Crossing the Finish Line (in more ways than one)

As of this week, I am officially divorced. After almost two years in limbo (and only slightly less than the marriage itself lasted) the final paperwork is complete and the whole sorry episode has reached it’s conclusion. At 34 years old, I’m a divorcee. I’m not going to talk here about how that makes me feel, as I’m not sure I could put it into words at the moment. Instead this post is about how I marked the end of this chapter.

I had known for a while that I wanted to do something significant to acknowledge the turning of this page. A ‘Divorce Party’ was out of the question. There’s nothing to celebrate about wasted years and broken dreams. I briefly considered trashing my wedding dress at next weekend’s colour run, but realised that would probably attract more attention than I’m comfortable with. An attempt to toast the new beginning over a quiet meal with close friends went awry when my Ex-Husband walked into the same, very small, restaurant (Honestly; what are the chances?! You couldn’t make it up).

So instead, I ran a Half Marathon. It seemed fitting, as the breakdown of our marriage was what started my running in the first place, and after several years of being told repeatedly that I was lazy, it seemed a subtle but effective middle finger up to the Man that so enjoyed taunting me.

I had kept my plan to take part in the Jersey Half mostly on the down low, partly because I didn’t even known if I’d be able to finish it, and partly because I don’t want to detract too much attention from the Great North Run, which I’m doing for charity in September. But now I’ve done it, pride in myself means I can’t help but document it here.

The furthest I’d run in training was a little over 10 miles, so an extra 3 on top was daunting, but I spent the days beforehand just excited to get to the start line. Have you seen that GIF of the puppy running in his dreams? That was me every night last week! I woke up on Sunday morning to heavy grey skies; the one time I’ve been thrilled to see the Island shrouded in fog; far better running weather than hot sunshine!

Arriving at the start line in St Ouen it was good to see a decent handful of familiar faces through the drizzle; the running community in Jersey is small and friendly, and I’m starting to feel like a little part of it. 9am soon came around and we were off; an easy start down Hydrangea Avenue before the hills of L’Etacq and La Pulente that lay ahead! I won’t bore you with a mile by mile account, but the highlights for me were the camaraderie amongst runners both local and visiting, and the brilliant support from marshalls, supporters and very patient motorists that offered words of encouragement as we slogged past, taking up the road. The family at the top of La Pulente with a big bowl of Haribo were life-savers, and the personal yells of encouragement from friends I passed by were like an injection of energy when I had little left of my own.

I had friends taking part, but I’d quite deliberately not run with them. I needed this to be something I did on my own; with nothing to prove to anyone but myself, and no distractions.

The first 11 miles I can honestly say I enjoyed every step of; the last 2 along the solid granite promenade towards the finish were hard on my feet, my knees, my hips and my head, but I was far too close to stop now, so I struggled on at something between a jog and a stumble until I reached that last few metres and the support of strangers powered me over the line. If I’d kept my intention to run on the DL, I’d played my cards even closer to my chest when it came to my time prediction. I’d privately hoped to come in under 2 hours 20. I thought that if I ran well I might make 2 hours 15. The time on the clock when I crossed the line was 2 hours, 6 minutes and 50 seconds. To say I’m delighted would be something of an understatement.

It was a little emotional crossing the line, and I took a little time straight afterwards to sit by myself and take it in. 2 years ago I would never for a second have believed myself capable running a half marathon, much less that I’d enjoy it AND have another two booked before the end of the year.

Which brings me back to the Great North Run. Whilst this will no longer be my first half, it remains the most important to me, and the only one that I’m running for a cause other than my own. As detailed on my Get Inspired post, I’m raising money for Maggie’s Centres who mean a lot to my extended family, and do fantastic things for many thousands of other families. I’m now confident that I can fulfil my promise to finish, and I have a better understanding of what training I need to do in order to better my time. Any improvement would be a win; can I get myself home in under 2 hours?! We’ll see….

If you have a couple of pounds to spare, your sponsorship would be very much appreciated; I’m inching ever closer to my target, but every little helps 🙂

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rebeccalevans

So as I’m finally able to close & lock the door on being Mrs Evans, and forge ahead into the unknown (At the moment I’m not even entirely sure what my name will be), I’m setting aside my old familiar comfort blanket of self-doubt, and doing so with the fresh conviction that I can achieve anything I put my  mind to, and more importantly, that I can do it on my own.

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Anxiety Girl

If I had a superpower it would be leaping to conclusions in a single bound.

prayer-for-anxiety

Until about 18 months ago, I had never really suffered from anxiety. I’d been anxious of course about an exam result or an interview, but didn’t recognise the difference between that and actual anxiety.

The first time it hit me was on a flight from Majorca to Jersey, when I knew that whatever happened after I walked through arrivals was going to determine whether my marriage was really over. I found myself sitting in baggage claim, head between my knees, heart pounding, trying desperately (but not altogether successfully) to stop myself from a/ crying, b/vomiting and c/ hyperventilating. You don’t want to do those last two at the same time, believe me.

I didn’t know what was happening at the time, aside from the fact that it really wasn’t ideal, but I’ve come to realise that it was a full blown anxiety or panic attack. Luckily the first time was the worst time, and I’d only describe one or two of the incidences since then as ‘attacks’, with ‘episodes’ seeming a more appropriate and less violent word to describe what takes me over every so often.

From time to time since that day in the airport, I’ve been gripped by feelings of anxiety for anywhere between a few hours and a few weeks (the 3 weeks after my Grandmother passed away were a challenge). By day the feelings manifest in a relatively manageable way; low level nausea and loss of appetite, lack of concentration, tearfulness and a slightly increased heart rate. I thought I might have been imagining the latter but I’ve checked, and it’s a thing. Pretty standard regular symptoms for a lot of Women.

It’s by night that the full effects really kick in. Chronic sleeplessness is fuelled by my mind running at 1000 miles an hour, replaying conversations word by word, analysing any situation over and over and over again, and jumping wildly to irrational conclusions. An off the cuff comment at work can easily become an imminent sacking, and if a friend hasn’t replied to a message or email I become convinced it’s because they’re dead, they hate me, or they’re hiding something from me, probably because they hate me. The innumerable completely rational reasons for their delayed response don’t even register, I convince myself of the worst, and can’t be persuaded otherwise.

Mostly however I worry uncontrollably about the future. Whilst normal, level-headed rational Me knows that things will be ok, that an unknown future is actually quite exciting, and to take one day at a time, anxiety stricken Me is utterly incapable of thinking straight, instead inventing all kinds of future scenarios for myself, none of them particularly good, and scrutinizing every past event from my childhood until yesterday that has led me to where I am. The best way I can describe it is that my mind is taken over, or starts to self-destruct. As hard as I try I just can’t pull myself back into reality at these points.

Sleep, when it finally arrives, barely helps as I’m prone during these episodes to nightmares, waking up sweat-drenched and tear-streaked, heart beating out of my chest at whatever horror my subconscious has thrown up.

18 months in I’m slowly learning what can trigger these spells of chaos. Too much time spent in solitude, especially when I’ve not planned to, is almost guaranteed to set me off, I’m more likely to start to spin out when I’m hormonal, or by allowing myself to get stressed by work or life.

Despite the above I try and keep in mind that I’m one of the lucky ones; 99% of the time I’m completely fine. These episodes are intermittent and often I can go months without a sleepless night or an irrational thought, whilst I have friends who suffer with varying levels of anxiety all the time. I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand until I experienced it myself, and dam girls I don’t know how you get out of bed in the mornings.  You have my utmost admiration for carrying on.

I’ve been reading up on what steps I can take to manage anxious feelings, and am already cutting back on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine which can aggravate the problem, eating well, trying hard to accept what I can’t control, letting go of disappointments and beginning to practice mindfulness and positivity exercises to keep my head on the straight and narrow.  I already knew that exercise and keeping myself busy and sociable is a guaranteed way to get back on track, but that can be tricky at 3am in the dead of winter.

Certain friends now recognise when I’m not myself, one will make sure I’m eating by bringing me food to work, and another two will bombard me with messages, jokes and gifs designed to make me laugh. I don’t think any of them know how grateful I am, so I hope they’re reading this.

I’m optimistic that in time, as my life settles down and whatever path I’m on becomes clearer, that these bouts become fewer, farther between and easier to extinguish. Until then I’ll keep talking about it, and keep asking people to read about it, because nobody should ever be ashamed to admit that they’re not ok.

I’ve included a few helpful links about anxiety below, and for anyone reading this who recognises the feeling and believes they need further support can call Anxiety UK on 08444 775 774 or MIND on 0300 123 3393, or speak to your GP.

NHS UK

Mind.org.uk

Anxiety UK

‘‘Twas The Night After Christmas…

Well there we have it! Months of steadily intensifying build up and all of a sudden it’s all over, just like that. 24 little hours and it’s done.

The wrapping paper we agonised over in Paperchase has been ripped off & binned without a second thought, we’ve all eaten our body weight or more in cheese & chocolates and there are more pine needles embedded in your socks than on the tree.

It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s all worth it, but for the majority of people I think it probably is.

However you’ve spent the last 48 hours or so I hope you’ve had a wonderful time, enjoyed the company of friends, family or perhaps strangers on the internet, and also taken a moment to reflect on the year just gone, the blessings and challenges it brought and the lessons we can learn to take on into the next year.

It’s also a time to think of those no longer with us, to remember the good times we shared, maybe light a candle and raise a glass in their honour.

Personally I’ve enjoyed a nice balance of fun times, meals and drinks shared with good friends, along with some time to myself, stuffing my face in front of the TV, ugly crying at Christmas movies (It’s A Wonderful Life gets me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME), catching up on some sleep & collecting my thoughts.

Tomorrow I fly off to extend the festivities for a few days with family, so this will be my last post until January.

Wishing you a peaceful and relaxing last few days of 2017, and a very Happy New Year 😊

Radio Ga Ga

So an unexpected thing happened this week; on Wednesday I received a message from one of BBC Radio Jersey’s presenters, who had read my previous blog post about the  #JoinIn phenomenon and asked if I would be prepared to go chat about it live on air, as part of a programme focusing on people being lonely over the festive period.

I have to admit that my initial reaction was ‘HELL NO!’ Whilst those that know me will attest that I don’t usually struggle for words, the idea of sitting in front of a mic in a radio station was more than a little un-nerving!

But after a little thought, some gentle encouragement from my colleagues and more than a couple of glasses of red wine, I threw caution to the wind and said yes. After all, I am supposed to be making the most of every new experience, no matter how scary.

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So that’s how I found myself sitting in the BBC Jersey reception area a little after 8am this morning, trying to hold a coffee in my shaking hands. I’d had a brief chat with the lovely Julie who produces the show yesterday afternoon, which had gone some way to calming my nerves but not enough to stop me waking up at 5am with all kinds of  scenarios running through my head!

I needn’t have worried however, as soon as I was sitting in the studio with Ashlea the conversation flowed and I (almost) managed to forget that the mic was there at all. It was great to chat about something I am so positive about, and know that it was spreading the message to people who might otherwise remain unaware.

Having ended up on-air a little bit earlier than I’d originally thought, I was hopeful/worried (delete as applicable) that friends & family may have missed it, but a barrage of messages once I was back in the car proved otherwise. The response was all positive, and I’m not going to assume that it’s because they’re all biased 😉

It took me a few hours to bring myself to be able to listen and WOW it’s weird to hear yourself on the radio; turns out I’m not actually as Yorkshire as I thought I was?!? Once I’d finished cringing myself inside out, I was actually quite proud – There weren’t too many times that I stumbled over my words or repeated myself, I don’t *think* I embarrassed myself, and the whole thing seemed to more or less make sense, although I largely have Ashlea’s well timed and thoughtful questions to thank for that.

So that is another new experience box ticked in my ‘If Not Now, Then When?’ philosophy, and along the way I hopefully spread the word that it’s OK that we’re not always OK, and more importantly that it’s OK to talk about it.

If you’re interested you can listen here. The whole show is worth hearing, but if you’re short on time skip ahead to around the 2 hours 7 minutes mark.

I’d be interested to hear your comments!

#JoinIn

It’s funny to think that only 10 years ago, social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter were still in their infancy, and Instagram was still 3 years away from being launched. A decade on there are over a billion active users on Facebook and an average of 60 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day.

This boom in sharing our every waking moment with the world obviously has it’s drawbacks (I would hate to be a teenager trying to negotiate my way through the minefield of  24 hour contact with friends and enemies) but every so often something comes along that is such a positive use of the medium that it offsets some of the bad.

The #JoinIn campaign on Twitter is one of these. Started by British Comedienne Sarah Millican 5 years ago and increasing in popularity annually ever since, the idea is simply to connect those that are spending the Christmas period alone with others in the same boat, in order to offer support, distraction and to alleviate some of the loneliness.

Of course some people are quite happy to be alone, and more power to them, but many more find it extremely difficult. There are myriad reasons why someone may find themselves going solo over the holidays, from bereavement or relationship breakdown, insurmountable distance from family and friends, work commitments and countless more. The #JoinIn community offers support without question or judgement to anyone who needs it.

Some people take the opportunity to discuss how they are feeling and why, whilst others just want to chat about the Christmas episode of Eastenders and which their favourite Quality Street is. It’s all fine, and there are so many users involved that conversations naturally branch off in all directions, from serious discussions to light hearted banter. Some users report making genuine and lasting friendships, online and offline, that started through the hashtag, and I think that’s just lovely.

Not everyone using #JoinIn is alone of course; loneliness is not a condition unique to being alone. Some people are surrounded by people that they’d rather not be with, and others just seek an outlet for thoughts and feelings that they can’t voice to those around them. It’s often easier to speak openly with strangers. Others are having a perfectly lovely day, but pop in and out of the conversation anyway, adding to the chatter and sense of camaraderie with those in a less fortunate position.

I started getting involved with Join In as one of the latter, taking a few minutes out of my day to lend an ear to someone who needed it. Little did I know then that in 2016 I’d come to need that support and encouragement myself, and for the portions of the day that I was alone and desperately sad, I found it invaluable to have a whole circle of people to lift my spirits, without having to spoil the day for the people close to me by laying a sorrow that nobody could fix on their shoulders.

This year once again I’ll be alone at each end of the big day, which will be difficult (I’ve lived alone over a year, but I still don’t like going to bed alone at the best of times) but the thought that I can easily reach like minded folk to chat to and take my mind off my troubles is reassuring.

At a time of year when society and the media scrabble to convince us that we should all be happy and joyful and surrounded by loved ones, it’s easy to feel like you’re failing if that’s not the case. Calls to the Samaritans peak at Christmas with feelings of depression and anxiety amplified by social pressure, so any initiative that can help someone feel better, in any small way, is fantastic. #JoinIn is a triumph in the very best use of a social media platform and as far as I’m concerned should be shouted from the rooftops.

Wonder – A Movie Review

There are pros and cons to going to the cinema alone. Pros : You can sit wherever you like without anyone complaining about eye strain, and you don’t have to feel bad about not sharing your pick & mix. Cons : There’s nobody to discuss the film with on the way home. 

Watching approximately one new film a fortnight, that’s a lot of pent up opinions swimming round in my head, so it occurred that I could use this blog to let them out. If you enjoy this first one let me know in comments and I’ll make it a semi-regular thing 🙂 

Based on the 2012 bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio (which is now at the top of my reading list), Wonder is directed by Stephen Chobsky, known for the similarly uplifting Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I’ve never thought it fair where Child actors are listed second to their Adult colleagues, despite being the undoubted star, so in this review I’ll let you know that Jacob Tremblay (11) steals the show. albeit supported beautifully and believably by Julia Roberts & Owen Wilson, amongst others. The young Noah Jupe that plays Jack Will is particularly good.

The story is that of Auggie Pullman, a 10 year old living with a genetic facial disfigurement, who is starting a mainstream school for the first time in 5th grade. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the road is not smooth for him, but it’s the way the story is told that makes this film engaging and sensitive, where it could have been twee. Whilst Auggie is the central character, the film takes time out to get to know those closest to him – cleverly filling in some back stories and allowing the viewer to know why each of them acts the way they do, towards Auggie and each other.

Set in New York City over the course of a full school year, the cinematography is pleasant without being particularly attention-grabbing, and I enjoyed the visual addition of a few fun elements of Auggie’s imagination here and there, that served us to remind the audience that despite his grown-up experiences, he’s really just a 10 year old boy.

I won’t go into the details of the story as I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the film if you haven’t seen it, but what resonated with me most was the consistent message of kindness overcoming adversity and fear, and that bullying attitudes come from nuture, not nature. Kindness is important to me; it costs nothing, it can mean everything, and it makes the world a better place. ‘Wonder’ celebrates kindness, love and compassion in a way I’ve rarely seen in other films, whilst still managing to be largely light-hearted and easy to watch, with some well-placed chuckles along the way.

I don’t think anyone could watch this movie without questioning whether they are always as non-judgemental and accepting as they should be or could be, but I also left the cinema feeling uplifted and optimistic, despite a few tears crowding my eyes.

Best Quote : ‘When Given The Choice Between Being Right Or Being Kind, Choose Kind’

Soundtrack Highlight : We’re Going To Be Friends – The White Stripes

See It or Skip It : See It

Trailer

Stuff all the Stuff

Firstly an apology; it’s over 2 months since I last posted! I’ve had a bit of a mind block, and since this blog is purely for fun I try not to pressure myself to write when I’m not in the mood. But anyway readers (both of you) I’m sorry.

With Christmas on the horizon and the frenzy of commercialism ramping up, I’ve been thinking recently about why we need so much STUFF. It’s been on my mind since we have had to undertake the difficult job of clearing out my Gran & Grandad’s house now they have both passed away. Maybe it’s because she grew up in the post war era and didn’t have a lot of material possessions, or maybe it was just a character trait, but my Gran loved stuff. Don’t get me wrong she wasn’t a hoarder, we don’t have to shuffle sideways into the house through a maze of yellow newspapers and empty tin cans, but she had a lot of things. Stacks of CDs and DVDs still in their cellophane wrappers, never touched, and cabinets full of of ornaments; not valuable nor particularly sentimental, just collected for the sake of collecting. In more recent years jewellery became her thing, largely bought from shopping channels, mostly costume and the majority of it never worn.

The job of shedding all this is difficult, particularly for my Mum who is at the front line of it. It feels heartless to just pack it all up and ship it to the charity shop, but we need to keep in mind that it wasn’t even sentimental to them, never mind to us. We’ve already safely removed those few bits & pieces that mean something.

Knowing how much hard work this is for Mum, it surprised me when she text me today and noted that if there was nothing particular I want for Christmas she would ‘just get you some bits to unwrap’. Loosely translated – Some stuff.

I really really hope that this post doesn’t make me sound ungrateful, as that’s not at all my intention. I have received some wonderful gifts from friends and family, that I cherish. In fact I treasure any gift that has been selected for me with love and thoughtfulness, no matter what it is. But like all of us, I’ve also received some rubbish, in the form of items that have been given for the sake of giving something, without thought, care or imagination, which then languish in the back of a cupboard until eventually, off they go to the car boot or the Hospice shop. My ex-Mother in Law was so adept at giving terrible presents, I started to suspect she was doing it on purpose.

This doesn’t just apply to gifts though, I’m also very guilty of buying things that I don’t need, aren’t useful, and only serve to add clutter to my life and my home. Things that had I walked away from for 10 minutes, I’d never have gone back for. This is the aspect of materialism and commercialism that I dislike the most, despite frequently falling into the trap of. Buying and having for the sake of it, not for want or need or any particular enjoyment. Especially when so many people have nothing. It grates me, and never more so at this time of year when we’re all pressured by Black Friday, Christmas and the January Sales to BUY MORE THINGS.

After the mission my Mum is undertaking to clear out the overstuffed house, and a very dear friend having had the same difficult experience this year after losing her Dad, I’m making my New Years resolution early, and it’s to ditch some of the junk I’ve already started accumulating, and then cut down on the material things that I buy for myself and for others. I won’t necessarily spend less than I do now, but I hope to spend better.

It’s a fact that I’ve always favoured gifting something useful or use-able, but from now, unless the recipient has something they particularly want or need, I’m going to try and stick exclusively to gifts that are either ‘do-able’ or consumable. Maybe afternoon tea, tickets to something fun or a voucher for a nights babysitting. A candle can be used, appreciated and then discarded without guilt. So can a bottle of their favourite wine or perfume, a lipstick from their favourite brand, or those jeans they tried on last weekend. A good book or a magazine subscription can be read, enjoyed and then passed on. This doesn’t mean I won’t put the same amount of thought or care into selecting something for someone special, in fact I hope it makes me more mindful and creative. We’ll see.

 

So Mum, I’m looking forward to getting manicures together at Christmas, and if you’d like to catch a Matinee at the Playhouse, it’s my treat x