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.

The language issue

I am Estonian but I write in English instead of my mother tongue. It might seem like I’m just trying to shake off my national identity and score points in being cool and international but it isn’t quite that simple.

I have a degree in the English language and literature and I was trained to write coherently and clearly in this language. I live and work in the UK and I am the one who tells my employers, both native English speakers, how to spell words. Honestly, their spelling is quite questionable. For two weeks we offered deserts (sic!) as part of our menu. However much I’d like to take the mickey, I would be in the same position in Estonian. I haven’t really written much in Estonian after finishing school and I keep questioning the grammar and spelling. Bizarrely I feel much more comfortable and confident writing in English and this is one of the main reasons I choose to write this blog in English.

Obviously, by writing in English, I could potentially reach a wider audience. There are hell of a lot more people who can read English than there are people who can speak my tiny little language. Also, I know people around the globe who might be interested in reading what I write and not every one of them speaks Estonian, but they do all speak English. Whether we like it or not, English is the lingua franca of the world.

Besides those obvious reasons, there is a more personal and psychological reason for choosing English. As a member of a very small language community (approximately only 1 million people speaking the language), my mother tongue is a little bit sacred for me. It’s a language of secrets and personal stories. I feel that I am much more vulnerable and much more naked if I use my mother tongue. By using English language, I am as if building a barrier between myself and what I put out there. It’s me, but censored through translating it into English. I feel more removed from my feelings and thoughts if they are not written in Estonian. It’s still me writing here as honestly as possible, but English allows me to feel more comfortable about opening my soul because I am not using a secret code. It might also be the thought that my parents cannot read English and therefore I feel more comfortable using the language that would “protect” them from my thoughts.

I live and work in the English language environment, I think in English a lot of the time just to save energy. I read and write in English. The songs and the films around me are all in English. Estonian is my secret language, something that’s only mine in this place far away from home.
So by choosing to write in English, I am not trying to be pretentious and rootless. Instead, I am trying to protect my identity outside the world wide web.