m fascinated by the differences in snowfall in different parts of the country.

It’s not even that I’m just “rubbernecking” snow disasters, I’m actually genuinely interested in weather, and am also interested in temperatures, statistics, hottest, coldest, windiest, weather and so on. The News often spends so much time discussing politics, showbiz, celebrities, sport, money, health, education and so on – it’s not that I’m not interested in these things to SOME extent, but I’m not fascinated by them in the way that I am about the weather. When the news presents me with information about concerts, music, scientific achievements and so on I’m interested because these are interests of mine anyway – the same applies to the weather. I also enjoy seeing people helping their neighbours, as I’ve already described above.


I like it when a new year starts. I like sitting down in the last days of December with the Wonderspouse while we make goals and objectives for the year ahead. I’ve nearly always been able to spend New Year itself alone or at home with the Wonderspouse, and the one time in recent years I’ve spent it with family it was truly magical – Mum took us to Iceland, where we bathed in the Blue Lagoon and watched a spectacular Aurora Borealis show on New Year’s day!

For me, it’s a great time to review projects in progress and to come up with exciting ideas for the future. I also like getting new calendars – all clean and shiny, with lovely pictures to look at – and carefully writing in birthdays, holidays, things we have booked and so on. It’s a time to make a new start. We don’t do “resolutions” as such, but set ourselves targets for the coming months.

I love the idea of leaving behind the bad things that have happened in the old year, and greeting the new year with hope and optimism. This will be particularly true for me this year after a couple of very turbulent years – 2011 is scheduled to be the year I start a new career and have a significant birthday! Hopefully it’ll be a good one!

And, of course, with the coming of the new year, there is also hope that the winter will end, the ice and snow will thaw, the trees will grow nice new green shiny leaves, and eventually, if I’m very lucky, it’ll get warm enough to sit in the garden with a book and a cold beer!


So, I managed it! And here’s my challenge for something for you lovely readers to do if you’re stranded by the snow and bored out of your minds – if you’re a winter hater like me, why not think of, say, 5 things you love about winter, and if you’re a winter lover, why not try to think of 5 things you hate about it! I’ve found it an interesting exercise. I’ll eagerly await comments to see what others love & hate about this chilly season!

Now I’m off to microwave my special socks in an attempt to thaw my toes!

Monday, 1 November 2010

On Not Writing

The Wonderspouse is a writer. Although he doesn’t (yet) make enough money from writing to keep me in the style to which I’m sure I could become accustomed, and therefore also has a day job, he does call himself a writer.

As a result of his writing activities, I often find myself surrounded by writers, both in the flesh and on the internet. I am quite often asked what sort of thing I write, and I explain that I’m not a writer, I’m a musician and maths student, and, like the Wonderspouse, I make ends meet with a succession of random day jobs.

The Wonderspouse then points out that I’m the one with a commercially published book, that I’ve also been known to produce a pome from time to time, that I write daily on my blipfoto journal and that I have a blog (er, this one!). However, as I point out, I haven’t actually MADE UP any writing since I did my O-levels at the age of 15!

Even then, I was not expected to succeed with words. My mother promised me a reward for my O-levels if I got 6 A grades out of the 8 subjects I was taking – it was taken as read that I wouldn’t get top grades for either English Language or English Literature. I’m still convinced that the fact I did actually get A grades for those subjects was the result of a mix-up at the exam board!

Then I went into science and, ultimately, music. Of course, I did a lot of writing as part of my degree, but all of it factual, with zillions of references, and in the particular style that academic writing demands. I wrote essays about Mendelssohn, Scriabin and so on, and edited a 60,000 word monograph by Hans Keller for my special project, but I didn’t actually create anything new.

I’m not even a particularly well-read sort of person where literature is concerned. I read a lot of books and I frequently have around ten different ones on the go at the same time, but many of them are factual books – I love reading about history, science, warfare and so on. I also read a lot of biographies, and when I do stray into fiction it’s usually the sort of “throwaway” detective novel that most people would buy at an airport and leave in the hotel room at the end of the holiday.

In short, I am not a writer, I have almost no background in literature, and I haven’t made up a story for very very many years. So, you ask, what’s this blog post actually about then?

It’s about a thing called NaNoWriMo, which I saw on twitter hashtags quite a lot around this time last year and which has started appearing again. At first I assumed it was about something rather small, and for a long time I thought the “No” bit was short for November. It always seemed to be something that writers were interested in, and, since I’m not a writer, I always ignored it.

This year things have changed. I finally asked the Wonderspouse what on earth the whole business was about and he explained patiently to me what it was. It actually stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that those taking part, er, write a novel in a month! Kind of obvious when you think about it!

Coincidentally, the start of this year’s NaNoWriMo coincides with the start of my own new beginning. I left my last random day job a few months ago and am currently “between jobs” while completing my recovery from my last major episode of depression. I’m not quite up to going back to work yet, but I’m no longer so ill that all I can do is lie on the sofa and sleep.

So it’s time I started doing some more constructive things again. Obviously, I am returning to daily viola practice as well as playing the piano and flumpophone on a regular basis. I’ve also registered for next year’s Open University maths courses and today I shall do my first serious session of study since I got ill. There are also jobs to be done round the house and I’m also going back to serious exercise and trying to eat less food too. If I can’t manage these things at home, there’s no way I’ll have the stamina to survive a day in the workplace when I find a new job.

But on top of returning to the old things, it’s rather nice to have something shiny and new. So I’m going to give this NaNoWriMo a go! I believe the goal is to produce a 50,000 word novel by the end of November – the concept of having to write MORE words feels rather alien to me since all the writing I’ve done in my adult life has been about saying what I want to say in FEWER words. Of course, we all know that to produce a 50,000 word book we should write three times that many and then keep every third word (or something like that)! If we took that instruction literally some very strange books could be created – unless the first draft was EXTREMELY clever!

Anyway, it’s time to start. I can’t imagine what I write will be any good whatsoever, but it gives me a challenge and maybe it’ll be a bit of fun along the way. All my ideas so far are extremely mundane or extremely crazy. I suspect the end result will be rather bizarre! However, the Wonderspouse tells me it doesn’t matter since it’s fiction it doesn’t have to be true and I don’t have to reference everything I write! Furthermore, since I’m not actually a writer, and am not really “writing”, just giving a new project a go, there shouldn’t be any pressure!

If you’re also attempting to write a novel this month, then do feel free to “buddy” me on the NaNoWriMo site – since I don’t have enough imagination to think of another username, I’m known as ViolaMaths on there too!

Off we go!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

On Many Thanks

Just when it seemed as if this blog had been abandoned completely, I’M BACK! I hope the shock of it isn’t too much for anybody!

I’ve just had a read through my blog posts from earlier this year, and the comments that have been made, and I’m struck by how much things have moved on since I wrote those posts. I thought I might fill you in, briefly, on the developments in my life since the beginning of the year.

After my failed attempt to return to work in March (see last post), it became obvious how ill I’d become. I am now under the care of my GP, a good Psychiatrist and Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), and, recently, an exercise trainer at the local gym. Interestingly, when I opened the bag containing my gym kit last week, a quick look at receipts confirmed that I had not been to the gym since last March, which was about the time I started to get ill again.

At the beginning of February this year I was as low as I’ve been for around 8 years, almost suicidally low. In fact, in the last few weeks, the Wonderspouse and I have observed that I seem to have a major depressive episode about once every 4 years – the pattern is startlingly accurate!

This episode has, as has always happened previously, cost me my job. I simply cannot return to work within any reasonable time-frame, and the pressure of having to do so has been making me much worse. Therefore, I am to embark upon a new phase of life with regards to employment. I don’t yet know what I shall do – maybe I’ll blog about it as the process unfolds! In the meantime, if you know of anyone who would pay me a handsome wage to, say, taste chocolate, then do let me know! ;-)

However, I am, eventually, fighting back against the depression! I am determined that I will not let it beat me. I am once again on medication (Venlafaxine and Quetiapine, if you’re interested in that kind of thing), but have realised that the medication can only be part of the story. I’m also working with my CPN on strategies to prevent me getting ill again (and learning that fighting against what the medics tell me is detrimental to me, so, no matter how much I feel that the exercises I have to do are “silly” I should do them and take them seriously) and I’ve started gym sessions (referred at a cut-price by my GP).

I’m also starting to build my own REAL life again from the ground upwards. I am practicing my viola again – although it will take a while to get back to a reasonable standard, I’ll keep going. I’ve also recently bought a tuba (or flumpophone as I prefer to call him) and have started practicing that too, which is giving me great pleasure. I’ve had to defer the exam from last year’s maths course again, which means I shall take it in October this year, and I’ve also had to negotiate long long extensions to the first assignments of this year’s course. It’s still not clear whether I shall be able to meet those deadlines or whether I shall have to withdraw from the course this year and reregister again next year, but I’ll try to complete the work this year if I can.

Furthermore, I’m going to concerts again, managing to keep up with the housework a bit better, painting my fingernails again, and finally starting to work my way through jobs lists that have been sitting around for months. I’m also, slowly, getting back to reading books – I was completely unable to read when I was ill, and am gradually building up, a few pages at a time while my ability to concentrate increases and the “noise” in my head slowly subsides. This afternoon I’ve also opened my knitting bag and started to knit a few rows, and I’ve also sorted out all my model-making things and origami books in my study, so that I can start doing some creative enjoyable craft-type things too.

My online life has also changed. With the increase in viola practice, flumpophone practice, maths, exercise, housework and so on, has come a decrease in the amount of time available to sit chatting on twitter, commenting on every single blipfoto, or playing games on facebook. Last autumn, the internet world WAS my world, but I’ve had to alter that to protect my mental health – in particular, the fact that sitting on the internet for hours on end involves sitting still at a desk means that I cannot afford to do too much of it – exercise is so crucial in successful treatment of depression.

Exercise will also help me to combat the dopey feelings and headaches caused by the medication and to lose the 2 stone that I’ve put on in the last few months. I’ve had to buy bigger trousers again and I have lost quite a bit of fitness. In order to remedy those things I need to work hard – walking outside, doing yoga, going to the gym, hopefully going swimming again, and also stopping the snacks that have become a habitual part of life as well as simply eating smaller portions again.

So, that about brings you up to date. Rather surprisingly, I HAVE managed to keep posting a picture on blipfoto each day (my CPN told me she considers this a considerable achievement) and the Ears blog is up-to-date although a bit thin on the ground – sorting out my listening is still “in progress”, as is much of my life.

One of the other reasons I wanted to write this post is to say “Thank You”. Reading the comments on my previous posts will give you just a flavour of the support I’ve received. With just a very few exceptions, people here and on twitter, facebook and blipfoto have been fabulous and wonderfully supportive. Thank you, all of you.

I’ve also received many messages of support, and empathy from people. I’m so sorry I haven’t yet responded to these messages – I fully intend to do so, although it may take a little while. I have over 200 messages on my e-mails and in my facebook inbox that need attention – and these are 200 proper messages since I delete spam and file general messages as I go along. I’m afraid I’ve also neglected commenting on blogs shamefully, and not yet formally acknowledged 2 people who gave me “beautiful blogger” awards on their own blogs (you are not forgotten, I am very grateful, I shall get there).

So, thank you everyone for your support. I really do appreciate it. Also, to all of you who have written to me describing depressive symptoms of your own - thank you for trusting me with your personal stories. As soon as I have the strength I shall try to help you all in whatever way I can. One of the reasons I continue to blog about my illness is in the hope that it will help others to feel slightly less alone.

I’d also like to thank the Wonderspouse. He has continued to work full-time, to write, to organize gigs and readings, to care for the cats, and to keep the house functioning, all while looking after me – accompanying me to psychiatrist appointments and so on. He’s had to cope with tears, tantrums, endless loops of self-pity and self-hatred from me and the constant fear that he’d get home from work and find I’d simply given up. I’m surprised he’s still standing. The man is a marvel.

Anyway, I’ll stop here for now. The old “me” is returning gradually, and I hope, eventually, that I’ll be up to blogging about slightly more interesting things than my mental health as I build a new, and hopefully, exciting life. Maybe this blog will follow that journey! You’re invited along if you want to come!

And thank you again, everyone who has supported me.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

On Willpower Failure

The above picture was going to be used for today’s blipfoto post and was going to be given the title “Willpower Failure”, since I don’t use the “On…” format on blipfoto.

However, as usual, I took more than one possible blipfoto, and in today’s “battle to be the blip”, the coffee and muffin picture lost out to the one that I eventually posted here.

The coffee and muffin picture didn’t give up without a fight though, and nagged me to post it SOMEWHERE on the internet and to tell its little story to anyone who might care to read it. Furthermore, my completionist-type OCDishness won’t allow me to miss a month out of posting something on this blog because the archive would look all wrong!

So here’s a story of how my willpower (which I generally regard as fairly strong) crumbled into nothingness this morning. This picture was taken at 8 in the morning. What on EARTH was I doing drinking a latte and eating a triple chocolate muffin at 8 in the morning? How did I come to be in a Costa Coffee when I should have been at work?

It started to go wrong around 3.42 a.m. I think. Since I’ve been taking quetiapine I haven’t been very insomniac, but I did stir early this morning, a sure sign that things were not quite right. But, nevertheless, I got up at the normal time (with difficulty, but what’s new?), got dressed, and got in the car to go to work.

However, by the time I was a few miles down the road it was evident that today was going to be a struggle. By the time we reached the outskirts of town I was praying that the traffic jam would grind to a halt and we could just stay in the car for ever. I managed to get to the place where I usually drop the Wonderspouse off for work and parked up. It was obvious I wasn’t going to make it to the office – the sense of panic was just overwhelming.

So, I turned the other way at the end of the road and headed for home.

There was one thing nagging me, something I’d been planning to do? Oh yes, I had run out of cherry compote and had been intending to go home via Waitrose (the only known source of this delicacy) on the way home.

I thought I might as well go anyway, that way the petrol I’d spent driving to work and then not actually going wouldn’t be totally wasted.

Of course, when I got there, it wasn’t open yet – why would it be at that time of the morning?

It was too cold to walk – at this time of year I have to plan walks outside and put oil on my legs before I go otherwise my hopelessly cold-sensitive skin chaps and cracks and ends up terribly painful.

But Costa was open.

So, even though I’m supposed to be trying to lose the weight that I’m rapidly putting on, I went inside and bought my usual tipple of medium latte and triple chocolate muffin. At 8 o’clock in the morning.

I had failed to get to work. I had failed to stay off the chocolate cake (one of my particular weaknesses in life). Willpower had gone down the drain.

Then I went on a bizarre shopping spree in Waitrose. I got half way round and realised the basket was now too heavy, so then tried to go out of the “in” doors to get a trolley. They didn’t work. So then I abandoned my basket, went out of the “out” doors, collected a trolley, then transferred the stuff from the basket, which I’d just left in the shop on the floor.

I tweeted the Wonderspouse for a shopping list, not all of which I succeeded in finding. I bought a large bread thing because it looked fun. I sniffed lots of the smellies and bought yet another sort of deodorant that may or may not make me itch. I bought parsnips because they “looked nice”. I nearly bought dog food, then remembered we don’t have a dog. I must have been round the shop 20 times (the search for milk alone took some time – my friend Linda guiding me towards it by tweet) before I eventually managed to summon up the courage to queue at the checkout to pay.

Then I came home.

The rest of the day has been a write-off too. I have failed to be a friend by not even noticing something that I should have done about one of my friends, then sent a semi-hysterical e-mail in an unsuccessful attempt to compensate. I refreshed tweetie on the iPhone so much that it locked me out for using up my API or whatever it is. I feel edgy, stressed, and unable to concentrate.

I have failed to do any jobs on my list.

Willpower has run out.

On the plus side, I did a nice blip and I ate real food for lunch – I ripped the end off the large bread thing and dipped it in luxury houmous, then had dates and a cup of tea for pudding, so that’s not too bad.

The Wonderspouse has arrived home and started preparing parsnip soup with the parsnips, which he says will go very well with some more of the large bread thing.

He’s also said he still loves me even though I am rapidly gaining weight and heading towards bankruptcy if I can’t get myself back to work properly soon.

I’ve also, more by accident than design, written a blog post. Not one of the ones I had in mind, and I’ve still failed to deal with comments from the last one.

But at least the archive will look neat and tidy!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

On Falling Apart

This blog post has had many titles: On Hardening My Heart, On Refusing To Quit, On Defriending And Blocking, etc etc etc. Eventually, however, I have given it the above title, because that is how I feel at the moment.

First of all, please allow me to say a huge thank you to everyone who read my last blog post, and for all the lovely comments and messages I’ve received here, on facebook and on twitter. Thank you also to everyone who is continuing to support me throughout this rather peculiar phase in my internet life (I have become more guarded than usual, and taken actions that I thought I never would in the last few days). I can only say that my real life at the moment is also equally, if not more, peculiar, and I really hope that things get sorted out soon.

I have stayed away from twitter for much longer than I intended, and have not, as I said in my last post that I would, responded to the lady who made the initial tweet. Last Saturday night, I seriously considered giving up my internet life completely, and returning to spending more time staring at the TV instead.

I wrote the above two paragraphs several days ago. I am still struggling desperately with twitter, and with facebook, and particularly with blipfoto. I shall now try to explain why. Forgive me if I don’t do a very good job. I’m not really up to it at the moment, and this blog post will probably be unedited. I owe you all some sort of explanation though.

After I wrote the previous blog post I received a message on facebook from somebody, which, in essence, said the following: my expectations of the twitterverse as a safe place are unrealistic, I have problems, I have blamed her friend (the lady who sent the first tweet/DM) for all my problems, I have referred to myself as the aggrieved party in the incident with the lady who sent the tweet when in fact that lady is mortified, she says she has sympathy with that tweet in that she likes to follow people who make her laugh or are interesting, my “friends” are not doing their best for me by providing sympathy and should instead tell me that I’m being over-demanding and that the world does not revolve around me, real friends would tell me I’m being an idiot, I would provide support for other people too if I were any kind of a friend to anyone (with the implication that I don’t – sorry friends, I apologise for being so crap and useless), being around people who are miserable is no fun and I shouldn’t be surprised if people have run out of patience with me, my blipfoto post for 4th February was “horribly nihilistic” and blipfoto was not an appropriate place to share such things because it is a site about photography, have I ever heard of CBT (something which I find horribly patronizing, given previous blog posts), she suggests I share less on the internet because I wouldn’t expect group therapy in the real world and shouldn’t expect the internet to provide me with any such help, and finally tells me “I hope you get help” and that I shouldn’t blame other people for my distress.

I immediately unfriended and blocked this lady on facebook. I also had to unfriend the original lady – not because I didn’t want to forgive her and become friends again, but because I am afraid that the lady who sent me the above message will get to me through her. I also abandoned my twitter account, set up a new, locked, account to try to keep in touch with a few friends (I’m sorry if I haven’t yet managed to contact you – I’m trying, but so short of energy), and changed my name on blipfoto.

However, none of this has helped. Things are still getting worse. I also fear that in my search for solace from all this I have done irreparable damage to a very precious and treasured friendship with a real life friend who is also very ill and unable to cope with me at the moment.

I cannot answer all the points the lady made in her message to me – I simply don’t have the energy or enough tissues to mop up the tears that writing this post is generating. I would have linked to a blog post by someone else that was made in response to an incident that occurred last week and referred to the support that the internet can be when people are in mental distress, but the person who wrote that post has had to take it down because she has had an overwhelming response to it and simply doesn’t have the time to deal with what it has generated. I try very very hard, when I have the strength, to support anyone who needs it in any way that I can. Sometimes, however, I need people to cut me a bit of slack.

First, of COURSE I have heard of CBT. For goodness sake. I am an intelligent informed woman who has read dozens of books and articles on my condition. I point you towards “On Being Bonkers” from July 2009. It is only by employing CBT techniques that I am able to get out of bed most mornings, that I am able to force breakfast into me although I feel sick, that I am able to steer the car towards work rather than back home, that I am able to keep going at all on a lot of occasions. You wouldn’t suggest to someone with a broken leg that they might like to get it set in plaster – why assume that people with depressive illness are too stupid to have researched their condition? And, for information, CBT is not available on the NHS to me, and my psychiatrist considers that I am already well-enough versed in its techniques that it wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to have more. I can’t afford to pay for it in any case.

As to the real world. Would I go into a pub and have a meltdown? Well, yes, and I have done on many many occasions. I have ended up out in public many times in a terrible state. I have left numerous restaurants and sat on the pavement outside shaking because I struggle to eat out in public when I feel scared. I have broken down in the middle of a big party of several hundred people, halting a barn dance and causing my distressed father and best friend to have to pick me up and take me out and comfort me. I have sat on the floor in Sainsbury’s crying by the Frosties. I have collapsed on the floor of a train, been violently sick, and then screamed and pulled at the (fortunately electric, rather than the old fashioned handle type) doors to try to get off. I have been lost out on the street, unable to see because the lights are too strong and the noises are too loud. I have stood and sobbed in front of a class of 11 year olds because I played a chord wrong on the piano.

On every single one of these occasions, people have been helpful and sympathetic. Even people I didn’t know. The man on the train, who helped a vile and messy me to get off at Greenwich station and made sure I was OK before he continued his day, the woman in Sainsbury’s who wanted to know if I was alright, even the class of year 7s who coped with their Head of Music disintegrating before their eyes.

As to blipfoto. At the moment I cannot even look at the site, because it makes me feel sick. I tried, when I got home from a trip away on Friday night. I looked at one friend’s blip from the day, and the top comment was from the woman who sent me that message. I logged off straight away and closed the tab on the browser. I’m sorry blip. As for my “horribly nihilistic” post, I was going to say that I was terribly sorry to have spoilt this woman’s fun, to have disturbed her comfy life and ruined her internet experience, but I’m not. What I am sorry about is the two friends who read that post and were seriously worried about me to the extent that they both e-mailed me and left numerous text messages and missed calls on my phone because they were so worried about me. I’m sorry to have put you through that. I’m sorry for my father and stepmother who read the post through my facebook wall (they are both friends of mine on there) and were extremely worried, knowing that I have tried to take my own life in the past and fearing that I’d do it again. I’m also sorry for my poor husband, who was having to cope with all this in the middle of organizing his gig.

What I have finally realised this morning though, is why that message has done me so much damage. It is agreeing with everything the illness is telling me. I have a loud voice in my head telling me that I am a bad friend, a miserable person, an idiot, a plonker, a worthless and wretched apology for a human being. I think often how much better place the world would be if I had never been born. I know that I am a failure, that I am nearly 40 years old and unable to support myself financially, unable to produce any children, unable to hold down anything other than a part-time clerical job (and even that with difficulty, and only with the extreme patience of my colleagues). These views I have of myself are, of course, only partially true and are mainly caused by the illness that pervades my mind. Ironically, these are the very feelings that I have to use CBT techniques to fight against – the “Automatic Negative Thoughts” that follow me everywhere. This woman, who is so keen that I “seriously consider CBT” has reinforced those negative thoughts a hundredfold. I am now fighting them, and trying hard to think of all the lovely things my real friends and supporters have said to me, in order to try and re-establish some sense of self-worth.

So, I have shared even more on the internet. Partly because I owe everyone an explanation, but also because I want people to UNDERSTAND. I don’t crave sympathy, but understanding. I have defriended and blocked for the first time ever, to protect myself. I do refuse to quit in my quest to talk about mental illness and the issues it raises, even if it means exposing myself to criticism. I cannot harden my heart – it’s like a jam without enough pectin, or a custard that hasn’t been heated enough – it will never harden, it just isn’t that sort of heart.

For all the strife that this whole episode has caused me, I am particularly glad of one thing. I received a message on facebook from a person who said how much my Feb 4th blip had helped her, how comforting it was to know that there was someone else who knew what it felt like to feel like that. I was also very touched by a comment I received from someone who said that even though we just looked like little tiny pictures on twitter, behind each one was a person, and those people really care. These things have stuck in my head.

The other thing I’m amazingly grateful for is the Wonderspouse. The week that all this broke he was speaking at a conference on mental illness at the Royal College of Psychiatrists – alongside Alastair Campbell, who was saying how mental health issues should not be brushed under the carpet. He had a massive audit at work. He organized a book reading / gig in London. All this while working full-time, attending my psychiatrists appointments with me, keeping up his own writing and internet work, cooking all our meals, looking after the cats, and getting up in the middle of the night to make me tea and mop up my tears. I really don’t know how he’s still standing – the man is a marvel.

As to the woman who wrote the message, I don’t know whether she will ever read this post. If she does, then I would beg her NEVER to send a message like that to anyone again. If I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, then I might, just, be able to say that she was being “well-meaning”, although the tone of her message suggests otherwise. Yes, the patronizing tone made me angry, but whatever bitterness made her write it could have cost someone who didn’t have a Wonderspouse on hand a lot more than it cost me. I wondered why the lady who sent the original tweet/DM felt the need to say that my tweets were “getting on her tits” and didn’t just unfollow me quietly. I wonder even more why this second woman felt the need to harangue me as she did. She doesn’t have to look at my blips or read my blogs. If you really want to stick to “nice pictures” and “fun” on the internet, then so be it. I cannot, and will not, brush my true self under the carpet and put on an act to entertain people online – it would be untrue to myself and my beliefs.

Furthermore, I do believe that the internet is, like real life, a place full of lovely supportive people who are generous, loving and helpful. I don’t think it’s unrealistic of me to hope that people who I do regard as friends will bear with me through the rough patches. I gladly do the same for them, helping wherever I can.

I said in “On Being a bit Bonkers” last July that I didn’t wish to make this blog about mental health issues. I still don’t, but have had to write this post by way of explanation, and maybe to work through issues that are still outstanding from the whole incident. I’m also going to take some time off the internet. Feel free to comment on this blog post if you like, although the Wonderspouse is insisting on monitoring comments before I read them. He cannot take the risk that the work being done by my GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, and himself can be further undone by anything that might hurt me. I am simply too fragile at the moment. I shall probably take at least a week off twitter and facebook, although, by the time you read this I shall have left details of how I can be contacted in both places for people who do want to get in touch and don’t have any other means. The “Ears” blog is on hold for now, although I shall continue to keep a record of what I’m listening to (not very much at the moment – I’m having to sleep a lot, and am staring at the TV quite a bit too). I’m not even thinking about blipfoto for now. It’s simply too painful.

My mind feels rather like it needs renovating at the moment, a bit like this:

I’ll be back when it’s sorted and strong enough to cope with whatever gets thrown at me and when I’ve got the rest of my life together. I just need some time and I hope that you’ll understand, and forgive me this rather frank blog post. If I had any choice in the matter I most certainly wouldn’t elect to be miserable, to feel sorry for myself, or to have such a black day as inspired my February 4th blip. To choose such a life really would be madness!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

On Not Tweeting

I tried to go back to twitter last night. Tried to tweet to let everyone know I was OK, to thank them for their support, to say I’d be back soon. But I couldn’t. Simply couldn’t. My fingers just refused to type, like there’s some sort of block.

It all started with an incident on Wednesday night, where I read a tweet about me that was sent as an @reply rather than a DM by mistake. I won’t quote the tweet for you here, but let’s just say that it wasn’t flattering.

I @replied the lady concerned (I couldn’t send her a DM since she’d unfollowed me), saying that I was sorry she didn’t like my tweets, and goodbye, and the whole thing should really have ended there, except that it didn’t.

First of all, this lady was not just a “random tweep”. I’m also friends with her on facebook, I subscribe to her blipfoto journal, and I thought we were friends. Second, I suddenly became worried – were lots of other people sending unflattering DMs about me and this lady was simply unlucky in that she accidentally sent the message publicly and I just happened to be logged on and looking at the screen as it arrived?

My logical brain knows I’m extrapolating unfairly here, but at the time I felt very threatened. This was partly because I am struggling to overcome a fairly major depressive episode at the moment, trying to get settled onto suitable medication, trying to sort my life out, and trying to get back to work where my colleagues are currently having to cover for me. I’ve also been desperately worried recently about a real-life friend, who is struggling to cope with his own ill health and current circumstances, and I feel powerless to help. Furthermore, for some reason the whole thing triggered memories of being bullied at school and college, which brought back a whole lot of hurt and pain that I couldn’t handle.

The result was that within a few moments of reading that tweet I was sitting at my desk in floods of tears. I sent three tweets of frustration, and then logged straight off and closed down the computer very soon afterwards.

A tearful restless night was followed by one of the blackest days I have experienced in recent times. I posted a blipfoto and bared my soul even more than I usually do. I sent several bitter and horribly unfair e-mails to my real-life friend, only adding to his pressures, for which I am sorry. I remembered crying on the steps of a mobile classroom when I was 4, being thumped on my first day at a new school when I was 5, having my hat and scarf pulled off me and thrown in a puddle when I was 11, being held down at age 14 by a gang of girls at school who rubbed muddy paper towels all over my face and then took my bag with its precious books in and ran off to play football with it on the school field. Even into the sixth form and at college people whispered about me, and laughed at me because I preferred to go to the library rather than the college bar.

Of course, this was all a long time ago. I’m grown up now and I’ve largely got over most of it. I look back at my young self and realise that maybe, as a teenager in a northern comprehensive school, I should have learnt to act better. I should have pretended that my favourite music was Duran Duran and not Schubert.

However, that’s not me. I’m an open person who wears my heart on my sleeve. It’s just the way I’m made. My Dad is the same – he has eye problems and carries pictures of retinal scans around in his wallet – he’ll show them to anyone who’ll listen: in the pub, on the street. I’ve inherited his candour, and, some would say, we also share a certain naivety and general belief in the goodness of people.

So these were some of the things racing round my head on Thursday. To add to the general grimness of the day, we had run out of heating oil so had no heat or hot water. I spent much of the day hiding under a blanket on the sofa, getting what warmth I could from a small fan heater.

Sometime in the afternoon, 3 things happened. The first was that I decided I would blip. The link to that blip is on my twitterstream and facebook page if you haven’t already seen it. I’m not quite up to sorting links on here at the moment. The main reason I blipped was that I have “completion” issues. I knew I’d regret it terribly if I didn’t. The Wonderspouse had given me a programme for his Year Zero Writers gig and I browsed through it and found the quote by Daisy Anne Gree, which I blipped. It struck such a chord with me.

The second was that the man arrived with the oil delivery. Once I’d signed for it, looked at the bill and wondered where I was going to find that kind of money, I set about the task of getting the air bubbles from the system so we could get hot water and heat again. The practical work was actually a bit good for me.

The third was that I decided I must go to the Wonderspouse’s gig. This was his big “do”. He’d been planning it and working on it for months. He’s unswervingly devoted to me in every way he possibly can be. To let him down would be unthinkable. I had to go. So I put a coat and hat over my filthy slobby clothes, got in the car (I didn’t even turn the TV off, we discovered when we got home that night) and went.

I lasted most of the evening fairly well, although cracked at the end. Fortunately Daisy, the writer of the quote on my blip, was there, knew exactly how I was feeling, and looked after me splendidly. Thank you Daisy.

And so the climb back out of the dark hole had begun.

Most of yesterday was spent asleep. I did log on to facebook a couple of times and started on the mountain of messages that are there for me. I logged in to twitter and read the many supportive DMs and @replies I’ve received. I also e-mailed my real-life friend a bit more and tried to understand his difficulties rather than my own. I hope he’s forgiven me for the terrible behaviour over the last few days.

So what now?

I am tentatively making my way back onto the internet. I’m managing to go onto facebook from time to time. I’m still blipping. I’m still checking my e-mails. I need to update the “Ears” blog, which is a few days behind.

The lady who sent me the tweet that started all this has not unfriended me on facebook, as she said in her tweet that she would. She has sent me a long and apologetic message, to which I will reply as soon as I am able. It has been suggested that I unfollow her, block her, defriend her, etc. but that is not my way. Maybe she has good reason for saying what she did. Who knows. The Wondserspouse alerted me to the fact that she had changed her twitter avatar to a road sign – she knows I like road signs after a comment I made on blipfoto. She sent me a jolly picture of a road sign on facebook – I wasn’t up to coping with messages at the time and have not yet thanked her for that. I shall, but all this will take a little time.

A second lady, the lady to whom she sent the @reply, has been caught in the crossfire. I’m sorry about that. I have not unfollowed or defriended anybody as a result of all this. I have never blocked any real person on twitter, only bots with unseemly images.

And I shall return to tweeting as soon as I am able. I think one of the things that shocked me most was that I’ve always found the twitterverse to be a place full of fun, support and loveliness. Maybe I’ve been lucky. I’ve always regarded it as somewhere “safe” in the same way that my home is (last August I received some difficult work mail at home on a Saturday morning and the shock of having to deal with something for which I was unprepared led to a day of tears and torment). Perhaps I should be a little more guarded, but being so uses up so much energy that I then don’t have enough left to function or enjoy life.

My reasons for being on twitter are very simple – just to make friends and talk to people who share my interests. I am not famous, or especially interesting. I have nothing to sell or promote. I simply enjoy the opportunities to meet others who like music, maths, animals, books, cups of tea, the arts, science, and all the other interesting things that people do. I try to steer clear of religion and politics where I can, and I don’t swear on the internet (I do in real life, although not especially much, but I’m not the slightest bit offended by it) since I know there are people who don’t like it. I really just like the friendship that twitter offers.

I am deeply grateful for all the supportive messages that I’ve received. Thank you. I shall reply to you all in time. In general, I’ve found everyone I’ve met on twitter to be absolutely lovely. I’ve also started to meet people from twitter in real life and, without exception, they’ve all been fantastic. I’ve been stunned by the generosity of one person in particular, who I now count among my firm friends, and I’ve also got back into the music world through twitter and am looking forward to future playing opportunities that have arisen.

The Wonderspouse said to me when I started twitter that if he thought it was bad for me then he’d ban me from doing it. The fact that he hasn’t done so over the last few days shows that he recognizes the positive effects it has had on my life.

I never thought I’d ever write a blog post called “On Not Tweeting”. Extraordinary!

I’ll be back when I can. It’ll just take a day or so.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

On Reviving My Blog

Yesterday morning I sent someone on twitter a link to one of my previous posts on this blog. In order to obtain the link I looked at my poor neglected blog for the first time in many weeks and was rather shocked to discover that I hadn’t posted anything since early December last year.

So I thought it was about time to remedy that situation and to revive my poor ailing blog before it expires completely. I also thought it might be a good opportunity to apologize to you all for the lack of recent posts and to explain that lack.

Those of you who know me well will have noticed that posts have almost dried up since I wrote “On Holes and Ladders” back in October, and will, rightly, have guessed that my mental health has been unsteady again. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, it was discussed in two previous posts: “On The Big One” and “On Being A Bit Bonkers”.

So I’ve been trying to hold things together, trying very hard to get myself back to work (I was off for almost the whole of October and November) and trying to stay medication free.

I haven’t actually succeeded at either of these objectives. Although I went back to work in December, I am now signed off again, although hoping to return soon. I’ve also had to go back on medication, currently Venlafaxine, if you’re interested, although it looks like that may well change as the result of finally being formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’ve written a little about this as part of my blipfoto journal – you can read the relevant posts here and here.

I have managed, so far, to maintain my “ViolaMaths” blipfoto journal and also my listening diary “A Year With My Ears” although my listening has been somewhat patchy recently, and posts are not updated as regularly as they used to be.

I’m hoping that this will change and my health will now start to improve again as I get appropriate medication sorted out. I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to start writing for this blog again – it’s something I enjoy and I’ve been delighted with the feedback I’ve received on previous posts.

There have been positive things going on in the last few months too. I’ve managed, just, to maintain an online life on facebook, although I’m conscious that I haven’t responded to some of the lovely messages people have sent me on there – I shall as soon as I am able. I’ve also made some lovely and very generous friends on Twitter (one of whom has been particularly generous to me recently and enhanced my life no end). In addition, I have a new “real world” friend whose company I enjoy very much, and, of course, the Wonderspouse continues to take care of his batty wife in his ever loving and patient way!

So this is the first post of 2010, even though we are now at the end of January. I hope there will be more posts to come and life will finally become less of a battle than it has been recently. Fingers crossed!