In which discussing feelings does not come naturally

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“I struggle to see the person you describe” my counsellor says to me, looking over the top of his glasses.

“You tell me, not for the first time, that you often feel woolly and that your brain is slow. You say that you don’t work as fast as you used to. You feel that you are less valuable”

I nod.

“I simply do not see that. Every time I see you, I am struck by the fact that you tell me you are ill, and yet I see, every week, a bubbly, friendly person who is quick and sharp and intelligent”

I don’t quite know what to say. I pause and have a little think.

I describe how when I’m in the office my work moves more quickly, because just by the very nature of being observed you feel compelled to work quickly. Also I can ask colleagues the myriad little questions that occur to you as work. At home I have to answer those myself, or wait for an email, or Skype someone. The flow is different, it is harder to be motivated and fast-paced.

Maybe it is the nature of my job, maybe I perceive that I am not as productive as I used to be – but perhaps that is simply the fiddly and large nature of the tasks I do. I don’t always wrap them up one after the other – they drag on. I guess I’m not comparing like for like, I’m just remembering what was, how it was before. It’s just different. And I know that I find it much harder to organise my thoughts these days. There is always woolliness.

We explore the evidence that actually I am productive; that if my boss had concerns about my productivity that he’d tell me. I repeat that work is fundamentally important to me, pivotal to who I am, to my core values of wanting to achieve and be competent. Work is allowing me to save for my house, which is important to me.

In due course, when I have the house, I will look at my work and see what else I would like to enjoy that both makes me feel more fulfilled and that I can manage. It’ll be less money – I don’t much care about that. Enjoyment will be more important, so long as I can still pay the mortgage.

Following that, he asks me whether I value myself.

What a question. How very complicated.

On the one hand I do, robustly, unshakeably. On the other hand there is self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence about things like my figure and my worth as a potential girlfriend. Quite serious self-doubts which stop me doing things sometimes, that I use an excuse. But also that, following our discussion last week, I had decided to stop assuming what people thought about me and acting on that – instead I would let them make their own minds up and see what happened. And that resulted in a date being planned, which I am pleased about.

He asks first about the bits that I do value about myself. I feel like an arrogant arse saying “Actually I AM smart, and I will look myself in the eye and have that one”. Why do I find that hard, he asks. Because it’s arrogant! “I’m SO brilliant!” I laugh “come on, it sounds ridiculous”.

Then of course we address my worries. Much of it boils down, as ever, to the messages I receive. So many “nos” add up to eroded confidence. An excuse to put yet more in my mouth, to deflect attraction before I risk yet more rejection. I acknowledge that I’m guilty of the myth that being slimmer would magically solve everything, which of course isn’t true. If men can only see that then I don’t want them. I’m not, when I’m forced to admit it – THAT awfully-figured. There are plenty worse than me.

It’s just easy to hide behind myself.

We review the more detailed activity log I’ve kept over the last week. He is struck by how little I mention my emotions, how I feel about given things. To be fair, I put more about that as the week progressed, trying to be open about how feeling bad over the weekend upset me. I feel slightly like I can’t win sometimes; I try to accept what is happening to me, with a resultant lessening of negative emotion around it, then get chided for not being emotionally open enough. I think he wants me to come to the sessions and display more of the anger or the frustration that I write in my log – but that’s not me. I wouldn’t find that productive or helpful, unless I were having a particularly awful day at that very moment.

I tell him it is easy to be focussed in the sessions because I don’t have to physically move, and there is nothing else to distract me. That’s why I can be open and clear and sharp and laugh. I am engaged in the help that he is giving me – that is my focus.

I suppose I had forgotten there would be so much “and how do you feel about that?”, which was silly of me really. I get caught up in the process, the mechanics, the logistics. I acknowledge when I feel physically bad, but unless it’s really bad I don’t look at the emotional impact. The detailed log actually helped me to note the positives, the things I enjoy, the things that make me happy, the glee at doing little things just for myself (sunbathing on hills, for example). I understand that it is important to log the good things as well as the bad, to see everything and not cherry-pick the bad stuff (rotten cherry-pick?)

At the end of the session he exhorts me to write more about what I actually feel, as well as giving me some mindfulness exercises to try out and assess. There is to be more openess with myself.

I keep quiet about the surprising tiny fountain of  perfectly genuine emotion or feeling that popped out of my head a mere ten minutes before our session, but I smile to myself and think there’s hope for this slightly emotionally-uptight girl yet.

In which I have the best friend possible / Dating update

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ghost friends

Yesterday when I got back from an uncommon Monday trip to the office there was a small pile of post waiting for me. One was handwritten and quite clearly not from my bank, or whoever else sends me stuff these days.

Inside was a lovely card, crammed with writing which spilled over onto the back of the card. It was from HBF, following the letter I’d sent to my friends, and it was all about how I’m not a bad friend, how life has gotten in the way, how M.E. doesn’t define me and is just a small part of me, even when it feels like it’s all I am.

She had some very helpful comparisons with a condition that she has, which of course I don’t think of most of the time when I think about her. She was kind and immeasurably wise, and I had a involuntary cry as I read it. She also very cleverly acknowledged that having to deal with a C day (let alone anything worse) probably drives me potty because of who I am, and she was spot-on.

For the millionth time I reflected how lucky I am to have her as a part of my life, and also how she can uncannily see inside my brain, knowing not only what I think and what I worry about, but how she has a talent for finding exactly the right words to say to me. She knows me so well. She is simply the greatest best friend, and I’m so lucky that she still loves me after all these long old years.

I spoke to her that evening, putting a reminder on my phone so that I couldn’t forget if my brain shut down. We chattered and apologised and agreed to mutually stop apologising, for a long time, and it was wonderful. It made me feel lovely.

They are all coming to see me next weekend for a birthdayish barbecue, which has been in the diary for ages. I can’t wait to see them all and give them giant hugs. Yippee!

In other news, there is a glimmer of hope on the dating horizon.

I finished my experimental bunch of analytical swipes on Bumble for my 100 Men project (and that’s got to be my next post…) with not inconsiderable relief. I resumed just swiping left or right for my own amusement.

Bumble has definitely started showing me men who are well over 30 miles away (50 in some cases!) so I conclude that I’ve swiped my way through the entire local pool of residents.

One guy had a lovely smile, and I was pleased when we were a match. I was even more pleased when he replied to my message (having been unmatched by the last two matches I’d messaged!!).

Lo and behold, not too many texts later, he suggested meeting for a drink! Good grief! Without a single nudge from me! It was at the perfect stage, too. Banter had been established, light flirting was happening, and it felt nice and easy.

We’ve settled on next Tuesday. He’s busy this weekend, I’m busy tonight (counselling. Kept that quiet) and tomorrow, I have the birthday BBQ on Monday. I’ve promised to wear heels and to demonstrate I’m worth the extra 5 miles he has to drive from between us both (he lives about 30 miles away, and works very near where I work!).

I hope that I don’t manage to do anything daft in the meantime, but I’m fairly confident I won’t. A handful of texts a day I can manage…

In other man-news, The Doc emailed me at the start of May, 20 days after I’d emailed him about meeting up and getting a hotel. He could do late June, he said.

I’ve completely run out of patience with the stupidly long gaps he leaves before replying, and I’ve now done exactly the same to him. I haven’t replied. Nada. He can see how he enjoys that brand of medicine. I deserve infinitely better than that, even just from a FwB.

The words “sorry, but I think he’s got a significant other” are somewhat to the front of my mind if I happen to think of him now. I suspect he won’t actually notice if I reply or not. Farewell, Doc.

Finally, I’ve got around to putting a list of my favourite ever blog posts onto a new page (given that there are over 650 to read through I thought a summary might be handy!) with links and little notes and everything.

The Hall of Fame is here!

The aches and the pains

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Today is my mum’s birthday. A day for her to be spoiled, to not have to do all the chores.

My sister and the family are coming round for a barbecue later.

Mum, Dad and I have been out for breakfast. In his wisdom, dad booked it for 9am and it was a half-hour drive away (with me as chauffeur). Let’s say that perhaps both mum and I would have enjoyed it being a little later.

Right now I ache all over. I’m so tired. I want to sit very still all day. I don’t want to interact, I don’t want to have to join in. But we don’t always get the luxury of choice.

I feel racked with guilt that I can’t put the gazebo up, can’t be manning the BBQ, can’t do all the prep – I’m not actually sure what I can do today, but whatever I do will be too much. I can’t describe the burden of guilt that this causes. It makes me cry quietly, along with the headache that I simply always have, it never goes away.

I have to join in. I have to make my mum’s day special and not another round of clearing up. I have said I don’t feel very well, which to my ears sounds so selfish but is just necessary. I’m going to have to pre-warn my sister that I’m not having a good day, that I won’t be Fun Auntie today. I’d be Asleep Auntie, given the choice.

Today is just going to be a list of “can’t”s and “haven’t”s. Haven’t made a birthday cake like she does for me. Can’t do all the prep. Can’t play. Can only pretend to be cheerful for a little while. Can’t be useful. Can’t wave a magic wand and make it go away. Can’t help it.

It hurts, it hurts, it fucking hurts. Dammit to hell.

In which there are stats – or, Cots by Numbers

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Table 1

Yes! It’s time for some numbers! Hurrah!

To practice my database skills (geek alert), I’ve recently been fiddling around making a database of some of the key facts about my blog posts (yes, I am tragic. No, I don’t have a life). Mainly, I confess, to see how many dates I’d been on since I started writing it… (53. Thanks data!)

I’ve been writing my blog for almost exactly five years now (2011 and 2016 being each half-years), and in that time I’ve written 646 posts. I’ve had lots of dates (errr, 53), exactly 66% of which were first dates (35) (hence my reputation for not being someone who often progresses to a second date. It’s true. The numbers don’t lie, although my hips sometimes do…)

Here’s a chart about my dates and first dates (because I love charts. It could be more glam, but frankly I’ve spent all day doing data for a living, so given that my fancy work data software isn’t going within a million miles of my Record of Debauchery.mdb file, then a quick Excel chart it is) (after some good-quality pivoting, obviously).

Chart 2

It amuses me that one of the poorliest years of my life (last year) was actually my busiest dating-wise! Yes, I was in denial about being ill, and I was also making the most of living on my own (note subsequent drop in 2016 now I don’t… hmmm).

Frankly I thought I’d had more sex than 40 instances (which may cover more than one shag – for example, when I dated people and visited them – of course we didn’t just bonk once. Oh no no no. This is blogged instances). I was actually disappointed it wasn’t higher! After all, this blog was dreamed up as a way of recording all the adventures I thought I was having. (If you think 40 is appallingly high, I politely suggest you are reading the wrong blog)

The lucky partners-in-bed-and-elsewhere were:

Table 2

…plus a handful of others (a SMALL handful) who don’t get a name because they were at the adult club back in my wild days. This – by the way – isn’t my complete list, in case you were wondering. That genuinely resides in a little black notebook along with the pre-blog people, where I can decode the blog acronyms that I’m starting to forget and write mean comments about their penis size / lack of staying power. Or very occasionally how large their appendage was and how wonderful they were in bed.

Oh! Hang on! I do that here too…

Anyway. We can’t analyse the stats of my blog without acknowledging with a mountain of embarrassment that for ages and AGES I blogged about OG, harping on and on and bloody on in seeming never-endingness about him and his confusing messages and his later non-confusing statements. Happily, I also wrote about some other men too. Lots of them!

Chart 1

I know that’s a mess but I still rather like it.

Flitting back to posts rather than men (hey, Miss Mercurial alert), here are the ones that got over 10 “Likes“:Table 3

And here are the most commented-upon posts (for which a magnifying-glass may be needed to read):Table 4I have another separate “Hall of Fame” list of my favourite or most noteworthy posts (of which there are a mere 80. Five years on, the art of brevity sadly still remains a mystery to me), which I may add as a new page, for permanence. Each post that I’ve chosen deserves a little explanation, I think, or a remenisce at least, and there’s quite enough going on in this post without another vast list.

Instead, here’s a smaller list of my most-written about topics. Suddenly it is all too apparent that I am miserable fart who gets annoyed a lot, but loves her friends, thinks a lot about work (more than sex. Oh the shame. Adjustment of priorities needed) and has more than her fair share of illness and fatigue to write about.

Also, I have moved house a lot. A LOT.

Table 5

Glad to see that “love” actually made it onto the list, what with feeling allergic to it and all that. Quite frankly, when I started the blog back in 2011, I fully expected to find the next person to love within a couple of years max. Just shows that the universe is not always so kindly disposed to grant one’s wishes (you infinite giant red-shifting bastard). Five years later, and I’ve only dated the following people (alas, Dr Fathead was pre-blog, and I dated him the longest at a mighty five months…):

  • MSB – arrogant arse, floral duvet cover, made me incessantly tell him I was going to make him go down on another chap in order for him to come. Also a flake. Dumped by me after a few dates.
  • 10SNW – insipid, crap in bed, unpunctual, obsessed with Woolworths. Dumped by me after a couple of months. Just unbelievably wet and sappy.
  • Mr Bristol (BB) – unreliable penis, took lots of drugs, we weren’t a great match but it was fun to date (and was rather a novelty). He finished with me, in an unimpressive way. I actually liked Bristol more than him so no great sadness.

I was going to say “there’s hope for me yet” if I’m managing to write about love as a concept, but clearly upon statistical analysis I am somewhat cynical and jaded. Ah well, hey ho! Plus ça change. I enjoy being bitchy. Heheh.

In all seriousness, writing a blog – an online journal – has been a joy from the start. I may well look back and spot all the typos (sorry!), but it’s such a pleasure looking through the archives and reading about what I was doing at a given time, all the fun I’ve had, the adventures I’ve got up to.

It might be true that there is less sex in my life now, fewer adventures of the kinky variety, more health challenges – but what I have got out of blogging is a thousand-fold what I have put in. A place to be honest, sometimes painfully but cathartically so. Somewhere to record the minutiae of my life, the little things that add up to the big things. A place to play with language, with words, with expression, to be creative and unrestrained.

It has brought me connections with interesting people from all over the world, some of whom I have even had the pleasure of meeting. It has given me other brilliant blogs to read and follow; things to learn, experiences to share. Tales of fun, love, loss, happiness, the everyday – some have brought me to tears and some have had me in stitches of laughter. It has given a new dimension of richness to my life that I could never have imagined before I started writing. It has also proved to be a way for some of my friends to stay in touch with what I’m doing, to understand what’s happening when I can’t always find the right words to say to them in real life.

On top of this, it has also brought me (neatly packaged and pre-wrapped, as it were) one of the most brilliant friends that I have. I can’t write about what my blog has done for me without acknowledging that little gift. (Hello! You know who you are. As does everyone else, I’m quite sure :oP ) I could never have imagined that happening in a million years, and it is a lovely thing.

I don’t often write in an outwardly-facing direction (it’s usually just me pretending no-one else is reading), but today I must say thank you to everyone who is part of this astonishing thing. Thanks for making it such a lovely experience.

There we are. Starting with my beloved numbers and ending with my darling words, as ever – I love them both equally.

Cots by numbers. One, plus a million others.

xxx

Lessons on how to be kind to myself

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Bubbles

Counselling session 3 last night.

Mercifully there was no more dissection of my marriage and my divorce. I find it quite odd enough that my counsellor lives only round the corner from where Ex-H and his family lived – another of the peculiarities of moving back to ones home town…

I was tired tired tired after a long day at the office. Later in the session we discussed why I didn’t just flop on the sofa and say “ohhh I’m so tired”. Which I sort of thought I had – I did say I was pretty tired when I arrived.

I told him that I didn’t think it was productive to just slump out and not engage simply because I was tired; after all, I want him to help me and for that I need to engage. Very rarely do I think it’s OK not to engage when I’m not on my own. I told him I’d fallen asleep on the on Tube over the weekend which was extraordinarily unusual – I had only done so because I knew that I was safe, therefore it was ok to be a bit vulnerable and just give in to the need to shut my eyes and shut up, that my friend understood perfectly and didn’t think less of me.

The main gist of the session this week was about things that are important to me, and how I try to manage them. We talked a lot about work. I told him about the letter I sent to my friends last week, and how that had not only helped me to accept some of the unavoidable truths about having M.E., but also that I felt some weight lifted off me. I could stop worrying because I’d explained to the people that matter what is going on.

There was lots of discussion about what validates me, what motivates me (not money and not promotion – competence!), how I see myself (not terribly kindly).

He wondered whether it would be helpful to show some people at work the letter, too. I laughed and said, perhaps an edited version – after all, it does actually say “I do love you” – which is not a phrase to generally be uttered at work…

As ever, we picked apart my perceptions of things, why it matters to me to not be a bad friend. We covered my habit of trying to put myself in other people’s shoes and see myself as I think they must see me – boring, dull, tired, diminished. I realised that it’s terribly arrogant to assume that you know what other people think – of course I don’t.

This segued beautifully into my concerns about dating. I actually said “I don’t think I’m a very good prospect right now”, which is mostly to do with being ill and tired and not up to long lovely dates and hours of wonderful sex. But also it is to do with my figure, and the relentless messages that I get that it isn’t acceptable. Social media, the wider media, people I know, people I don’t know – the message is emphatically that fat is bad and thin is good. I’ll repeat what I’ve already said – I’m not even that dreadfully fat! I’m just not a size 12 and I have wobbly bits. There are many out there far plumper than me, but still the message is that I am unacceptable.

We discussed that despite this sadness about my figure and the barrage of messages telling me to get slimmer, I feel I can’t fight the weight battle right now. I simply can’t. He was pleased I acknowledged this – as he said, I have a lot of other battles to fight, and if a little treat helps now and again then I shouldn’t beat myself up about it.

I did acknowledge that I have been successful in my dating endeavours (although I didn’t want to confess quite how successful over the years!), that yes, there are men who find me attractive. But I hadn’t found one yet who was exactly the right mix for me.

He asked me what my “list” was, since I’d mentioned it. My first requirement, without any thought, was that I wanted to be treated equally. I want equality.

Then I laughed and added “from a tall intelligent man with his own hair”, which got a smile.

I then went slightly off on a diatribe about how I know I’m ridiculously picky, but I’ve been married and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having standards, and I’m not going to date someone who isn’t right for me just for the sake of having a boyfriend – I’m not that scared of being single, I was very proud of who I have managed to become since I split up with Ex-H.

He gently suggested that perhaps again, I am presuming to know what other people think when I don’t. That perhaps people can and do accept me exactly the way I am, even like me and appreciate me exactly the way I am. Which is maybe actually a possibility.

My task this week is to keep a more detailed note of what I do each day, alongside my daily grades. In this way, hopefully we can uncover some tangible things that genuinely influence how I feel, both mentally and physically (like the singing lessons I discussed with him, telling him how lovely it was to be told I was good at something – a skill just for me).

We wrapped up with him telling me to be kind to myself, which every week I try and listen to a bit harder. He told me that every week, as he gets to know me, he sees a warm, bubbly, friendly person, and that isn’t a veneer.

I ought to have more confidence that that is still really me…

In which my voice isn’t quite rusty as I thought

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Scales

I’m so behind on what I want to write about – the responses from my fabulous friends to the letter I did actually send out; more acupuncture; an 100 Men project update; a complete data review of my entire blog (which I’m terribly excited about writing and is coming very soon!); updating my photo credits… etc. etc. The weekend’s visit to Casa del Prof only got the most cursory mention, overtaken as it was by our podcasting adventures.

My blogging habits are very different these days. I don’t just sit on the sofa with my laptop scribbling whenever I feel like it (alas). It’s rather antisocial behaviour, plus my mum can’t imagine why I want to spend time on my computer when I work on it all day. So I don’t get to do it as much now I don’t live on my own.

Tonight I have had the lovely pleasure of something new, which I want to scribble about while it is fresh in my mind. A singing lesson.

The choir I’d previously joined was one where you only got the words and not the music, and I was finding it hard to learn songs off by heart given my diminished brain power. It also went on quite late which I struggled with, and was pretty expensive (in my opinion). It wasn’t the right fit for me, so I apologetically left, citing illness.

I thought instead that a half-hour singing lesson would be money much better spent. Fortnightly, because of course a private lesson isn’t cheap, but it’s not silly money.

And I was quite right. Completely right!

It was an absolute joy to rediscover the proper techniques I’d been taught twenty years ago. My good old diaphragm still does its thing quite admirably, it seems. The sound that came out of my mouth was a world away from the slightly nasal and tentative efforts I produce at Rock Band. My nerves vanished once I’d sung a little and asked what to do with my hands (I never know. Now I do).

My teacher was delighted to teach me. I’d said I was rusty and had forgotten all my technique; she heartily disagreed after five minutes. She said I had a lovely tone, that I managed the first set of scales effortlessly, and told me I was a mezzo-soprano who can reach top G (and there I was thinking I was an alto all these years…).

We did scales for the whole lesson, which I fully expected. It was hard work but I loved it. At the end of the session she turned to me and told me that I had a fantastic voice, and that we could do brilliant things with it. Would I like to learn classical arias or musical theatre songs, or a mix? (A mix, clearly. I’ll be dazzled if I can be taught to sing a proper aria creditably, and I love singing songs I know too)

I walked home utterly delighted to have unearthed a buried talent. I’m sure my voice wasn’t that remarkable in my teens – perhaps I have grown into it. It’s always been passable, in tune – I guess that’s the beauty of being taught to really make the most out of it by employing some excellent techniques. All those music lessons of my early years sure paid off, it would seem!

I’m really going to enjoy these grown-up lessons! Hurray!

In which we make a podcast and it’s Not Like That

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NLT_logo

Sunday morning found me in my pyjamas in The Prof‘s bedroom discussing dating, sex, not having children, and people assuming we’re together (plus there were some interesting kissing noises. Oh yes there were).

Kind of standard, really. Another lazy Sunday morning where we hang out in between playing racing games (badly, if you’re me), going out for dinner, trying to get five stars in Rock Band (which we’re kind of cool at), taking over the whole of his flat with my stuff: the usual fun visiting stuff.

Except this time we recorded it and made it into a podcast… which was exciting and terrifying for me in equal measure (mainly because I haven’t been plonked in front of a microphone since I was about 13 and my school choir recorded one of those radio choir singing sessions at Pebble Mill) (Rock Band and SingStar don’t count…).

If you are so inclined, you can now listen to us nattering and laughing, being slightly rude to each other, and discussing what it’s like to be Not Like That by clicking on the logo above (which The Prof has kindly sent me a great Soundcloud link for), or clicking on the player in the Comments below, or finally clicking here for Not Like That Episode 1 (you’ll need to then Download the file to listen to it, if you click the second link).

We had a ball recording it, and I can only fairly warn you that for a girl who sounds a tiny bit posh I do swear a little bit without any thought. Then again, if you read my blog then I swear all over the place, so it probably won’t come as a great surprise!

We have no idea if you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it, but I hope you will.  Feel free to tell us what you think, and to give us taxing questions to ponder out loud for your amusement, should we ever do this again.

Cots and The Prof and our radio voices in real life… what a turn-up for the books!

_____________________

Edit: link updated so there shouldn’t be any technical download glitches (thanks Prof…)

 

In celebration of a B- day

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BMINUS

This might not mean much, it might sound a bit random, but today is a B- day.

And this is significant, because in my scale of how I grade each day (which is based entirely on the old A level grades A-E, with + and – variations) at the start and end, A and B grades are what I deem to be “normal”. Functioning as usual.

I haven’t graded myself above a C+ for months. Months and month. Ever since I started recording my energy levels, in fact.

This is, very quietly, very big news in a small way – a very good day.

A letter to my friends

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This is what I would write to my friends, if I wrote to all of them. Some of them know lots of it; some know a bit; others know only what they choose to see.

______________________

Dear friends,

I feel that I owe you an explanation.

You see, I’m not very well, and that’s why I’ve probably pretty much vanished from your life.

I wasn’t ill before. I’ve only been properly ill for just under a year now. You most likely think of me as fun and happy and full of energy and enthusiasm, if you think of me. Because that’s how I was, and we all like to think of our friends at their best.

But things have changed, and I have had to change with them.

I have this thing called M.E., or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. 

Chronic fatigue isn’t simply feeling tired all the time. On a bad day, I’m not just tired; I’m completely exhausted, physically and mentally. Something in my body isn’t producing enough energy for me to get through the day as normal. Some of my muscles ache too because lactic acid builds up far more quickly than normal. 

My memory can be really bad because my brain doesn’t get enough energy, as well as the rest of me. I find certain things quite confusing sometimes, and when I feel particularly bad, I sometimes struggle to find the words to finish a sentence. Making decisions can be difficult, and executing the logistics needed to plan something has become quite a substantial challenge.

This is really scary for me, because my brain and my quickness has always been something I have been quite proud of. It is very frightening when it doesn’t work as it used to.

Making all the necessary connections to plan a visit to see you, for example. It’s become a really big mental challenge. Not least because I don’t have the energy to hop in the car and drive for three hours, so I have to get the train. Most of you live several train changes away and sometimes even the thought of planning that journey makes me tired.

If I did come to see you, I’d need to spend a lot of time not doing much. I can’t handle three hour shopping trips. An hour is a stretch. I can’t go for long walks any more, which breaks my heart. I want to – so much. I’m trying to learn to accept my limitations, and that is so very hard. 

You know me as independent and confident and active and busy. The person I have to be now is not the same. I have no choice in this; I need help with stupid things like changing my duvet cover. I am profoundly grateful that I have parents who are happy to have me living with them, even if I am frustrated not to be living on my own. I am used to doing everything myself, and it has been a fight to accept that I can’t, just now. Sometimes I get angry and upset, frustrated that I didn’t choose for this to happen to me, frightened that I don’t know how long I will be like this, or if I will ever get better.

Right now I am trying to give most of what energy I do have to work, because they have supported me in the most wonderful way. Working full time, even mostly from home, helps me cling to an important part of normality. It makes me feel useful when often I feel useless. It reminds me that there are still things that I am good at. I am earning enough to save up for my own house, which is a very important goal to me and will be a very big milestone in my post-married life. I am determined to achieve that.

Fighting M.E. makes it worse. I have learned this through bitter experience. My usual method of carrying on regardless, pushing on through the tiredness, is simply the worst thing I can do. Mentally it is a challenge to admit defeat. It isn’t in my nature. But there isn’t any way around it. I need lots of rest, lots of quiet time. It is boring, it isn’t that much fun for anyone else. People tend to get restless, and it is hard for me to be as selfish as I need and admit that I need to stop. So I often do too much when I do see friends, unless you happen to be one of the very very few who I don’t pretend to be fine with, and you can read when I’m tired when I’m not telling you.

If you’re one of my friends with children, then I have to confess that kids are very sadly one of the things that make me tiredest quickest. This is mainly because I love your kids and my nephews, and I can’t help but join in with the playing enthusiastically, even though it’s a bad idea. I can never switch off completely with kids around, and it makes me incredibly sad because they are some of my favourite people and I hate to think they never see me or me them. It’s a big reason why mentally planning to come and see you is even harder, even more confusing, because I simply can’t stay that long, and I also can’t travel loads in quick succession.

So this is why you haven’t heard much from me, or seen very much of me. I’m not doing an awful lot that’s exciting. I don’t have lots to tell. I am so brainless right now that I need people to chase me a little, to get an idea to stick in my head.

I appreciate the people who come and see me, who go out of their way to accommodate me and my new peculiarities. I understand that people have busy lives and I am not the centre of the world. Getting a phone call just asking how I am means a great deal to me. Staying in touch is very important to me, and I hate that the impetus might not be able to come from me a great deal now. 

At the moment I take the path of least resistance, the easiest way. If you wonder why all my Facebook activity is with one of my friends, one you maybe haven’t met yet, it’s because visiting them is comparatively easy. They understand every bit of what I have, and I don’t feel guilty or awkward about it. They understand that when I say I need a quiet afternoon, I mean the whole afternoon and not a quiet hour. Stillness is something I need, it’s the only thing that helps me to recharge, the only way I ever get to have enough energy for any of the fun stuff, in small doses. Every photo on Facebook of me doing something fun is a record of a big achievement now.

All you need to know is that I miss you. I miss what I used to be able to do. I miss who I was. It hurts me a great deal not to be that girl any more. I miss being able to plan fun visits and crazy adventures with you. I hope more than you can ever know that I will be able to do those things again, that I will get better. I’m having counselling to try and come to terms with what is happening to me, to try and learn to accept the changes that I hate so much. I want to be your friend because I love you and you are important to me. I worry that I am being a bad friend because of how little I can do. I worry that for some of us, we are drifting apart because I haven’t got the resources to be the one driving staying in touch.

I’m sorry that things aren’t how they used to be. If I had any choice they would be, but I don’t. The friend you love is still here – I’m just subdued. But I hope that I’ll return, for more silliness, more fun, more adventures – and that you can bear with me in the meantime.

Love, as always, your friend 

Cots xx

Revisiting love, loss

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My second counselling session this week was less tearful. There was no observing myself in the third person, no hovering above myself. There was less focus on my mask and my habit of hiding things.

There was just one exploration of why I habitually pretend that everything’s OK. 

“Why do you do that, pretend that everything is OK?”

“Because if you fake it for long enough, sometimes it becomes true…”

That’s not to say it wasn’t full of things that are difficult to talk about; quite the opposite. Instead this week the focus was on my past relationships and where my behaviour patterns have come from.

I nixed any suggestions that I’d had a difficult childhood, or any traumas then. I didn’t; I had a happy, contented childhood – even as a teenager there wasn’t any more than the usual boy-related angst. So I quickly closed that one down.

We talked at great length about my marriage, about my ex-husband. It was interesting to talk to someone who never knew him, someone neutral. As part of this discussion, my affair came out, the tale of Mr U.

It was hard. I’ll talk about the complexities of my ex-husband, about his depression, his quirks, the fact that I couldn’t help him, couldn’t understand what it was like, adapted myself to mould around him, anything for an easy dynamic – I was young; I didn’t know anything else.

But to ask how it felt to be loved by someone who gave me warmth and sunshine, uncomplicated affection, professional respect, teasing, laughing, and an equal footing – oh, that was hard. Quite aside from the fact that it was morally wrong, what we did, I only allow myself to think about him very rarely. That the person who gave me the most love inside the last ten years (romantically) was someone I could never keep.

After discussing my marriage, the end of it, the building of the new life I made for myself afterwards, my counsellor said he felt emotionally exhausted, especially by my descriptions of daily married life.

“Is is possible that your life was so tiring, without you realising it at the time, so draining, that now, years later, you have finally given yourself permission to stop, to be exhausted?”

This is, apparently, my thing to reflect on until my next appointment.

I don’t believe that it is true. If I had chosen to be exhausted then I could unchoose. I could choose to not be fatigued. As I told him, I miss my busy active life. I miss visiting my friends at the weekends all the time. I miss walking 10 miles for pleasure. I miss the possibilities. Why would I choose to lose those things? I love those things.

Next time, I will focus on the reality that this is something physiological, something I cannot control. Then, he can help me with the acceptance part, and how I move forwards without feeling stuck.

Curiously, the acupuncture that I had yesterday seemed very effective. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when she placed a needle in the top of my head. The migraine that had come to more than the visual disturbances that I get perhaps once a year was much lessened. I can face the visit of my choir chum CS this weekend with alacrity rather than worry.

Annoyingly, I’m on my way into the office today. My usual mid-week trip was deemed a very bad idea after the horrors of Monday night and the resulting Tuesday flat out in bed, completely useless. An emergency sleeping tablet on Tuesday night brought vast improvement on Wednesday, but I thought some consolidation time would be wise.

Helpfully I woke this morning at 4.21am. I dozed, and tried not to stress about it. No meetings today, just work stuff. I’ll buy some cakes at the station for the team. My favourite office-day lunch at lunchtime, and home in time for CS to arrive. 

At this precise moment, en route to work, my train has pulled into the station in my old town. I’ll see my old house in a moment, and I’ve learned to let it go, that independence, just for a while. In a few minutes I’ll pull into another station where I collapsed puffing in a heap on the steps on bonfire night, and I’ll smile at the memory and try to think that even though I’m not better-better, I’ve come a long way since then.

One of the most helpful other things I found this week was a song. I’m perpetually behind the times pop music-wise, but I recalled I’d meant to download Alive by Sia, and I’m glad I did. A new song-crush, perhaps, but also a musical happy-sweet.

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