Admission

It’s been a while. In truth I’ve been tongue-tied, unable to pull the right words from the melting pot of my mind. Not even sure what to say, even if I could work out how to say it. So there you have it. Welcome to my mind.

How easy it is to blame things. Work being busy. Not sleeping well. Time just flying by. Excuses trip so easily off the tongue – far easier than admitting reality. But when we run out of excuses reality always bites. Why don’t we learn? You’d think we would. Or maybe not.

So anyway, time has flown, excuses have multiplied at speed like bacteria in a petri dish. And here we are. Here I am. Facing my reality. Admitting it. Holding a red rag up to it and waiting for it to charge. Come on, I’m ready.

Nothing is wrong. Things have changed, situations shifting like the sands of time on which we are so shakily standing. But nothing is wrong.

Earlier, I meditated. Took some time to step away from the to do lists, to quell the panic rising up inside. I couldn’t quite believe how well it worked. It’s always nice, of course, to close your eyes and find that space, to realise all that really matters is the breath, in, out. The here and the now is all there is.

But this time something happened, not at first, but after. A flash of inspiration, a hint at the solution to a problem I’ve been grappling with for weeks. I wrote it down. In ink. For permanence.

I think I will meditate again tomorrow.

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Rising from the Ashes

Dad told me I should write more. At the very least some updates on my blog. His dream of having an award-winning novelist of a daughter seems to be dying by the day. And, yet, from the glowing embers of this dream a phoenix (of sorts) is rising. It’s small and scraggy now, stumbling on Bambi-esque legs amongst the ashes, coughing and shielding its eyes from the light. But it exists, this spectre of old, only now coming into being after years of steady manifestation.

By ‘It’ I am referring to my venture back into the world of psychology, and, simultaneously, my journey into the unknown-and-terrifying-yet-also-exciting world of coaching – in the form of a combined Master’s degree.

It’s not exactly how I’d planned it. We thought we’d be in New York City by spring. I’d envisaged endless cups of coffee, walks in Central Park with a new puppy; days stretching out with nothing but study and writing and play. But life doesn’t always work out how you planned. Which means that sometimes you just have to play the hand you’ve been dealt.

We’re not going to New York anymore. Already it feels like a pipe dream blowing in the wind. At first I shed a lot of tears, and then berated myself for mourning a life that never was. The tears dried up. Reality bit. I’d signed up for this Master’s safe in the knowledge I’d have ample time to devote to it. At most I’d have been working on a part time basis. Now, things have changed. We’re still in Brussels, and will be for the foreseeable future. I still have a full time job (really a full-and-then-some time job). Suddenly the very thought of finding more than twelve hours a week to do my course work has me coming out in hives. Right now I’m barely managing six.

I am exhausted. There have been more tears, for this and other – more personal – reasons that I won’t go into here. I am struggling to find my equilibrium. I tell myself that I should meditate and then remember that ‘should’ is a performance inhibiting thought; a thinking error. I’m learning all kinds of new things like this, even though I make such errors daily, sometimes hourly. I tell myself I’m not good enough on a constant repetition loop in my head. Compare myself to others. Panic. I do a LOT of panicking.

And then I switch on my computer, turn on Skype and I become a coach. I listen attentively and empathetically. I silence my inner chatter and focus on another person for a whole hour. And I take them through a process, and share with them what little I know of concepts like self-limiting beliefs. And, like magic, almost always there’s a moment when their faces light up and they get it, really get it. And in that moment I’m suffused with so much joy and energy. Which is how I know that even though it’s hard, and will likely get harder, and even though I don’t know where I’m going to end up, I’m on the right path.

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Update from Brussels

Another day dawns in Brussels, and with it the news that police raids in the centre of the city last night – which saw people in the surrounding area either evacuated from, or trapped inside, hotels and restaurants – led to the arrests of sixteen terror suspects. None of these was Salah Abdeslam, suspected gunman in the Paris attacks who subsequently fled to Brussels, possibly with the suicide vest he did not, for reasons unknown, detonate in Paris. None of those arrested last night were found with weapons, which means the stash of arms with which the terrorists are planning an attack on Brussels are, like Abdeslam, still at large.

It’s been a strange couple of days here in the European Union’s capital, with most people heeding government advice to stay indoors and avoid public places. But while we understand the serious nature of the threat, how long can this lockdown really go on for? The Belgian economy surely cannot afford to take the hit of many more days without people spending money in its capital city. And with each day that passes the tourist trade will be suffering untold damage, as people cancel trips in fear of being affected by a Paris style attack. And yet, the strange thing is, despite feeling like we are in the throes of a major disaster, nothing has actually happened. It’s like having a guillotine over our heads and waiting for it to drop. Unnerving, to say the least.

Aside from anything else the culture of fear that has begun to develop feels very much like it is playing into the terrorists’ hands. As one window sign spotted on a Brussels street proclaimed, panic is what they want us to feel. And to some extent it’s working. That’s not to say most Brusselites aren’t being stoic in the face of all that’s unfolding. I for one made a point of attending my writing group meet up yesterday rather than give in to the fear. But today I’ll be working from home, and much as I hate to admit it I am now considering my options where my daily commute is concerned, out of worry about taking the metro.

We can but hope the situation will be resolved, or at least diffused (if you’ll excuse the possibly quite inappropriate pun) soon, so that we might all go back to living a normal existence. Recent events do, however, make one wonder-will we ever feel entirely safe again?

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7/7

Ten years ago today, fifty two people lost their lives in London when terrorists targeted three packed commuter trains and a bus during rush hour traffic. I have a hangover to thank for not being on a train that went through Edgware Road that morning. Instead I drove to work, arriving late. When the news broke I tried frantically to contact my then boyfriend, whose journey to work took him perilously close to where the bus bomb had gone off, in Tavistock Square. But the phone lines were jammed by other frantic Londoners trying desperately to locate their loved ones, and it took over an hour to confirm that he was safe, more time still to do a head count of my friends. I remember it like it was yesterday; the panic, the sense of helplessness. It was like watching a disaster movie in real time, where the ‘stars’ could well be people you know – people you love. Just awful.

There’s something wonderfully resilient about Londoners. Even in a crisis they stand defiant. But that day tested the mettle of even the hardiest of the Capital’s inhabitants. It was a threat to everything they – we – stood for. And whilst there is, of course, the argument that our political leaders are responsible for the rise of the terrorism that now threatens our society – having provided arms and funding to the very people who now carry out these atrocities – those people who lost their lives in the 7/7 attacks, those who were injured, and the many more who will be killed and injured by terrorist attacks in the future, were, and are, innocent victims.

After work that day, at a loss for what to do and not wanting to be alone, we went to Notting Hill to try and process what had happened with friends. For as long as I live I will never forget the eerie silence as hundreds of Londoners walked past the window with their heads down; contemplating, as we were, the fact it could so easily have been them.

RIP.

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The seventh circle of (shopping) hell

Oxford Circus on a Friday night is, one imagines, akin to being in the seventh circle of Hell. Just making it out of the tube station is a fight for survival, but once you hit the main concourse that’s when the struggle really begins. As you navigate the constant stream of dazed shoppers and excited tourists you find yourself sympathising for salmon in their battle to make it upstream. Everyone seems to be going in the opposite direction to you. In this no man’s land they are your enemies, yet when you scan their hostile faces you see your own plight reflected back at you as if in a mirror. Your bags become lead in your hands, your feet heavier still.

When the need to escape this throng of lemmings becomes overwhelming you duck into a department store, but after wandering amongst the over-painted perfume ladies their cloying scents make you heady and nauseous. You are losing focus and you know it. Panic bubbles furiously in the cauldron of your stomach. Beads of sweat nudge down your temples like a landslide. “Can I help you, Madam?” says a perfume lady. ‘Yes,’ you want to scream, ‘please help me! I’ve no idea what I’m doing here and I want so desperately to go home! And, while you’re at it, can you tell me why it’s so interminably hot in here?’ But of course you don’t say that. You just give her a strained smile, and beat as hasty a retreat to the exit as you can whilst maintaining the shred of dignity you still have left.

Gasping in the air outside the shop you scan the pavement for a break in the plasma flow of fellow humankind. When that break comes you run as fast as your heavy feet will carry you back to the tube, eschewing the advances of the Evening Standard seller as he tries to thrust a paper into your clammy hands. And within minutes you are cocooned in the carriage of the tube train, speeding away from the place that has tormented you, empty-handed but immeasurably relieved.

Don’t panic! It’s just a holiday

On the topic of holidays, as has been the theme of my last two posts, when I think back to childhood breaks en famille I can’t help but be reminded of Mum’s phobia about packing. I’ve always wound her up about it but it must be so distressing to feel that level of anxiety in the run up to a holiday. Instead of feeling that delicious sense of anticipation about their time away, people like my mum with packing phobias actually experience dread, because the planning that’s required induces panic that can lead to both physical and mental paralysis.

Mum’s a list-maker like me, and you’d think that would help to keep things ordered and under control, but in reality (as I myself have experienced on the odd occasion, like when I’m overloaded at work and find myself surrounded by so many lists my brain ends up in a state of panic-induced inertia) that doesn’t always help. Lists can go so far to quell the panic of forgetting something, but what if you forget to put something on the list in the first place?

I don’t claim to understand this phobia, but I do sympathise with those who have it. I’m also very grateful I don’t have this particular affliction, because I’ve enough neuroses to cope with as it is…

People should smile more

As I write this I’m listening to a song by one of my favourite flame-haired gentlemen (besides my boyfriend, obviously): Newton Faulkner. It is entitled “People should smile more.” And as I listen I recall a slightly bizarre incident on the tube yesterday as I travelled home from work, in which I sat down opposite a strange-looking girl with a wide-eyed expression and wild frizzy hair. She was wearing an outfit that can only accurately be described as looking like an eighties wardrobe had thrown up on itself; a multi-coloured neon array of leggings, leg warmers, cable knits and a plethora of other materials whose name I couldn’t even hazard a guess at. But by far the strangest thing about her was her smile. It wasn’t any old smile – oh no. This was the smile of a crazy person; an unselfconscious, maniacal nod to every poor incarcerated loon across the land. And, most disconcertingly of all, this smile was aimed directly at me.

At first I thought perhaps I had some loo roll dangling from my shoe. Or, worse still, perhaps my skirt was tucked into my knickers and I’d walked the whole way from the office to the tube baring my bum to the world. But no, a quick scan of my outfit told me neither of these was a possibility. My eyes darted left to right, engaging in a weird tango with hers as I desperately tried to avoid her terrifying gaze. But the more I tried to look away the more I was drawn into the bizarre interaction. Suddenly our eyes locked, and I was at once both trapped and powerless. Her pupils dilated and her grin widened into the Joker’s from Batman (or at least that’s how it seemed to me as I cowered in my seat). Then, to my horror, she rose up from her seat like some kind of ghoul and leaned in towards me. Just as I thought I might pass out with fear she said four words to me. And then, just like that (and not unlike the devil in The Usual Suspects), she was gone.

What were those four sinister words? “I like your bag.”

Maybe people should smile more after all.

What better accompanying image could there be for this post than a recent snap of me and my two gorgeous best friends? Check out those megawatt smiles – cheese!