“Ahh, shit. Life…” Homesickness, mindfulness, rumination, question marks.

My mom called me on the weekend and I didn’t return the call until days later because I was too homesick to talk to her. We chatted about it and agreed that “homesick” is not necessarily the most accurate term. It’s not just about missing home; it’s broader than that; it’s when you suddenly stop and think “Ahh, shit. Life…”, and for a moment, everything seems a little bit too much to handle. It’s the yearning for a place or a time or a feeling, an emotional “home” that maybe doesn’t even exist any more. I call it homesickness because that word captures the feelings of disconnectedness and hollowness better than any other concept I’m aware of, and because people understand it.

This morning, I felt good. I did some laundry and some totally out-of-character cooking, which was fun and successful and I even emailed Luc about it because I was very pleased with myself. I got stuck into my work for the day. I procrastinated a bit. And then I nosedived. And now I’m here. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know where I want to be. I feel like I’m at a T-junction, but I don’t have a steering wheel, so I’m just grinding my number plate against the wall, failing to go either left or right and not knowing which one I’d choose even if I was able to make a turn. I fluctuate between being able to mentally slap myself into “getting over it” and slumping back into a sludge-like despair, where I feel like I’ve made too many wrong choices and now it’s over, and I don’t even know what “it” is.

My brother recently discovered Sam Harris and sent me the link to a video that he found interesting. The timing of his email was almost spooky because of how much the video resonated with me at that particular moment. (We don’t keep in touch as much as I’d like, but my brother and I weirdly understand each other in a way that he might not be sentimental enough to admit to!) I went and found the complete Sam Harris talk and tried his mindfulness meditation technique; it aligned quite neatly with the ideas and practices I’ve been introduced to through cognitive behavioural therapy, and for a few hours I felt pretty great, like this might be a way out of my own head. Maybe I just need to practice it more, but so far… I’m failing. I’m ruminating all the time about stupid things that I can’t change. I’ve been vaguely contemplating deactivating my Facebook account because of how low I can get looking at people doing totally normal things that I barely feel capable of handling half the time (and if I’m not incapable, then I’m lacking opportunities because of other personal failings), but I know I can’t deactivate it because it’s my main source of connection to others, and if I cut off that channel I’ll probably just go further into my own head, and that’s not where I want to be.

I am fortunate in so many ways. I have a really great partner who puts up with this bullshit on a daily basis. I have a wonderful opportunity to see a part of the world far removed from the place I grew up in, and I also have the option to return to my birthplace one day, if I want to. As far as I know, I am quite healthy. Everything is fine. Except it’s not; not all the time. Why is my brain doing this? What do I do about it?

I don’t know.

Onward.

Life Update List Thing.

Here are some things that have been happening in the regular life of Laurie. (Hi, mom and dad!)

1. As you might have noticed, I’ve been fuelling the blog with mini reviews of books I recently read, but I’ll have to start writing reviews for my not-so-recent reads if I’m going to keep this up. (Spoiler alert: I’m not going to keep this up. Five reviews a week is far beyond my blogging capabilities. I’m trying to write a novel, you know.)

A few of the second-hand books I've rescued from Amazon. Will review them. One day.

A few of the second-hand books I’ve rescued from Amazon. Will review… Once I’ve read them…

2. I’m trying to write a novel, you know. Yep, still that same one. I’ve moved on from draft 1.5 (never completed) to draft 2, which I plan to finish, even if it’s shit, which it will be, before moving on to draft 3. I keep making big, conceptual changes and then scrapping huge swathes of text. It’s painful. I still have a long (loooooong) way to go, but at least I’m feeling fairly confident that the major changes are good ones and I’m better off having made them.

3. I recently finished 3+ months of a temp job at a literary agency, during which time I interacted with several very impressive authors and agents. I learned a lot about how agencies work, and my “career”, my writing and my writerly plans for the future have all been shaped by these experiences. I am now freelancing, which involves far less money, far more need for rigorous self-control and far greater potential for emotional slumpage, but I am determined to keep my chin up. Having developed a troubling case of constant hip pain (x-rays were “not abnormal”, but I’m being referred to a physiotherapist), it’s been convenient not having to sit on an office chair all day, because that’s when it hurts the most. At home, I’m able to get up and move around every few minutes, which helps. Freelancing also provides a great opportunity for novel-writing and wedding-planning, which leads me to my next point…

4. I’m having a wedding! Never mind the fact that I’ve actually been married since March… *ahem* Circumstances at the time didn’t allow for much in the way of celebrations, but we’ll be making up for it in March next year, and then I’ll finally change my Facebook relationship status from “engaged” to “married”. Planning has begun. It’s not going to be traditional or super formal, but I’m really looking forward to it. Having so many friends and family members in one place at one time is guaranteed to cause an explosion of expatriate sentimentality.

5. More good news: I got my residence card! Deportation is now a distant memory for this legal resident. Water under the bridge.

6. Having received my residence card and my passport back from the Home Office, Luc and I were able to travel on a plane together for the first time… and it was a plane with propellors! We went to Guernsey, where we stayed with my uncle and got to see my grandfather, who was visiting him for a few weeks. It was a fantastic long weekend that kind of needs its own post rather than a numbered point in a silly list. Maybe I’ll write one. No promises.

One of many striking views along Guernsey's southern coast.

One of many striking views along Guernsey’s southern coast.

7. I attended a David Mitchell reader event, which included a signed copy of his latest book, ‘The Bone Clocks’, and the privilege of listening to the man himself talk about his work. It was incredibly inspiring. I sat on the tube home feeling both utterly inadequate as a writer and completely in awe of this person whose books I love so much. He was funny and charming and brilliant and yet totally normal and humble and self-effacing at the same time. The book, so far, is wonderful. Mini review to come. 😉

Beautiful, precious... and it was signed!

So pretty!

8. I am unfairly privileged enough to have gained two significant material items that have been pretty life-changing. The first is this little Macbook Air that I’m currently typing on. It has allowed me to take my work out of the house, thereby boosting my productivity and combatting cabin fever and potential depression. I’ve never been a rabid fan of Apple products, but the battery life and the build quality are very impressive indeed. I made sure to get the one with the most limited hard-drive space and not enough power for gaming so that distractions are kept to a minimum by necessity. I’ve set it up with my writing software and my novel lives on here now. I love this gadget.

Shiny!

Shiny! Finished off with the best photo I ever took of a squirrel.

9. The second item, which is really two items, is a pair of quality running shoes. It’s ridiculous that I have these, considering I’m barely a runner, but I’ve decided that they’re not just for running. I’m wearing them right now, even though I’m in the library. They are a lurid shade of pink with garish green accents and they are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. I didn’t even know that my feet could feel this way. Not only have they been motivating me to get off my sad, lazy ass and run a little bit, they have also become my go-to footwear choice for any situation in which I can get away with lurid pink shoes with garish green accents… and, given my lack of opportunity or desire for “dressing up”, this is most of the time.

Awww yeah!

Awww yeah!

10. I have been going to weekly cognitive behavioural group therapy. Yeah… I wasn’t sure if I’d include this because it’s a bit awkward, but it shouldn’t be, as they keep telling us! I know that mental health taboo is bullshit, but it’s so difficult not to feel weird about admitting to these things. Anyway. I’m fine at the moment, but I was feeling quite shitty when I got myself signed up for the programme. I figured I’d see it through even though I feel ok now, because last year was bad and I don’t want to go there again. I’m hoping this will give me the tools I need to get through future crappy patches. I’m just under halfway through the course, and so far, so good. It’s not some big soppy tell-all situation like in the movies; it’s basically a class, with a whiteboard and terminology and hand-outs and homework that you don’t get rated on because nobody else ever sees it. It’s helpful to have stuff rationalised and normalised so that it’s easier to dismantle and beat into submission. Big thanks to the NHS for providing me with this service, free of charge.

11. The main cause of my “crappy patches” is, unsurprisingly, being far away from family and friends. I’m not good at making new friends and I have almost no social life to speak of in London. It gets me down sometimes, especially when compared to the relative liveliness of my family and social life in Cape Town. That said, the brilliant thing about living in a city that everyone wants to see is that the people you miss are quite likely to wind up here on a holiday one day! Two friends recently came to London and it was so nice to see familiar friendly faces I haven’t seen in months.

A visiting Jess, caught in a sudden downpour. London never lets you down!

A visiting Jess, caught in a sudden downpour. London never lets you down!

And that’s my life update list! Of course there are other things, but I’m tired now. All the images are from my instagram, which you should check out, particularly if you enjoy looking at pictures of books and food and attractive trees. Yep. Back to the reviews.

My 3-Month Deportation Trip

Unlike my blog, I have been very much alive these past few months. I’m back in London after staying with my family in Cape Town for a quarter of a year. If I had been told when I was deported that I wouldn’t be back for such a long time, I’d probably have had a bit of a tantrum, but, as it turns out,  I really enjoyed my deportation trip. When I wasn’t working or doing admin, I got to spend time with people I’ve missed terribly and do many things that mean so much more to me now than they did before I emigrated. There were a few major life events, but I won’t go into those here. What I will go into is a lazy list of things I enjoyed during my time in Cape Town.

1. MOUNTAINS

Table Mountain and the city.

Table Mountain + the city.

2. FORESTS

Newlands Forest.

Newlands Forest.

3. BEACHES

DSCN3619edit

Noordhoek Beach + family.

4. SKIES

Kommetjie Road, sunset.

Kommetjie Road, sunset.

5. CAVES

Boomslang Cave + brother.

Boomslang Cave  exit/entrance + brother.

6. BOTANICAL GARDENS

Kirstenbosch Gardens.

Kirstenbosch Gardens.

7.  AMAZING VIEWS FROM HIKES WALKS AND HIKES

Fish Hoek, twilight, from the trail to Elsie's Peak.

Fish Hoek, twilight, from the trail to Elsie’s Peak.

8. PICNICS

9. HOME-COOKED MEALS

10. 2-FOR-1 BURGER NIGHTS AND ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT PIZZA NIGHT WITH OLD FRIENDS

11. CAKE AND TEA WITH FRIENDS, DINNER AND WINE WITH FRIENDS, PIZZA AND COCKTAILS WITH FRIENDS, SNACKS AND FIZZY DRINKS WITH FRIENDS

12. BRAAIS

13. SUSHI, MORE THAN ONCE

14. THE BEST FISH AND CHIPS IN THE WORLD (HAKE AND CHIPS FROM FISH HOEK FISHERIES, IF YOU MUST KNOW)

15. GOOD WINE AND DELICIOUS FOOD AT A WINE FARM WITH MY AUNT, MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER

16. MORE TEA THAN I CAN HANDLE (JUST KIDDING, I CAN HANDLE ALL THE TEA)

17. CATCHING-UP WITH WITH PEOPLE AT RAFIKI’S, BANANA JAM CAFE, THE BRASS BELL, KALK BAY, FISH HOEK BEACH, VARIOUS MALLS, MY FAMILY’S HOME AND ELSEWHERE

18. MAJOR NOSTALGIA WHILE CHOOSING GEMSTONES AT THE SCRATCH PATCH WITH AN OLD FRIEND

19. A MAGIC SHOW

20. OTHER RANDOM EXCURSIONS TO PLACES THAT ARE LOVELY WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE AWESOME

21. FAMILY OUTINGS AND SHENANIGANS, ONCE INVOLVING TEQUILA

22. WATCHING MOVIES WITH MY MOM + POPCORN

23. QUALITY TIME WITH MY CAT

24. BOARD GAMES, CARD GAMES AND OTHER GAMES, SOMETIMES WITH OLD FRIENDS, SOMETIMES WITH NEW FRIENDS AND SOMETIMES WITH FAMILY

25. MOVIES AND RESTAURANTS AND A FERRIS WHEEL AND VARIOUS HAPPY MEMORIES WITH MY PARTNER IN TOTALLY LEGAL ACTIVITIES

26. SCENIC DRIVES

27. PERFECT WEATHER

28. SUNSHINE (THE LATE MARCH/APRIL GENTLE VARIETY, NOT THE FEBRUARY INFERNO)

29. LOTS OF SPACE

30. LOVE AND HAPPINESS (CHEEEESE)

I wanted to write a pointlessly in-depth post about my feelings, but I probably won’t. I could sum it up by saying that I feel overdue for a long and intense cry, but everything is good and I’m not sure what to cry about, so I haven’t done it yet. Just too many feelings, I reckon. TOO MANY FEELINGS. Thank you to everyone who  made these last few months so lovely and memorable. Yes, even you, UK Home Office. None of it would’ve happened without your bullshit, so thanks for that.

Heading Home.

My ticket is booked and I’ll be on a long-haul flight out of London at the end of the week. It’s so sudden. I haven’t quite managed to process it.

I’ve spent nine months feelings homesick and dreaming of my trip back to Cape Town, but now that I’m being forced to go home prematurely and in undesirable circumstances, part of me wants to stay right where I am. Typical. I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I’m going to miss London and our cosy little home here so very much while I’m away. It’s not clear how long it’s going to take me to get back and the uncertainty is making me anxious. I already feel like I’m torn between two countries. All these feelings that I’ve never had before…. they’re intriguing, but also rather exhausting.

February is going to be a pretty intense month. I should start thinking about packing…

See the teeny tiny little plane, right at the top? I'll miss the sunset, but it will be my first view of London by night from above. And I will be melancholy.

See the teeny tiny little plane, right at the top? Relevant.

Stuff happened! Stuff is happening!

Hey, blog! Stuff has been happening in my life! I’ve barely left the house since my last update, but still… stuff!

ENGAGEMENT.

Yep. My secret dream of rocking the boat by spawning a few illegitimate children one day has been crushed by a marriage proposal, which I obviously accepted because it came from this guy:

LOOK AT HIS FACE.

LOOK AT HIS FACE.

The event happened quite spontaneously and without too much pomp and/or ceremony (I was in my pyjamas and he used a hair-tie instead of a ring) as a result of the second point of stuff, which I shall detail below. I am extremely happy. As I was saying to a friend, nothing has changed, but everything has changed. It’s a weird feeling.

The customary ring pic. BLING.

The customary ring pic. BLING.

PERMIT DENIAL.

My application for a UK residence permit was denied because the home office feels that there is insufficient evidence that my relationship with an EU citizen is a durable relationship. We provided plenty of evidence, short of giving them access to our Facebook profiles and our mutual friends’ phone numbers, but these people are unbelievably full of shit and have rigged the system to make it as complicated, unfriendly and unfair as possible, so that’s that. It doesn’t matter that I have extended family who are British or that most of my ancestors are British. It doesn’t matter that my parents emigrated here with me in the 1980s and then moved back due to unforeseen circumstances. It doesn’t matter that I’m a hard-working, educated person who is enthusiastic about making a positive contribution to the country. I’ve grown up immersed in their culture and literature. I love London; it’s a world city with a rich history; it’s a fascinating, diverse, cosmopolitan homebase and a launchpad to everywhere. I want to be here. But none of that is of any consequence. I have been told that I have to leave the UK and they’ll only return my passport to me at the airport upon my departure.

We could appeal the decision, but we didn’t do anything wrong in the initial application, so we don’t see how an appeal would help, and we can’t afford the lawyers who could have the decision overturned. (We spoke to some lawyers and they agreed that it’s unfair and were confident that they could undo it, but the price of their services is just terrifying.) The appeal process can take such a long time that we might as well go for option two, which is us going back to Cape Town, getting married (because even getting married in the UK is not without bureaucratic difficulties) and then Luc heading back while I start the whole business over again: getting another family permit to get back to London and then applying for the residence card again as a married woman. More than six years together, four years of cohabitation, multiple joint tenancy agreements and utility bills (etc etc) weren’t enough to prove the durability of our relationship, but hopefully marriage will be.

We will overcome this problem, because Luc has a good job here and I’m not going to let him quit that job on my behalf. I will live here with him, legally. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. I will succeed. But this doesn’t do away with the bitter taste in my mouth. If it wasn’t for Luc’s job and the fact that I’ve met some really wonderful people here, I’d actually quite like to  give the UK the finger and go live in Canada instead. They’ve chucked a massive stumbling block right into the middle of an important part of my life and currently non-existent career, and I’m not happy about it.

Life goes on, though. I’m just one of the countless masses who have experienced crap treatment by lowly bureaucrats, but in comparison to many (if not, most) others, I have managed to get off quite lightly. I haven’t been persecuted or treated as sub-human (only sub-British), so I’m still lucky. Plus, it was this situation that made Luc rush home from work and pop The Question, so the 8th of January was redeemed.

OTHER STUFF.

I’ve been doing some online editing from home for a company that filters a huge tidal wave of assorted articles, and that’s been keeping me busy and somewhat sane. Since my internship ended, I’ve been terrified about descending into a depressed state again and there have already been moments when it felt like that was happening, but I’m fighting it off with work and with a part of my brain that I’ve geared up specifically to resist such a descent. Everyone knows that stress and depression are unhealthy, and I get charming physical reminders of that fact. Aside from the common back tension and digestive complaints, my skin also goes completely, horrifically haywire and my jaw problems become very intense when things aren’t running smoothly, and it’s just not worth it. I’m trying to keep my health at the top of my list of priorities. Every time I feel like I’m sinking mentally, I just remind myself how much worse I’ll feel physically if I let it happen. I seem to respond better to physical consequences rather than mental ones. Knowing that I’m in danger of losing the will to live doesn’t light a fire-cracker under my backside, but the prospect of getting even more spots than I already have does, for some reason. Focussing on physical well-being seems to be working so far. I also painted my nails, bought some strawberries, put up a string of fairy lights along the wall… little things, little things.

Edible happiness.

Edible happiness.

I’ve had a few good social engagements this year, one of which was a wonderful Sunday roast with some people I met through my internship. I ate delicious things I’ve never eaten before and introduced them all the wonders of the South African Peppermint Crisp tart, made with ingredients from one of the South African stores in Wimbledon. It was a very good day and one of the memories I’m filing under Reasons Why Living in London is Lovely which is still a bigger list than Reasons Why Living in London is Not Lovely, despite the valiant efforts of the home office to tip the balance. On my most recent meetup with my dear travel-blogger friend Kasha (during which we sampled some bread pudding with tea at a tea room in our local park), I saw my first ever totally frozen puddles. I found this very exciting. That said… where is my damn snow?

Winter is... here?

Winter is… here?

We’re waiting to hear back from the home office to find out when they’ll be receiving my passport from their secure location (what the hell?) so that we can reschedule our flights to Cape Town, far away from any frozen puddles. Even though this whole affair has put another dent in my career prospects (something I’m trying very hard not to think about too much at the moment) I am so looking forward to seeing my family and friends on the other side of the world. I’ve been in touch with many people recently, especially since the whole engagement thing happened, and I can’t wait to see some faces, share some drinks and make some new happy memories to chase the admin blues (or greys) away.

Love love love. So much of it. Onwards!

London: Six Months In.

As of Monday this week, I have been in London for six months. It has gone astoundingly fast and astonishingly slowly at the same time. This is how change works. If I found myself in my family’s living room this evening, sitting on the couch, watching TV, eating bobotie and drinking red wine, with my mom, dad, brother, grandfather and fluffy old cat somewhere in the scene, I don’t think it would be hard to imagine that this entire London episode has been nothing but a strange dream. And yet… I heard that Sun Valley mall got knocked down a few months back. I know my mom swapped the contents of two rooms in the house after I left. People must have longer hair by now, or new haircuts. How much can a person age in six months? I still picture everything as it was, but how many things (little things and big things, insignificant things and important things) have changed? Would I be able to assemble all the old friends in the old places and have everything be as it was before I left? I doubt it. Am I the same as I was? I think I am, mostly, but with additions. And subtractions.

When I am asked anything about my life in South Africa by Londoners, I find myself feeling as though I’m speaking about something I’ve made up. It’s already abstract. If I want to, I can imagine myself walking up and down the aisles in the old local shopping centres; I can mentally go through the contents of the bottom drawer that used to stand beside my bed, or following the route from Fish Hoek, over the mountain, all the way to UCT and then walk around the Arts Block where I spent most of my days as a student; I remember the feel and function of each door handle in my old house… But when I think of my life in South Africa as a whole, it dissipates; it’s like trying to nail down a ghost. And it terrifies me to realise that this is only going to get worse. Or better? I acknowledge that in many ways, forgetting is healthy. This is a lesson I’ve learned well. I don’t keep old emails, chat logs or text messages from other people, because reading people’s words from the past bring them right back into the present, and that’s not always a good thing. I only make an exception for some special sentimental correspondence that is unambiguously positive. I generally prefer impressions to persist alone, open to remoulding and natural evolution without the influence of the unchanging pieces that originally created them. But does this lesson even apply here? I don’t know.

Self-Interrogation Time!

Do I miss South Africa?

It’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. I miss my family. The fact that I haven’t seen them since April has been very difficult. I have a close-knit family, and sometimes, realising how far away they are seems to take all the air out of the room and make me feel quite dizzy and sick. I miss my friends and the easy, casual comfort of a social circle I worked myself into over many years. I’m not good at making friends and I’m terrified I’ll never have a circle like that again. I miss being a local; having my accent blend in and knowing all the details that locals know about the place where they’ve grown up. I miss the cultures and the languages and the geography and the climate and all of those things too, but they’re less pressing. And there are lots of things I don’t miss at all. I can live without South Africa because I feel like I’m lugging chunks of it around with me all the time anyway. I don’t yet know if I can live without some of the people I’ve left behind. Time will tell. Life goes on in my absence; events are going to happen that I want to be a part of, but I can’t. And my parents are going to get old. And people I know and love are going to get sick, and die, and I might not be there. It makes me feel cold. Nobody said it would be easy, and I can confirm that it fucking isn’t.

What is the best thing about being in London?

It’s London! It’s amazing. So much to do and see, so much history, so many beautiful buildings and parks, so much happening. In practical terms, the public transport is right up at the top of the list of awesome things about London. The feeling of freedom (at least within zones 1 to 3 covered by my Oyster card) is fantastic and I love not having to drive. The obligation to drive was an enormous source of stress and fear for me in Cape Town and it’s wonderful having that out of my life. Also, there’s something exciting about the tubes… When I’m not in auto-commuter mode and I actually flick my brain on and think about it, I feel incredibly inspired and proud and amazed by the whole business. I’m in London, under the ground, hurtling down a tunnel in a metal tube with hundreds of other people, people from everywhere, going places… There is history in these filthy tunnels, and you can see it and feel it (and smell it). Humanity in transit, humanity on the move, humanity at its most interesting. I won’t go into my occasional experiences of tube rage, because it would totally spoil the tone of this paragraph. *ahem*

Just one of the ridiculously amazing views of London that I get to enjoy every day at the internship.

Just one of the ridiculously amazing views of London that I get to enjoy every day at the internship.

What aspect of the immigration has been the most difficult?

My first instinct is to say ‘homesickness’, but in all honesty I think ‘unemployment’ has been just as difficult. The internship has eased the feelings of uselessness, idleness and frustration at a lack of personal enrichment, but having no income is a massive pain in the bum. If I had an income, I could plan regular trips to visit my family, which would ease the homesickness considerably, but I can’t. Luc’s income is paying off emigration debts, feeding us, clothing us, putting the roof over our heads and even allowing for some luxuries (including a nice pair of boots to get me through the winter), so of course it could be far, far worse, but without me earning, we can rarely experience anything in London that comes with a fee, at least not without a healthy side-portion of guilt and stress; and we can’t leave London at all. I’m eager to explore the rest of England (and the UK, Europe, and the world, for that matter), but it will all just have to wait. My impatience gets me down from time to time, but I just need to keep reminding myself about how lucky I am to be here at all. These are all experiences worth having, even if they’re not exactly the ones I planned to have.

My boots, which I have worn every single day since I got them. >_> (from my Instagram)

My boots. I have worn them every single day since I got them. >_> They feel like warm hugs on my feet.

Am I happy?

Yes, overall. I’m not always happy, but who can honestly say they are? I have bad days and sad days and days where I wake up thinking up I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life and I want to go home immediately, but most of the time I’m happy and excited for the future. My relationship with Luc is as good as it ever was. He deserves a trophy for his patience with me, and his willingness to put up with my emotional volatility when he’s going through the same adjustments as I am, but with such calm and control. I tell him everything and we’re the best of friends and I would never have been able to do this without him (emotionally or practically).

Here he is on the tube, looking relaxed, as always. (from my Instagram)

Here he is on the tube, looking relaxed, as always.

What’s the plan?

Apply for more publishing (or literary agency) internships. Get more publishing (or literary agency) internships. Get a good CV and develop my skills. Become extremely employable. Get a job (in publishing or at a literary agency). Win at life. (?) That’s it, basically. I’ve chosen an extremely competitive job within an extremely competitive industry in an extremely competitive city. I don’t know what the timeline is here. Sometimes I fear it’s too long and I won’t be able to hold myself together (financially or mentally) until I manage to find work. I know that many other people looking for the jobs I’m after have done multiple internships and have much more experience than I do (and also usually happen to be a few years younger than me because they didn’t spend two years doing an MA in creative writing and another year copywriting and another chunk of a year sitting at home, jobless and internshipless, bawling their eyes out) so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It stresses me out and gets me down sometimes, but all I can really do is keep plodding on and hoping that someone, somewhere will give me a chance to prove myself. I’m trying to stay calm. It doesn’t always work, but I’m trying. That’s the career plan. As for the everything-else plan? Well, most of it hinges on the career plan working out. Watch this space.

Then there’s writing. I went to another creative writing workshop on Monday (the first since starting my internship in September) and it was good! I feel inspired and I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been struggling to find the energy to write as much as I’d like to lately, and this has made me incredibly frustrated with myself. I don’t have an excuse. I just need to get my shit together and make it happen. I’m hoping that NaNoWriMo will be the motivation I need to end the writing slump. I’ve been reading so many amazing books lately, and the desire to write something that I’m at least half proud of has become incredibly intense. I have so many ideas for my WIP, I just need to get them into my laptop and mangle them until they make sense!

I thought I had a grand and poetic point to make in this post, but it turns out I don’t, so I’ll just leave it there and add ‘blog more’ to my ever-growing list of things I should do.

Love to everyone, near and far.

The London Eye (from my Instagram)

The London Eye.

(All pictures are from my Instagram.)

A really, really long ramble about mental health and stuff.

Most of this I wrote more than a week ago, but haven’t had the guts to post it until now. I still don’t feel entirely comfortable about posting it, but I think I should, so I will.

*

Getting the internship was huge for me. When I received the email saying I’d got it, I had to read it three times before I could believe it and then I cried a lot. And it’s not even a permanent job, or a paying one. I left my job in Cape Town at the end of March, arrived in London at the end of April and was then unemployed until this month. I didn’t expect the move to work out like this. With a bunch of academic achievements and a year of work experience on my CV, I was naive enough to think I’d snap up a reasonably good job shortly after arriving, like Luc (my boyfriend) did. After the first month or two, when I started realising that this wasn’t going to happen and how utterly stupid I had been to expect it, I started to descend into something that, I think, could be described as depression.

I’ve never considered myself to be someone who suffers from depression, meaning that it hasn’t been a prominent issue in my life so far. I’ve never had to take meds, I’ve never self-harmed… nothing like that. I’m lucky. I’ve gone through patches of seemingly overwhelming sadness, but I don’t consider this to be out of the ordinary. Conflict with people, relationship blues, the deaths of loved ones; these are things that affect everyone and my reactions to them are, I think, standard reactions; nothing that qualifies me to say that I “suffer from depression”. But the unemployment thing gave me a taste of what I imagine it must be like.

I’ve come out of it now, since getting that wonderful email, and I have a bit of perspective on the whole thing, so I feel like I can, and maybe should, write about it.

It was terrifying, realising that I was losing control of myself in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I’d wake up some mornings feeling dead. I knew I should be looking for jobs online and trying to fix the main thing that was making me stressed and unhappy, but it got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read an entire job description, let alone write a coherent cover letter. I was stammering more than I ever have in my life. I was crying All. The. Time. Literally every day. Usually more than once a day. I’d try to get out when I could find the energy and when I did I’d feel a vague sense of achievement at having “done something”, but I wasn’t really enjoying any of it properly. I’d take photos thinking “one day I’ll look back at the pictures and be glad that I saw all these amazing things” but most of the time I can’t say I was too glad in the moment I was actually seeing them. I felt detached, walking beside myself, floating above myself, looking at my life as though it was someone else’s.

It got progressively worse and worse and I started getting a bit panicky, especially when the random crying became so bad that the skin under my eyes felt permanently raw and I’d find myself almost throwing up with the intensity of it. So I went on the internet and read a bunch of “How to Deal with Depression” guides and most of them recommended seeing a health professional at some point. I decided to do that, seeing as it would be free anyway. (Yay, NHS!) I made an appointment, citing my dysmenorrhoea as the reason for it and thinking I’d just mention the depression thing “by the way” at some point in the exchange. I almost didn’t. There were two doctors present during my appointment; the main one and a trainee. After getting a prescription for expensive painkillers that I had no intention of buying, and showing them a rash on my hand to buy time, the session seemed to be wrapping up…

Doctor: (perhaps sensing that I was holding something back) Is there anything else we can help you with?

Me: Well, maybe. Yes. I’m not sure. I don’t really know how to say it. Um. I’ve been feeling a bit depressed.

And then I started crying. Obviously. There was this horrible silence that seemed to last forever between the moment that the tears and snot started pouring out of my face and the trainee doctor getting up to fetch me an inadequate piece of tissue. While I was trying to mop up my face leakage, I started laughing and said something like “You see? This keeps happening. I don’t know what to do about it.” I was trying to keep the mood light and not make it more awkward for them than it had to be. I was already feeling terrible about the sky-high levels of awkwardness in there. It didn’t feel much like I was in control of the situation though; I was just watching it unfold like a cringe-worthy B-movie.

The doctor then went on to ask me a bunch of questions that I can’t remember. I told him about the immigration and feeling homesick and not being able to find a job and not knowing how worried I should be about my mental health. And then he asked me if I’d thought about suicide and I told him that I hadn’t, but it’s not really that simple, is it? I would never kill myself. There’s a lot I want to do with my life. I’m not scared of death (there’s nothing scary about non-existence… I didn’t exist before I was born and that was perfectly OK, so I’m not too phased about not existing after I die), but I am scared of dying, as in the actual process of becoming a corpse. I don’t like the idea of being gripped by pain or nervousness or fear in the last moments of my existence and I’m pretty sure that most suicides usually involve all of those things. Moreover, I would never kill myself because I couldn’t do that to my boyfriend, my family or my friends. I reckon I would rather trudge on, hating every second of my life and pretending to be ok for their benefit rather than hurting them by hurting myself… but, as I said to the doctors, I’m scared that if things keep getting worse, these might not seem like such big obstacles anymore. I said something to the effect of “I’m not suicidal, but on some mornings I don’t really feel like existing and I’m scared that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t care about my family and my friends anymore, and I won’t be scared of dying, and I won’t feel like putting up with this shit any longer, and then I don’t know what will happen. I came to speak to a professional because the internet said that that’s what I should do.”

And I was glad I did. We had a good chat, the two doctors and I, once the awkwardness had passed and my face wasn’t leaking so much anymore. They told me that acknowledging that things aren’t all right is a big part of the battle won, and a crucial step towards getting better. They gave me a form for blood tests (to rule out some physical causes of depression, I guess) and told me to schedule another appointment a week after getting them done. I never went for the blood tests and I never scheduled the appointment because I received word about the internship on the next working day and it was like lifting my head out of a vice. Within hours, I was “OK” again, and ever since, I’ve been thinking about this experience and picking it apart (as I tend to do with everything). I have a few thoughts about it.

Firstly: WHAT THE FUCK? Whatever I was going through was obviously not physical, because as soon as the problem I’d been fixating on was in some way eliminated, I got significantly better almost immediately. I’m still sad sometimes, I’m still incredibly homesick, I still cry some days, but I feel alive! Life is not a big black hole of pointlessness and despair anymore. I don’t hate myself. It’s great! The internship is not a permanent solution, and it hasn’t done anything to help with our financial predicament and the stress associated with that, but the change it triggered in my state of mind was profound.

This leads me to understand my previous state of mind as a sort of shroud of misery that I had pulled over myself. Surely if I had pulled it over myself I should’ve been able to throw it off just as easily? But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I required a change of circumstances in order to feel like myself again. I had pinned normality onto something specific and I couldn’t have normality again until that something had been earned. WHY? I’ve been giving that a lot of thought too.

It’s pretty fucked up how my self-worth had become so entangled in “what I do” as opposed to “who I am” that a four-month blip in my career path (if I can call it that) basically caused me to lose my grip. In retrospect, I’m ashamed of that, although there wasn’t much I could do about it at the time. One of the key things that kept triggering the bad spells was shame. I was ashamed. Having been successful academically, I felt like I had something to live up to. I wasn’t responding to pressure from other people to live up to their high expectations; I was having a problem living up to the expectations I’d set for myself. I think that a lot of people are susceptible to this sort of thing. We’re constantly being defined by our work and valued according to how successful we are in our careers. It’s bullshit. Ambition is good, but not when it starts to grind you down. Things aren’t always going to work out when and how you want them to. Learning to deal with that is important.

Feeling the way I did, I withdrew a bit from everything. I tried to keep up appearances online, but mostly I was just posting things into the cybervoid rather than interacting with people one-on-one. I fell out of touch. Not completely though. There were my parents and a few other people who I spoke to, online and offline, who really kept me going and got me through to the other side, even if the exchanges were infrequent, and even if they didn’t know all of this crap I’ve just typed here. The writing marathon in August was also a massive help, as it got my mind off of the job hunt and allowed me to feel like I had a purpose. And now I have an internship. I’m working hard, learning lots, getting out of the house every day and I feel GREAT. Exhausted, but great. Of course part of that greatness could be attributed to the fact that I can now say “I have an awesome editorial internship at an awesome publishing house in an awesome city” (which is pathetic, but sadly, due to the human condition, it’s also true) buuut I also feel great because I’m occupied and awake and I have perspective on things.

So, TLDR, THE POINT: I am now OK, but I wasn’t OK. I let a small amount of failure bring me really low, and it was a waste of time and energy and I kinda sorta partly blame society for helping me to get my self-worth tangled up in things that I can’t always control and don’t really define me at all. I might (in fact I probably will) find myself in a similar situation again, but I’m hoping that I can use the lessons I’ve learned to prevent the emotional apocalypse from manifesting itself in such a destructive way next time. If anyone reads this and can relate to anything in it and wants to talk to me about their experiences, please contact me. I’d love to chat and to help in any way I can.

Disclaimer: Obviously not all depression is like this. Everyone has different experiences and different needs and different methods of dealing with whatever they’re going through. I don’t think that my experiences are universal, nor do I think they are unique. I’m not an authority on anything.

Here's a pretty picture I took at Morden Hall Park with my camera phone. It has a sign-post pointing in various directions, so it's totally symbolic and shit.

Here’s a pretty picture I took at Morden Hall Park with my camera phone.
It has a sign-post pointing in various directions, so it’s totally symbolic and shit.

Inside the House.

My family’s house is plain on the outside (like most houses in Fish Hoek), but inside, it has a lot of character. I like padding through it with bare feet, from the carpets in the passage to the cold stone floor of the little entrance hall. I like standing in the lounge in the semi-dark, listening to the ticking of clocks. I like the old, hardwood furniture. They don’t make stuff like that anymore, and that’s a good thing, but it’s still nice to run your fingers along the tooled edges and the brass handles and think about the past. I like the built-in, ceiling-high, wooden bookshelf, where my books are going to live for a while. In the lamplight, it’s a slice of an old library. All it needs is a rickety wooden ladder and few dusty candles, dribbling over. The contrast between my grandparents’ old-fashioned furniture and my mother’s rustic, earth-tone aesthetic is really nice. It’s warm. It’s wholesome. There are so many comfortable seats that each relaxation session must first involve the choosing of a location. The sunlight places golden rectangles on the carpets. I could lie down right there, like the muffin-faced cat. Tick tock. Tick tock. Time for tea. Mismatched mugs and antique coffee tables. Ornate silverware jumbled up with the cheap stuff. A blue blanket over the ripped  fabric of an armchair clawed by feline residents in years gone by. There’s a view of wind-rustled garden, the restless river of traffic, the Fish Hoek lowlands, the Clovelly hillside, a swatch of sea. For now, this is home.

DSCN0424

An important resident: the overstuffed cat-sausage named Ally.

 

My 25th Birthday Weekend.

On Friday the 15th, I turned 25. It was the first time I’d woken up alone in an empty dwelling on my birthday, but it wasn’t long before the Facebook posts and text messages started streaming in, so I didn’t feel too lonely. On my walk to work, I saw an albino squirrel for the second time in my life. It was climbing one of the trees in our complex and settled on a branch just above my head to check me out. Seeing as it was my birthday, I would’ve appreciated it being a little more cooperative and jumping onto my shoulder to pledge its allegiance to me as a faithful companion, but alas… I had to settle for the privilege of casting my eyes upon the snowy critter. My crappy phone camera refused to take a decent picture of it, and the white, overcast sky glaring behind it didn’t help, but you can sort of see it peeking over the branch at me:

Get on my shoulder, dammit!

Get on my shoulder, dammit!

I had lunch with my parents and Luc’s mom at this wonderful new place on second avenue called the Loco Lounge. The food was great and so was the attention to detail. With our teas and coffees, the sugar came in brown sugar cubes and colourful sugar crystals (in addition to the artificial sweetener option, of course), and for some reason, I found this to be very exciting. From my parents, I got some cash plus these beautiful earrings that my mom picked out for me. They’re silver with peridots dangling on the end and they can be threaded through all my ear piercings. I made this photo black and white because my ear was a bit red after forcing the chain through the last two holes, which aren’t used all that often:

peridotearring

I’d already had my birthday celebration the weekend before, while Luc was still in Cape Town, but a few old friends came by on the night of my actual birthday to keep me company. They bought me a cake, and when I wasn’t looking, they put some candles in it and started singing happy birthday to me and I felt terribly sentimental about everything at the end of the night. I’ve known some of these people for well over a decade now, and it’s going to be really hard leaving them behind next month. Making good friends is not something that comes easily to me. It takes me a long time to open up and get comfortable around people, and finding the confidence to overcome self-doubt and include myself in their social lives takes even longer. Sadness and sentimentality aside, I’m confident that we can always pick things up where we left off. Friends like these are friends for life, and the Internet makes the world a whole lot smaller anyway.

I spent Saturday with my family, where there was more good food and good vibes and good presents. This was the first birthday in many years that didn’t start with my paternal grandparents singing their ‘happy birthday’ duet over the phone, and these sorts of little things make me sad and sentimental all over again. I’m still getting used to not having my gran around. I did a bit of pondering about the absolute weirdness of life and the passing of time when my mom and I went through the box of my gran’s old photographs on Saturday afternoon. This picture of my grandparents is one of my favourites:

Johnny and Shirley

Johnny and Shirley

I’ve been working on a post about my gran’s death for a few weeks now, but I still haven’t felt like posting it. All in good time.

Anyway. I had a birthday. I blogged. The end. 🙂