A seal of approval

I wrote this in February for my creative writing class. As Harris seems to have happened so long ago, this might be the only written post about it that I might have.

When I was a kid, the first toy I remember always having was a brown, formerly fluffy stuffed seal called Üljes (‘hüljes’ meaning seal in Estonian). It wasn’t a nice looking toy but it was my favourite.  It had belonged to my sister Liina before it became mine. Liina being 10 years older than me, had outgrown it by the time I discovered it, so there was never a fight over the possession of our seal. By the looks of it, Üljes had been much loved before I got it. It was missing all its whiskers and due to a hole towards its back end, it was also missing quite a bit of the stuffing. I suspect it might have been fluffy once upon a time but by the time it became mine, it had lost all the fluff. As a toy, it looked pretty grubby but I loved it more than anything else. 

I don’t know whether it’s because of Üljes but seals as animals bring me inexplicable amount of joy. I always loved seeing them swimming around in their pool in Tallinn Zoo as a kid and as an adult. I could have watched them for hours.

In autumn 2017 I was visiting a friend in Southern California and she took me to La Jolla beach near San Diego. La Jolla is famous for its resident sea lions and seals that come to rest and sunbathe on the rocks there. I was so giddy as I carefully tried to negotiate the rocks to sneak just a little closer to the sleeping beasts without disturbing them. I think the phrase “best day of my life” was uttered by me more than once.

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In January, before going to Isle of Harris in Scotland, I googled whether there were any seals to be seen on the island and I was excited when I found out the answer. All the stress that came with the preparations for the trip was hopefully going to be rewarded with sightings of seals!

On Wednesday, my first full day on the island, I joined the Monk for a walk up Caepabhal and round the headland. No seals were spotted but then again it would have been unrealistic to have expected to meet one on top of a hill or chilling out on a high cliff. We did, however, meet a man who despite his Southern English accent claimed to be a local. The Monk settled into conversation but I only really wanted to know one thing, “Are there any seals to be seen at this time of year?” His pessimistic answer absolutely crushed my hopes for the week on Harris.

That evening after I told Newbs the devastating news, he patted me on the shoulder and asked if I was okay. I answered no. I was genuinely disappointed that the fellow on the beach had sounded so sure about seals not being around in January. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Despite it all, Harris was magical, with or without the seals. The mixture of snow, blue skies, wild mountains and turquoise ocean was medicine for the soul. After a few days of adventuring in the hills with the boys, on Saturday we all headed out in our different directions. My plan was to head from the cottage in Rodel to the shore and make my way up it towards Lingarabay. It was another sunny day and unlike the boys, I had no rush to get back to the house in time for rugby.

I leisurely made my way from one headland to another by picking up little sheep trods here and there. I stopped to watch the waves crash into some of the cliffs and to admire the view of the snow-covered mountains of Skye on the horizon. I sat down and had my lunch of snacks by a little frozen loch and listened to the ice crack as it tried to push the boundaries of the loch. The air was so fresh with a hint of salt. When I looked around, I could not detect any signs of civilisation around me.

Left to my own devices, my anxiety tried to cloud my head with its usual worries about everything and nothing. I got up and kept walking, negotiating slippery rocks and tufts of heather to keep my mind occupied with other things but I struggled to quiet it down completely. Coming round a headland, I was approaching an old croft, now standing stripped from roof and windows, built by a sheltered bay, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I had a nosey around it, imagining what it would be like to do it up and live there among the heather and sheep.

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Coming across the house meant I could pretty accurately place myself on a map and as it was afternoon already, I decided to start making my way inland towards the so-called Golden Road that would take me back to Rodel. I picked up a sheep track just by the bay and was carefully trying to avoid the ice rocks, when a noise from the sea distracted me. I looked to my right and saw a couple of dark heads swimming around down in the water. I sneaked a bit closer to the edge and rested on a rock. I’m short-sighted and stubborn about wearing glasses unless I’m driving, so I was struggling to see clearly who they were. Could they be seals? But the man on beach had said there were no seals….

At first I played down my hopes and thought that maybe they were otters, which would still make it an exciting sight. I was in the middle of making my mind up, when I heard a noise down in the water much closer to where I was sitting. I looked for a source of the sound and suddenly an otter popped its head out from under the water just by the shore, looked at me for the briefest of moments in what I can only imagine to be complete surprise, and disappeared back under the water. The animals in the middle of the bay were much bigger. That’s when I knew: the three heads surfacing from the sea here and there were seals.

I sat down and just watched in awe for a couple of minutes as the three seals swam around the bay. I started to make out their dark shadows when they were underwater and even caught a glimpse of a tail or two when they dived in. I took out my camera, careful not to make too much noise, and snapped a few photos for proof. I then texted the boys that I have found seals and that they shouldn’t expect me back in the cottage too soon. Unsurprisingly, I only received abuse regarding my eye sight in reply.

I felt so privileged to witness the seals swimming around. I had a huge grin painted on my face and I had to make a conscious effort not to giggle out loud. Compare to what I witnessed in California, this was a much more intimate show. Apart from a couple of sheep that looked confused about my presence, there was no one else around. It was just me and the seals. In that moment, I forgot about everything else.

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I must have sat there for about half an hour just watching those graceful swimmers go round the bay. One of them had hurled itself on top of a rock in the middle of the bay while the other two continued to circle around it. One of them swam quite close to me at one point and like the otter, quickly dived in the water again when it realised what it was looking at. Eventually I had to admit that I was getting cold and reluctantly, I got up and started moving again. I tried to tread carefully so as not to disturb the seals. It was their home and I was the intruder.

That half an hour in company of the seals was definitely the highlight of my trip. To have seen my favourite animals in the wild meant the world to me. People often think I’m joking when I talk about seeing seals and I can’t really explain why I like them so much. The only explanation that has any logic is my Üljes. A few years ago, my mum was going through the various cupboards at home and found it again. As far as old toys go, it was one of the worst looking in the bunch. In her newly found habit of decluttering, she was planning to throw it out. Luckily before she could do that, Liina saw it and rescued our toy. Üljes now lives with her, untouched by her children for whom it’s just a grubby old seal.

Keep on running

Yesterday I went for a little run in Swindale and thar got me thinking a bit about my running. I’m not a great runner, I’m not even a good one; maybe an average one on a (really) good day. Until I was about 20 or 21, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than going for a run. But then something changed and somehow I decided I wanted to run.

I’m easily influenced by what I see and when I guess running was always something that seemed like a “cool” thing to do (because God knows, I’ve never been cool in my life and yet it is my life goal to be cool!). I’m not a natural when it comes to any sport; probably spending the first two decades of my life avoiding any physical activity didn’t help. So my running started with 200 m and them collapsing in a heap. Slowly I started to get a bit of a hang of things and managed to run a few kilometres and then 5 kilometres and so on until few years onwards I ran my furthest race in Estonia: 13.6 kilometres.

When I moved to Cumbria, my running took a bit of a hit because when you’re used to running on the flat roads, the smallest of the inclines seem like mountains. However, for some reason I still signed up for the local half marathon in March 2016. I did actually train for that: got my runs in and did circuits and HIIT training and for the first (and only) time in my life I felt like I was in good physical form. The half marathon felt great. I was still slow, I finished in 2 hours and 13 minutes but I was never planning on breaking any records anyway. I was happy with my results.

After that though my running became incredibly sporadic. I tried to start again and again but never got very far. The decline of my mental health wasn’t helping the matters along. I also have a tendency to compare myself to others, so spending a lot of time working alongside with a freak of nature, who runs ultramarathons, the hilly ones, for fun, wasn’t the comparison I could deal with. A five-mile run around the block looked so pathetic next to his 30-mile loop up and down hills. I struggled with motivation, everyone was just so much better than me and I couldn’t find a reason why I should even try.

When I mix my anxiety with an unhealthy relationship with work, it’s not a good mixture for a healthy lifestyle. It basically means that I’ve felt exhausted for the 99% of the last few years. And that’s not great for doing any physical activity. The chronic iron deficiency isn’t helpful either.This year, I’m working on doing things differently. It’s not a smooth path (I had a major meltdown on Thursday night..) but I’m trying.

One thing I realised while out yesterday is that if I want to run (and I do want to run), I need to change the way I look at running. I can’t exactly turn my anxious brain off when I go running, worrying for me is like fly paper – it sticks to everything around me. So whenever I go for a run, the first few kilometres I struggle because I worry about not being fit enough, about being tired, about feeling crap etc. When I did the DaffyDo (a 21-kilometre run/walk that was NOT a race), I struggled for the first 4 kilometres because I was so nervous about running. It was only after I managed to let go of my expectations and just allow myself to not worry if I can’t run, that I started enjoying the running. (The last 5K of that event were again a bit of a struggle with a sore hip and being tired, because my preparation for the whole thing was about 6 runs over the course of 3 weeks, but it was the thought of cake at the finish that kept me going.)

I didn’t plan to go out for a run yesterday until about 30 minutes before heading out. I had promised to take the dogs out and they would’ve been just as happy with just a walk. But with that aforementioned freak of nature running a 53-mile ultra on that day, I felt inspired to do more. But instead of saying to myself that I’m going for a run, I said that I’m taking the dogs out for a walk / run over in Swindale. I said I would run a bit and walk the bits I couldn’t run (mainly uphills and some of the downhills). The result was that I ran most of the way and even decided to extend my route half way and ended up doing 12 kilometres.

Because I had taken the pressure off myself that I have to run and assured myself that I could always just walk, I was actually able to run and enjoy it. Yes, I was slow. And yes I still did 73 kilometres less than that freak. But I learnt something on that run and that is not to obsess over running. Because I have regained some of my confidence about walking, it has allowed me to start building my confidence about running: at least I love I can walk back to my house/car when I can’t run anymore.

So I took home a few new understandings from my little run with the doggies. I don’t have to run the whole way. It’s okay to just break and enjoy the scenery and catch your breath for a few minutes or even for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter if I don’t run fast, I’d much rather keep going for longer (and further) than breaking my PBs. I also made a promise that when I have a few hours to spare (which I won’t this week, which will be hellish…), I need to make an effort to go for a walk in my running gear and without putting the pressure on myself, try to run as much as I can or want. Maybe this will help me find my way back to running. And maybe it’ll give me the confidence to challenge myself with 20 miles in October…

Post scriptI also finally discovered yesterday how fucking boring and dull it is to run on the road! As I was making my way back from the waterfalls, I thought that once I cross the river it’s just a little bit on the road until I get to the car park… except that then I remembered that I had parked my car at the crossroads, which is two more kilometres further up from the car park. Despite being the fastest, those were the worst 2 kilometres of my run…

A week with Wainwright

I have missed the outdoors. It’s not that the outdoors had gone missing but I haven’t really felt like going out. So when I had the opportunity of an easy week at work, I made the most of it and headed to the hills on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Tuesday I had promised to take out the dogs, so I packed them in my car and headed to Askham and parked on the fell. It’s such a good place to have a shorter or longer walks and with views to Ullswater, it’s a great place for a stroll. As I had taken a beasting from Wiz a couple of hours earlier, I didn’t fancy a particularly hilly walk. However, it did offer me an opportunity to tick off a new Wainwright. If you’re not familiar with that name then once upon a time (in the last century), there was a man called Alfred Wainwright who loved the Lake District and wrote and drew pictorial guides for the Lakeland fells, altogether 7 books that describe 214 hills. So these hills are called Wainwrights and many people challenge themselves to walk up every one of them.

I haven’t been particularly bothered about ticking them off vigorously but as Scott and Leigh-ann gave me all of his books for my birthday, I have been looking more into it as an inspiration to get out. So last Tuesday (13th of April) I decided to walk up to one just on my doorstep that I had never done before – Arthur’s Pike (533 m).

It was a rather gentle stroll on the various tracks on the fell to join the High Street, an old Roman road that runs across the tops, and a bit of cross-country contouring to avoid going back and forth the same track. The view from the tops towards Ullswater and the Helvellyn range was gorgeous! The dogs were enjoying a good run around so much so that Tia was a bit stiff the next day. A nice 12-kilometre round in the afternoon.

On Thursday, my legs had recovered from the PT session and Scott asked if I wanted to take a ginger nut out. So I took my good pal Tia and we headed down to Haweswater. It being a sunny afternoon in Easter half term, the car park was busy. But as luck would have it, there was exactly one place for my car which saved me from having to park further down the road. I have been wanting to go up Riggendale, a nice ridge leading to High Street, for a while now. The first and only time I did that walk was with Scott only couple of weeks after I had moved here. As it is a lovely walk, I have kept meaning to do it again but never got round to it. So on Thursday (15th of April), Tia and I (aka #teamgingernut) headed up.

I was going at my own comfortable pace and I was pleased to find that I wasn’t feeling really out of breath or struggling. We kept a steady pace and I genuinely enjoyed the ascent (which I rarely do as it’s often a bit of a struggle). Mid-way, Tia found the tiniest, muddiest bog pool and dived in head first. I’m not even exaggerating, she did take a proper dive in and came out looking not so ginger. I guess the wasn’t that happy with being part of team ginger nut.

When we reached the top, I decided to walk over to the OS trig point at the top of High Street and have a quick sit down and enjoy the sunny afternoon. I then went over Mardale Ill Bell and down to Nan Bield pass. I’m pretty sure that that is where I also left Tia’s lead but by the time I discovered it down by Small Water, I wasn’t willing to climb back up again to retrieve it. So instead I ordered two new dog leads on Amazon as soon as I got back.

I made Tia go for a swim in Small Water because she was still pretty muddy from her previous dive and I didn’t particularly want her in my car like that. When we got back after a 3-hour walk, the car park was almost completely empty.

As I was feeling good after a few nice walks, I fancied a big walk on Saturday before my newly found enthusiasm died down. I was thinking about maybe doing the Kentmere Horseshoe, which would have allowed me to tick off quite a few new Wainwrights but when Scott messaged me that he was planning on heading to Langdales for a run and offer a lift, I decided to go that way instead. I love that valley – it’s so beautiful and there’s always enough to do there! This time I decided to tick off a few new fells as I was feeling confident enough to navigate on new tracks on my own for the first time in a while. I decided on Bowfell (902 m) and Crinkle Crags (859 m) and Cold Pike (701 m) – three new Wainwrights for me.

Once again I felt good and strong going up Bowfell and even overtook quite a few walkers. I didn’t feel out of breath or like I needed to stop for a breather, I just kept going. I decided to take a little climbers trod instead of the footpath that looked like it faded out on the map but I thought by looking at the hill, I would be able to still pick a way to the top. The trod turned right and at one point there looked like there was a path going up covered in scree but I decided continue on the path. I met another walker shortly who asked if I had seen his mates coming down on my way but I hadn’t passed anyone. He told me that the path leads to a few slabs after which you can scramble your way up. I didn’t quite fancy that and I also didn’t think it was a good idea with Tia, who was accompanying me again. So I headed back for a few hundred yards and went up the scree and joined the main footpath.

As I was nearing the top, I could feel the icy wind really picking up and trying to blow me over. The wind stayed with me all the way until I started descending. I quickly scrambled up the pile of boulders that’s the summit of Bowfell and headed back down the footpath towards Crinkle Crags. I was keeping warm in my new Mountain Equiment soft shell jacket as long as I kept moving. I quickly downed a sandwich and a piece of brownie on the ridge that is Crinkle Crags but it was only a few minutes’ stop before I had to get moving again.

I made it to the top and started to head down by following the cairns but they led me to an about 8 foot step that I might have been able to climb down on my own but I wasn’t even going to try it with Tia. She’s quite the mountain goat even as a nine-year-old labrador but that was way too much for her. So we headed back up for a few hundred yards and took the path that went around it instead.

On the track between Crinkle Crags and Pike O’Blisco, there were loads of people coming up. As Tia was being her stubborn self, I had to put her on her (new) lead just so I wouldn’t spend the whole way shouting her in (which didn’t work). She was just too keen on saying hello to every single person. I missed the path that went to Cold Pike, so I decided to beeline to it. I ended up picking up quite a clear path leading to the top that wasn’t marked on the map. I messaged Scott at the top that I was starting to descend and should be back at the car in an hour.

In reality it took me an hour and a half to get back to the car park. The descent was quite steep and the stones laid by Fix the Fells were so uncomfortable for downhill, so I ended up being slower than I expected. Also, I had underestimated how long the walk in had been from the car. I opened a gate to the farmer on a quadbike at the bottom and had a quick chat with him about the weather and spring in general.

Somewhere between Old and New Dungeon Ghyll, two young lads stopped me to ask whether the way to Scafell Pike (or Scayfell Pike as they called it) was signposted or whether they should take a map. It took me a good couple of moments to get my words out – the question seemed so unbelievably stupid. I told them to definitely, DEFINITELY take a map with them. “This is the Lake District,” I said, “There’s no signposts!” And that’s the truth, Lakes are notoriously protective about having signposts up, you do actually need to know what you’re doing. Just in case I also pointed out the way they needed to head because I wasn’t sure they’d be able to work that out by themselves. I just hope they weren’t another statistic for the Langdale Mountain Rescue…

I was back at the car park by 2.30pm – 5.5 hours after starting off. Down in the valley the wind was much, much gentler and it didn’t feel as cold, so I managed to sit down and have quick bite to eat before Scott arrived back about 15 minutes after me.

Those three days of being out gave me the energy to deal with what was quite a long and stressful week at work. I felt so stuck between being either at home or at work that on Wednesday I just needed to get outside, so I borrowed the dogs and headed down to the river for an hour just to save some little sanity I had left. I just hope that I somehow managed to retain some of that enthusiasm for being outside in the next couple of weeks that seemed be pretty stressful again…

Previously on my so-called life*

Somehow it’s suddenly almost mid-April and I’m back at work. This winter has been a bit of a blur and I’m not sure how to make sense of it all. So before I can move on, I’m going to try and write some major points down on “paper” to help me navigate through it.

So, after 2018 summer season, I was broken. It would be easy to say that it was just the work but I think it was an accumulation of many things that led to my breakdown. Because let’s be honest, it did look and sound awful like a breakdown. After one really bad episode, thanks to an encouragement from a friend online, I did something I never thought I would or indeed could do: I asked for help. I faced my enormous fear of doctors and went to see my GP.

So I sat there, almost nauseous with fear, shaking uncontrollably and trying not to cry (didn’t really work out), worried that I’d be sent home for wasting NHS time and money. I wasn’t. In fact, my Gp was and has been brilliant. It was such a huge thing for me to be taken seriously and not be brushed aside. I had a full bloodwork done and it confirmed that my old friend iron deficiency was back again, and as always, when I go low on iron, I go low. I’m not sure how medically sound it is but I always tend to go low after periods of being stressed out, so it wasn’t exactly surprising. But it’s still pretty annoying.

Besides starting on iron supplements once again, my GP also referred me to therapy, namely Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. She suggested also medication but also worried that it might be something that I might struggle to come off, so after some reading and consideration, I decided to try therapy first without medication.

The months after those first appointments with the doctor weren’t all plain sailing. Because I had managed to completely exhaust my body, I ended up catching every cold and virus and bug that went around and was coughing, sneezing or just generally feeling shit for about 2 months straight. Not to mention the tiredness – I felt more exhausted than ever and it just wouldn’t go away. Usually the iron kicks in quite quickly making me feel stronger just after a few weeks but this time, it took almost 6 weeks for me to start noticing the difference in how I feel. And then I caught the flu in February, which was the most horrible 5-day period of the winter. I regretted complaining about my colds because they had been nothing compared to that shit! It felt brutal, I couldn’t sit or lie down because my back and legs and arms were hurting and yet all I wanted to do was sleep. And the hallucinations from high temperature were just something else. Anyway, I am now really considering a flu jab for next winter because I really don’t fancy doing that again in the next few decades!

As for my mental health, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. There were (and still are) so many moments when I almost regret going to ask for help. I feel like I’m overreacting and just seeking attention. Or at other times I just feel like I’m a complete basket case and that I should be kept away from people. I’ve had many meltdowns, some more embarassing than others (an email to work dripping from self-pity comes to mind….). The good old bathroom floor has had to endure quite a bit…

I met with a therapist for the first time in February and she collected my demons under a name: generalised anxiety disorder. The first few sessions I walked out of therapy feeling like I had just been through a boxing match and lost. I’ve never talked about how I feel, so I found it hard to suddenly have to explain and describe things. Did I also mention that I’m afraid of doctors (or anyone resembling one like a nurse, dentist, physio, optician, pharmacist etc)? I’ve now been to 5 or 6 sessions and it’s not fucking easy. I’m constantly swinging between “Yeah, I can do this, I can beat this thing!” and “God, I’m so fucked up they should just shoot me.” It’s been difficult to accept having to need help and having to be vulnerable but it has been equally difficult to let go of my thought patterns that have made me succumb to anxiety.

So that’s the honest summary of the struggles of this winter and an update as to where I am now. But it hasn’t been all dark and gloomy. As my 30th birthday present for myself, I bought my first car. (Because I’m a fucking adult now!) It’s a little Suzuki 4×4, comes with a few scratches and dents, so I don’t have to feel bad about those that I’m going to add. Although getting used to driving again after more than 18-months of being off the road was extremely nerve-wracking, I’m slowly gaining confidence. I’m okay with driving in the dark and I even drove on the motorway on my own the other day! My 3-point turns are completely on point (pun intended) but I still can’t park or reverse to save my life!

One thing that made me much more confident about my driving was taking my car to Isle of Harris. Although Scott did majority of the driving (especially going there through a snow storm in the middle of the night and getting us safely to Harris on completely ice-covered roads!), it make me trust my car and that just adds so much to decreasing my anxiety about driving. Harris itself was beyond words! A magical island! One of these days I will kick myself in the butt and edit my photos and put something together. I did write an essay about the seals on Harris, which I might share.

I’m slowly trying to get myself back into gear for doing more walking and running. I challenged myself by signing up to do a 13-mile walk/run in March called the DaffyDo. I entered with not very high hopes as my training for this was 3 weeks, one of which was just dominated by storms. I was sure it’ll take me about 3 and a half hours to get from Pooley Bridge to the top of Hallin Fell and back but I ended up finishing in 2 hours and 45 minutes. It was a beautiful day and I managed to run about 60% of the way (and walk all the uphills). I definitely did not feel fit but it also wasn’t as big of a struggle as I had feared it might be. I’m now pondering whether or not to sign up for a 20-mile challenge in October. The jury is still out…

Besides running, I have been trying to get some fitness back by being beasted by the wonderful Wiz Lees Fitness and a little bit of yoga (not really much this winter I’m afraid). Now that the season has started, I’m going to have to give up on the evening classes again but I have signed up for personal training sessions, which are brutal (but lovingly so.. right, Wiz?). Although Scott and Leigh-ann gave me the full collection of Wainwright’s books for my birthday as well as a poster for ticking them off, I haven’t really been walking in the hills much this winter. The most I did was on my winter walking course on Harris (still waiting to receive my certificate for that…). I am hoping to get back to it but with everything going on from my neck upwards, it has been a real struggle.

I also returned to my writing group and have actually managed to write a few things that I don’t completely hate. I have recently found a bit of confidence to write about my memories and my life experiences and they have been well received by the group. I have always thought that my life has been so uneventful and ordinary that no one wants to read about it. Also, I find it really good for sorting my shit out by just writing snippets of memoirs.

So there we go, that’s my last few months. I feel like I needed to write it out to start making a bit more sense of the blur of this winter. Maybe it’ll help me to write more. Maybe it’ll be another 6 months by the time I come here again. I don’t know. I’ll just try and get to the other side of this burnout-breakdown and see what’s left of me.

(*I remember always trying to imitate the dramatic voiceover at the start of TV soaps saying “Previously on The Bold and the Beautiful” etc but for little Eastern European girl, the word ‘previously’was pretty impossible to pronounce, so i’ve always wanted to say it)

Never good enough

I haven’t been writing recently because of several reasons. Firstly, the lack of energy. This summer has completely sucked the life out of me and I can only blame myself. Already a few weeks ago I had to admit that I had hit the wall quite thoroughly. I feel completely burnt out. I’m just so tired and not in the way that can be fixed with a few good nights’ sleep.

Secondly, I feel like I can’t write what I feel because it would upset my friends reading this blog. I’ve never been good at talking and writing is one outlet for helping me to get some feelings out of me. But sometimes what I feel is very dark and scary even to me, so knowing that people who know me in real life are going to read it and draw their own conclusions freaks me out. And I end up not writing because I’m too afraid to deal with consequences of what I write. So I end up wondering if I need to filter what I want to write, what’s the point of writing at all. Most people know me as a normal, silly, slightly crazy person. That’s the image I have maintained for decades. They don’t know that I’ve been struggling with various demons since early teenage years…

Thirdly, I haven’t been writing because I feel that I can’t write. I’ve convinced myself that my writing is never good enough. The right words don’t come out. The sentences and paragraphs are sloppy and all over the place. My texts are just boring and not to the point. So if my writing’s that shit, why bother at all?

I’m a perfectionist, I know that much. It might sound like a good way to be because the drive to achieve perfection is a force that keeps you going in life and makes you successful. Maybe in some cases that’s true. However, I’ve realised lately how much I let that trait to be in charge of my life. Being a perfectionist for me means that I’m never going to be good enough in anything I ever do. And that’s a frustrating way to live.

I’ve given up so many things in life because I couldn’t be perfect at them. From small things in life to hobbies I’ve really enjoyed. When I was in secondary school, my PE teacher decided to teach me to dive. I was an okay swimmer (for an extremely nonathletic girl), but I had never learnt to dive. So she gave me some useful tips and I learnt to overcome my fear and my dives started to look less like belly flops and more like dives. So one weekend I went to my local pool to practise and I belly flopped every single time. My perfectionism flared up, I hurried out of the pool to spend the rest of the day loathing myself convinced that I’m the most useless person in the world. I can’t even dive, what’s the point of trying to do anything at all! I didn’t try diving for years and even now I rarely do it (I might try it when there’s no one around to see me).

And that’s just one example. I stopped dancing after more than 10 years because I couldn’t be as good as professional dancers who had danced since they could walk (I  first joined a dance class when I was 13 or 14; also being tall and stiff-jointed doesn’t exactly help in becoming an amazing dancer). I used to love dancing but gradually I refused to perform with my group, then I decreased the number of classes I took until I just stopped altogether. Some days I really, really miss it but I doubt I’ll ever take it up again. Because I’m not good enough.

More recently, I was nudged towards taking more photos. I’ve always considered myself not very creative visually. But a few people around me liked the photos I’d taken and urged me to do more. I let myself to be flattered and I even bought myself my own DSLR camera. For a moment, I felt quite good. I was even allowing myself to be a beginner, to not know everything at once. And then I saw someone else take interest in photography and instantly I started comparing my photos to theirs and mine looked so much worse. And I’ve now decided that I can’t take photos. That they all look shit. I should maybe just sell my camera.

I feel like my life is a constant struggle against myself. Whenever I decide to do something, I always have to fight against this little very loud voice that tells me not to bother because it’s not going to be good enough anyway. I’ve decided not to go to my writing group this autumn because I feel like my writing’s not good enough. I don’t want to go for a run because I’m never going to be able to run as far or as fast as this friend or that. I barely cook or bake anything for myself, because it’s not going to taste and look as good as other people’s cooking. What’s the point in putting on make up or buy new clothes or even just brush my hair if I’m going to look fat and ugly anyway? And so on… I am constantly comparing myself to others. And I always fall short. Every. Single. Time. And so I end up just sitting here, just a heap of self-loathing.

I don’t want to be like this anymore but I don’t know how to not be a perfectionist. How do you even start liking someone you have hated for most of your life? How do you argue against that voice in your head telling you you’re just a waste of space? I genuinely fear that this perfectionism will eventually just lock me in a room staring at the ceiling because I’m too afraid to do anything else in case I’m not good enough at it. And I don’t need people to feel sorry for me and tell me how I’m not a bad writer, bad photographer, bad person… As much as I appreciate it, I also cannot take it in because my inner critic is that much louder, that much more powerful. And she will convince me that you’re only lying and that I’m not a good enough person to deserve nice people telling me nice stuff.

Should I stay or should I go?

This is the question that haunts my days and nights and causing me endless amount of stress. It’s nearly August and I still don’t know what to do.

I feel like instead of making a decision on what will make me happy I am choosing between what will make me less unhappy. I can’t even bring myself to make a list of pros and cons because I don’t know what will fall into what category. Also, I’m scared. Absolutely fucking scared shitless. I’m scared to make a decision because I feel whatever I would choose, I will regret not choosing the other.

All my life I have taken pride in the fact that I have lived my life without regrets but for the first time ever, I’m worrying about regretting. And it’s driving me insane! I’m not sure if it’s being little bit older (nearing the 3 and 0, which I know isn’t that old at all but when you’ve never had to write your age down with a number that beings with 3, it’s a but daunting…) or if I’ve just suddenly become a coward, but I am genuinely afraid to choose.

Staying means staying at a job that I really, really like. It means working in a place that I have become to love and work with people I really like working with. It means for the first time in my life being trusted and appreciated at work. It means feeling like I’m important and what I do is actually helpful. It means knowing that maybe I’m not completely shit at what I do.

Staying also means staying in this area that I find so home-like. It means being able to wander around in the hills and nature. It means living in a small community where I am not judged, even if I am a foreigner. It means the simplicity of a village life. It means not worrying about what I wear to go to the shop or for a dog walk or the pub.

Staying means independence from influences of my family. It means being able to be far away to make my own decisions and choices. It means not worrying about having to explain myself. It means not being judged for wanting different things.

But staying also means being alone and lonely. It means feeling like the third wheel most of the time. It means feeling like a annoying little sister who is only invited along because that’s what “mother” order, because it’s the polite thing to do. It means always being the outsider. It means not having my people who’d make me feel like maybe I’m not a complete loser. It means being the only single person in a society full of couples.

Going means being close to my people again. It means being able to go out, talk, drink wine, do silly things. It means having an option not to stare at the ceiling on my own when not working. It means having friends again. It means feelibg like I belong. It means being slightly less lonely and alone.

Going means being living in a bigger place with more opportunities to do things and to meet people. It means more diversity in options. It means standing out less in a crowd like a sore thumb. It means being able to blend into the mass more easily.

But going also means risking not finding a job that would offer me as much as my job now offers. It means having to start from square one to prove myself. It means risking nit having an employer who can see past my insecurity and complete lack of self-confidence. It means risking not achieving anything because no one will belive I can achieve anything. It means feeling like a failure in life.

I don’t know what to choose. I don’t want to choose! I’m afraid to make the wrong decision. I’m afraid of not knowing what to do next, nit knowing what I want to do next. I’m scared that whatever I do, I’ll never amount to anything more than a lonely failure. I just don’t know what to do!

I just want someone to look into a crystal ball and tell me it’s going to be alright.

A fool in the hills

What sweet luxury it is to have a weekend that’s longer than one afternoon and one full day! It feels like it’s been a long time coming…

Instead of taking it slow and resting, I decided to wake up at my normal time on Saturday morning and hitch a ride to Honister and have a little walk on the hills around there. I had prepped everything the night before: the bag, the food, my knee. I had ordered some kinesio tape and on Friday night I spent some time watching YouTube videos about how to tape up your knee. After a two big Saturdays in April, I suffered from horrible knee pain and ended up having to see a physio. The problem was my IT band which was too tight and had been rubbing against the bones in my knee and as a result became inflamed. I walked with a hobble for nearly a month. So I wasn’t really ready to go through it all again and pretty much taped the shit out of my knee. Spoiler alert: it worked!

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However prepared I thought I was, I hadn’t quite got it in my head how big the start of my route was going to be. I did consult the map and count out roughly 2 kilometres to the top of Dale Head and I calculated that it would be 400 metres of ascent. I was aware of these numbers but it didn’t quite hit me what it meant in reality. In reality, it was going straight up hill for first 2 kilometres; no warm up, no easing into it. I’m really unfit right now anyway and having suffered from an annoying cold, this was quite a struggle from the start. Half way up I considered throwing in the towel and turn back down. It felt so hard! A huge help for me was having my Garmin watch that helped me to assure how much more I have to take this struggle. There’s something about knowing exactly how far I’ve come and calculating how many metres of ascent I’ve yet got to climb actually helps me to cope with the hardship.

It took be roughly 45 minutes to get to the top of Dale Head (753 m). By that point I was dripping in sweat, majorly out of breath and feeling quite nauseous. So I beelined to the summit cairn and sat down in its shade to gather myself. It was about 8.30 in the morning and I had the top to myself. It was already a hot day. I think I spent about 15 minutes there just to make sure I was up for the day I had planned. I watered the dog and had an apple and decided to push on.

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I dropped down to Dale Head Tarn where Mac the dog could have a cool down and then headed back up to High Spy. A much shorter and easier ascent. I met two guys on the top of the hill there and foolishly said that I had done all my climbing for that day. I also shortly after met a family who said they hadn’t been able to pick up the path I had chosen for my decent. That didn’t fill me with much confidence as I am an expert in going the wrong way. So I took out the map, measured the rough distance and looked at my Garmin determined not to miss my turn. As it turned out, the path was clearly marked by two cairns and it was visible on the ground. It didn’t really take that much of navigation skills to pick it up. Nevertheless, I mentally patted myself on the shoulder and felt quite smug. Again, foolishly.

I loved that decent. There were plenty of bilberries and I took my time in picking them and stuffing my face with them. I also had a little sit down on a high point that offered spectacular views of Borrowdale and Derwent Water. And the best part of the decent was that my knee held up! The taping had worked!

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I decided not to go in the the village of Grange and just turn back towards Honister via the bridleway. All the smugness I had felt about my navigation earlier on the fell came crumbling down as I got seriously confused over bridleways and campsites and pretty much had to be led by hand to the correct turn by a sweet couple staying at one of the campsites. Well, that was embarrassing. Also, I then realised that I now was at the very bottom of the valley and I had to get back to Honister Pass which is at 356 m. So my climbing for the day hadn’t actually finished at the top of High Spy. Why I had though it would be an easy stroll back to the start when planning the route, I had no idea.

After the first kilometer or so, which I found really hard on the wide paved bridleway, the path actually narrowed down and turned into a really beautiful and enjoyable trail just under the crags. I had one last look of the map and made sure that I just need to stay on this track and keep to the right and it would take me right back to Honister. Again, a mistake. As when I came to a fork in the road, I just confidently kept to the right and started to climb up the path only to realise about 200 metres later that, actually, this wasn’t the junction I meant to keep to the right. However, there were people about and I was too embarrassed to turn around, so I continued to go uphill for another 200 or 300 meters until I could cross the stream and take the path on the other side of it to get back down to the bridleway. So much about my wonderful navigation skills…

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The slow but steady climb in the heat back to the start point made last bit of the journey just next to the road seem quite endless. I just wished Mac to pull me along a bit. However we made it back to the visitor centre just before 1 pm. This meant that we had about 2 hours until my Employer was due back from supporting a friend of his BG attempt. Mac seemed tired enough and settled down in the back of the van for much deserved nap. I had made him go into every bit of water along the route to keep him from over heating in this weather and I was pretty certain he was okay. Just tired from a good day out. I was also hot and tired and cuddled up with Mac.

Altogether we did 14.9 kilometres and ascended 931 metres, which in my books is quite a good day out. Back in Shap, I managed to drag myself for a half an hour swim before crashing into bed for a very good night’s sleep. Today I feel only a bit stiff and my knee is still showing no signs of distress. Also, I still have the whole of tomorrow off work, which is quite unbelievable luxury.

Lazy, hazy days of summer

It’s been hot in here! Although living in what is supposed to be one of the wettest places in England with a name that suggests that it’s half way between shit and crap, I shouldn’t really complain. Not that I am but it is very hot.

Mostly, it doesn’t bother me as I am at work most of the time anyway (although the kitchen can get a bit too uncomfortably hot when we’re doing dinners). Wednesday we catered for a school group of nearly 30 kids plus the normal dinner service. It all went as smoothly as possible actually. So much so that when Thursday evening came around and it seemed like quite an average night, I let myself to be chilled out a bit and not worry about the night. Big mistake. With the England v Belgium game on and a few unnecessarily difficult guest, I lost it and had a anxiety attack that left me shaking and gasping for air. My night was ruined from then on. I was angry at myself for letting myself and everyone down. Luckily my Employer realised something was off and closed the kitchen door to allow me some space away from guests and took on some of front of house duties.

By Friday I was once again knackered but in slightly better form than a week ago. We had planned a Wineskype with friends, so by 4 pm I had managed to set out a little picnic on my patio and open a bottle of cava. I really needed the catch up and I am forever grateful to have friends who are still willing to give me a time of day even after 3 years of being away. And who are happy to set aside dates 2 months in advance for catching up in person.

It was nearly 9.30pm by the time we finished our call. I enjoyed feeling a but chilly sitting outside after few days of not being able to cool down. I had had no plans for Saturday except for just a bit of chilling but at about 9 o’clock I got a message from my Employer inviting me to walk the dogs in Swindale. I wasn’t going to say no and just in case packed a towel and put on my swimwear in chance I could get in one of the pools of the waterfalls. We did end up scrambling up the river and to the lush pool at the top.

That place feels like a real secret paradise: it’s off the path and covered by steep banks on either side with some lush vegetation surrounding it. Although thanks to Tia the dog having a shake at the very moment I had hunched over her to give her a hand on rocks, I was already pretty wet when we reached the pool, I still decided to actually dive in the water. I couldn’t really feel it being that cold, the difference of temperature did give my body a but of a shock and for a moment knocked my breath out.

It was a perfect swim. After nearly three summers in this country, I had never swam in open water till the last couple of weeks. First I went for a swim in Windermere a few weeks ago after paddle boarding and now Swindale Beck. I love water and especially natural pools. As I kid I spent all my summers in our local lake only emerging when my parents managed to convince me to sit in the sun until my lips were no longer blue.

I spent the rest of my Saturday being lazy and not doing much. As it was so warm, I also decided to head for a swim in Shap open air swimming pool. Apparently my Employer had got me a season ticket so it would not do wasting it. I invited LA to join me and we spent about an hour leisurely measuring the lengths of the small pool. After a nice dinner and a glass of wine at home later on, I slept like a log until 8 am this morning, which is a major lie-in in my books!

We’ve got one more long week to survive at New Ing and next weekend we’re going to have Saturday, Sunday and Monday off!

Sunset in Swindale

After a lazy day, I did decide to go walk over to Swindale just to have a sit down and think. It is one of my most favourite places in the the world. There’s something about sitting on the verge of that valley and looking around that just cuddles my soul. It’s both calming and it also stirs up plenty of emotions.

I had a great and much needed chat with a friend on Facebook yesterday and it gave me plenty of ideas to chew through. One of the drawback of stepping away from social media has been no longer being in touch with goes on in my friends’ lives. But a beautiful thing that has emerged is that in the last couple of weeks, a few people, whom I haven’t really been in touch with for a while, have messaged me because they haven’t seen me online and asking if I’m alright. It really means a lot to me. One of the reasons I felt I needed to step back from Facebook and Instagram was that it made me feel so alone and isolated. So to have people notice my absence has been a huge surprise to me, but in a very good way.

Anyway, at 7pm last night I packed my notebook, book, some wine, my badass wine glass and a few snacks in my backpack and headed towards my spot. There wasn’t a soul about except grazing sheep. I found a spot that gave a good view of the whole valley and settled in with my book and a glass of wine. As it had been an overcast day, I didn’t expect an amazing sunset but in the end I think I got what I came for.

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I got back home just before 11 pm. Straight to bed and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. With all the thoughts that ran through my head as I was sitting there, one certain decision that I made was to buy a new camera to take better photos and transfer them in a better fashion.

Lazy days

I’ve been so tired lately. I feel like my whole body is exhausted. And today I decided to succumb to it and accept it.

It’s Saturday and last week has been pretty busy at work. Wednesday night we must have served about 40 covers, which is a lot for our establishment. It was pretty full on night making sure all the guests got looked after, getting all the orders right and trying to stay smiling all through it. I didn’t finish until after 10pm and I was back at work just after 5am the next morning. Thursday night was late again with some added drinks (because I’m an idiot who thinks she can drink on school nights). Friday was a again a 5am start (with a very bad head) and busy day of getting the house ready. Then I got a lift to Kendal straight after to do my food shop, back home for a quick tidy up, shower and a minute in the deck chair before heading to town for a few beers with Employer and the Monk.

I was so tired that I even forgot to put on my shirt for going out and didn’t realise it until half way to town. I wasn’t exactky naked butbI did feels like in in just my strappy top and shorts. Now that dogs are no longer allowed on the window seats at the Fell, I occupied it myself and I really struggled with staying awake as we sampled the beers. I really haven’t felt so completely knackered in ages. I could barely concentrate what was going on around me. It got to the point of exhaustion when nothing really matters anymore. I did seriously considered just closing my eyes for 10 minutes in the bar… just for a quick kip. I didn’t. But I was early to bed last night.

This morning I still feel tired but I decided I’m going to embrace it. I worked hard and I’m allowed to be tired. I’m allowed not to do anything. So instead I’ve been reading in my PJs on the deck, caught up with TV and genuinely lounged about. Normally I’d feel bad about it but I decided not to today. As I walked to work early Friday morning, the hills looked so lush and I want to play in them so badly but I also want my body to have a chance to recover. So when my Employer suggested dropping me off at Shap Fell early morning, I told him to jog on. I as much as I feel the need to be in the hills, I also needed to have a good night’s rest. And I am thinking about maybe heading to Swindale for sunset to catch the light and have a little moment there.

Until then, I’m just going to be lazy and not feel bad about it. I’m taking my first steps in trying to listen to my body and offer it what it needs. And today it needs a couch, loads of water, fruits and chocolate. And that’s okay.