To date, or not to date?

2011.08.30.bit_of_a_wanderTwo weeks before Paul died, we had a conversation about our futures, should one of us die—a conversation sparked because it was the anniversary of my very dear friend’s death. And it seemed that Paul and I both agreed: We would want the surviving partner to carry on and live life; to be happy; to date or re-marry. Not the week after the funeral, obviously, but eventually.

So, I promised that if anything ever happened to him, I would date again. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that just two weeks later I would be faced with living up to my promise.

It’s been more than three and a half years since Paul died and I am still alone. I haven’t found someone new and there are no prospects on the horizon. In fairness, I did attempt at ‘finding love online’ a little over a year ago—which only served to bruise my ego. And about six months ago I went on a first date—which didn’t work out because the guy was an idiot. And, though embarrassing to admit, I even thought that there might be a connection with someone I knew, but it turns out that I misread our friendship and his intentions were less-than-honourable. (A lucky escape for me, I suppose.)

Now I find myself in a hard position. I’m confused and scared about the idea of dating. I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m afraid of falling in love again. And I’m afraid of having someone I love die too soon.

At the same time, I feel guilty for not dating. I feel as if I’m letting Paul down. I feel as if he would be telling me to stop being alone and lonely—and start finding someone new to love.

But I don’t want to try online dating again. And I haven’t had luck with asking friends to introduce me to (decent) single guys. And I don’t have the kind of social life that puts me in a position to meet new people—let alone single guys.

So how does a woman in her very late 30s find a man when she doesn’t have a social life and doesn’t want to find someone online? And do I really need to find someone? Is it possible to just live the rest of my life alone?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, Dear Reader, but I hope to find them. And I hope that the journey to discovery isn’t too painful. And I hope that, if I do end up dating again, I am able to find someone perfect for me. And not someone to replace Paul (he’s irreplaceable) but someone to complement my life. Someone who can make me laugh and make my heart skip a beat. Someone like the (single) man in my dreams.

Only in my dreams

2012.12.29.only-in-my-dreamsThere is a man who appears in my dreams who isn’t Paul. In my dreams, we’re madly in love. And much like the widow dreams I still have, these dreams are different each time. Sometimes happy; sometimes sad. But always a dream; never a reality.

Sometimes, he’s all mine in those dreams; we’re a couple and we’re oh-so-happy. Sometimes we’re married. Sometimes we have children. Sometimes we’re on a first date. And sometimes we’re good friends who are just becoming more than that.

I like those dreams. I never want to wake up when I’m having them. They make my heart so happy all day long—even though I know it was only a dream that will never come true.

But sometimes in those dreams, he belongs to another and we are merely caught in the misfortunate place of wishing things were different. Sometimes I try to push him away but he continues to pursue me. Sometimes we acknowledge that we can’t be together and we part in tears. And sometimes I ask him to make a choice between me and his partner—and his response varies.

Those are the dreams that make me sad. I’m sad because I’ve dreamt of spending time with another woman’s partner. I’m sad because—even in my dreams—I can’t have the love I want. I’m sad because those feelings stick with me all day long. I feel guilty for having shared emotions with a man who’s already spoken for.

The worst thing is that these dreams break my heart. Over and over again, when I realise that they are only dreams and the man is only a shadow who visits me when I sleep, I am sad. I am sad that he’s not really here. I am sad that I can’t pick up the phone and call him. I’m sad that I only know him when I’m asleep.

And sometimes, when I’m out at the shops, I find myself wishing he would walk through the door. I find myself wishing he’d come and whisper in my ear, just like he does in my dreams.

I’m sure this puts me somewhere on the crazy scale. But certainly I can’t be the only person out there who dreams of a man who fills her heart with joy. And, who knows, sometimes dreams come true …

Only In My Dreams
by Just Frances

He walks in the room; my heart skips a beat
He glances at me; I blush and look away
His smile is infectious as he walks toward me
The gentle kiss he greets me with sends shivers down my spine
He brushes my hair off my face; I blush again
Our fingers entwined; we gaze into each other’s eyes
The conversation is easy; the laughter is flowing
He whispers in my ear; I blush some more
Hand in hand, we begin to leave; and I wake up
And he’s not there; he was only in my dreams

October: The missing month

I’ve thought long and hard about how to handle the month of October for my blog. You know, since I only posted twice before the site went down for essential maintenance.

I thought about writing posts off-line, then adding them to the site when it was back up. But that would mean loads of back-reading for my (small) readership.

I thought about forgetting the month all-together. But that would mean not talking about a few things that happened that I want to include in my digital diary.

I even thought about writing one really, really long post that gave all the details of everything. But that would mean one really, really long post that no one would want to read.

So, instead, you get a bulleted list of some of the highlights from my October:

  • My Mum spent most of the month here on holiday. We toured all over the UK (with her having a week without me in England with my in-laws) and really did have an amazing time.
  • I ran the Beat Beethoven 5.5K race in Stirling with my friend, Joanne. We both beat the maestro, which was awesome, and it means that I got my October race out of the way for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.
  • I received notification that I not only passed my dissertation with a distinction, but that I passed my entire master’s course with distinction—a rare honour and one that I will blog about separately very soon.
  • I managed to secure a two-month extension on my Tier 4 student visa, giving me a bit of breathing room whilst I sort out my Tier 2 work visa. (There is still stress around that topic.)
  • I made two major decisions about my future in Scotland: 1) I really do want to research PhD opportunities and 2) I really do want to get a car.

Lots more stuff happened throughout the month, but those are the ones that jump out at me. If I’m completely honest, most of the month was spent in tears though. It was a very stressful month that saw me fearing for my future because of visa issues and concern over how I did on my dissertation. I’m sure that the visa stresses will return with vigour, but at least I’ve learned that I’m a smart cookie.

But for now, here’s October in a nut shell. And as I’m nearly half-way through November, I’ll just concentrate on keeping up with that!

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy

To celebrate Social Media Week, I have decided to share a paper I wrote a few months ago about digital diaries and online identities. It was a difficult paper to write because I needed to balance sharing my ‘personal’ life with the academic side of the equation, but it was a good exercise. And, certainly, it’s an area that could easily be expanded upon—both personally and academically.

This paper was written in May 2012 and received a first class distinction mark. (Yay, me!) It’s a bit awkward to share it here, but that’s just my own insecurities showing! So, without any further ado …

Digital Diaries: Constructing and managing online identities through blog therapy
By Frances VC Ryan, University of Stirling, Masters Candidate

Blog: A Website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer (Merriam-Webster Online, 2012).

Journal therapy: The purposeful and intentional use of a written record of one’s own thoughts or feelings to further psychological healing and personal growth (eNotes, 2012).

José van Dijck said ‘Blogging itself becomes a real-life experience, a construction of self that is mediated by tools for reflection and communication. In the life of the bloggers, the medium is not the message but the medium is the experience.’ (2007, p. 75). For the purpose of this paper, I will consider how van Dijck’s statement can be applied the idea of blog therapy—or the practice of journal therapy using blogs rather than paper as the chosen medium. As an example, I will reflect on my personal experience in the construction of self and identity through blogging—as well as the role blogging plays in the creation of my personal digital archives and memory.

Constructing a sense of self and identity through recording personal reflections and thoughts isn’t a new idea, and the practice of keeping journals and written records has existed for centuries. In a modern context, Dr Ira Progoff is considered the originator of ‘journal therapy’ (Wright, 2002, p. 287) since his development of workshops in the late 1960s based on his ‘Intensive Journaling Method’. Through his workshops and subsequent books, the idea of journaling as a therapeutic method was popularised in the western world and counsellors began to encourage patients to write down their thoughts and emotions, some writings of which would be discussed in future therapy sessions. In fact, research has shown that journaling can be a valuable therapeutic tool to combat ‘emotional distress and promoting well-being’ (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, p. 1). As technology advancements have been made, some mental health providers have begun to offer journal therapy via email or other online channels, eliminating the distance barriers that could prevent face-to-face meetings (Wright, 2002, p. 290).

On the blogging frontier, when Justin Hall created what was considered one of the world’s first blogs in 1994, he and his fellow ‘early bloggers’ had to hand-code their blogs using HTML code or editing software such as Dreamweaver, but by late-1998 several free tools became available for users as a simple way of publishing to the Web. After that, other blog-specific tools became available for general use and by 2004, Merriam-Webster announced ‘blog’ as their word of the year, stating that it was that year’s most searched-for word on their online dictionary (Walker Rettberg, 2008, pp. 23-29).

Between the growing demand for both journal therapy and blogging, it seems to be expected that people would begin to take to the Web for self-help journal therapy. According to WordPress.com, a leading free blogging platform, there are more than 73 million WordPress sites in the world today (WordPress, 2012). Further, Technorati estimates that 60 per cent of all blogs (WordPress, Blogger, or otherwise) are maintained by hobbyist bloggers—those who are blogging for fun, to express personal musings, or as a form of journal therapy. With the anonymous nature of the blogosphere, it is unknown how many of those are blogging as their true selves (Technorati, 2012) and in fact some blogs, such as PostSecret, exist solely for the purpose of anonymous contributions. The popular blog, started by Frank Warren, began as a community art project but now continues as a way for people to share their secrets with no one and everyone all at once by submitting a secret on the back of a postcard. PostSecret only publishes 20 secrets each week, but emails received from contributors assure Warren that just the act of sharing the secret is therapeutic for some of his contributors (Banks, 2008, pp. 61-77).

For people who want to share more than a secret on the back of a postcard, sites such as Fearless Blogging allow users to post ‘thoughts, feelings, and rants anonymously and still have a job/girlfriend/friends when you wake up tomorrow morning’ (Fearless Blogging, 2012). Fearless Blogging also allows users to rate and comment on the posts of others. Whilst users of these anonymous sites may find solace in the act of writing as therapy, they are not gaining the advantage of an online persona or personal archive; instead, they are populating someone else’s blog with content and information.

However, the creation and contribution to one’s own blog has been found to aid in the creation of self-awareness and self-consciousness as the blogger finds their ‘voice’ on both personal and interpersonal levels. Further, the interaction gained through online journaling techniques could serve as a source of support whilst strengthening feelings of belonging (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, pp. 2-3). This feeling of belonging is a strong sentiment for many hobbyist bloggers, and several online groups have emerged which help self-help bloggers find each other based on topics and locations. These groups encourage bloggers to link to each other’s blogs, furthering their reach and potential support networks, and share words of encouragement and support with each other through comments. Additionally, several sites offer writing prompts to assist bloggers in finding inspiration (Creative Writing Prompts) or to prompt them to address specific emotions or thoughts (Journaling Prompts).

In my own experience, I began keeping paper diaries and journals when I turned seven. By the time I turned 18 in 1992, my regular journaling habits had shifted to a combination of hand-written musings and digital diaries kept on my personal computer—habits that continue to this day. In 1999, I shared my first blog post on LiveJournal under a pseudonym, and for the next 10 years, I anonymously authored several short-lived blogs that served as mediums for sharing opinions and musings on politics and current events, but these blogs never served as personal accounts of emotions or actions, preferring to keep my personal journaling activities private. However, when personal tragedy struck three years ago—the death of my husband—I found myself turning to the art of blogging as a form of personal therapy. In addition, I began to put my real name to my online writings for the first time. Since then, I’ve continued to maintain my private, hand-written and electronic journals whilst continuing to maintain my public blogging persona. The act of blogging as me—instead of as an anonymous individual—has changed the way in which I record my thoughts as well as the way in which I archive them.

My personal writings (hand-written or electronic) are raw emotions and thoughts written in haste or extreme distress and are intended only for my eyes during my lifetime. In the days after my husband’s death, my leather-bound journal became an outlet for my grief—but also a useful tool to reflect on the day’s events as the stress of grief prevented me from recalling even the simplest of actions. As a young widow, I was unable to reach out to my peers for understanding because my situation was unique within my social circle, meaning my journal became even more important. However, I soon found myself in need of the support from others in my situation, which led me to search out blogs written by other young widows. As my first foray into virtual support networks, I was amazed at the number of active blogs on the subject of widowhood. But I soon realised that I needed to share my own experiences and feelings, as well as read those of others. This realisation prompted me to start my first publically-authored blog, Frances 3.0: Still in Beta.

The act of sharing my personal thoughts and emotions with a world-wide audience immediately changed the way I composed my thoughts. Despite the fact that I wasn’t actively sharing the link to what I refer to as my ‘grief blog’, I feared sharing certain emotions might upset my family and friends—especially feelings of isolation and loneliness. This realisation meant that my self-identity on my blog was immediately different than that which I displayed in my private writings or in communications on social networking sites. Further, as noted by van Dijck, I was able to ‘produce tentative texts, provisional versions of thoughts, forever amenable to changes of mind’ (van Dijck, 2004, para. 17). My process was to write my thoughts in a Word document and edit the content the next day after I was able to think about my emotions a bit more. This delayed-publication gave me the ability to think of potential solutions to my emotions or situation and to discuss with my unknown audience of peers and supporters what my next steps would be in regards to that issue.

Additionally, receiving feedback through the blog’s comment system provided me with words of support and encouragement from others who have been in similar situations. It also opened up the ability for me to offer words of advice to other new widows who were only beginning their grief journeys. The idea of helping others whilst participating in my personal quest for blog therapy gave me further feelings of self-worth and identity—I was no longer just a blogger, I was a source of information and solace for others.

The levels of comfort and emotional healing I felt through blogging—and the interaction that the comments allowed me—are not specific to my own experience. When studying the therapeutic value of blogging versus hand-written, private diaries, Boniel-Nissim and Barak determined that those subjects keeping blogs found their levels of distress were lower than of those keeping private diaries—and even lower still for those who had comments enabled on their blogs (Boniel-Nissim & Barak, 2011, pp. 8-10).

As my self-realisation and identity changed through the healing process of blog therapy, I began to feel constrained by the idea of authoring a grief-related blog. However, the persona I was sharing on Frances 3.0 was one of a grieving widow—and one that I wasn’t prepared to share explicitly with my family and friends. This realisation prompted me to start a second blog, Just Frances, where I could share my daily life with family and friends whilst maintaining my persona as a grieving widow with others. But maintaining two personas became difficult and began to make me question my online identities, which eventually led to the decision to cease maintaining Frances 3.0 and concentrate on Just Frances—which also meant bringing some of my grief into my daily writings for family and friends, as that grief was part of my true identity and needed to be addressed through my online persona (Ryan, 2011). However, Frances 3.0 remains live and accessible to others and is often reflected on by me—and sometimes linked or referred to on Just Frances.

My identity on Just Frances is as close to the ‘real me’ as I am willing to display publically, and has been shaped considerably because of the medium. The construction of self has been determined by my audience as well as by my own fears of vulnerability. My audience consists of family and friends as well as strangers from around the world. Surprisingly, the blog is accessed daily by an average of 75 unique IP addresses. Nearly half of those entries have come from search engines and more than 80 per cent remain on the site for at least three minutes, often accessing multiple pages. Search term analysis and casual surveys of readers—as well as page hits and comments—helps me to know what type of things my readers want to see my writing but, more than that, there is a growing feeling of ‘need’ to write to satisfy my readers. As my life changes, so do the topics I cover—and the frequency in which I post. I am aware that if I don’t post for several days, or if I am regularly posting about being sad, stressed, or lonely, I create an atmosphere of worry my audience—as evidenced by comments or emails sent through the site’s contact page. This knowledge prompts me to 1) post something if I’ve not posted in three or more days, even if that something is just a note letting everyone know I am alive and 2) include a positive end to my posts, even if the main post is taking about emotional challenges I am facing. In a sense, I am being less-than honest with my readers because I want my self identity to be one of strength, conveying an overall idea that life is full of hope despite any grief and sadness it also contains.

In addition to the construction of self and the improved self-worth and overall self identity blogging as provided me, it has created an electronic memory archive that I can access when needed. This ability to reflect on my past feelings and emotions allows me to see how far I’ve come in the grieving process since the death of my husband, which is beneficial on days when I feel I’ve lost my way. It also gives me the ability to recall my own social timeline when I want to remember an event I participated in. However, those archives are also accessible to others and I do, at times, fear being judged by others based on struggles with grief in the past. Further, I worry that people I meet today will form opinions on who I am based on my feelings or activities from the past. Additionally, the ability for others to access my digital archive can lead to awkward moments when casual acquaintances or people I’ve only recently met are familiar with my life history.

The availability and use of digital archives through blogging has created a platform for people to not only create new identities of self, but to create and manage multiple identities for different audiences. Whilst constructing multiple personas can be a confusing charade for some people, the overall benefits gained from experiencing the medium of blogging can be witnessed by the sheer number of bloggers who share their messages—and their lives—online. Without a doubt, the experience of the blogging medium has helped to develop my own construction of self and sense of identity.

References:

Banks, M.A. (2008). Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World’s Top Bloggers. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Boniel-Nissim, M., & Barak, A. (2011). The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social–Emotional Difficulties. Psychological Services. Doi: 10.1037/a0026664.

eNotes. (2012). eNotes Journal Therapy (Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health). Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://www.enotes.com/journal-therapy-reference/journal-therapy-172111

Fearless Blogging. (2012). Fearless Blogging homepage. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://fearlessblogging.com/

Merriam-Webster. (2012). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blog

Ryan, F. (2011). Frances 3.0: Still in Beta, Just Frances. Retrieved 06/05, 2012, from http://francesv3.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/just-frances/

Technorati. (2012). State of the Blogosphere 2011: Introduction and Methodology. Retrieved 06/05. 2012, from http://technorati.com/social-media/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2011-introduction/

van Dijck, J. (2004). Composing the Self: Of Diaries and Lifelogs. The Fibreculture Journal, Issue 3. Retrieved 01/05, 2012, from http://three.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-012-composing-the-self-of-diaries-and-lifelogs/

van Dijck, J. (2007). Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Walker Rettberg, J. (2008). Blogging: Digital Media and Society Series, Cambridge: Polity Press.

WordPress. (2012). WordPress Statistics. Retrieved 08/05, 2012, from http://en.wordpress.com/stats/

Wright, J. (2002). Online counselling: Learning from writing therapy. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 30:3, 285-298. Dio: 10.1080/030698802100002326.

Forty-nine days

My visa expires in 49 days. My employer is working on getting sponsorship approval for me so that I can apply for a new visa, but I don’t know if it will all happen before my current visa expires. I might be entitled to a two-month extension, giving me a bit of breathing room to apply for the work visa, but I’ve not heard back from the Home Office to confirm that.

I have just moved into a new flat with a six-month lease. I have spent nearly all of my savings. If my visa doesn’t go through, I have no job, no money, and no legal right to stay in Scotland—but I will still owe the balance of my lease (and my two-year mobile phone contract). I will be destroyed financially—and emotionally.

I am stressed. I am worried. I am frightened. I worry that my mental health and emotional well-being will be on dangerous ground if my gamble doesn’t pay off. I am fearful that losing this dream will turn my life into a spiralling nightmare.

I have to be honest and say that my world is consumed with the stresses of WhatIfs these days. I’m trying not to be doom and gloom, but I really am afraid. I know you can’t fix it. I know that there is very little I can do about it at this point. But I’m trying to stay positive and I’m trying to be upbeat. It’s just hard some days. And the closer I get to November 11 without a visa solution, the harder life will be. Oh, and if I don’t get a visa, I can’t even attend my own graduation ceremony, which isn’t until November 23!

So, yeah. That’s what’s going through my mind these days. I must find a happy outlet …

A bloody Stirling day

Today was fabulous—even as I sit here with aching muscles and feel completely wrecked. The day started off well, after a fantastic night’s sleep in my new bed, and even though it’s only early evening, I think it’s going to end pretty well, too.

So, why was it such a fabulous day? Well for starters, I ran the Stirling 10K today. OK, I was slow (1:02:12) because my legs were so tired from yesterday’s move, but this marks the first time I’ve repeated a race in Scotland. Sadly, the slow time means I didn’t beat last year’s race, but I’m still pleased with myself for doing it. More than that, I’m pleased with myself for running it without a running partner—or a support team. (The latter of which meant walking nearly 2 miles home after the race; I cheated and took a taxi to the start line though.)

[All of my race photos and times can be found in the Run, Frances, Run gallery.]

And continuing on the solo theme, I decided to take myself back out into town today to catch the last event at Bloody Scotland. The final event was a dramatic reading of The Red-Headed League (which was a hoot!) followed by a wee awards ceremony. I wasn’t certain if I wanted to go on my own because I knew that there was someone there (who I don’t know) that I didn’t want to bump into (a friend of a friend) and I was afraid that I might accidently end up in one of those awkward situations where you don’t want to introduce yourself. (I decided before hand that I’d give a fake name.) But I digress…

The topping on my Stirling day, however, was when I popped into M&S on my way home and I saw someone I know! Now, I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I don’t really have any friends here and it’s such a big city (to me) that I often feel a bit glum walking around namelessly. So when someone recognises me and I get to have a wee chat in the middle of the shops, it makes me happy; it makes me feel like I belong. (Now that I think about it, someone recognised me yesterday, too, and struck up a wee conversation. That was nice.)

So now I’m sitting on the couch, completely drained. It’s been a long, busy weekend, but a fun and positive one. Next week will be spent unpacking and settling into my new flat… and maybe doing some training for my next race!

The dating game

Sometimes I think about dating. Only it’s a confusing topic for me. Not the dating part; I know how to do that. It’s more the mental and emotional part that has me uncertain. And not uncertain in an ‘Am I ready?’ way; uncertain in an ‘I am a mad woman’ way.

Worse, it’s more than one concern. So, I’m going to share them here and maybe the act of writing it down will help.

First, there’s the question of why I want to date. Is it because I’m lonely, bored, or restless? Is it because I don’t want to be alone? Is it because I feel a bit of social pressure? Is it because I actually feel that I’m ready to share my life with someone? Is it because I want to have someone to go to the movies with? Or is it because I want someone to curl up on the couch with?

I suppose it could be for all of those reasons. But if I don’t know why I want to date, then how do I know that I should be doing it?

Then, there’s the question of ‘What if I like him?’ I wonder if I would know why? I mean, if I meet some guy and he’s nice and I find myself liking him, how do I know that it’s him I like and not just the idea of him answering/solving the questions I asked about why I want to date? Is he really all that funny? Is he really all that nice? Or am I like the thirsty man who drinks sand in the desert?

But there’s also the question of ‘What if I don’t like him?’ Is it really that I don’t like him? Or am I just afraid and therefore finding flaws in flawless things? Or maybe I’m so confused that I can’t recognise the ‘spark’ that you feel when you meet someone new? Is it because somewhere in my mind he’s not Paul and that makes me feel guilty and so I run? Is it because I’m afraid that others will judge me for dating, so I’m avoiding it? Is it because I’m afraid that if I date, Paul’s family and friends will be hurt?

Of course, there’s also the fear of my legitimate dislike (or maybe just a disinterest) in a guy and when I voice that feeling the guy (or others around me) may think that it’s because I’m holding a candle for someone else and that I’m ‘damaged by widowhood’ or something. And whilst I admit that the concerns above are very much fears based on my marital status, I also know that—sometimes—I will just not like someone and that it has nothing to do with Paul.

Anyhow, there are millions of other questions and concerns that float through my head as I start to think about re-entering the dating world. And—believe it or not—some are even crazier than the ones I’ve shared.

So, I don’t know. Between bad experiences with dating sites and these confusing questions and realisations that keep popping into my head, maybe I ought to just start looking at getting a dozen cats instead

That dissertation? Done.

First, an apology for my absence the last week. I’ve had some Website glitches and had to enlist the help of some amazing friends who are fluent in Web Geek (I am merely conversational at best). Anyhow, the site is still under observation and I may be absent again—but I will tell you all about that later.

Now, to the important announcement:

My dissertation has been handed in—a full 24 hours and 20 minutes before it was due. (Yay me!) I now have to sit around and wait until sometime in October to find out how I did. So if you’re lucky, you won’t hear about it again until that time. But since you are here, I’ll chat a bit more about the process of turning in the most important piece of academic writing I’ve ever done!

I am so excited about having completed 12,108 words, plus another 2,000 or so for the appendices, abstract, acknowledgments, and other bits and bobs. When I printed everything off last night, I was beaming.

But then, as I walked through town on my way to campus, I couldn’t help but think about the ‘old plan’ where I was meant to do my master’s degree part time whilst my husband and kids supported me from home. Up until that life change, I’d always imagined celebrating this moment with Paul. I don’t know how we would have celebrated, but we would have done something.

Instead, I turned in my dissertation then went to work. And when I got home this evening, I looked around the flat—now empty of its former stacks of library books—and wondered what I would do with my life next.

There have been no celebrations, only reflections on what life ‘should have’ been and the long struggle to get to where I am now. And as I start to realise that there may not be anyone in the stands for my graduation in November, I’m struck at just how very alone I feel some days. (I know I’m not alone, and the comments and interactions from my Facebook friends tell me very much that I am loved and supported.)

So. Now what? What do I do? Where do I go? What does my future look like now? I wish I could answer some of those questions for you now, but I can’t. Maybe soon though. In the mean time, I will keep holding on to hope and faith and I will take the days one at a time.

Oh! And did I tell you that I turned in my master’s dissertation today? Well, I did!

Sing a song

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to sing—or hum or whistle or la-de-da. Now, I’m not saying I’m any good at it, I’m just saying I love to do it. And, often, I find myself doing it without even thinking about it. Yes, I just break out into a tune. (In a very out-of-tune kind of way.)

I sing in the shower. I hum as I type. I whistle as I walk down the road. Sometimes I sing, hum, or whistle a song, other times I just make it up as I go along. (But since my new job is in an open-plan office, I need to be very careful not to break into song at my desk!)

Most people talk to themselves; I sing to myself. A song when I’m alone in my flat might go something like this:

Oh, oh, oh. I think I might be hungry.
La-de-da. I wonder what’s in the fridge.
Oh! Look at that! There are lovely, lovely grapes.
Washy-washy lovely grapes.
How I love you, lovely grapes.

I know—my lyrics leave something to be desired!

I used to sing conversations with my foster daughter, too. She quickly learned that the more she complained that I was embarrassing her, the more I’d sing! (And the louder, too!)

I sing when I run. Or at least I try.

And I sing as I walk to town. Only I’m well-aware that I might look crazy, so I am sure to peek over my shoulder every-so-often to make sure no one is within ear shot. I hum as I walk through the shops (as softly as possible) and I la-de-da or whistle in the shops, too. And most of the time, I don’t even realise I’m doing it!

Yes, I am that kind of crazy.

But I wonder if I’m alone. Do you sing/hum/whistle in public? And are you always aware that you’re doing it?

The cruelty of random memories

There is something ever-so-cruel about random memories. OK, not always. In fact, most of the time random memories are happy moments. But sometimes, like today, they’re just reminders of a future that was stolen from me.

For the past few days, life has been rather exciting and positive for me. There’s been a lot of progress made on my dissertation and I’ve even made a bit of progress in my job search—and I’ve been getting lots (OK, some) training in for my next marathon. And all of those things combined make me excited for my future. And excitement about my future meant that I wandered into town today to look at new gadgets and gizmos for my kitchen and at shoes and jackets and a few other things I’d like to buy.

So there I was, in this fabby little kitchen shop looking at slow cookers, when I was flooded with memories of the day before Paul died. We’d gone into town shopping and we looked at slow cookers and debated which one to get. In the end, we decided we’d hold off and get one the following weekend when we were in the Big City—but we went ahead and bought a chain saw, new additions for our Fiesta Ware collection, and new work shoes for me. (And instead of shopping in the Big City the next weekend, I was at Paul’s funeral.)

As I stood there trying to shake the memory, all I could think of was the conversations we’d had that day. Conversations about the kids we were getting ready to adopt; about the chores we had in for the garden the next day; about making plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas—with our future kids! And all of the sudden I was reminded that, even though I am excited about my future, I really miss my old life; I really miss Paul.

I slowly made my way around the kitchen shop, and even managed to browse through some clothing shops, but my mood was deflated and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything. I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate my new future because I was too upset about the memories of my old dreams; the dreams I lost when I lost Paul. And as I walked home, I couldn’t keep the tears away. Which meant that by the time I got to my flat I couldn’t help but sob.

I feel so silly when these things happen because I should be happy right now. It really has been a good and positive week and there are so many things that should be making me laugh and smile. Yet still, I cried.

I’m feeling a tad less sorry for myself now though and I’m sure that I’ll be able to concentrate on the happy stuff soon enough. Today was just a momentary blip, all caused because of those cruel little random memories.

But enough of that; let’s talk about some of those positive future-y things, shall we? Specifically, the goal of earning my master’s degree!

Dissertation Month Update:

Current word count: 4,200 (only 7,800 to go!)

Again, that doesn’t seem like much, especially compared to what I had for my last update, but I’m nowhere near done writing for the day and I have about 400+ words scribbled down in a notebook that I wrote on the train the other day. So once those are added in—and I add a few bits to other sections—I may break 5,000 before I go to bed. In fact, maybe that will be my goal!

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • 4+ mile training run
  • Work party with classmate (again)
  • Finish literature review

[Image is my most recent swirl-in-progress. It’s been helping me relax in between fits of dissertation writing!]

Words about me

I am participating in an online thing where a few people are getting together to chat through a moderated forum run by a grief counsellor. It’s kind of an experimental thing run by the niece of a woman I used to know, and when the moderator went looking for participants, this woman suggested me.

Anyhow, the first ‘meeting’ was just a brief introduction of each other so that we knew why we were participating. And for the next meeting, we were asked to find out how others view us.

I thought about asking one or two friends to really talk to me about who they think I am, but in the end I decided to take it to Facebook. Which I did. And I asked everyone to give me a few words they’d use if they had to describe me to a friend.

The results, I must say, are interesting. And if you’re not familiar with word clouds, I’ll give you a hint and tell you that the more times a word is used, the larger the image of that word is. So, I guess that means that, ultimately, my friends think I’m quirky, strong, brave, and grammatical. (And loads of other things.)

Just Frances in Just Words

Anyhow, it was really interesting to me to see the sort of things people said. Quirky was expected as were grammar-related comments. I suppose runner, determined, and loving were not a surprise, either. But compassionate, inspiring/inspirational, and introspective weren’t. And, of course, some just made me smile. Like green and granola. All in all, I guess it’s a pretty fair description of me. Mostly the quirky bit, apparently.

Listening for the phone

When I was in high school, my sister (I think?*) wrote a poem that went something like this:

Lonely, all alone
by Celeste Mills*

Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone
Listens for a call
From anyone at all
Listens for a ring
Saying anything
Lonely, all alone
Listens for the phone

Anyhow, I’m not sitting around in some desperate ‘please someone call me because I’m all alone’ kind of mood, but I am desperately wishing that my phone would ring.

In fact, for the past month I have been checking my landline to make sure that 1) it’s still working and 2) I haven’t missed a call. And I keep checking my mobile for the same reasons. And, if I’m completely honest, I may have called one from the other a couple of times just to be sure.

Yep, I’m desperate for my phone to ring. Mostly about jobs and interviews and stuff (mostly). But it’s been ever-so silent. So, here I sit. Listening for the phone. Even though I know that I’m not getting a call about a job interview on a Friday night.

* I keep forgetting to ask my sister if, in fact, it is her poem and I couldn’t get in touch with her today when I decided to write this post. And I’ve tried to search for it online to see if it belongs to someone else but can’t find it. If you know who wrote it please let me know so that I can give credit where it’s due (and so that I can apologise for this blatant act of copyright infringement).

They’re braver

A friend of mine sent me a link to a fellow widow’s blog this weekend and I had a wee peek around to see what she had to say. It’s not the first ‘Widow Blog’ I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it’s made me realise several things about how un-brave I am at times.

I can rant on and on about what drives me mad about [some] Widow Blogs—and I almost did until I deleted a couple of paragraphs—but today I want to talk about what makes me realise that I’m not as brave as other widows out there. And I suppose that bravery comparison extends beyond fellow widows. I mean, there are loads of bloggers out there who make me feel like a scaredy-cat.

When I started my first post-Paul blog, I did so with a specific aim to blog about my grief. And that really helped, but I wasn’t brave enough to really put my name to it. I wasn’t brave enough to share the link (or posts) with my friends and family. I mean, I shared it with a couple of them, but I was very guarded about it. And, I suppose I was guarded about what I wrote. Yes, it was a bit raw at times, but I wasn’t able to share all of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions because I was afraid of offending people, but also because I was afraid to admit some of those things personally.

With Just Frances, I’ve actively shared the link with family and friends, and that means that I’m even more guarded about what I share. In some cases, I’m not sharing my anger. Other times, I’m not sharing my fears. Sometimes, I don’t share my adventures, because I don’t think it’s fair to blog about friends who aren’t really into the whole online life thing. And then there are the times when I don’t share anything.

But I read some of these blogs and I am amazed at how brave the writers’ are. They share the most intimate details of their lives not only with strangers, but with their family and friends. (I know that sounds backwards, but the anonymity that blogging allows means some people share with the ethers without the knowledge of their ‘real’ world.) These bloggers talk about depression and suicidal thoughts and anger and fights with friends and dating and everything in between. But not just in passing, vague terms—they go into details. They spill out this raw emotion for all to see.

And that, Dear Reader, is oh-so brave.

I don’t know how many times I’ve written down such raw emotion only to delete it before it I even open up my blog’s content management system. I’m just afraid to share some things. I’m afraid of what others will think. I’m afraid of being judged but those who don’t understand. I’m afraid that sharing some things might force me to actually face them.

I know I share. And I know that some people think I share too much. But I guess that I’m forever aware that I don’t share everything. I don’t even share most things. And when there’s not a real person next to me on the couch to share things with from time-to-time, it can seem a bit crowded in my mind.

So, yeah. Sometimes, I feel like a great big scaredy-cat when it comes to sharing things on my blog. But, then, I don’t suppose I’ve ever shared everything with anyone. (I shared 99.9% of everything with Paul. I still do, but it’s just not the same.)

I don’t really know what the point if this post is, other than to say I feel like an inadequate blogger at times. But I guess that’s OK.

As for that rant about Widow Blogs, maybe I’ll bore you with that in a day or two. (I know, you’re totally on the edge of your seat waiting for that post!)

Getting back into the [blogging] game

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather quiet these past few weeks. Maybe you’ve found that refreshing or maybe you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and if I’m still alive. So, I guess I should tell you!

First of all, I’m still alive. (In case you really did wonder.) As for where I’ve been, well, I’ve been in my flat most of the time. Really.

Life has been a bit crazy lately. For much of May, I was so busy with school and happy happenings that I didn’t really have the time to post. There was a whisky festival, a wedding reception, a half-marathon, a couple of out-of-town visits with friends, and plenty of other joyous things to occupy my time.

Then toward the end of May, I was jolted from my joy with the news of a friend’s suicide. A couple of days later I found myself in an irreparable falling-out with another friend followed by a failed attempt at entering the dating world. And all of those things, coupled with my so-far failing job and PhD funding searches, threw me into a spiral of despair and self-pity. And tears. Lots and lots and lots of tears.

And all of that means that I have spent every day of the month upset. I’ve been sulking and hiding away from the world. I’ve been, quite honestly, a mess. And I’ve not really felt like sharing everything here because I’m sure that I would sound like a whiney little cry baby.

But, I am pleased to say, I’ve been feeling a little better the past couple of days. In fact, I’ve been out of bed before 9.30 a.m. every day this week. And I’ve cooked proper meals every day this week. (Tonight will be teriyaki chicken with rice and carrots. Yum.) And I’ve hardly cried at all this week!

Over the next few weeks, I will be extremely busy with my dissertation and I will be filling out as many job applications as I can find. But I’m going to try to post more often. In fact, I might even try to post 3-4 times a week or more—eventually working back up to near-daily posts.

Oh! And I’m thinking about maybe possibly considering selling some of my swirls (reproductions as opposed to originals) on Esty or something. Maybe as note cards? I don’t know. What do you think? (The swirl with this story is my latest one, and the first black/grey one I’ve attempted.)

Expiry dates

I’m a little bit crazy most days. Always have been; always will be. But widowhood seems to have increased my insanity. In fact, it seems to have created new forms of crazy all together!

I thought about sharing a little window into that craziness last week, but decided against it because I don’t really want to bore you with these things. But tonight I had a bit of a meltdown so figured maybe saying it all ‘out loud’ might help me work through it. (Or not. We’ll see.)

Here’s the deal: I can’t buy things with an expiry date of April 26. I just can’t do it. Two years ago, I was out shopping and grabbed a tub of yoghurt. As always, I checked the expiry date and it was April 26. It was days before the first anniversary of Paul’s death (which is April 26 if you haven’t sussed that yet) and I panicked. I put the tub back and started searching for one with a later date. But they were all dated April 26. So I didn’t get any yoghurt. Same thing last year: I couldn’t buy anything with an April 26 expiry date.

So, a few days ago I found myself grabbing a few groceries to tide me over until my next online shop. As I picked up a pack of fresh cheese, I noticed the expiry date (yes, April 26) and realised that there was no way I could do an online shop until after that date, for fear of having something delivered with that dreaded date imprinted on the packaging.

Anyhow, tonight I decided I’d make a nice salad for dinner. I grabbed a bottle of Ranch dressing that I’d bought a few months ago. After putting the salad together, I opened the bottle and noticed the date as I started pouring it—April 26. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. Do I throw it out? Do I force myself to move past this silly block? I didn’t know. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at the salad before deciding that I needed to eat it.

I grabbed a fork, picked up the salad, and went to sit on the couch. But I couldn’t bring myself to eat the salad. Instead, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably over a stupid date. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. And with that, I went back to the kitchen and threw it out—the salad and the rest of the dressing.

Then I cried some more. I am, after all, completely insane.

I don’t know what will happen next year. I just know that, apparently, this year I’m still not ready to buy or eat food with an expiry date of April 26. As I said, widowhood has created new kinds of crazy for me!

Without regret

OK, I’m going to answer another question from when I asked what you wanted me to write about. The second question was if I believed in having regrets. So, here’s my take on the issue!

For 38 years, I’ve made decisions to act or not act on thoughts and impulses. I’ve messed up; I’ve made mistakes; I’ve taken wrong turns.

I decided not to attend university after high school because I couldn’t afford it. In my early 20s, I found myself in my first-ever relationship—mostly due to peer pressure. In my mid-20s, I opted to go into massive amounts of debt to [finally] attend university. In my late-20s, I increased my debt by going to Scotland for a year’s study. Then, I decided to put my master’s degree on hold.

In the past three years, I’ve made countless decisions. I made hasty decisions about funeral plans and long-thought-out decisions about headstones. I decided to open my home to a lovely foster child. I quit my job. I said goodbye to my house. I moved to Scotland. I started grad school. I’ve done stupid things and silly things and (maybe) even irresponsible things since Paul died.

My life today is a crazy, jumbled, emotional mess. I don’t own a home or a car. I have very little money in the bank and no job to replenish what is there. I’m stressed out about money; I’m stressed out about my future; I’m stressed out about my mental health. I cry. A lot.

And now, I am 38 years old and I don’t have children. I don’t have a husband. I don’t any of those things that society seems to judge success by. Yes, my life is pretty much a great big fail these days.

But do I have regrets? Not really. I mean, I regret any pain that my decisions may have caused others, but I don’t regret my life’s course. I don’t regret the bad stuff or the shameful stuff or the embarrassing stuff. Because all of those things combine together to make me who I am. All of those things combined together to make the next thing possible. And some of those next things were pretty awesome.

If I had gone to university right after high school, I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t dated Loser Boy, I may not have found myself going to university. And I may never have met Paul.

If I hadn’t decided to go to university—and to study abroad—I may never have met Paul.

And who knows how many decisions were made and turns were taken throughout my youth that might have changed my path. And then I may never have met Paul.

I haven’t lived a perfect life but I haven’t lived a life of [out-of-the-ordinary] sin and crime either. But for a moment my life seemed perfect, and that was because I met Paul. And that brief moment of perfection may not have happened if one little decision had been different.

Regrets? No. How can I regret a string of events that brought me countless experiences and friendships and memories? How can I regret a string of decisions that brought me the love of a foster daughter and the love of a husband? No, I have no regrets for the life I’ve lived and the lessons I’ve learned.

A weighty issue

I’m fat. No, that’s not true. That’s so far from the truth that it’s laughable. Heck, I’m not even overweight. Still, I feel ‘fat’(ish).

Here’s the problem: After my marathon I stopped partaking in a normal running routine. And as the days turned to cold, wet, wintery weather, I stopped partaking in most exercise all together. I became rather sedentary, but I continued eating the same volume of food.

Add to all of that, my school schedule means that I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t have an eight-hour office job to go to, and I’m certainly not spending a full eight hours on campus or at the library. And that means more time for eating out of boredom.

And worse, a long struggle with being sad over the holidays meant that I was less inclined to cook healthy meals and actually got into a habit of eating lots of high-fat, sodium-laden foods.

Combine all of those bad habits together and you get a gooey Frances.

Now, I really do know that I’m not fat. I still fit into my clothes and I can still button my jeans. The problem is that where once there was a super-flat, firm tummy and thighs and a back-side that didn’t jiggle too much, there is now a flabby tummy and wiggly-jiggly bum and thighs.

And it’s making me sad. I feel really mad at myself for letting my body get so out of control. I’m out of shape, I’m not drinking enough water, and I’m jiggling where once I didn’t jiggle.

How sad (and frustrated and desperate) am I? Well, I’ve found myself Googling terms like ‘fast weight loss’ and ‘weight loss food’. I’ve even looked at appetite suppressants. I just looked, but there was a little voice in my head that was saying: ‘Come on. Two weeks on that and you’ll be back to normal!’ No, that’s not a good thing for my mind to be saying to my body. In fact, that’s a stupid thing!

So, the solution: Well, for starters I need to run more. I’ve got my race-a-month challenge, but I need to get more training runs in not only for that, but for my overall health. I also need to eat less. I don’t mean starve myself; I mean cutting out the habit of eating a large bag of crisps in one sitting, or eating half my weight in olives and cheese after dinner every night. I need to drink more water (lots more!). And, I need to start eating healthier foods again—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

I’m not fat. And I’m certainly not suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t know what I weight and I don’t care. Still, I want to be back to my normal. Which isn’t fat or skinny. It’s more average and toned maybe.

I’m not sharing this bit of information with the hope for advice or tips. I’m sharing it because saying it out loud will make me more accountable to myself to fix it. I’m sharing it because admitting my flaws makes me more determined to fix them.

And I promise that I’ll fix this slowly and without the aid of pills and potions. Good, old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating will set me straight—and will probably help my race times, too!

Out of place

As I walked into town this afternoon, I noticed a dandelion growing in a wall along the pavement. It was sticking out brightly against the grey stone as if to say ‘Hello! I’m here! I belong!’ even though it wasn’t really meant to be there; even though it risked someone removing it or spraying it with deadly chemicals.

And, as sometimes happens when I see things that I wasn’t expecting to see, this little out of place flower (weed?) got me thinking a bit about my own life.

You might recall last week’s post about my struggles to keep it together. Well, without getting into too many details, part of those struggles stemmed from my tenuous future here in Scotland. You see, much like the dandelion, I’m trying to put down roots somewhere that isn’t my natural home. I’m trying to put down roots and live a life of joy, but I’m doing it with the constant fear that someone will walk along and pluck me out and toss me aside—like a weed growing where it doesn’t belong.

Yes, I know—it’s a really cornball analogy. But I hope you get the point.

(And I’m trying not to think about the analogy where the dandelion (me) causes the wall (Scotland) to weaken and crumble because of the foreign matter edging in (immigration). No, let’s not think about that analogy!)

Anyhow, I am still worried. I am still struggling with the fears of an uncertain future and I am still trying to figure out what my next steps will be. But whilst I’m worrying, I’m also trying to find solutions. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, recognising that even if all of my worries and fears play out to completion, it just means that I have an opportunity to start over again—whether I want to or not.

So, I am still feeling a bit down and stressed and overwhelmed, but a little less than I did last week. Yes, I am surviving. And with luck, my friend the dandelion will survive, too!

I’ll get by

It’s been a week since I last shared my mundane life with you here on Just Frances. And it’s been nearly that long since I [temporarily?] deactivated my Facebook account.

Yes, I admit it: I’m having a pretty crappy time right now. No one thing is catastrophic, but it seems that when I put all of my stress and worries together just now, they’re a bit more than my little self can handle. And my answer [rightly or wrongly] has been to hide away from the world. It’s a strange thing, because I rely so heavily on Facebook and this blog to connect me to the world and to give my life a little bit of emotional stability. But, ironically, sometimes those things can’t be the solution—and may even add to the stress.

I have received several messages through Just Frances in the past couple of days asking about my whereabouts. And a couple of emails to my personal accounts. And even a couple of text messages. Some from people wondering if they’d offended me, causing me to defriended them on Facebook, and some from people just checking in to see how I am.

So, first off, I’d like to thank all of those who’ve been in touch. I appreciate your care and concern for me—and I think I’ve replied to everyone. If not, I’m sorry and please feel free to write and tell me that you’re still feeling neglected so that I can let you know that I care! (No, really. Because if you’ve not heard back from me, it really is an oversight on my part.)

And secondly, I’d like to let you all know that I’m OK. Ish. I have a lot on my mind and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, but it’s nothing serious and nothing that some good old peace and personal contemplation can’t fix. But please know that I have an amazingly awesome friend who is keeping me straight. So I’m not really struggling on my own—no, I have an innocent victim to listen to me whine and cry.

I realise I sound a bit vague and cryptic just now, but that’s because I’m not really ready or willing (I may never be!) to share my current insanity with the entire world—or rather, with the handful of people who stop by Just Frances from time-to-time.

But, because I like to end on a high note, I’ll share some happy things with you:

  1. I’m running a 10K road race tomorrow. (Race 3 in my 2012 Race a Month Challenge!)
  2. I’ve been accepted as a Technorati blogger. (It’s just that this current mood has prevented me from sending in my first contribution!)
  3. I am going to be a card-carrying member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. (As soon as I wear my friend down a bit more so that they include me as an additional [and therefore less expensive] member on their account; the difference of which I’d pay.)

That’s all for now. I will try to post a bit more regularly in the next few days, but if you don’t hear from me, please know that I’m managing. Yep, I’ll get by, with a little help from my friends.

My shattered ego

­I’ve gone back and forth over if I would share a specific sliver of my life with you or not. And I almost chose not. But the issue came to light again over the past couple of days and I suppose I feel a bit compelled to share it now. (I don’t know why, because it’s rather humiliating.)

First, the back story: Nearly two years ago, a couple of ‘helpful’ women in my life decided that I needed to start dating. It had been, after all, a year since my husband died and was therefore time to find a new relationship. They ‘assisted’ by setting up three online dating profiles without my knowledge—and corresponding with a couple of guys they thought would be perfect for me! This didn’t go over very well when I found out, and in fact caused a lot of stress and upset for all sides. (I was being ungrateful and stubborn, or so I was told. We’ve since reconciled but, sadly, there is still a scar on our relationships.)

After I was given the login information, I closed out all but one of accounts they’d created for me. The one that I didn’t close, I made inactive. I don’t know why; hopeful curiosity I suppose. A few months ago, and for reasons I still don’t understand, I decided to check out the site. I logged in, had a wee look, and then logged out. Only logging in meant that my account was no longer inactive. And that meant that someone saw my profile and sent me a message.

When the message came in, I panicked. A lot. But I decided that maybe I’d update the profile and see what happened. I included a quick and cheeky little ‘about me’ section and filled out the rest of the little tick-boxes. What I didn’t do was include public photos, deciding that I would just share photos with men who contacted me and who I was interested in getting to know a bit.

Anyhow, in the weeks to follow four people responded to my profile. And in each instance, we corresponded back-and-forth a couple of times before they requested to see a photo—a request which I obliged. But each of the potential suitors went silent as soon as I did that. Well, that’s not true—one did respond saying I wasn’t what he was looking for.

Ouch.

The experience was very hurtful, and I responded by once again deactivating my profile. Obviously, there is something about my photos that seemed to be turning men away and that really stung my ego in ways that I never imagined.

But, curiosity got the better of me again, so I logged in over the weekend to have a peek. And that meant my account was active again. And you know what? One of those four guys from before sent me a message! He said that he just read my profile and I seemed very interesting, but felt that we’d corresponded before. I replied that I thought we had, but couldn’t be 100% certain. (I lied; I knew for certain that we’d written.)

I decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I mean, maybe he didn’t reply when I’d shared the photo in the past because he was busy. Or maybe he didn’t reply because he lost his computer. Or because he had to go out of town. Or because he was doing that ‘wait a week’ thing and by the time he was ready to respond, I’d deactivated my account.

So, for a couple of days, we wrote back-and-forth. Not a lot, just 2 messages. Then he asked if I had a photo. And I sent one. Only this time he didn’t go silent. This time, he replied. And his reply was ‘I really don’t think we click. I hope you find someone though.’

Ouch. Again.

So, it seems that I am not attractive enough for online dating. (Or maybe I’m too attractive and guys run when they see my photo because they’re intimidated by my beauty?) I suppose not being cut out for online dating is OK though because I wasn’t comfortable about it in the first place.

It’s funny, I’m not really desperate to date. I’m actually rather freaked out at the idea of dating again. I mean, I never imagined I’d have to do that again! But I also have to admit that I like the idea of a nice boy asking me out. I like the idea of sharing a nice meal with someone who makes me laugh. I even like the idea of someone holding my hand as we walk down the street. But I don’t need those things. And if I’m going to meet someone, I’d rather meet them the old fashioned way, like how I met Paul.

Anyhow, I don’t know why I’m sharing this with you because, as I said, it’s a bit humiliating and embarrassing. But, I guess that it makes up for all the times that I share stories about how amazingly awesome I am, too. Kind of an ego-neutraliser of sorts!

Running on empty

Today was Race Two in my goal of running a race a month throughout 2012. (A joint goal with my partner-in-crime, Rebecca.) We couldn’t find a February race within a reasonable distance, so instead we participated in the Falkirk Park Run, a weekly timed event with 150+ runners or so. (And it was free!)

But I screwed up. Really, really screwed up. You see, since it was ‘just’ a 5K, and since it wasn’t a ‘real’ race, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I didn’t go to bed until midnight, after having two glasses of wine. Worse, I neglected to eat breakfast. Yes, I was running on an empty stomach! I didn’t really realise it until I’d been at it for about seven minutes—and then I realised that I didn’t have the energy to run hard. In fact, there were several moments when I thought I could kick it up, but then the pangs of hunger hit and I knew I needed to slow down or I’d never finish.

I finished in 32 minutes and 27 seconds, which is a respectable time for a 5K but I could have/should have done better. And instead of feeling invigorated, I felt weak and dizzy. And I felt silly and stupid because I should know better than to run on empty!

And now, because I’m hoping that most of you have stopped reading by now, I’m going to make some further food confessions. You see, it seems that I’ve been running on empty quite a lot these past few months. Running on empty, walking on empty, going to class and shopping and sleeping on empty… you get the point. Yes, I have been a bad food eater!

Now, it’s not that I have some weird body image thing and am trying to lose weight or anything (though I admit to feeling flabby, but that’s an issue of toning, not weight loss). It’s just that I’ve not been in a good routine for a very long time. If I’m further honest, these poor eating habits have been with me since Paul died—so way, way, way too long.

I rarely eat breakfast and I rarely eat lunch. So by the time I do eat, I am so hungry that I can’t eat very much or I gorge myself on all sorts of unhealthy, salty, fatty foods. And if I’m further honest, part of the problem is that I can’t be bothered to cook for myself most days. I mean, I try to do it, but it’s really hard (i.e.: sad, lonely, and pathetic) to cook for one.

I’m trying to fix this, but I’ve been saying that for more than a year now! But I’m slowly getting better. I’ve been trying to make out a week’s menu ahead of time and I’m making some nice, hearty meals that freeze well for days when I don’t feel like cooking. In fact, as I’m typing I have some chicken and potatoes in the oven and some fresh spinach ready to cook up. But I can’t promise that tomorrow’s dinner won’t be a jumbo-sized bag of crisps!

So, the goal is simple: Cook more, eat more, and be better nourished before going for a run.

Speaking of cooking and eating, it’s time to start on that spinach now. Yum!

And don’t forget to enter my anniversary competition. I’ve really enjoyed the entries so far and would love to be entertained with a few more! (Don’t be shy!)

Random thoughts: Challenging things

Random thoughts—Week 2: Write a list of 10 challenges you’ve faced in the last three months. Pick one and write about it.

Wow. Ten challenges in three months? I guess that means I’m going to have to define challenges a little more loosely than I normally would. But let’s see where I get, huh? My list will be done in chronological order and I’ll write about the last one. (Though I’ll link to previous ones if there is a story to pair with it.)

  1. Getting through another Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday without Paul
  2. Finishing final papers and exams for my first semester of graduate school
  3. Surviving (and enjoying) Christmas
  4. Surviving (and enjoying) New Year’s Eve (despite the sadness and grief that hit the first bit of the New Year)
  5. Finding the energy to participate in life after a difficult start to the New Year
  6. Competing in my first race since my marathon
  7. Teaching myself how to edit videos
  8. Finding the courage to book myself a night away (on my own!) for my birthday
  9. Overcoming my mental block toward making Sunday roasts
  10. Getting through another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day

OK, so how did I manage to get through the challenge of another Valentine-less Valentine’s Day? Well, to be honest I holed up in my flat all day. Not really in an effort to avoid the day, but just because I felt that I had enough to occupy myself with here on my own.

Valentine’s Day is one of those days I dread now. It’s silly, I know, because it’s ‘just another day’, but it’s also a day when it becomes even more obvious that I’m alone now. I guess that the real challenge of this day is to not let the sadness encompass me.

I know the day’s not over yet, but I think I’ve won the challenge. Yes, there have been a few moments of sadness (and tears) but I’ve not been consumed with those things. Instead, it’s just been a normal day with some reading for school, some crafty stuff for a soon-to-be shared project I’m working on, and lots of cooking and eating of food.

Oh, and as I reflect on my list of challenges from the past three months, I have to say that I really am blessed. Money is tight these days; my future seems scary and uncertain at times; I’m sad and lonely some days; and I desperately miss Paul. But my challenges aren’t bad. They don’t include things like searching for a warm place to sleep or scrounging for scraps of food. My challenges don’t include fighting (or fearing) for my life or struggles to keep my family together. Yes, I am blessed to have such frivolous challenges to face!

And as for this writing challenge, I really feel sorry for Rebecca this week. I mean, my challenge was to list some challenges, but her challenge is to write a story about tap dancing cockroaches. So be sure to check in on her to see how she gets on with her ick-worthy topic.

31 happy things

The last couple of months have been a real struggle for me emotionally. I don’t know why; I don’t know what triggered it. (Well, I think I know some of the why and what, but I’d rather not talk about it just yet.) But, the struggles have left me feeling bleak and weak and teetering on surrender.

Yes, I admit it: There have been days when I’ve felt that giving up and giving into the sadness was all I could do. Further to that, I’ve even thought on several occasions that if I were to scrap my current hopes and dreams and cash in my bank accounts, I could live the life of a rover—living on the road, taking part-time, temporary jobs at restaurants or hotels. I could just disappear from the world I know; the world that seems to be so painful some times.

Anyhow, I’ve spent the last month thinking about all of the dreadful things that my future might hold. That’s right, for each of the 31 days of the year so far, I have thought about failing, giving up, abandoning hope, and letting the misery take over.

So, to make up for it, I’ve decided to give some thought to the happy things that could be waiting for me—many of which I can only realise if I don’t let the negative thoughts win. And here they are for you to read! (I won’t share all of the less-than-happy thoughts from before with you because they don’t deserve the blog space!)

31 Happy Things to Look Forward To

  1. The completion of my master’s degree
  2. A fun-tastic weekend in Cambridge
  3. A sweet birthday excursion
  4. Running a race a month for 2012
  5. Laughing so hard that my belly aches the next day
  6. Cooking a Cinco de Mayo feast for friends
  7. My mom’s visit to Scotland
  8. My next visit to the Homeland
  9. The excitement (and frustration) of the 2012 Presidential Election
  10. Finding (and buying) the perfect shade of red tights
  11. Mani-pedis
  12. Martinis with friends at The Junk Rooms
  13. Flirting with cute boys
  14. Fish and chips at Seaton Carew
  15. McGuire Specials from McKean’s
  16. Dancing
  17. Meeting new people
  18. Starting on my PhD
  19. The thrill of completing my second marathon
  20. Getting a UK drivers’ licence
  21. Getting British citizenship
  22. Publishing a book
  23. Selling one of my swirl drawings
  24. Going on a date (which is equally something I dread the idea of)
  25. Falling in love again (which is equally something I dread the idea of)
  26. Spontaneous weekend trips to some great new place
  27. Passing on wisdom to my nieces and nephews
  28. Becoming a well-known authority in the world of social media
  29. Owning my own home again
  30. Having a disposable income again
  31. Being mostly happy again

OK, that was hard. I know that some of those things can be accomplished even if I were to listen to all the voices telling me to flee, but the ones I want most are the things I can only have if I ignore the insecurities and fight off the doom and gloom that seems to visit a bit too often these days. But I know that the more battles I win against the bad thoughts, the more of this list I can see accomplished!

Tomorrow starts a new month and a new chance at a happy future. I can’t promise that I’ll be 100% happy, but I will try to find more joyful things to share with you!

Catching up

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a week since I last blogged. I’m not exactly off to the best start this year, am I? So, this post will serve as a quick catch up for everyone—including me!

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a trip down to England to visit my in-laws last week; though I actually made the trip a day later than planned because of heavy winds that closed the road. But I made it, and enjoyed two nights at my sister-in-law, Ann’s, house in Wakefield. In fact, my brother-in-law, John, made the trip up from Telford for the second night, which was a nice added bonus to family time!

On Friday, I made my way to Billingham to spend the weekend with my sister-in-law, Liz. That night I participated in her girls’ night out group (I’ve joined them before—what a great group of women!) then the following morning we went to Starbucks where I got to meet my newest great nephew, Salem. Oh—and later that day we made a trip to Seaton Carew for fish and chips. (I know, that’s not surprising.)

Sunday was ‘going home’ day, but not before a nice long lunch with another sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and her daughter, Jack. All the visiting made for a busy week, so by the time they took me to the train station I was ready to go home. But it also made me happy to know that I’m only ever a couple hours away from a wonderful family. (And there are already plans to see everyone in February for a reunion.)

Anyhow, Rebecca proved once again that she’s a fantastically amazing friend by picking me up at the train station and giving me a lift home that night. It was nice to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a chat before unpacking. (Which I did before I went to bed because I don’t like to leave it until the next day.)

So, yesterday I finally dragged myself out for a run. It was my first run of the year—and my first run in more than two months! But I feel good for having done it. Well, except for the slightly sore leg muscles today!

And that’s my week in review. I have to admit that it’s been a hard week. In fact, it’s been a hard start to the year. I’ve been feeling a bit blah and unmotivated and can’t seem to shake it. To be completely honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s some sort of mild depression, but I don’t feel hopeless or helpless—I just feel blah and unmotivated. And sometimes sad and lonely. However, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s because I’m bored and inactive. I’m on break from school and I don’t have a job which means I don’t have a schedule to keep me busy. I’ve also been sitting in the flat instead of going out running. In part because of the weather, but in part because of the lack of motivation that comes from no schedule.

But, as I like to end on a positive note, I am trying to get re-motivated. The weather is nice (or at least dry) which means I will be able to get a few training runs in this month and I’ve already committed to running a 10K in a week and a half. I also have a couple of small projects to work on for Boxed Cat Media and am already thinking excitedly about school starting back in February. And I’m doing more of my swirl drawings, too. So it’s not all doom and gloom. I will shift this sulky mood soon. I promise!

(Do you like how I snuck the sad bits in at the end, hoping that most people never read that far? But honestly, I am OK. Just a little crazy. But that’s normal for me.)

One down

Well, today marks the end of my first semester as a postgraduate student. It’s been a crazy and hectic journey to get to this point, but I got here and I’m alive to tell the story!

I admit that there was a time I worried that I would never even start on my master’s degree. Paul’s death shook me to the core and even though I know that this is what he would want for me, I just couldn’t find the motivation to apply to schools. And even then, I didn’t know how I would pay for it. But, I applied and I got accepted and I figured out a way to pay for it all. And even though it means I am living on a very tight budget, this is a very positive step.

The school year got off to a good start, but then a few weeks ago the stress of the holidays and a low platelet count, Paul’s would-be birthday, and a couple other personal conflicts distracted me. Yes, I got myself into such an emotional state that I actually began to doubt my abilities and wondered if this whole adventure was a mistake.

In fact, at the height of my turmoil, I had two major essays to write for two different modules. One was 50 percent of my overall mark—the other was 100 percent of my grade for that module. With each paper, I turned them in with regret. I honestly feared that I may have failed—or came near to failure.

I got the grade for the first paper late last week with a very good mark. In fact, I double checked because I didn’t think I read it correctly. And since I also had an exam for that module (which would be the remaining 50 percent of my grade) that mark made me less apprehensive about the exam.

The other paper was marked and ready for collection yesterday, but I opted to pick it up today after my exam (the one mentioned above). In fact, I decided to pick it up after the exam because I was so worried that the mark would completely deflate me and that it would affect my ability to sit the exam.

But at the last moment I decided to pick up the paper before the exam. And I was so, so, so, so pleased to see that I got a mark of distinction. Yes! On a paper that I was certain would be below average or even—dare I say?—a failure mark. A distinction. Really. And let me just say that I beamed. It was such a moment of joy for me that all of my worries and fears about the pending exam went away. All of the sudden, nothing else mattered. I was smart—and I had a marked essay to prove it!

In the end, I think I did pretty well on my exam. I didn’t ace it, but I didn’t fail it. And that’s OK. Because I got great marks on all my papers (a distinction on one, if you didn’t catch that earlier) and I am feeling confident about my abilities once again.

So, my first semester is done. Teaching resumes for spring semester in mid-February then my dissertation is due in August. I’m excited about the winter break, but I’m more excited about next semester and my dissertation. In fact, you can guarantee that I will be doing some reading for next semester over the break. And I’ve already started to give some real thought to that dissertation.

And all of this means that, in about a year’s time, you might get to read about my excitement of completing my first semester as a PhD student.

(Oh, and did I mention that I got a distinction on one of my essays today?)

Wants versus needs

Once again, I wanted to spend the day inside, hiding away from the world. I wanted to sit in and sulk and cry and feel sorry for myself. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I imagine that it has a lot to do with the sadness of facing another holiday season without Paul. I imagine it has a lot to do with the loneliness I feel when there’s no one to share my life with; no one to share my dreams with.

But as much as I wanted to sit inside and pretend that the world wasn’t out there waiting for me, I knew that I needed to go and participate in life today.

And I did. I managed to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I managed to make a cup of coffee and take a shower. And I managed to walk into town to meet Rebecca for a cup of coffee and a natter.

In fact, I even managed to make my way further into town to buy a couple of Christmas gifts for my [former] foster daughter back in America. And I managed to treat myself to some fresh olives from the farmers’ market on the way home.

But I did it all without the true joy and excitement the activities deserved. I did it all with a touch of apathy. And now I’m sitting in my living room once again.

I want to put on my PJs and sulk on the couch. I want to block out the world and be miserable. I want to go to bed early and cry myself to sleep.

But I know that I need to stop thinking about those wants. I need to put on my shoes and put on a smile and go out again. After all, it’s Cocktail Night and I need to be at The Junk Rooms for Cocktail Night. I need to be there because it will remind me that there is a world outside of my flat. A world that’s filled with friends and laughter and smiles.

Forced out

This morning I realised that I haven’t been outside since Monday. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday holed up inside working on my dissertation proposal—and only showered and changed out of my PJs on Wednesday because Rebecca was coming over for dinner. I had planned to go out yesterday to turn in my proposal, but was informed that, because of the weather, I could just turn in my electronic copy yesterday and bring in the hard copy on Monday. So, I stayed in my PJs all day.

When I woke up this morning, I did so with all intentions of going out to survey the damage from yesterday’s storm. Only I found myself just sitting there, unable—and unwilling—to move. It happens sometimes and I hate it. Sometimes I manage to get myself into this sulky, unmotivated place where I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to see people or leave the house. I don’t want to participate in the world.

So I sat there at the table looking at the (relatively short) list of things I want to get done in the next few days and I couldn’t bring myself to do any of them. I couldn’t bring myself to eat breakfast or write Christmas cards to my nieces and nephews. I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of the chair to go slump on the couch.

But sometime around 1 o’clock I decided that I really did need to get out into the fresh air. So I decided I would walk into town to get some milk so that I could make a batch of No-Bake Cookies. And I’m not kidding you that it took another hour to actually make myself get dressed. And once I was dressed, it took another half an hour to motivate myself to leave the flat.

Once I got into town, I managed to wander around a couple of shops, but it wasn’t done with true enjoyment. It was just done because I was out and about. But I did manage to get some milk—and even treated myself to a pack of sweeties—so at least it was a productive outing!

And now I’m home again. The cookies have been made and my PJs have been re-donned. There’s some peppy music on the iPod and I’m trying to motivate myself to think about making dinner.

I really hate these days. They’re the days when I feel lonely and miserable and I can’t figure out a way to turn off those feelings. I hate these days where I just lose all motivation and start wishing my life was different. I guess the good thing is that I know these days are far and few between now, but I still hate them when they come.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m determined to make it a better day. I’m determined to spend more time enjoying the world and the fresh air. I’m determined to make tomorrow happy. One way or another!

Scholarly doubts

Today has been quite a day; a day full of reminders that I meant to be a scholar. Meant to be a scholar. But I must admit I don’t feel very scholarly at the moment.

I think I’m going to tell this tale in reverse order for a bit now, though I retain the right to jump around between points. (Yes, not a very scholarly way to write, is it?)

This evening, I was a guest of The Scottish Government for a reception welcoming Scotland’s Saltire Scholars. (Oh yeah, have I ever mentioned I’m one of those?) Well, the room was filled with a 100+ people—Scottish government officials, university representatives, and scholars. Everyone was eager and excited and confident. And intelligent. Like, really intelligent. And I felt like an out-of-place small-town redneck playing make believe. I mean, I managed the conversations just fine and knew what questions to ask others about their studies or jobs to sound all intelligent myself, but I just felt like such a fraud being there. I felt like I just wasn’t clever enough to be part of this group.

But before tonight, it was two essay assignments that have had me questioning my scholarly ability.

In fairness, the essays were ‘easy enough’ and my marks for past work have been respectable. But I really failed to put my best foot forward for these last two assignments. I don’t know if it’s because I failed to manage my time or if I just couldn’t find the motivation for them. But I know that I did not do my best work.

To be honest, I think I’ve let my life get in the way of my scholastic endeavours. I’ve been feeling a bit down because of my lower-than-ideal platelet count and I was feeling a bit down about Thanksgiving and Paul’s birthday. And that’s all in addition to other personal stresses I’ve been feeling recently.

And now I’m feeling very negative about myself. I feel as if I’ve let myself down and I’m questioning if I’ve made the right choice to do my master’s degree in the first place. I mean, I’ve always been the ‘stupid kid’ and now I’m feeling a bit of truth to the label.

Maybe I’m crazy and my marks for these last two assignments will be fine. But I don’t feel that will be true. My ego is hurting these days and it’s bringing me down!

I’m not thinking about quitting nor do I think I’m on the verge of failing my way out the door. I’m just feeling stressed and frightened and that makes me feel insecure and uncertain and that makes me angry with myself.

I’m sorry for dumping this on you; I know you can’t fix it for me. And I’m not asking for praise and ego building. I just need to share my insecurities sometimes, and when there’s no one on the couch next to me to sob to, you get it all!

I have another paper due next Monday and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. So maybe that will help my mood. And I guess tomorrow will be a library day. Maybe that will help me feel a bit more scholarly again …

Paranoia

Last week I finally got around to seeing my new doctor and this week I’m regretting it just that little bit. You see, on the outside I look like a perfectly healthy, 37-year-old woman. (Though some people think I look younger than that, which is cool.) On the outside, no one would ever guess that on the inside my body is not-so-healthy.

Of course, the problem with looking healthy and (mostly) feeling healthy is that I sometimes forget that I’m not as healthy as I appear. And when I neglect to go to the doctor’s office for checkups, I can forget a lot easier. (Kind of.)

Anyhow, back to the story: Last week I went to meet my new doctor and he promptly had me schedule an appointment for blood work—a standard procedure for someone with ITP. So, on Friday afternoon I went back for labs and was told I’d have the results in about a week. And when the phone rang Monday morning and the person on the other end introduced herself as someone from the clinic, my heart sank. It’s never a good thing when you get a call…

And so, yesterday I learned that my platelet count is 50. (Normal range is 150-400.)

Now, that’s not a really bad number (I’m normally around 70-80) but it’s always a bit worrying because I never know if a lower-than-my-normal number is because it was really low and is now climbing up, or if it’s on its way down. Which means stress and worry and paranoia.

The doctor wants me to go back in on Monday for another blood draw to see where I am. I’m hoping that it’s climbing up because I’ll be a little (maybe even a lot) sad if it goes lower.

And that means that for the next few days I will be obsessed with ITP and platelets. I will worry about this, that, and the next thing. I will have irrational fears that it’s getting worse. I will dream about cutting my finger and bleeding forever. I will second guess every niggly little twinge (Yikes! Is that spontaneous internal bleeding?) and will panic at the smallest bruise. I will be afraid to exert too much energy and I will worry that I’m pushing myself too hard. I will wonder if I’m tired because I’ve just spent a day running errands or if it’s ITP-induced fatigue.

I’m always careful and aware of my condition(s), but it seems that my carefulness goes into overdrive when I know that my counts are low. You see, this is why I shouldn’t have gone to the doctor. It I hadn’t gone, I would never have known, and I could have carried on pretending that I’m just a normal, every-day, healthy 37-year-old woman.

However, it’s OK. I’m OK. Everything will be OK. So please don’t worry about me. I’m not in any danger; I’m not sick and dying. I just have a lower platelet count than I want.

It’s days like this when I really miss Paul. I mean, he would be just as obsessed as I am about my counts and would commiserate or celebrate with me when the numbers came in. And, of course, if they were lower than I’d hoped, Paul could be counted on to wait on me hand-and-foot and completely fuss over me with his ‘A woman in your condition…’ line. And even though I didn’t need to be fussed over, it was nice.

But now the real question is how I can spin this so that I can get my friends to fuss and take pity on me and come over to clean my flat. You know, because I shouldn’t stress myself out just now. You know, in case it has an adverse effect on next week’s counts. I mean, a woman in my condition… (No? No volunteers? Darn!)

[Note: That’s a picture of my platelets from last year. So, those 10 guys are like the ancestors of the 50 I have now.]

A cunning plan

Sometimes, no matter how much thought goes into plans, things don’t work out. From Daedalus and Icarus’ attempt at building wings to escape from Crete to Windows Vista, history is full of failed attempts—despite the extreme cunningness of the plans.

In my own life, there have been countless failed plans. My plans to join the United States Marine Corps were scuppered by kidney disease. My plans to be happily married with a couple of kids in tow were destroyed by widowhood. My plans to be financially comfortable were ruined (temporarily?) by a self-inflicted change of plans that included quitting my job, moving to Scotland, and going to graduate school. And my plans to rule the world have yet to really get off the ground at all.

But despite knowing that plans don’t always work out, I still find myself planning. Planning—and hoping for the best. Even though I know I should be planning and hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

The last couple of weeks have seen me rather upset over plans that haven’t quite worked out. In fact, the last couple of weeks have seen multiple attempts for the same general plan fail. You see, I had hoped to host a full-on Thanksgiving dinner in my new flat for some people I know. But the first round of invitees had to cancel (which they did in plenty of time) so I had to re-think my plans. Which meant another invitation to some friends from out of town, but they were unable to make it. And other people I thought of inviting already had plans, too. (Totally understandable.)

The realisation that Thanksgiving was going to be a shadow of the holiday I hoped for meant a slightly upset conversation with my friend, Rebecca, where I mentioned just not doing anything at all, but it also meant that she helped me come up with a new plan—and a back-up plan for if the new plan failed. Sadly, by yesterday, I realised that the new plan was going to fail, too, which meant that poor Rebecca got to listen to me cry and cry over how I’m actually dreading next weekend because my most favoured holiday isn’t going to be anything like what I wanted it to be.

My tears were only made worse because it also happens to be ‘what would have been’ Paul’s 50th birthday weekend. And I honestly don’t know how I’m going to keep my sanity and composure knowing that he’s not around to share in the celebration of Thanksgiving (a holiday that he learned to love, despite being British and a vegetarian!) or his birthday.

Now, in fairness, another one of my friends was planning to be there and even made several complicated arrangements to ensure his availability. And he wasn’t too happy when I said that I might scrap the plans all together because it seemed silly to make a full-on Thanksgiving feast for three people—especially when two weren’t even American and one would be making an extremely large effort to be there. So it’s not like no one wanted to come and celebrate with me.

And so, after having a good cry that resulted in soggy sleeves because God forbid I carry a handkerchief when I actually need one, Rebecca and I came up with a new plan—a plan that includes a nice dinner out next Friday for the two of us and a ‘Silly Thanksgiving’ for the Saturday for anyone who might be able to show up. We won’t do a full-on meal, but all the important things will be there. You know, like olives for everyone’s fingers. Less pressure (maybe) and (hopefully) a good distraction for me. Well, that’s the plan anyhow …

I know that my emotional response is less about the plans not working out and more about the grief that comes from knowing that Paul isn’t here to celebrate with me, but that doesn’t make it easier to put those emotions in a box. They’re there haunting me. But I also know that even if the latest set of plans don’t work out the way I hope, that it’s OK for me to be upset and emotional. Now if I could just come up with a cunning plan for getting past those sad emotions and going straight to the happy ones.

When sadness comes

Life is mostly good these days. It’s mostly happy and mostly bright and mostly cheerful. Mostly. Of course, the problem with mostly is that mostly isn’t always.

Sometimes, the sadness comes and I don’t know why. Sometimes, the sadness comes and it’s a real, legitimate cause. And sometimes, the sadness comes and it’s a silly little reason that I shouldn’t let get to me—it’s something that I should know better about getting upset over. But, sometimes, sadness has a will all of its own.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, the sadness came. It came and I knew why. It came because I let it though the door when I let a bit of laughter in. It came and I could have prevented it but I didn’t. I didn’t because I need to learn how to live in this world without letting silly things make me sad.

Knowing that this sadness is temporary helps. Knowing that the days are mostly good and happy and bright and cheerful helps. And I’m too cheap to buy a ticket for the entire journey, so at least I know there are smiles waiting for me when I alight.

The wings of sadness will lift you off the ground without warning. What of it? Don’t pay for your ticket and you will be returned to the ground safely.
~ Nipun Mehta

Sign here

Remember how I said that I think I found a new flat? Well, yesterday I paid the deposit and today I picked up the contracts, which means I’m one step closer to a home of my own again—even if only a temporary one.

I have to admit that yesterday was a bit of a hard day for me and I nearly didn’t go to pay the deposit. Several little things made me question myself and sent me into a bit of mild hysteria as I wondered if I had chosen the right flat and I even began to stress about the stress that might be waiting for me in a year’s time when I have to figure out the next steps for my future.

But I managed to calm myself down and I reminded myself how right this new place feels and how I can afford it and how I really believe I can be happy living there. It’s funny, because as soon as I paid the deposit I began to feel a bit better. (Yay!)

I now have the daunting task of reading through the contracts and trying to understand UK rental speak. Of course, I’m lucky to have friends who will read through them as well and will answer questions I may have about the wording.

The next step is to take in the signed contracts and wait. And wait. And wait. Because I don’t get the keys until October 24. That’s a lot of waiting for someone who hates waiting!

But to keep myself busy, I have a marathon to think about. Oh, and there’s always that master’s degree I’m meant to be doing to keep me busy, too.

And (I promise I’m nearly done) I have picked up my crochet hooks again so that I can make a pretty throw for the couch in my lovely new flat. Maybe I’ll share my progress with you on that soon.

Widow dreams

For more than two years now, my nights have been haunted with horrible dreams. I call them ‘widow dreams’ and I understand from other widow(er)s that they are very common.

It started the first time I finally slept after Paul died. That first dream was a re-enactment of the horrors of watching him die whist I desperately performed CPR. For the next couple of weeks, every time I closed my eyes I would witness Paul dying all over again. Not always in exactly the same way, but always with me trying to help him—or with me trying to scream for help but I’d lost my voice.

After a while, those dreams changed. I would dream that we’d just learned his head was loose and we needed to be careful it didn’t fall off killing him instantly. I would dream that he had cancer or that if he ate broccoli he’d have a heart attack and die on the spot. Or I would dream of a million other things that meant we needed to be careful because one wrong move and Paul would die.

In between the dying dreams were the abandonment dreams. Those are the awful dreams where we would be sitting on the couch all lovey-dovey and out of the blue he’d tell me he wanted a divorce. Or I’d come home early and he’d be with another woman. Or we’d be in the grocery store and his girlfriend would show up and he’d tell me he was leaving me for her. Or a million other similar dreams that all ended in Paul leaving me for another woman. (These dreams are extremely common with widow(er)s I guess. I hate them most of all!)

Then there are the dreams where Paul comes back. Yep, he just waltzes in and acts like nothing happened and I’m so excited but also so angry with him. Those are the dreams I have been having more and more often of late. In fact, since leaving the home we shared together and moving in with my parents in preparation for my move to Scotland, I’ve been having them non-stop. And let me just say that Paul is not happy that he went home and saw it cleared out! Sometimes, I dream that I arrive in Scotland and he’s there to pick me up because he didn’t die; he’d just forgotten to tell me he was moving over ahead of me to get our home ready (much to my anger and delight).

And sometimes, the dreams are just plain old dreams. No dying, no abandonment, no coming back. Paul’s just there and we’re together doing normal things. And sometimes the kids we were meant to adopt are with us too. I like those dreams because for that brief time my dreams aren’t shattered and my life is so happy. But those dreams are also the ones that cause me to roll over and snuggle with Paul when I wake up. Only he’s not there to be snuggled.

The worst thing about these dreams is that some of them haunt me for hours after I wake up. Some of them are just so real and so vivid that I can’t shake them. Mostly, the ones I can’t shake are the bad/sad ones, but sometimes it’s the happy family ones that haunt me.

I don’t know how long these dreams will be with me, but I expect them to come and go as my life changes and as I hit major turning points in my journey. In the mean time, I suppose that I should be happy that I can still see Paul in my dreams, since I can’t see him in my waking hours.

[This post is illustrated with my most recent swirls-in-progress drawing—something I like to work on to take my mind off the dreams.]

A nickel for my thoughts

As I walked to my car after work today, I noticed a nickel lying on the sidewalk and smiled as I swooped down to pick it up without missing a step. I mean, it’s only a nickel and most people wouldn’t have bothered, but as I’ve blogged before about my willingness to stop for coins, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that I’ve done it again.

Anyhow, it got me thinking about my future a bit—both the excitement and the insecurities! And since I’ve found it helps me to write about these things, you get to read a few of them! (But I’ll start with the bad and end with the good. Yay!)

The insecurities:

  • I’m [still] afraid about the financial side of my decisions. Going from middle class to starving student is going to be devastating!
  • I worry about what my social life will be like—and if the friendships I’ve forged with Paul’s friends since his death will survive once I’m there full time.
  • I wonder if I’m actually smart enough to do the whole postgraduate and doctoral studies thing.

I know that these things seem silly, but I live in near isolation and 95 percent of my non-work communications are electronic these days which just adds to my insanity which feeds my insecurities!

The excitement:

  • I am really looking forward to having a chance at a fresh start for this crummy little life I’m living. I’m convinced that it’s the step I need to find the joy I’ve lost.
  • I’m really excited about having a new partner in crime and am certain that (despite the doubts noted above) my social life will be better than it ever has been once I move.
  • I am very eager to begin my studies and am looking forward to being in a learning environment again. (That nickel from the intro paragraph has been added to my coin stash as part of my tuition fund.)

I wish I could say that the excitement always balances out the insecurities, but if I’m honest I’m getting more and more anxious, nervous, frightened, and insecure as I get closer to this great new adventure. I keep telling myself I’m being silly, but as you probably know fears and whatifs just take over sometimes!

But—Hey!—I am 5¢ closer to my £10,600 ($17,200) tuition bill now!

The homeland half

Today was the Inaugural Homeland Memorial Weekend Half Marathon and I came in first place! No, really, I did!

OK, in fairness I was the event’s creator and the only [real] participant. But still, I ran (and walked) 13.1 miles today. Which is probably more than you ran today so please don’t judge me for bragging. And not only that, but I did it with a 6 a.m. start time. (Crazy lady!)

The course was pretty simple and was measured (and marked) by my dad, and we drove it last night so that I could see where each mile point was. It started from my sister’s house, went east out of town to Airport Road then cut to the left onto Masterson Road and left again at Red Bridge. The turn-around was about a mile past The Flying Horseshoe Ranch.

It was a straight out-and-back which meant that all of those blasted hills I had to run up on the first half of the course were hills to run down for the last half! (Which helped!) What helped more was that my dad was waiting at each mile marker to offer water and take photos. Talk about a support team!

And now for the boring mile-by-mile recount:

My 12-year-old nephew was going to do the race with me but I knew before Mile 1 he’d be bailing. Just past Mile 2 we were on a walk-and-water break. And by Mile 3 he joined my dad in his car. By Mile 3.5 Haden was ready to rejoin me.

At Mile 4, my sister, Celeste, had come out for a quick cheer and a photo op. At Mile 5, Haden hopped back in the rig with my dad—having decided he really, really was done. Mile 6 was a chance for a quick water break before I headed the additional .55 miles to the turn around.

At the turn-around (Mile 6.55! Yay!) my jacket came off and I was on the downhill end of the race. Just before Mile 7 my sister showed up again with water and the kids for a final cheering session before heading home to feed everyone breakfast. And just past Mile 8, as I turned back onto Masterson Road, the winds picked up. Cold, hard, miserable winds. And that’s also where my legs started to get mad at me.

By Mile 9 I was starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. Not so much with today’s race, but with the thought of my marathon in October. That was also when my mind started to mull over some unspoken words that need spoken to a friend, which started to make me a bit frustrated because I fear they’ll go unsaid forever. Which isn’t exactly motivating!

At Mile 10 I requested my jacket back. The winds were frigid and by this time my legs had given up on me to the point of no running—where for the two miles before I’d been on a walk-run routine. It was frustrating to know that I’d be walking the rest of the race, but I knew that I’d be able to walk fast—it’s just that my legs couldn’t do the running thing anymore. Or so I thought…

By the time I got to Airport Hill (a steep and long-ish hill that I’d run up at the start of the race) I was ready to run down the hill. I continued walking again at the base of the hill and was soon upon Mile 11—Just two miles to go now!! And that 12th mile was hard! I had the cold wind, the sore legs, a nagging question about if I could actually do a marathon, and the thoughts of unspoken words to keep me down.

But then, just before rounding the corner for Mile 12—The Final Mile—I saw my nephew riding his bike toward me. He decided to come out to cheer me on for a bit. It made my heart sing, and my smile came back to my face. At that point, dad headed back to the house and I started to feel a bit more confident—albeit with sore, un-running legs!

And, finally, about two blocks before the finish line, I managed to run again. The heavy winds were complicating that, but the final 100 yards or so was down an alley way where the wind was blocked—and at the finish line were my parents, my sister, my nephew and niece, and my foster daughter. They even had a ribbon for me to run through and a ‘1st Place’ ribbon for my efforts!

I’m tired now. Really, really tired. But I’m well-pleased with my efforts; especially since I didn’t actually train for this. (Oops!)

The Loch Ness Marathon is in just 18 weeks and I’m pretty sure my running partner for that race won’t bail on me (though she’s allowed to run on her own since she’ll be faster than me!). I don’t expect to run it all, but I do expect to finish. I guess I’d best get training!

[Photo credits to my dad, Roy Cook.]

From happy to crash

It’s been a bad day. It started good, but then something happened that caused me to come crashing down. I could tell you what that something was, but it’s so silly and makes me look completely and totally insane and unstable which hurts my ego which just makes the crash so much worse, so let’s just say it was something and leave it at that.

You see, I am so excited about my future. I’m [mostly] happy for the first time in two years. I have something to look forward to. I have plans that [I hope] will help me to be a strong, secure, and confident woman once again.

But somewhere in the back of my mind is this constant reminder that I had ‘It All’ before and that it was all taken away in the blink of an eye. And I’m constantly frightened that my world might crumble again and I don’t know that I can survive another re-build.

Yesterday, I was so excited to have looked over my finances again only to determine that I might actually have enough money to make the next year a success. Of course, I won’t be living the life style I’m used to now, but what I’ll be lacking in money I’m sure I’ll make up for in laughter and happiness. Today started out with more confidence-filled thoughts, too.

Then it dawned on me that part of my plan for the next year relies heavily on support from family and friends in the UK. And I started to worry that maybe I’ve played it all up a bit too much in my head; maybe I’ve convinced myself that my connections there are stronger than they are in reality.

What if I get to Scotland and find out that my friends don’t have time for me? What if I get there and we don’t have anything in common? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m too crazy for them in large doses when I’m actually there in person on the same continent all the time? What if… well, the list goes on.

Yes, I know how crazy this all sounds. I mean, I know that I will have loads of support when I arrive. I know that everyone wants to help. I know that people love me and care for me and blah blah blah. But sometimes, I just feel so alone and vulnerable and fragile and it doesn’t matter that I know I’m wrong. Sometimes, my mind just jumps to worst-case scenarios and when that happens, sometimes I can’t stop the spiral no matter how hard I try.

I feel better when I check out forums and blogs by other crazy widows because at least it seems that these insecurities and seemingly-unprovoked crying and sobbing fits are normal. And, I have to admit that my emotions may be a bit more tender than normal not only because I’m in the midst of preparing to leave the house I shared with Paul, but because tomorrow marks six years since we got married and there won’t be a card from him on the mantle place tomorrow morning to remind me of that fact…

I promise I will try to cheer up soon. After all, things are mostly happy these days and there really is a bright future waiting for me—I just can’t see it through the blur of the tears some days.

[To distract myself, I worked on one of my swirly drawings a bit. So at least my crash means I’ve broken out the drawing stuff again!]

Lost

Last month I decided to write a blog post about the one and only “mixed tape” that was ever made for me. Well, I say mixed tape but it was actually a CD; it was titled “So, I Made You A Mixed Tape” and was a gift from Paul a few months before our wedding.

In addition to the CD, he made a fun cover with photos of the two of us. And as a bonus, inside was a folded-up sheet of A4 paper that included notes on why he chose the songs he did.

But when I went to grab the CD last month it wasn’t there. It didn’t seem to be anywhere, in fact. But I told myself that was OK—I probably placed it somewhere and would run across it when I had a better look later. Surprisingly, I stayed calm at the time. I mean, it was the eve of the anniversary of his death, so I would have expected this inability to find something to have been a melting point. But it wasn’t; it was only mildly upsetting.

Anyhow, for the past two weeks I’ve searched high-and-low. I’ve gone through every drawer in the main bits of the house—two or three times. I’ve searched under the seats, in the trunk, and in the glove box of my car. I’ve called to have my sister do the same with my old car, too. I’ve opened every CD to see if (somehow) the mixed CD and A4 paper got put in the wrong case.

And I can’t find it. And I’m lost at what to do now.

I mean, I transferred the songs to my iPod long ago so I have the music, which is something, but I don’t have that stupid scrap of paper and try as I may I can’t remember what he wrote for all of those songs. And it’s no longer just mildly upsetting.

I really hope that I’ll be able to write an embarrassing update shortly saying that—in a moment of madness—I had actually placed the CD in the freezer or something, but those who know me also know that I almost never lose things (other than my mind). I may lock the keys in the car on (rare) occasion. I may have to dig through piles of clutter to locate something from time-to-time. But I don’t lose things.

I wouldn’t have lent it out. I wouldn’t have thrown it out. I can’t see why I would have put it anywhere other than with the rest of my CDs. So I don’t know. I just don’t know. But it’s really starting to get to me now. And I’m crying over having lost a stupid CD. I fear my [remaining shred of] sanity will be next …

[Note: This post has been updated to reflect the error that my niece so gleefully pointed out to me. Happy now, Flik?]

A hard day on the home front

It’s been a hard day since the realisation that I will be leaving my house in less than three months. It’s so sad to know that I’m leaving this place where dreams once grew and laughter was shared between a hopeful husband and wife.

But there is a new future out there waiting for me and I can’t reach for it if I don’t let go of the house. Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am; how brave I am. I never knew how much strength and bravery could hurt…

To help ease my pain, I searched out some inspirational quotes. I think I like this one best for today:

Home is where the heart is but happiness is where your friends are.
~ Unknown

Struggling with apathy

I have these conversations in my head where I shout at myself for being so stressed and unhappy and apathetic, then I tell myself to just stick it out because I will snap out of it as soon as I’m done working and I’ve moved to Scotland. But as much as I want to believe that, I sometimes fear that I’m lying to myself.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am absolutely miserable right now. I can’t seem to function the way I did two years ago. I’ve lost all of my passion for life. I can’t bring myself to care about my diet the way I used to. I can’t bring myself to care about running the way I used to. I can’t bring myself to enjoy anything the way I used to.

I get through most days telling myself that it will get better as soon as I’m done working. I tell myself it will get better as soon as am away from these reminders of the hopes and dreams I had with Paul. And I tell myself that it will get better as soon as I can start concentrating on my new future in my new home.

I’m convinced that when I get to Scotland I will laugh again; when I get to Scotland life will be OK again. I will walk more; run more; eat better; sleep better.

But lately I’ve also started to worry that I will be just as miserable there as I am here. And I suppose that in some ways, it will be more stressful than the life I have now because there are so many unknowns.

There are certain things I know to be true: I am extremely unhappy where I am now and I don’t want to stay here—where I build dreams with Paul—without Paul. If I remain where I am now—living the life I’m living now—I will soon go into full-on depression and end up institutionalised. I feel at peace and at home in Scotland and have always been happy there. I have a passion for higher education and actually look forward to studying and being in the classroom again.

I think I’m doing the right thing. I really do. But I guess that I’m afraid that I’m totally screwing up. I wish I had a crystal ball so that I knew if it all worked out or not.

Oh well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.

And as your reward for reading my mindless ramble, here’s a pretty picture I made for you when fiddling around with Photoshop today. Yay!

Everybody hurts, sometimes

I’ve really been struggling through this holiday season—much more than last year when I was still in a bit of shock and disbelief over the fact that I no longer had Paul to share Christmas mornings with. The loneliness and sadness just seems so much worse this year. Much, much worse.

I’m trying my best to muddle through for my foster daughter, but it’s difficult some days. I don’t have the excitement that I should have for buying gifts and making candies and singing carols. I just hurt too much to think about it this year.

But for all of the pain and hurt and sadness and depression [?] I’m feeling right now, I am keeping R.E.M. in mind and I’m hanging on, and taking comfort in my friends.

When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on;
‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
~ R.E.M.

In fact, to end on a happy note so that you don’t think I’m completely hopeless, whilst I’m completely dreading Christmas, I am extremely excited about the following day when I will travel to Canada to spend time with friends. Those happy thoughts are keeping me strong and will help me through. (Yay! for Canada!)

Food foibles

So I think I’m a mild food hoarder. Or that I have some weird food obsessions. Or both. I’ve known it for years but mostly lived alone as an adult which made it easier to deal with.

When I [finally] settled down and got married, I found that I had to work to overcome some of my food foibles. Well, actually I didn’t have to overcome them—Paul accepted them and just played my little games.

(All the while, Paul would point out how crazy I was being and remind me that we can just buy/make more of whatever food I wanted.)

Basically, my deal is that I will panic if I think that I’m not getting my fair share—or more. A normal meal of normal food won’t trigger panic, nor will going out to a traditional restaurant where I order my own meal. No, panic situations for me are buffets, pot lucks, and parties with hors d’oeuvres; shared foods like pizza, chips, and buckets of popcorn; and divided foods like a slice of cake or pie.

I really do panic if I think there won’t be enough of something for me. To solve the problem of panic, Paul would always give me the bigger half of whatever we were splitting and we’d have separate containers of popcorn. Now, almost always I would eat what I wanted then give the rest to Paul—meaning he still got more—but if he got the bigger piece to start with I would have felt panicked.

I hoard food, too. Not proper food, but junk food. I have candy and junk food stashes everywhere: In the kitchen and living rooms at home; in my office; in my car; and even in my handbag. As long as my supplies are well-stocked, I’m OK. But when they start to dwindle I really do panic. I’m afraid that I’ll never get another Love Heart again. I worry that I may want pretzels and not have access to them. But if they are there and available to me, I won’t necessarily eat them. No, just the knowledge that they are there and that I can have them any time I want is enough to give me peace of mind.

I will fantasize for days if I know that there is a food event coming up. I salivate as I wonder what great nibbles will be at a holiday party. When going to the movies, I think for hours about my snack choices before the movie–and I’ve been known to watch a movie I’m not too keen on seeing just because I want the popcorn. I get really excited when I get to go for fish-n-chips–and even more excited when I know I’m going to a sweets shops. It’s bad. Really, really bad.

I realized that I had a problem when Paul and I went through our adoption training a few years ago. Apparently, food hoarding and other issues are very common in children in the foster care system and is often directly related to neglect and the instability of a food supply at some time in their lives.

I was never starved as a child—despite my insistence ½ hour before dinner that I was dying of hunger and really needed a snack. I was well-fed and never worried that a meal wouldn’t happen. BUT, there was a fight for food growing up in that the ‘best’ foods were gone fast. Everyone got a first helping of everything on the table, but with eight people around the dinner table, sometimes there wasn’t enough for a second helping of the favourite foods for everyone. Which to a kid is complete abuse!

Also, we rarely got desserts and snacks and candy. So when we did, we made the most of it. Looking back I know that we were raised with an extremely good, balanced, and nutritious menu. But I can also see how my food obsessions may have started.

I must have snacky foods available at all times now. When I fly to the UK I have a special check list of snack foods to take with me (sweet and savoury, chewy and crunchy) even though they’ll feed me on the plane. In fact—I almost never eat the food that I take with me, but the one time I didn’t take it I was a bit freaked out over it, so Paul insisted that I pack food no matter where we were going and how long we’d be gone.

A tip to friends and family: Always offer me the last chip. I will most likely decline, but being asked will make me feel secure. Also, be prepared to have separate buckets of popcorn if we go to the movies. And don’t ask for some of my candy, but don’t be surprised if I want some of yours. In fact, I will probably pick a candy that I know you hate just to be safe.

Yes, you knew I was weird and a little lot obsessive-compulsive, but I bet you didn’t know that I was completely off my rocker when it came to food!

Learning to cope [?]

It’s been nearly a month since I posted about being stressed and unhappy and I hate to admit that not much has changed. I’ve had happy moments in between now and then and I’ve laughed and enjoyed life, but it’s all been marred by the sadness I’m feeling—and much of that joy was being faked if I’m completely honest.

According to the professionals, I’m not ‘depressed’ I’m just extremely stressed and when added to the fact that I’m still grieving, it makes it difficult to cope. This is nice to know since I don’t believe that I’m suffering from depression, but it basically means that I am too stressed and I don’t have an outlet for that stress. And the grief? Well, by some accounts that will be with me for the rest of my life, it’s just a matter of degrees. (No, you don’t ‘snap out of it’ on the year mark. Really. Despite what you may have read. But that rant is not for this post…)

When I lost Paul I lost my confidant; my biggest supporter; the one person who could make all of life’s stresses seem insignificant. Of course, since Paul died there are so many new stresses in my life. That irony is well noted.

And now I need to find a way to cope on my own. And it’s really, really hard! But, I’m stubborn and determined and I’ll figure out a way to manage if it kills me!

Ideally, I would have that amazing friend like they have in Hollywood movies. You know—the best friend who is a solid rock; the friend who is just there and just sorts you out. They know what you need even if you don’t and they’re not afraid to just bulldoze their way in when you build a wall. I don’t know if that person exists off screen or not, but they don’t exist for me.

[Side note: I do have friends and they are wonderful, but I don’t have that amazingly-close friend who just ‘gets me’ and maybe that’s because I am extremely weird and (as one friend puts it) so different than everyone else and no one will ever get me. Heck, I don’t think Paul ever totally understood me. But really, I love my friends!]

So, I need to be my own best friend. I need to be my biggest supporter, my biggest cheering section, and my own life-sorter-outer.*

How does one do that? I just don’t know. I’m experimenting with several things though.

I’m writing down my thoughts and feelings and emotions and other sappy rubbish. Some in the form of (bad) poems; some in the form of letters to people that never get sent (including letters to me); some in the form of journal entries; and some in a free-flowing ‘non-form’ form.

I’m being all creative and crap. I’m drawing and sketching; I’m doing arts and crafts; and I’m working on crochet projects—new and old.

I’m taking time for me. I’ve gotten rid of the cable so that I can concentrate on relaxing and reading; I’m (mostly) taking back my lunch time; and I’m trying to pamper myself.

I’m trying to be healthier. I’m getting a bit more exercise (still not enough); I’m eating healthier foods; I’m drinking more water; and I’m getting more sleep.

Overall, I’m just trying to find the connection I used to have with my heart, mind, body, and soul. I’m trying to reclaim the peace and happiness I once felt. I’m trying to re-establish my self-esteem and my identity.

I’ve convinced myself that all of these fears and stresses and unhappy feelings will go away if I get accepted to grad school but then I start to worry about what will happen to my remaining shred of sanity if I’m not accepted. And then I remember that those thoughts are exactly what I’m supposed to avoid in order to find peace in my world. So instead of thinking about that, I think I’ll go turn on some soft music and read a book for a while.

Sorry for whining again…

* This reminds me of that Friends episode where the girls read a book called Be Your Own Windkeeper.

Unhappily stressed

I’m really struggling this week. Actually, I’ve been struggling for a couple of weeks now. I’m sad and I feel quite helpless about it. I’m trying to cheer myself up but I can’t seem to manage it. I am pretty certain it’s just stress and worry; not depression. But I’m having trouble getting past it because it seems so many stresses have been accumulating and I don’t have an outlet for my stress these days.

However, writing down my thoughts and feelings help. And sadly that means you have to suffer my blue mood. (Alternatively, you can hit the back button on your browser in search of happier rubbish to read.)

First, the stresses:

I’m worried that I won’t get accepted to school (even though I’ve not yet sent in my applications) because that’s my only plan right now and if that falls apart I don’t know what I’ll have to anchor my future to.

I’m worried that if I do get accepted I won’t be able to afford it. I worry that I will completely destroy my finances and the excellent credit rating that I worked so hard to build.

That worry means that my brain has kicked into hyper-sensitive money mode and I’m finding myself constantly thinking about money and how much I can save between now and then. I’m making mental notes of my belongings and wondering what I can bring myself to part with and what I’d be able to sell. (Don’t worry; I won’t be selling off my prized junk until I have a firm letter of acceptance in hand.)

I’ve lost my ‘me’ time. I mean, I had way too much before, but now I don’t have any. I wake up and am in instant mommy-mode. Then I go to work where I’m in work-mode. Then I pick up the kid and I’m in mommy-mode again until about an hour before I go to bed. There is no time for me. I can’t go for a run before work because I can’t leave the kid at home whilst I run and I can’t drop her off at school early enough for me to hit the gym before going to the office and I can’t go to the spa because there’s no one I can just drop the kid off with.

Since my brother-in-law passed away three weeks ago, I’ve not had time to process it all—and maybe I never will. But his death has really upset me because I lost such an amazing person in my life, and because it reminds me about the pain of losing Paul (not that I’ve forgotten the pain, it just makes it a bit more obvious). But mostly, I’m upset because I hate that my sister-in-law has to go through such an intensely-painful process and I can’t do anything to ease her pain.

Of course on top of it all, work is crazy. More so than normal. But I suppose that’s a common stress world-wide.

Most of the stresses above are with me throughout the average week. It’s just that they are all with me right now and I don’t have an outlet. There isn’t someone at home when I get in to whine to about my day. There wasn’t anyone there to complain to when some jerk in a Land Rover made an illegal maneuver to cut me off and take my parking spot. There wasn’t anyone to mix me a Martini when I got home after a particularly rough day at the office. (Though on that day, there was a good friend at the end of the phone which helped very much.)

What’s really hard is that I can’t come home and just be an emotional wreck because I have to pretend to be strong for my foster daughter who requires a stable environment—not a home where the primary caregiver screams and cries (and drinks) to vent her fears and frustrations. I’m sure part of my problem is that I am keeping it all trapped inside at the moment.

I know I can whine here and on Facebook and Twitter, but I really do like to at least pretend to be a mostly cheerful person and I think it would be a turn-off if I always posted these miserable and whiney posts.

I am trying to be happy. Really I am. I’m taking time each day to be silly. I’m trying to identify a bit of joy each day. I’m finding inspirational quotes to bolster my moods. I’m doing arts and crafts. And I’m even trying to take back some of my mid-day personal time.

Maybe what’s getting me down isn’t so much life’s stresses, but the uncertainty of my future. For nearly a year and a half my future has been hazy and I don’t like it. Maybe once it’s a bit more clear, my mood will improve.

I am certain that this little mood will pass, and in the mean time I will keep faking it because one way or another, it will make me feel a bit better.

• • • • •

Well, reader, I meant for this to post last night when I was feeling really down. And then my neighbor came by and we had a drink and a long gossip about nothing and everything (and I got her to do a silliness worksheet). Which cheered me up considerably.

I am still feeling unhappy and stressed, but am glad to have had a couple hours’ respite from my condition. And I think that the night’s laughter has carried over into today because I feel a bit happier today already than I did yesterday. Of course, it is the weekend which may have something to do with it.

I promise to have a happier post soon! In the mean time, thanks for letting me get it off my chest!

x

[NOTE: If you’re wondering how the picture relates to the post, it’s one of the silly things I drew on the couch just trying to unwind and relax. I think it helps to scribble a bit. Maybe…]

To train and listen

I am one of those people who pushes herself a little (a lot?) too hard when there’s a goal to be met. But I’m trying to listen to my body a little more so that I don’t push to the point of illness or injury.

My 11-year-old nephew and I are currently training for a 10K race on 10/10/10 and decided to use today as a chance to get a run in on the Bill Chipman Trail. The four-mile run would be his longest – ever – and the furthest I’ve run in more than a year. Oh, and it was a hot, hot, hot day!

As we got going, I told the kid we’d be taking it slow. He was happy to go along with that plan. As we neared the two-mile marker I was pleased to see that it was actually about a quarter mile closer than I’d remembered, which gave me a bit of a (much needed) energy kick.

But as we neared mile three I could feel myself weakening. I’d not eaten breakfast (bad!) and I’d not had nearly enough water over the past few days (also bad!). Part of my brain said to keep going – after all, it was only another mile – but the other part couldn’t help but remember the dream I’d had the night before where I collapsed and was unable to call out for help.

It was a hard decision to make, but I decided to walk the last mile. And as I walked I reminded myself that I’ve not been training much, I have two ‘major medical’ obstacles to deal with, and I’m no longer the high school cross country star. (What? I’m not a teenager anymore? Oh no!)

I can accept that my nephew will get a better time at the race in October, but I can’t accept that I won’t be able to finish the race. So, I’ve promised myself that I will make a strong effort to eat better, stay hydrated, keep training, and (most importantly) listen to my body!

Yep, time to get ready to run!

A sad goodbye

I’ve said goodbye to Frieda today and it makes me so sad. I know you’re probably thinking “It was just a car; what’s the big deal?” but she was a very special car to me and saying goodbye is just another reminder of how much my world has changed – for better and for worse – since she first came into my life more than a decade ago.

Our last drive saw me returning her to the homeland where we first met. I can’t believe how sad it was driving her back home after all of these years. But we listened to her favorite band, Styx, along the four-hour journey and reminisced about the good ol’ days and all the fun we had together. And I cried like a little baby.

I was nearly 25 when I decided it was time to go to university. I applied – and was accepted – to Central Washington University for winter 1999. Classes were to begin January 6 but I didn’t have a car to get me to campus nearly 30 miles away. On December 29, 1998, my brother-in-law, Mark, took me to Ellensburg to find a car. With my limited budget, I knew I would never find the car I really wanted, but I certainly didn’t expect to end up with a used blue Geo Metro. However, that was the car Mark felt was the best deal for the money. I was upset and couldn’t hide my disappointment. I said I needed a day to think about it and we decided we’d go back down the following day when I finished work.

The next day, just as I was getting ready to leave work, a regular customer came in to purchase a lottery ticket and asked why I looked so gloomy if I was just about to leave work for the day. I explained my Geo Metro-enhanced woes to him and he then asked what kind of car I really wanted. And I told him. Then he said he had one in his driveway that he was planning to sell in the spring. I asked how much and was sad to hear it was nearly double my budget. But he called his wife, explained the situation, and within the hour I was looking at the car.

I excitedly called Mark to tell him what happened. Much to his shock the car was in fantastic shape. So we made a deal that saw me getting the car I really wanted at nearly half of its value!

A second-generation 1987 Honda CRX-Si, my lovely little red two-seater friend had a five-speed transmission and a sunroof. She got 37 miles to the gallon and ran like a dream! My friend Roach (yes, really) installed a rockin’ stereo system with Pioneer speakers – perfect for listening to ’70s and ’80s rock-n-roll. I used her to commute to-and-from school and later for work, leaving her in my parents’ care when I was overseas.

Over the years and the thousands of miles we drove together, she became run down and worn out. I’d mentioned to Paul that maybe it was time I said goodbye, but he was adamant that I keep her and that we’d just spend the money to get her back in shape. He knew how much I loved Frieda and really was quite happy for me to keep her forever, even though that meant we’d need a third car so that we both had cars for transporting kids. (We were actively seeking a new(ish) Outback Sport for that purpose before he died.)

As hard as it is to say goodbye, especially knowing that Paul had wanted me to keep her, I know this is for the best. I think that under the circumstances Paul would understand.

Frieda is going to a wonderful home where she will be well cared for. Her new family will fix her up and give her the love and attention she deserves. The money from the sale will go into savings for my graduate school tuition (a very paltry addition, but those pennies will add up over time). I suppose it’s fitting that saying “hello” to Frieda helped me accomplish my goals of an undergraduate degree, and now saying “goodbye” is helping to get me a little closer to my postgraduate degree.

Goodbye, my friend. I will never forget you. And I promise to let your new owners know that you prefer classic rock-n-roll…

NOTE1: It was always said that when/if I ever did get rid of my little sports car, I could purchase a “grown up” sports car to make up for it (finances depending). My next sports car purchase (I hope) will be a red ’61 or ’63 Corvette if I’m living in America or a green ’61 MG if I’m back in the UK.

NOTE2: Shortly before publishing this story, I happened upon the blog of an old friend from high school (well, obviously not ‘old’ since we’re the same age) and noticed that she, too, recently said goodbye to a dear friend.

Whatifs

Whatifs are terrible little things. They hold us back from doing all of the important things in life. They feed on fear and worry and self-doubt. But Whatifs are silly and inconsequential things; they are a manifestation of our insecurities from the dark depths of our imaginations.

I know that. You know that. The whole world knows that. But still, those little Whatifs seem to hold an amazing amount of power over us. I think one of the biggest problems with Whatifs is that they prevent you from accomplishing all of those little tasks that would bring you a step closer to finding out if those Whatifs are real or imaginary.

I have a list of fears a mile long, all starting with Whatifs.

Whatif I apply to school and don’t get in? Whatif I go to school and fail? Whatif I am stuck where I am forever? Whatif I’m all alone for the rest of my life? Whatif I get lost and can’t find my way? Whatif I don’t have any money? Whatif I…

I know I’ll never know until I try. I know that I’ll never succeed if I let the Whatifs get in the way. I know the Whatifs will only multiply if I listen to them. But sometimes, they scream so loud that I can’t ignore them!

Maybe tonight’s bedtime reading should be The Little Engine Who Could

Whatif
by Shel Silverstein
from the book A Light in the Attic (1981)

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

A stir fry mental block

I love stir fry. It’s amazingly-awesome food. (Except for those icky water chestnuts and bamboo shoots that my folks always put in the stuff. ::shudder::)

I love cooking. It’s an enjoyable task and one that I’m (mostly) eager to manage.

At some point in my marriage, I decided that I didn’t like cooking stir fry. Each week Paul and I would create a menu and he would always ask for stir fry. We’d go grocery shopping and get the fresh veggies and tofu for the meal along with the rest of the week’s groceries. On stir fry days, I would spend the day trying to psych myself up for it. But inevitably, I’d get home and say “Hey, let’s go out for dinner tonight!” and Paul would cave. He would give up on enjoying the meal that he was most looking forward to so that I didn’t have to cook the meal I dreaded.

I remember the first night my stir fry “let’s eat out” meal backfired on me. I came home from work excited about suggesting going out for Mexican and there stood Paul with a big grin on his face. “I thought it would be nice if I cooked dinner for you for a change,” he said. And there on the counter was all the freshly-chopped veggies. The wok was already sizzling with tofu. And so a new tradition began: If stir fry was on the menu, Paul would have it cooking before I walked through the door. In fairness, it was the only way he’d get to eat the stuff!

[At this point, I also need to say that he always made fantastic stir fry, and still did the dishes. I would happily eat the stuff, just couldn’t get excited about cooking it.]

When Dad, who’s visiting for a couple of days, said to me yesterday that he fancied stir fry for tonight’s dinner (OK, he might not have used the word “fancied”) I was a bit cheeky in telling him I’d be up for stir fry, but that he’d have to cook it! Surprisingly, he agreed! And none of that tofu stuff, he used beef! Bonus: He didn’t use water chestnuts or bamboo shoots!

The result: Yummy goodness in my tummy!

I wonder if I can get all of my house guests to sort dinner!?

Identity crisis

Since Paul died I’ve really struggled with my identity, which is a bit ironic when I think about the identity struggle I went through as a newlywed. Part of my identity struggle has been my online presence. Paul and I both maintained separate emails (something of an anomaly in my family) and both participated on various online forums without supervision or input from each other. Additionally, I’ve maintained blogs on several subjects for quite several years. If Paul did the same, he never told me. But then, he didn’t necessarily know of all the blogs I maintained.*

The one thing we had together was our website, www.RyanCentric.com. It was his idea, and whilst I did the actual work of creating and maintaining the site, it was very much a joint effort. After he died, I couldn’t bear to look at the site, let alone update it. But eventually, I felt comfortable doing both. But it didn’t really fill my needs, so I started a blog as a sub-domain off of RyanCentric to post random thoughts with the idea of maintaining RyanCentric as what it was meant to be: Stories and photos of my latest-and-greatest adventures. Only, it still feels strange to add stories about ME instead of about US.

Further, I’ve felt a bit schizophrenic maintaining the website, the blog, plus the added photo galleries. Things were become a bit too disjointed and I wanted to be able to share everything with my family and friends in one place. So, in the best geeky way I know, I registered a new domain.

What does all of this mean to you? Well, it means that one link will get you everywhere you want to go in my little world. Well, everywhere that Just Frances goes at least. And that’s the link: www.JustFrances.com. From there, you will find all of my blog postings and links to my photo albums. You will also find a link to RyanCentric, which will remain live but I will (probably) no longer post to it. If I do post to it, rest assured that I will cross-post here.

You may find redirects here and there as I try to make everything fit together, but for the most part the only difference you’ll notice is the URL.

I’m not promising that this will solve my identity crisis – in fact, I seriously doubt it will. But it will make my online world a little easier to manage, and as the majority of my social interaction is online these days, it makes sense to ease the burden!

*Blogs I maintained or contributed to with or without Paul’s knowledge were done so without any malicious intent and did not include questionable material. Just likely not topics he would care about such as my political views or ones related to my passion for (obsession with?) the proper use of the English language.

Just Frances

I was born in a hospital (not in a barn, as sometimes questioned by my mom, who should really know!) on February 21, 1974. The third of six daughters, I am “lucky number three” because we all know that the third time’s a charm.

I grew up in Small-Town, USA, in the Central Washington Cascades. I remember desperately wanting to get out of town, and live anywhere but there. And one day, I did. In September 2001, I made the move “across the pond” to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study at Napier University. The experience was definitely life-changing. Because of my travels, I gained a new-found respect and appreciation for my home town, and a new-found level of self confidence and joy that I never before knew could exist. Oh, and I met my husband there, too. Talk about life-changing!

Sadly, my amazing husband died in April 2009, which is how I became Just Frances. Though I also have a freakishly-weird cat called Schrodie to keep me company.

Before I met Paul, I was very happy being Just Frances. I was alone by choice, and it was bit empowering to be my own person with my own rules. Now, don’t get me wrong, given the choice now I would much rather be part of Paul and Frances. But I don’t have that choice. So I can either dwell on the sad or I can make the best out of a horrid situation.

But don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t want your pity; I don’t want your tears. The world certainly isn’t all doom and gloom – though some days it certainly feels that way – and I am on a mission to be happy. I will be happy because that’s what Paul would want for me. And that’s what I want for myself.

This blog replaces www.RyanCentric.com – a site that Paul and I designed together to brag a bit about our lives. We were excited to be adding information about the children we hoped to adopt and enjoyed adding stories and photos of our latest-and-greatest adventures. I continued updating RyanCentric for a while after Paul died, but I find that being Just Frances makes that site a little strange to use. Not because I’m no longer a Ryan, but because its purpose was not meant for ramblings but rather stories of adventures we took together. The site remains live, however, so please feel free to check it out to learn more about who I was and what I did before Just Frances came on the scene!

Just Frances is a random flow of thoughts and ideas. The content will be all over the place. You may visit one day and see a 1,500-word essay on why I think creamy peanut butter is better than crunchy and the next day there may be some random quote from some random song lyrics that I like. Who knows? I surely don’t.

It will be an adventure, led by your amazing guide, Just Frances. So sit back and enjoy the ride.