Dirty secrets

When I was 16 I had two periods within a few months where I spent a week or so in hospital.

Both occasions I was very lucky – far more so than I realised at the time. The first was during my GCSE’s when, instead of doing my exams with my friends, I opted for the far more dramatic path of developing Meningitis and almost dying. I spent what I think was around a week in hospital in a private room, and remember very little about it other than my doctor being Italian, and my brother doing impressions of the night I was brought in when I was basically dead, which he pretended to find hilarious so he didn’t have to admit he was frightened.

(Side note; Meningitis sucks, you might not get the rash – I didn’t – check out other symptoms here and get the bloody vaccination if it’s offered, particularly if you’re off to uni, it’s not just babies, and 17 years later I still have lingering after effects – and I HAD the vaccination!)

The second time was a few months later when – in the spirit of grabbing life with both hands (and to make my shaved head and leather jacket aesthetic work), I bought a crappy old motorbike and promptly crashed it, parking it upside down on top of myself – the accident itself left me bruised but not seriously hurt, but three days later my appendix ruptured and my Mum had another late night rush to the hospital to get me treated (though initially we both thought I had period pain and was just being dramatic!)

 

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*Not my motorbike, but the one that 16 year old me would have chosen if I could, probably…

 

The first time I was in hospital, and in the weeks following, I got really into daytime TV – watching a lot of ‘This Morning’ type shows and awful documentaries that showed sad people doing sad face about sad things, or makeover shows, that kind of thing.

The second time I didn’t have my own TV, and didn’t have any money to rent one, which is what they did in hospitals then (do they still do that? Is that still how it works?!) and was on a ward with lots of lovely old dears who were, like me, post-surgery for various things, and we all had many hours of quiet time to tolerate between visiting hours. I finished the one book that had been brought in very quickly, and was B.O.R.E.D.

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The lady in the next bed had a HUGE stack of magazines, and when she realised I had nothing to entertain me she passed them over – and it was all trashy things like Take a Break, Chat and Pick Me Up – and  initially she handed them over saying “I doubt the stories are your kind of thing, but the crosswords might help you while away some time” and that’s where I started, but once I’d done those I read some of the stories, then all of the stories, then was thrilled when a lady at the far end of the room had some more so we could trade!

 

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LOOK AT ALL THE JUICY STORIES!

 

Thus began my deeply ingrained love of trash.

Trash TV  and trash magazines – generally of the ‘true life story’ flavour rather than celebrity – and this now includes made-for-TV movies on the Hallmark channel – are where I turn when I’m feeling glum, when I’m poorly, when I’m lonely, when I have PMT, when it’s Wednesday evening and my kids are with their Dad, when I want a long soak in the bath, when I can’t concentrate on a book, when I have a deadline I should be meeting, basically whenever I can make an excuse to myself to indulge.

I am teased mercilessly for this by those close to me, and try to hide my dirty habits, but however many times I pretend that I’m classy, read classic literature and have a love of opera, I still pick up a copy of Take a Break most weeks, and have long since stopped pretending it’s for the puzzles.

So there you have it – my dirty secret is out! Who’s with me? Share your dirty secrets below – whether it’s owning a collection of My Little Pony figurines or actually keeping up with the Kardashians, I know I’m not alone in my shameful habits!

 

You’re not broken.

For long periods in my life, I’ve felt broken. Broken by things that have happened to me, by the things that other people have done, and said, to me. About me. I’ve felt that I’m shattered into pieces, and don’t know how to carry on, and I’ve felt lost, and alone, and afraid.

In those times, where I’ve felt that I’m simply the dust that once made up a person, with no idea how to put myself back together, I’ve wished for someone or something to walk into my life and sweep me back together into some semblance of a whole.

I’ve sought out a fix, a solution, a magic Fairy Godmother or dashing Prince Charming, to take over and tell me, or show me, how to be whole, and to put my flyaway pieces back into a mould that can form the shape I’m supposed to be.

That sense of loss of shape has given people who didn’t deserve it the power to shape me, to tell me who I should be, how I should be, what I should be. I’ve given far too many people that power over the years, and always felt that the shape I naturally was, my inner self, was all wrong and was letting them all down.

The self I was inside never matched up to the standards they set, and I broke myself even more, snapping off the carefully glued together edges to try to fit myself to what I thought they wanted, what they thought they wanted, under the assumption that their views of me were more right and more important than the feelings and ideas I had for myself.

There are many reasons for this voice inside my head that told me I had to be other. There were many other voices from the people I surrounded myself with backing it up.

Even when I reached the point where I said “ENOUGH” and fought back against those cruel voices, I still doubted that inner voice, and still spent time seeking out the answer, some other voice that I could trust, who would shape me without taking advantage of me, and give me some guidance on the right way to be.

But there isn’t one.

There is no external body, no outer voice, no all powerful being who can give you the answers to who you are, what you are, and what you ought to be.

It’s already there, on the inside, and the answer doesn’t come from a guru, from a gathering, from a friend or a partner or a paid counsellor who can tell you how not to be broken any more, or hold your pieces together for you.

And it’s taken me a long time, and a lot of voices, and a fortune in counselling through various sources, to realise that and recognise it.

To recognise that the only voice that truly matters is the one that was there all along. The one I boxed away, stopped listening to, tried not to hear, and doubted all my life.

Among the many voices saying “no” or “you can’t” or “you’re actually no good at that” there is just one quiet voice, who never shouts, who never argues, who never hurts. It’s the smallest of the voices, and the one I’ve heard the least throughout my life.

But she’s the one who matters.

The one who says “maybe not, but how can we know for sure unless we try?”

The one who rumbles in my gut when something seems a little off, but I’ve always done it for the sake of someone else, only to be hurt by the doing.

The one who knows me, best of all.

That inner voice is the one I need to learn to listen to the most – the one I need to trust. Because despite the many years of being ignored, questioned, battled and shut down, that voice is the only one who has never guided me wrong.

If that voice wants it, it’s the right thing. If that voice doubts it, I’ll get hurt. If that voice questions it, I need to look at why.

And  the idea that someone or something external needs to enter my life to give it meaning and paste together the dust I became when I fell apart doesn’t exist. All that exists is the knowledge that, really, deep down, I was never broken anyway. I might have shrunk, I might have hurt and been afraid, I might have doubted – but I never broke, because every day, no matter what, no matter how hurt or how afraid, I got up and did the day anyway. Sometimes just the bare basic necessities, but I did it. It might have taken time to get there, but I always protected myself in the end. It might have been hard and I might have been lost on the way, but I always found the path.

That voice has always been there, and no matter how small, that me has always been whole – and the only thing that broke was my ability to see it.

The only thing that has ever truly been broken by everything I’ve lived through is my ability to hear that tiny voice, and act on the things it says.

Even very recently I was still hoping for “a real grown up” to tell me what I need to do, and how to do it. But I sat in my little home this evening and I realised that I’m already doing it, every single day, and more successfully than I give myself credit for. And rather than thinking of all the things I’m not achieving, and the things I failed at, I looked at what I have done, am doing, and can do, and I realised that I’ve never been broken, and the only thing getting in the way of me achieving even more and reaching the goals I dream of for my life is me; the only block in my path is the blinkers I wear, and the way my inner self puts her fingers in her ears and shouts “lalalalala I CAN’T HEAR YOU” when that other tiny voice tells me what it is I need to hear.

Sometimes that little voice is critical – but when it is, it’s just because I need it to be.

Sometimes that little voice wants to celebrate, and I shut it down, as if being proud of myself is somehow shameful – but that shame doesn’t come from my own voices, it comes from all those others – and there’s a reason the people they echo aren’t here in my life right now.

I’m not broken. I never was. And the only shape I should be, when I’m building my true self, is the one that was there all along.

So that’s what I’m doing. This little voice, and me. Because we’re ok.

What are you reading?

For Christmas one of the gifts I got for the man who puts up with me was a book club. I chose a book to begin the year, and made a leaflet to go with it, explaining the ‘rules’ of our exclusive book club; we’ll take turns through the year to choose one book a month, and read it at the same time, and talk about it, talk about what we liked and didn’t, try new genres that we don’t ordinarily read, try out new authors, expand beyond the ‘reading rut’ we both found ourselves in.

Reading is something that I’ve always taken enormous pleasure in. Until I started talking about, and sharing, books with him I had let reading slide out of my life. I hadn’t realised how little I’d been reading, and how much I’d been missing it, until we were talking about favourite books one day. He’ll never forgive me for making him read ‘A prayer for Owen Meany’ – a John Irving book that I maintain is truly excellent, but which he absolutely detested – and the debates we had about it sparked the idea for the book club, because we laughed so much and got into such heated conversations, and it reignited my passion for reading.

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In the last few months of my marriage, and once it had ended, I wasn’t reading at all; this is very unusual for me, someone who often has half a dozen books on the go at the same time, depending on what room I’m in, and who used to drive teachers, parents, friends and bosses mad because I’d drift off mid-conversation or task and be found reading somewhere when I shouldn’t be. (A trait I see in my own children, particularly Jellybean who, at seven, has to have torches and books removed from his bed an hour after bedtime most evenings!) and though life had settled down I struggled to get my reading mojo back.

But that Owen Meany conversation was the beginning of a rejuvenation, and since then I’ve found myself back in the swing of obsessively devouring books a handful at a time – aided by the man who puts up with me getting me a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday – which I still think was more a gift for him than for me, because I can read in bed without the lamp on and he can go to sleep like a normal human while I “just finish one more paragraph/page/chapter…” – I almost always fall asleep reading and now the Kindle will just quietly turn itself off, and there’s no lamp blaring all night disturbing anyone’s beauty sleep!

So the world’s most exclusive book club was born – and I had first choice. The book I picked for January was way outside my usual go-to genres of fantasy or historical fiction, and I opted for Gregg Hurwitz’s thriller, Orphan X – and couldn’t put it down.

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The first in what’s going to be a series, Warner Bros. are looking to buy the movie rights and are looking to cast Bradley Cooper as ‘Orphan X’ Even Smoak, aka ‘the nowhere man’ – and I can see why they’re so keen. Smoak is a very humane assassin, trained since childhood, who gets caught up in a series of ever more dangerous attempts on the life of his latest client, and on himself, breaking down his barriers and encroaching on the secret identity he’s built, leaving him wondering who he can and can’t trust. There are twists and turns, drama and heartache, real emotion on a level you wouldn’t ordinarily see in a character who is trained as a ruthless killing machine, and it’s a story with a lot of depth and excitement.

The next book in the series is out at the end of this month, and we’ve already discussed whether it should be February’s book club choice – but I thought that would make it too easy for him to choose so vetoed it simply to make his life more complicated! I’m nice like that…

But I have another five months of this year to choose book club books for – and a lot of time between them to cram with anything else I can get my grubby hands on to – so I’m looking for recommendations for the books you love most, the books you’ve read most recently, the authors you can’t wait to hear more from, and anything else you want to wave at other people, yelling “read this, read this, read this!”

Comment below with your top recommendations – and get a copy of Orphan X as soon as you can, trust me!

Weight watching

I’m doing it – in an actual ‘joined weightwatchers’ kind of a way. Like someone who should have a fridge like this image, and not one with seven kinds of cheese and a family sized bag of mini mars bars.

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In my old life – the one where I was married and stuff – I was significantly chunkier than I am now; I managed to lose over a stone with no effort in the aftermath of being not-married-any-more and then I decided that, actually, I rather liked exercising and was going to the gym at least three times a week, working with a personal trainer to get back the strength and health that I’d had before I had my kids. In the olden days, pre-parenting me was proper skinny, like a thin person, with a six pack, and did a lot of running…having children broke my body and I’m not allowed to run any more, so I found alternatives with my trainer at the gym!

I was doing a Pilates class once or twice a week on top of my 90 minute sessions, and walking a lot, so unsurprisingly I lost even more weight. I ate reasonably well, eating healthy meals with lots of fresh ingredients, but still over-indulged regularly – but because I was exercising a lot the over-indulging didn’t show much, and I was gradually shrinking – I’d gone down from a size 18 (in generous fitting clothes!) to a 14 and was hoping to make it to a 12 by the end of the year.

But with the stress and so on of all the changes in my life, my body started playing up. I’ve suffered for my entire adult life with *cough* “Lady Problems” – endometriosis and PCOS, the former being more of an issue for me than the latter, and a long-latent diagnosis of M.E. that I like to pretend doesn’t actually count. Only it turns out that, when you’re really stressed and your innards reach peak rebellion, M.E. likes to join in the party too. This just meant I had to add ‘napping in the afternoon’ to my busy schedule, and take it easy at the gym here and there, but the endometriosis went wild, and after a few months living on huge doses of codeine and other cocktails that turned me into a barely coherent zombie, I finally got a date for some exploratory surgery to see if they could shoot lasers at my insides and make things better.

Being me, I thought this op – one I didn’t even have to stay in hospital overnight for – would be a breeze, and I’d be back on my feet within a few days.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I’m so stupid!

The wounds were small – but they went all the way into my insides, and when they tell you to take it easy they apparently don’t mean to vacuum the stairs, or mow the lawn, because that will burst your stitches and see you having sheepish conversations with nurses.

The small wounds that went all the way to my insides also decided to heal by gluing themselves to every layer of other things they passed by, meaning that I had hideous adhesions that – when I got cramps (which I get a LOT, because did I mention my uterus is possibly inhabited by Satan, teaching drums to his demon minions?) it felt rather a lot like my insides were tearing themselves to shreds. (That’s because, what with the gluing together in many new and exciting places, my insides WERE tearing themselves to shreds, regularly, awfully, constantly.)

Anyway – moving this story on a little; I couldn’t go to the gym. I could barely move around my own house. My health got worse, my pain increased, my mood dropped to the bottom of a big black pit of woe-is-me, and all that healthy eating of freshly cooked foods with actual ingredients I’d been doing went down the pan – and I crept back away from the edge of a size 12, back up to a 16, and am now edging back higher after a festive period in which I tried to personally consume the entire cheese supply of the whole of the UK.

Enough is enough! I might still not quite be up to the 90 minute strength training sessions I was doing, and I definitely can’t touch my toes right now (or, you know, see them…) but I can do better than I’ve been doing, and I can take better care of what I’m putting into my face hole.

So I joined weight watchers. I had a tantrum about it on the phone to the man who puts up with me, who told me to grow up and have a banana, and I worked out what my target is, what I need to do to get to it, and made a BLOODY MEAL PLAN for the week.

I hate meal planning.

But I’ve done a day, I’ve not murdered anyone, I got to eat fish twice AND had breakfast (which I basically never do unless it’s in a hotel and I’m hungover) and now the kids are asleep I can relax with a snack – I saved some points from the day to allow myself a mini packet of Cadbury animal biscuits (22g, 4 points!) which I’m washing down with herbal tea and some trashy TV on my laptop.

In another few months hopefully the constant to and fro to the doctors will mean I’m actually not in pain, I’ll stop bloating up like a blowfish every time my uterus wants to remind me it’s there, and I’ll be back in the gym, and back in those very fetching new jeans thinner me bought and rapidly ate my way out of.

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Shady’s back

I briefly considered pairing this blog post with a video of me body-popping to a bit of Eminem, but I don’t think the internet has ever done anything to deserve footage of me attempting anything even remotely cool in my fleece onesie.

Instead I’ll settle for quietly muttering that I’ve decided to return to the blog, with the caveat that I’ll probably quit again quite soon, as I’ve done so many times in the last couple of years.

This is a blog page that has existed for over three years, and which had a nice stock of thirty-something blog posts, which I’ve tucked into the drafts folder neatly out of the way because it’s around 15 months since anything was posted and, once again, it feels like it was someone else writing back then – but I wanted to keep the actual blog name that I’d started using all that time ago. Because it’s true. I really DO run on caffeine.

This blog was already a step away from a much bigger, more established blog that I’d been running for a number of years, which was much better known, which got me a lot of opportunities and introduced me to a lot of people, some of whom have become great friends and very important in the life I’m living now, but by the time I opened this one the other already felt like a behemoth that showed me in an unrealistic way, that I felt I couldn’t speak honestly through.

This blog isn’t going to be a Mummy blog, or a work blog, or linked in any way to opportunities or networking or any of the things that blogs are ‘supposed to be for’ – instead this blog is just going to be where I speak.

Sometimes that will be about nonsense, like cheap bin bags, or Haribo, or about that one time there was a spider in the toilet and I briefly panicked that I was pooping them and had somehow eaten spider eggs which hatched inside my insides, meaning my abdomen is FULL OF LIVE SPIDERS that have to escape from my butt*. Other times it will be about really serious issues that are concerning me, like saving money like a grown up, how to get more reliable work as a freelancer, global warming, or how the effing hell did Trump win anything, let alone control over the most powerful nation on earth?!

Today it’s just this. A fresh start in a place people might see, quietly dipping my toe back into the world of blogging, and giving myself permission to write the things in my head just for the sake of it, and the pleasure of it.

So…that’s it, I guess. Hi. Again. Might see you around. Might decide I’m a talentless, worthless hack and flounce away from the internet for a while before another sheepish return, because I’m addicted, and like the attention. We’ll see!

*That might have been today…