Landing on My Feet and the Things I’ve Learnt

It’s been a really long time since I last blogged. I didn’t need the constant push-notifications from my Facebook Pages app telling me that my ‘audience misses me’ to remind me of that. I started this blog last year with the intention of maintaining it regularly – yes, I had hoped that it would ‘keep me on my toes’, if you’ll pardon the bad foot analogy – but this year, and particularly these past few months, I have found that really difficult. I once wrote, a little in jest, that I felt like I was living out The Red Shoes, and would carry on dancing and dancing unless someone chopped off my feet. Well, a little over a month ago I think that someone finally did (metaphorically, of course). I’m not the only person I know who is guilty of overdoing it, but I’ve always been content to work hard and play hard. I have never felt guilty about the time that I take out of work to focus on me, but when my mind and body are constantly engaged in so many things – PhDing, running, dancing, coordinating outreach, and such – I never really get proper ‘me’ time. The PhD experience has introduced me to a new kind of stress, but I usually deal with this by cutting loose. I recognise the signs of burnout and I respond to them; I go out for drinks with friends, stomp around London with my baby brother, or go out on little road trips with my ma and pa. I had a couple of small breaks this year, but on both occasions I spent the majority of that time by myself, in my flat. I had no holiday time with my loved one, and no money to do anything interesting. It’s been especially hard to come to terms with that as although we don’t always get to spend much time together, we’ve always made sure that the time we do have together is quality. We have never really been flush, but have generally been able to have a little holiday together each year, go out for dinner occasionally, and maybe even go to the cinema once in a while. Of course I realise that we are very lucky to have been able to do this. I never take it for granted. But while I have always made the most of the good things when they come, I have made sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to enjoy those ‘good things’.

It hit me hard, then, when I had to endure a solitary week of nothing just over a month ago. Julian couldn’t take any holiday because he was working hard to secure the next round of investment for his startup company, and we’d had to cut back radically while he was ploughing all of his reserves reserves – mental, physical, and financial – into this effort: ergo, no dinners, no cinema, not even much of what you’d call ‘quality’ time together. During the week that I spent off I had too much time to think about the challenges that we were being faced with and I started to worry about how we’d be affected by it all. At least, I wasn’t really conscious of the fact that I was doing this, but when I went back to work the following week, it seemed as if the stress had started to set in. For once, work stress was not the problem, but life stress was. I went along to Julian’s marketing event for his company’s crowdfunding campaign later that week and woke up the next day feeling exhausted. I put it down to a busy day and possibly too much free prosecco. But then the next day I woke up feeling the same, and then the next, and the next, etc. For over 3 solid weeks I felt drained of all energy, foggy, dizzy, and depressed. I went to the doctor’s and they sent me to have some blood tests. I was worried that I might have a serious health problem – that I might have some kind of deficiency. I became fixated with the idea that I might have diabetes, anaemia, or something worse. Never did it really compute that it might be the effect of stress. Then the blood tests came back fine, so I didn’t know what to think. I spent a couple of days down at the coast with my grandparents, which probably did me more good than I realised at the time. While I continued to feel exhausted, my nan had me out walking about 5 miles each day. I went swimming in the sea, which, though it didn’t make me feel any less tired, made me incredibly happy. Julian picked me up at the weekend, and we spent an afternoon at Botany Bay, where we enjoyed some burgers cooked over a cheap disposable barbecue. My mum got me a vitamin tonic and I gradually started to feel better. Julian and I spent a lot of time talking through our worries, and figuring out solutions. And now his crowdfund campaign is coming to an end, and the company is almost 150% funded, things are looking a lot brighter.

Of course, while this has been a very difficult time for us, it’s also been very humbling. Not only have we had to go without the ‘good things’, but at times we’ve had to go without the necessary things. We’ve struggled to afford groceries, and I have often spent evenings scouring the supermarket shelves for reduced items. We’ve had to dip into savings knowing that we may not recuperate them and knowing that we’re getting married in a little over 8 months. There are a lot of people who live out their lives like this every day, who have to deal with never having enough, who have more debts than we have savings, and who have to face the challenge of how they’re going to come out of it. We retain a rather blasé optimism, assured that whatever difficulties we face we will overcome, but we also have the privilege of a good education and interesting and colourful working portfolios, so we stand a better chance than some. Since I have been feeling more like my normal self, I have had time to take stock of these things, and I realise that the experiences that I – that we – have had have not been altogether bad. We have learnt a great deal about the true value of things and I hope will be able to take those lessons forward as things start to improve. Some people will never experience these kinds of hardships, and ultimately, no one should have to. We can’t deny, however, that a massive imbalance prevails, and that people are really genuinely struggling right now. This Christmas more people will be homeless, more people will have to rely on foodbanks, and the poorest and most vulnerable in our society will continue to be stigmatized as ‘thieves’. In the modern, democratic society that we live in, this is unacceptable. We landed on our feet; others aren’t always so lucky.


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