“To come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear! To feel the cloud that hung over us lift and disperse – the cloud that dulled the heart and made happiness no more than a memory! This is at least one joy that must have been known by almost every living creature.”

– Watership Down (Richard Adams)

There are two things I love about this quote:

  1. its expression of  joyful relief that comes with the lightening of a heavy burden
  2. its expression of (or rather, of my experiences of) of anxiety and depression

2013-11-11 21.30.20

I’ve become well acquainted with my own personal cloud lately, the one I insist on carrying around with me, the one that I suffer under at least partly of my own choosing. My cloud is the ever present and insistent judgement that I am not enough. Usually not good enough but there are numerous variations on the theme.

It has been a while since I’ve suffered as loud and persistent a negative self-judgement as the one I’ve ‘enjoyed’ over the last couple of months. Two people who I respect and admire have advised me recently that lessons (or sufferings) are repeated until we learn from them so I’ve been reflecting on what it is I need to learn from it. Not a terribly pleasant pastime, I have to say, and I put quite a lot of effort into busying myself to avoid reflecting on why I might feel a bit pants …

My conclusion – I am too busy looking to other people for validation that I am enough. That I do enough, that I am productive enough, that I am good enough, that I am a good enough human being, that I am a good enough colleague, a good enough friend … the list goes on. With a sense of mild shame, I’ve just realised that I was desperately hoping to get this validation and reassurance from my last romantic relationship and when it ended I was left feeling that I would never get the reassurance and confirmation that I sought.

Being unwilling to give myself permission to feel that I am enough, just as I am, causes me problems. It causes me to push myself unreasonably hard to try and persuade other people to give me permission to stop, slow down every now and then, to believe I am enough. Oops. That’ll explain the exhaustion and unwillingness to admit I was unwell for about 6 weeks then …

*sigh* we live and we learn. At least I try to. And the dispersal of the oppressive cloud and the realisation that the world is even more beautiful than you remembered, when you take a proper look around again, is a joyful thing. Forcing myself to write and share this has pushed me to be crystal clear about my story and what I am going to learn from this. Just to make sure I’m still on the road to being better or good enough in some way 😉

Think it is about time I stop, relax and read a book for a bit before bedtime …


Conflation & castigation

I’ve been reflecting on things again. [“What?” I hear regular readers of my blog cry, “surely not?! That is so out of character for Louise …” 😉 ]
So anyway, I have been reflecting on things, some might even say I’ve been over-thinking. I attended a Landmark education seminar recently and I walked away deep in thought about something that I learned there. One of the things I took away from the seminar was trying to separate events that have happened in our lives from the interpretation we have made of those events.


I clocked a while ago that one of the interpretations I made about the hurts I suffered that led to the break up of my marriage was that I deserved to be hurt. Somehow, the only way I could rationalise finding myself in the situation I did was to decide I had done something to deserve it. This is absolutely one of the factors that kept me in a failing relationship for so long. I thought I’d dealt with this belief of mine, but as I thought about it on Monday night after attending the seminar I realised I hadn’t laid it to rest as well as I thought.
I still use the mental calculation that when I feel hurt, it must be because I have done something to deserve feeling hurt  to guide decision making about my future. I end up feeling that I am completely irresponsible whenever I end up feeling hurt, the mental calculation going something like this:
I get hurt > I must have done something to deserve being hurt > it is my responsibility to look after myself and avoid being hurt > therefore I have taken irresponsible risks and should have weighed the risk more carefully before acting.
As I read that back, it seems a bit loony even to me (self declared queen of neuroticism!). I am trying to replace this line of reasoning with a more helpful one:
I get hurt > something about what I did or what happened didn’t work very well for me > I will try and learn from what happened to avoid being hurt in the future > I will build this into my risk calculation model for future decisions.
I find 2) a hell of a lot more useful! And it involves a lot less self castigation than 1). It’s a win on all levels! Not that it is easy to implement in practice, but I am determined to work at changing my mental framework until 2) is the default.
Wish me luck with that one! I’ll keep you posted on how it works. There is also another interpretation that I am working on challenging that sounds even more pathetic than this one, so give me a bit of time to work on that one and then I’ll share it with you 🙂
I’ll leave you with my track of the moment: Strange Glue by Catatonia …

Foreign dialogue

I come to Madrid to get lost. Walking through El Rastro – the Sunday flea market – is a crush of people. It isn’t always possible to stop and peruse the stalls you want to, the movement of people doesn’t always permit it. So I gave myself up to the ebb & flow of it and let myself be carried. An insignificant one in a tide of many. It is liberating to blend in with a crowd in Madrid and I’ve never felt lonely doing so.

The language barrier leads me to feel lonely, but the people, the city and the feel of Madrid don’t. The language thing is really all about my own insecurity and embarassment at not being able to step into someone else’s world with speech. This makes me feel very vulnerable and I have a hard time dealing with that.

The other side, however, is that every communication is a gift, for which I feel immense gratitute. I’ve tried a lot harder to communicate with people this time in Madrid and it has paid off. A potted mixture of Spanish words (badly pronounced), a wryly confessed “no hablo Espanol”, some patient English and well thought gesture have relieved my isolation. Every time I pluck up the courage to wear my ineptitude (rather than clumsily hide it or hide behind it) I get an unrepeatable, precious sharing, a rush of deeply felt gratitude for the moment/kindness/humanity and a ridiculous sense of achievement. It is really difficult for me to be so vulnerable, but it is also really important.

After years of thinking being strong meant holding on to everything so, so tightly, I’m finally learning about the courage needed to let things go.

Note: trying to explain what ‘bugger’, my favourite swear word, meant to a Spanish friend was particularly entertaining … !

Fragments of me in Madrid

I don’t go to see modern art expecting to know what I am doing.  This used to put me off and on a bad day it still will.  However, I went to Madrid braced and ready to open myself up to the unfamilar territory of art and hoping I would learn something.  Reminding myself to be patient and that I am entitled to experience something, even if I don’t grasp it in its entirety immediately, gives me the confidence to try.  So I do try and I always take away something beneficial from the experience when I do.

In short, having any response to the art is enough to justify my attempt and being a human being, it is impossible for me to have no response at all.

This is very much the attitude with which I approached the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.  I have to admit, right at the beginning of this post, that after only two hours of persevering with appropriate contemplation I was relieved to finally step outside into the cool, refreshing night air of Madrid.  I had been trying to find an exit for 10 minutes, having realised my brain had had enough of being confronted by white room upon white room and of being bashed with the big stick of modern art over and over again.  As I stood outside I was overcome by a feeling of kinship and familiarity with the foreign streets of Madrid, their foreign bustle and chatter and even the ever present and somewhat terrifying volume of traffic.

I went to the museum for the last two hours of its day, where the entry was free.  I preferred to think the hordes of other visitors (the free entry seemed popular) were approximately as bewildered by the prospect of modern art as I.  That thought made me feel better, anyway.

I think I am slowly building up a mental schema for dealing with modern art.  I have my methodology for exploring a gallery now.  Having glanced at a plan and noted any names I know, I wander from room to room or cluster to cluster.  Sometimes I follow what catches my eye, sometimes I follow other people.  When I find myself in a room I purposefully tackle it in a non-linear fashion.  Sometimes I zigzag across a room.  Sometimes I just head for pieces I particularly like.  Only if nothing really catches my attention do I make a conventional circuit.

On this visit I feel I managed to learn something about Cubism.  I still don’t really enjoy te paintings, but having read the information cards I realised I both understand and agree with some of its philosophical underpinnings.  This was interesting as I thought it was utterly alien.  So I learnt a little something and expanded my world just slightly.  By and large, however, I have decided I don’t like cubist paintings.

The things I like are thethings that move me, that evoke an emotional response.  It never ceases to amaze me that inanimate things can convince me to feel.  Even more fascinating is tracing back the chain of associations to unpick the journey started simply by my eyes alighting on a foreign object.

I encountered a cuboid metal frame with a colourful, slightly worn looking, striped canvas stretched in several zigzags between two upright, parallel faces of the cuboid shape.  My first thought was of home.  It brought to mind deck chairs and the traditional English seaside.  To have an experience of such familiarity in the middle of a stark, minimalist modern art gallery in the middle of Madrid (so far out of my comfort zone and away from home in so many senses) stopped me in my tracks.  There was also the contrast between that and the unfamiliarity of the object in question.  It wasn’t really remotely like a deckchair.  The harshness of the geometric lines, its metal framing and the suggestion of a conveyor belt had connotations of industry and mechanisation.  I experienced discomfort on at least 2 planes.  I found the experience of unpicking my emotional response absorbing and stimulating.  Objectively I could see no reason why this object, of all the strange forms in the room, should speak to me, but it did.

The object I saw is a sculture by Alighiero Boetti and was part of the exhibition estrategia de juego  and the link below shows what it looked like:

Lost in Translation

I rewatched Sofia Coppola‘s Lost in Translation a few weeks back.  When I first saw it at the cinema in 2003, it was one of my favourite films.  I rewatched it again about a year ago and wasn’t sure what I’d liked so much about it.  On the most recent rewatching either I rediscovered what that was or discovered new things to love about it.  It is once again one of my favourite films.

What I like most about the film is its emphasis on detail (as anyone who reads my blog regularly might be able to guess as detail is something I bang on about all the time).  The nuance of how the story is told attracts me and, indeed, it is nuance that tell the story.  To begin with we realise our two main characters are each living in quiet desperation.  This is a state of affairs with which I have a great empathy (more so, I might add, when I first watched the film) so I am immediately pulled in to the story.  Of course, it is quite difficult to convey quiet desperation with big expression or great impact.  To do so would be incongruent.  The film opens with the Bill Murray character travelling through Tokyo to his hotel.  The music is quiet and understated.  We experience, though him, the small details of the hotel room, the soft click of the curtain rail as the curtains open automatically.  The mild frustration that is almost imperceptibly channelled into defeated resignation at the fact that the shower head is impossibly low.  Humour comes from the recognition of being somewhere and feeling out of place by a thousand tiny little differences.  None of them big enough to make one feel justifiably aggrieved, but they are culminatingly and quietly overwhelming.  What really makes these scenes, however, is the attention to facial expression given by director and actors.

The relationship between the two main characters builds in a similar way.  The two find themselves both just slightly out of place, knowing things aren’t as they perhaps should be but unable to put their fingers on precisely why.  For Bob shooting the whiskey ads and the promotion that goes with them are demeaning, but quietly, in a having-crept-up-on-him kind of way.  You get the sense that at an earlier point in his life he would have laughed about it more.  As he alludes to in a conversation with Charlotte he shared adventures in places half way across the world with his wife before they had children, but this is no longer possible.  Underlying his actions is a gentle resignation to the choices he has made, his commitment to his family and the realisation that he has ended up feeling like a stranger in his own life.  Charlotte has yet to find anything that gives her purpose in life.  She is clearly convinced she never will and feels oppressed by the search for something to do with her life.  I remember that tail end of adolescence and its feeling of being out of place well as it was not so very long ago I was there, in the thick of it myself.  Bob knows that she will find her way, make choices that give her that longed for sense of purpose and then these will then constrain her in ways she never could have forseen.

What they find in the foreign country and in each other is some measure of freedom to explore who they each are, to gently explore other possibilities for being.  Their relationship isn’t about sex or love, more about solace.  They each find a measure of comfort in the recognition of their shared out-of-place-ness. Finding another who manages to correctly interpret all those details of expression of how life isn’t quite working out the way each of them planned gives them both comfort.  The essence of their connection is expressed neatly in the importance of insomnia in the building of their friendship.  It is the time of the day when no one else is awake; no one else is paying any attention.  When I first watched this film it made me ache with longing for someone to pay that much attention to the details of how my life wasn’t working out the way I wanted it to.  I wanted someone to tune into the minute ways in which I expressed my unhappiness because the constraints I’d chosen to abide by didn’t allow me to make it any more obvious.  Things have now changed for me, but I still love the emotional subtlety and content of the film.  I find in it an affirmation that feeling a little out of place is not necessarily a bad thing and the subtle shift in perception that comes from questioning where/who/why you are is part of being human.  In my experience, all the interesting stuff happens as a result of the nuance and detail that requires of us that bit more care/thought to decipher and, sometimes, also in plain luck of being on the wrong side of the glass, looking in, for a bit.

Celebrating my birthday or, in other words, my friends are amazing!

It was my birthday at the end of June and I decided to have a proper celebration last Saturday, leaving it a couple of weekends for various reasons.  I wanted to try and get a fair number of my friends together for it – they are diverse bunch and I thought carefully about what I could arrange that would be fairly low key and appeal as widely as possible.  I settled on having a bbq in Preston Park with invitees bringing their own food.  My first mistake was choosing an outdoor event!  I spent no small amount of time worrying about the weather and disappointing people if it wasn’t good enoug to bbq.  I had a panic the Monday before where I managed to convince myself that if the weather was bad everyone who turned up would stand and stare at me in undisguised boredom and/or contempt.  Not that I hadn’t a back up plan – that was one of my first decisions after choosing a bbq.  My back up plan was to head to the nearby pub.  A plan that, in all likelyhood, was not going to go down badly.

So I had my panic and my housemate talked me down, nice chap that he is.  As the week wore on I spent more and more time obsessively checking the weather forecast and wondering what the day would bring weatherwise.  I was anxious about when to make the call to abandon all plans to bbq, especially as people would be bringing food with them.  I was anxious about parking near the park.  I was anxious about us managing to meet up (even though, at the suggestion of another friend, I had specified meeting at the clock tower).  I was anxious that my friends wouldn’t get on.  I was anxious that no one would turn up.  I was anxious that people would turn up and I would disappoint them.  All this anxiety, though, is pretty much par for the course in my life.  In fact, I suspect that I would find things to worry about, bbq or no.  At least the focus of organising a bbq meant I had something to look forward to at the end of it and a constructive focus for my anxious tendencies rather than random/unanchored anxiety.

I remember wailing to Martin (my housemate) on Monday, very possibly with full dramatic lip wobble,

‘Nothing ever goes right for me unless I plan it to the nth degree, things never just “work out in the end” for me!’

Oh the melodrama!

As it happens, we drove into Brighton (Martin very kindly drove), found a place to park immediately and also realised we parked right near the bbq spots.  We were also in direct line of sight to the clock tower.  Result!  The weather was fab in the afternoon – blowy but very sunny and warm.  The next lovely thing was that friends started showing up.  For once I didn’t have to turn up somewhere on my own and wait, because Martin, his son and I got there together.  I started on making up the Pimm’s (which has somehow become my signature contribution to outdoor events in the summer) and permitted myself to feel pleased.  Then other friends started appearing.  Michele was first, followed closely by Juan and Elona.  Juan immediately got involved with the bbqs; he was my partner in fire-creating-crime for the staff bbq I organised at work recently.

While I am off on a tangent about the staff bbq – I organised a bbq for approx 80 people on a budget of £3 a head (money recouped by donations from attendees).  That was a bit scary, but organising a bbq for my birthday with only my friends was scarier.  Perhaps because the people at work were a captive audience – I had managed to negotiate with the Head of School to have the bbq as the last School meeting of the year which was a fairly popular decision.  And I had more help with the staff bbq.  Perhaps also because my birthday mattered more personally.  My professional reputation may well have been more at stake with the work bbq, but my feelings and my sense of identity within my group of friends were much more at stake with my birthday celebration.

Back to the arrivals of my friends.  Harry showed up soon after, and was subjected to a mild inquisition about his recent vegetarianism.  Next to arrive was Mark.  Later on some of the group with whom I jaunted to Amsterdam earlier in the year arrived – Jason, Rob, Grant and Kevin.  Even later, when I had completely relaxed and forgotten who else I’d invited, James (there are many people called James I know – this was a chap from work) and his girlfriend showed up.  We cooked loads of food, worried a bit about food poisoning, drank and were merry.  At some point I stopped finding things to faff about with to distract from my anxiety and relaxed.  The weather was fab and I was surrounded by lovely people who clearly had an interest in celebrating my birthday.  I brought chocolate gingerbread cake (I make myself a birthday cake every year, because I love making cakes).  Elona decorated it with leftover strawberries and it looked fabulous when she’d finished with it.  James started off a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday and I thoroughly enjoyed being the centre of attention.  I haven’t had any one sing me Happy Birthday for years and it was wonderful!  They sang so loudly and I jumped about and threw my arms in the air so joyfully that we attracted stares from the nearby group of people bbqing.  I was thrilled to bits!

After all that we played frisbee for a bit and Martin very kindly drove back home with the rubbish and left over bits, leaving me free to linger as long as I liked.  People had started drifting away by this time, but a few of us were still sitting chatting at 7.30 pm.  I remember interjecting to a conversation between Mark and Harry, where the objective was to persuade Harry to use twitter.  I remember Michele bringing fabulous chips from Bankers and a bunch of beautiful flowers.  I remember enthusiastically recounting my recent dating fail, which amused those that hadn’t already heard it.  I remember lying on my back, staring up at the sky, listening to the conversation around me and feeling incredibly happy.  I remember recieving many thank yous for organising a get together, which I find amazing; I organised it simply because I wanted to.  I wanted their company and I wanted to do something fun and make a bit of a fuss about my birthday.  They obliged me, not the other way round.

There are other friends who I know wanted to make it and couldn’t, so thank you to all of you: those that came along on Saturday and those that couldn’t/didn’t, you are all instrumental in my life.  I would be nowhere without my lovely friends who keep me sane, listen to my neurotic ramblings and for some reason continue to find me interesting.  You are all wonderful and I love you all dearly, you know who you are.

Once things wound up, I went for a lovely wander along the seafront with an especially dear friend meaning I didn’t have to go home too early, but could step down from the business and bustle of a largish group which is what I needed at that point in the day.  I normally struggle with winding things up/finishing things, but it all worked perfectly.  I got to do the shouty, organisey, in charge bit; the fun, chatting, soaking up sunshine, drinking bit and the winding down with philosophical musings bit.  What a perfect day!

BBQ here

Fanning the flames … or not as the case may be

Anyone reading this who follows my twitter account will no doubt have read about my recent date that ended up not a date.  I certainly tweeted enough about it!  Part of the reason for this was that I was so excited about the prospect of it – I actually plucked up the courage to ask a bloke out on a date!  We went out and had a lovely evening, but it became clear that he wanted only friendship.  I was, of course, disappointed.   However, even after that awkward moment in the conversation, and with the help of copious quantities of alcohol, we managed to continue having a good time and enjoying each other’s company.

Obviously I felt rejected and disappointed.  While it was wonderful to discover a new friend, someone with whom I managed spend about 7 hours chatting, part of me was thinking “I went to all the trouble and anxiety of putting myself out there and I didn’t even get a date out of it? Life is so unfair!”  It took weeks of casual chatting whenever we bumped into each other before I had even considered suggesting we spend some time together outside work.  It had involved so much bravery to start finding reasons to strike up a conversation with this guy.  There were plenty of times where I got nervous and therefore completely flustered when talking to him.  So many times where I felt I had said completely the wrong thing and then berated myself.  Add also plain fear of rejection and the humiliation that ensues.  It felt like having courageously completed some kind of obstacle course, having faced down terrifically scary odds, only to find I still wasn’t good enough.

When I thought about it some more, I realised all these anxieties and scary challenges are things I face every time I make a new friend.  For some reason I’ll give myself permission to feel intimidated by the prospect of inviting someone on a date, but I consider it silly to feel so anxious about embarking on a new friendship.  This is ridiculous as there is not that much difference between the two.  I find both activities to be hugely anxiety ridden.  As soon as I do anything that makes it clear that I am making an effort to seek someone else’s company I feel incredibly vulnerable.  I find this is the case with both men and women so it isn’t a dating specific anxiety.

As I think about it more, the process of getting to know someone better and establishing a framework within which you can relate to one another fairly comfortably is no easy task.  Relationship building seems to be a kind of project that is both amazingly resilient and incredibly fragile all at the same time.  Fragile because it takes such a lot of putting out feelers ever so tentatively to find out if someone else is genuinely interested in you.  It feels like any false step, for example assuming too much, interpreting a casual comment as being indicative of much deeper feeling than it is or not responding warmly enough to another’s tentative attempts at friendship, could doom the whole process.  Then there is the general possibility for misunderstanding and misinterpretation when dealing with other people.  It is so easy to interpret their behaviour in terms of our own insecurities and assumptions and we can therefore get it so wrong.  This human endeavour is also surprisingly resilient however, because in spite of all the above we  human beings do generally succeed in making strong alliances with others.  Admittedly, I have become much better at it with practice.  It takes time, patience as well as willingness to take risks and to make yourself vulnerable.

The other thing this links to for me is my difficulty with asking people for help.  This is something I have been at pains to work on over the last few months.  I find it really hard to ask for help and I habitually tell myself before even trying that there is no reason for anyone else to have any interest in helping me.  Funnily enough this doesn’t encourage me and is not even necessarily true!  I guess, again, it is the prospect of being visibly vulnerable that bothers me.  I have always valued being self sufficient so highly and this trait has benefitted me in many ways.   For years I’ve coped by being in control and not relying too heavily on other people.  But I can achieve so much more and be so much happier with the help of other people.  I have only to ask for help and then allow them to offer it.

‘Only’ – as if it is just that easy 😉

What has helped me get over my terror of exposing my vulnerability to other people is the growing discovery that many of the people I encounter find it similarly perplexing.   To round up where I started, the cute guy at work who I asked on a date and I are now pretty firm friends.  We have found a sympathetic ear in each other for our stuff and worries.  When I confided in him that even something as simple as sending a text to a friend I didn’t know that well was a difficult thing for me to do, to my complete surprise he agreed and said he felt exactly the same.  We found we both have spent periods of feeling quite lonely and not really been at all sure how to reach out to other people and to start off friendships.  We both find the prospect of doing so pretty damn scary.  Funny, because he does a really good job of making it look like he has life all sorted out, is really confident and doesn’t need anyone and of course that doesn’t remind me of anyone else I might be intimately acquainted with at all …

Just for good measure, and as I don’t have any apt photographs, I’ll leave you with my latest playlist (started earlier in the month and finished a few days ago).  I’m not trying to say it particularly goes with the post, but like what I’ve written it represents some part of where my head has been over the last few weeks.  I’ve decided I like it, but any kind of analysis is not forthcoming.  Just liking it is enough.

Louise’s June 2011 playlist