A favourite quote and a way by which to approach life.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

Monday, 28 February 2011

New life

It's the end of February, which means that it's almost March, which means that it's nearly spring. There are buds on the crab apple tree in my small patch of mud (aka little front garden), and one or two flowers with plenty more buds on the winter jasmine in the back yard. As yet there aren't any daffodil buds (too early for that up here in the north), but there are shoots popping up here and there, and it won't be long until we see the bud heads, shortly followed by them blowing their trumpets :o) Spring is wonderful. A very welcome return of longer days, warmer weather, signs that nature has just been resting during the long winter months, and the return of life in the world around us.

For all that February has fewer days than any other month, it can be a long, long month to get through. It can be cold, and dark, and with long nights and short days, and a post-new year lethargy. This year February hasn't been so hard to get through , largely because of the anticipation of the arrival of my younger brother's first baby. It was due on 10th. Baby J eventually arrived in the evening of 23rd! Almost two weeks of suppressed excitement in the waiting, but at last he arrived. It wasn't an easy birth and ultimately he had to be born by cesarean section, but he's here and feeding well, and the whole family are doing well, so I'm told. They live down in Cambridgeshire, and although Mum has gone down to see them they've asked that they have a little bit of time to get used to being a family of three before they have lots of visitors. I want to respect that, even though I'm desperate to meet J, so it'll be a little while before I get down there, but in the meantime I have a small mountain of presents to send J, though I need to make a card for him to go with the gifts.

I love being an aunty to O and D - my older brother's boys - and I'm very much looking forward to being an aunty to J as well. My only wish is that they didn't all live so far away, but once my courses are finished then I should have considerably more time to go off visiting, although I'm definitely going to get to Cambridgeshire before then. Definitely.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Things to come

I'm getting impatient now. The whole family's getting impatient now. My younger brother, C, and his wife, S, are expecting a baby. It was due on 10th February so it's now six days late. We know it's a boy, but we want to meet him and get to know him. Mind you, it'll be a little while until I do get to meet him as C and S live in Cambridgeshire, so a bit of a trek from Newcastle. Of course, I don't mind travelling, but it's not like I can just pop down the road and drop by for half an hour, and C and S can't cope with my dietary requirements (especially not with a new baby - their first child - to look after) so I need to stay in a self-catering place nearby. There is actually a lovely, small place I stayed in when I went down for C and S's wedding last spring, though of course it needs to be available when I want to go down. Anyway, I digress. The baby hasn't even made it out of his cosy nest yet ... although I do appear to have bought it rather a lot of 'Welcome to the world' presents - lots of clothes and a few other bits. Come on baby, I'm waiting to meet you and welcome you!

It's quite amazing that C is going to be a daddy. C is quite amazing. He's the person I admire most in the world. I can't go into details of his life as I haven't asked him if I can share them with my blog readers (and I don't imagine he'd be all that keen on it, if I'm honest), but he has had the most extraordinary life of anyone I've known. More extraordinary than most I've even heard of or read about. Some of it almost unbelievable. So all I will say is that he was adopted (as I told you in a recent post); has some learning difficulties; was expelled from school at one point; got back into the education system in the end and managed to get some qualifications; got some employment, but was very unsettled and flitted about somewhat; went off the rails and involved in some quite heavy stuff; got out of that, only to fall back into it again a while later; found an ingenious way out; and is now completely out of all of that, working in a responsible job, gaining more and more qualifications as he goes, lives in a picture-perfect cottage in a picture-perfect village, with his wife who's a consultant pathologist, and a son six days overdue. When he was about nine none of us really expected that he'd ever be able to live independently, let alone get to where he is today. He is a marvel! He is inspiration itself! He can be as infuriating as he ever was ;oP

On a completely different subject, I'm already thinking ahead to next academic year. I know that I still have three to four months till I finish this last course for my undergraduate degree, and that I'm only on the second module of my postgraduate certificate, but I need to be thinking about what's next. I know what I want to do next, and that's the MA in creative writing at Newcastle University. The other day I found out that if I do well enough in the PGCert then I will get automatic admission onto the MA! Hurrah! Of course, first of all I have to 'do well enough', and I'm yet to get my EMA back from my first module, so I've no idea if I'm on track for 'well enough'. Oh, and I have another EMA to do in a month or so for my current module (which I'm absolutely loving!). I'm doing the PGCert over two years so I have another module and a portfolio/dissertation to do for it next year, but each module is only six weeks long and that's not going to keep me adequately occupied over a year. I'm trying to find out if it'd be possible to top up my credits and do more towards the MA/start the MA in September, but I'm not sure how that would work or if it's possible. I'm waiting to hear back from them about this. The thing is, if I'm going to start the MA or top up postgrad credits then I'm going to have to look into funding. The MA is £4450. I've never had that much money in my bank account at any one time, let alone have a spare £4450 lying around to hand over to a university. I need to start looking at applying for grants from trusts and charities and educational councils - anything I can think of. I know there's a directory of grants etc so I'll check that out again when I can get to the library. I did so a while back and it looked like there may be a few places I could apply to, but from what I remember you have to have confirmation of a place on the specified course before you can submit an application. However, the problem with this is that when you accept a place on the course you're committing to the financial outlay, so you kind of need the money available before you accept the place. A difficult situation. Still, it's exciting to be thinking about the possibility of these things, and I'm sure that I'll work something out if it's meant to be. I suppose it comes back to 'It Couldn't be Done'. When the time comes I'll do it!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Books that saved your life

Last night I went to a talk/interview thing with Jeanette Winterson at Newcastle University. It was fascinating stuff. She was largely talking about the memoir that she's writing and is due for publication in October, I think. Obviously as it hasn't been published yet then none of the audience had been able to read the memoir, but Jackie Kay who was interviewing had had the privilege of doing so, and Jeanette Winterson read out the first chapter to us. I hadn't known that she had been adopted, and this is largely what the memoir seems to be about, in a similar way to Jackie Kay's own memoir Red Dust Road. My younger brother, C, was adopted (originally born as my cousin), so it's a subject that interests me from the position of a sibling, and I think I'll be getting Jeanette Winterson's book when it comes out later in the year.

During the course of the interview JW spoke about the effect of some of her adoptive family's home-life and parenting, and the effect of learning more about her birth mother, and finally meeting her. She spoke also about working through the feeling of not belonging anywhere solidly in the world when you're an adopted person, which resonated in me with something that my brother once said to my mother. He was very young, perhaps six - I'm not sure - and he said, 'I don't want to be a dopted. I want to be a boy.' That says so much about identity, and a small child's perception of who they are and who they're seen to be.

So Jeanette Winterson was talking about this time in her life when she was working her way through all this, and she told how she got terribly depressed and had a breakdown. She spoke about how she lost all her words; not just her ability to write, which is terrible enough when you're an author, but more her all-round ability/inability to express herself. She told how awful that was for her, but then how it was poetry that helped her find her words again - not writing poetry, but reading it. As she said, poetry often isn't taken seriously as a form of literature and emotional expression, but rather as something soft and insincere, or conversely hard and academic. She then went on to say that reading poetry, and particular books of poetry saved her life; not the self-help books on depression and surviving nervous breakdowns, but books of poetry, other books - books saved her life. I found myself being distracted by this for a while during the talk, and through the rest of the night at home, and all through today, and I've been thinking about what books would I say have saved my life.

As I've spoken about a little in the past (and realise I've mentioned several times in recent posts for one reason or another), I had terrible, terrible depression for many years. It was debilitating. It had me in hospital on several occasions, usually for at least a few weeks, and once for eight months. In retrospect I would say that I was depressed to some extent from fairly early childhood, getting worse in my teenage years, and then reaching desperate levels in my twenties. I was actively suicidal. I self-harmed extensively. I started self-harming when I was in sixth form, but at that time it was very superficial, and it stayed superficial (though that doesn't make it insignificant) for a lot of years. As time progressed, the depression got worse, my lack of self-worth increased, and I lost the desire to live, the self-harming got worse. I'm not going to go into detail, but just to say that I was told on several occasions in A&E that it was the worst self-harm the doctor had seen, and I became very well acquainted with the internal anatomy of my arms. It was a terrible, terrible time, that I didn't believe would ever end without my killing myself. Thank God I was wrong, and thank God He got me through the suicidality so that I had the opportunity to find out that the terrible time could end another way.

In my late teens I read Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I know it's kind of seen as a 'hippy' book, but it I loved it. I still love it. There's a hope in it; a hope that being different and alone doesn't make you worthless and hopeless or any less worthy than anyone else. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a kindred spirit to the outsider. It's a book that saved my life. When I was in the deepest depression I had no concentration to read, but my friend S read the book onto tape for me and I listened to it again and again and again. I still have the tape. I lost myself in the imagery it induced, and my time flying around the lonely skies above the seas, taking dives closer and closer to the surface of the water, gave me some calm. Jonathan Seagull was playing with death, I suppose, as he made those dives seawards, and I was playing with death with my ever-worsening self-harm ... although it wasn't a game ... it was the deepest unhappiness in the world and I was trying to escape...

After thinking about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I wondered if there other books that had given me a spider's-breath of hope, or something else that had saved my life. Like JW I'm not talking about self-help guides, and I also mean something other than the Bible. There probably are other books that gave me something positive, or helped me see things in a different way, but nothing I can really, truly identify. No published books anyway. However, there was one other book (or series of other books) that was highly significant to me, I carried with me constantly when I was in hospital, and called upon often when at home. My diaries. My diaries probably saved my life too, and I have my diaries going back to about twenty years, although I hardly ever read them as they're full of that horrendous depression. But I want to share with you just a small part of two diary entries from 2003:

Monday 24th March 2003 - 10.32pm

I don't feel safe to myself. I don't know why but I am very urgy. At the moment I'd say that I'm maybe 90% certain to cut. Wish I knew why I'm so urgy. Maybe it's the habit of it. Maybe it's because inside I'm crying, but can't on the outside. Maybe it's something familiar ... a very weird kind of comfort. It shows me that I'm real, despite not feeling it. It shows me that I'm alive, despite not feeling it. When it hurts some of the internal hurt goes. While I'm doing it I'm calm and everything else goes for a while.

Thursday 27th March 2003 - 3.34am

I've been looking at my arms whilst moisturising them, and I've realised that my scars will only ever remind me of bad times. I've known that somewhere for a long time, but I've only just fully realised it. I want to be able to stop cutting. I don't always want to be reminded of all the bad times. I am going to try my hardest not to cut. I think it's three years that you have to be si free before you can have plastic surgery done on them so I figure that if I can do that then it'll be 2006. It'll almost be my 32nd birthday. I could aim for that ... I shall make that my aim. I will try to find a way, and ask other people for ideas of ways to stop. I shall need a lot of support and I don't know how I'm going to achieve it, but I want to try. I want to be able to free myself from the past - from all the pain - and I don't think I'll ever be truly able to do that while I bear constant reminders of how terrible things have been (and are at the moment).

I will see if it's possible to buy Tubifast so that I can write on my arms without immediately having to wash it off so others don't see it. I will write 'NO' in big, black letters. I will write '32/2006' or something similar.

Seems weird talking about becoming 32 and the year 2006 because they're in a time-scale that doesn't yet exist for me. I can hardly comprehend Monday [...] let alone 3 years time ... I'll still try to aim for it though.

Need to find other coping strategies quickly!

I have only self-harmed once since making that diary entry, and that was on 22nd April that year - 2003. It was one of the toughest things I ever did - giving up si (self injury) - but I did it, and it's been several years now since I've had kind of urge to si. I never did go for plastic surgery and I'll always have the scars, but they're a part of me. I don't like them, but I don't hate them - they're just the way my arms are, and I long ago decided that if other people don't like what they see then they don't have to look. I, on the other hand, have to live with them everyday so if I hide them away and refuse to accept them, then I'm hiding myself away and refusing to accept a part of me. I won't do that. Harbouring that attitude will harbour an underlying self-hatred that has potential to develop into depression again, and I'm not doing that if I can help it. Life is for living, and I'm going to live it! My diary taught me that. My diary saved my life.

Are there any books that have saved your life?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

It couldn't be done

Last week was a bad week with POTS - lots of dizziness, unsteadiness, and passing out; racing heart; exhaustion; poor concentration; tinnitus; and host of other things, but these were the main ones last week. As a result of the POTS-iness I was finding study practically impossible, and although I had an extension for my End of Module Assessment (EMA) for my postgraduate certificate course in Writing for Young Adults, my new deadline was to be this coming Friday - 11th February. I couldn't see that I was going to be able to meet the deadline and thought I was probably going to have to ask for a further extension. I was reluctant to do this, though, as I still have a lot of OU study to catch up on (I'm an essay behind with them again, as of last Friday), and I can't start on that until I've done the PGCert submission. I was beginning to feel like I was chasing after myself.

Sunday came and although I wasn't great, I did find that I had more concentration than I'd had all week so I decided to make the most of it. I sat down and set to it, trying to write the first three chapters of my novel for young adults, of which I only had about 500 words. It took a long time to focus, to find direction, for my character to start to speak to me again and tell me what she was up to, what she was thinking, what she wanted, what she was feeling, and what was going on around her, but gradually she revealed herself, and bit by bit I was able to put her down onto paper. By the end of Sunday I had most of my three chapters! Monday was spent editing and then thinking about what I was going to write in the reflective commentary. This is basically where we discuss the process of writing and editing our work; how we have incorporated what we've learnt through the course into the work that we've produced and are submitting for the EMA; what feedback we've had from peers/others, and how we've responded to that feedback; and give any information that's vital for the understanding of the extract of the book we're presenting for submission. All in 1000 words. Not an easy task so it does take some contemplation. Although there were other things I wanted to do yesterday I made myself get down to work, and by the end of the day I had a little over 1000 words of commentary! To be honest I didn't spend much time editing the commentary, and perhaps it could be more concise in places, but I'm fairly happy with it, and I'm sure it's more than enough to get a pretty good pass. I went into town today, went to the university, submitted my EMA! I have surprised myself! I've also surprised several others who, like me, weren't convinced that I'd be able to meet Friday's deadline, let alone submit my piece early. Now that I've written the first three chapters I want to write the rest, but it's going to have to wait, because now I have all that OU work to catch up on, and last Thursday I started my second PGCert module - Memoir Writing. Maybe one day I'll be able to say that I'm on track and running to schedule, but my decrepitude keeps interfering with that, and it seems that whenever I'm on the cusp of achieving this goal I end up in hospital or almost in hospital or full of POTS-iness. Most frustrating. However, I've got this far so I'll press on.

There's an elderly woman from church, A, who comes to see me every few weeks. She's part of the pastoral care team and has been visiting me for a couple of years now. In name it's for my benefit; in practice it serves us both. We're quite different, not least in age as she's 81 (although extremely fit and sprightly), but A's lovely and we get on well. We chat, sometimes we have tea/coffee, we tell each other what we've been doing with ourselves, what we plan on doing, and how we feel. Basically it's friendship, and it's lovely. I was telling her today a little about my studies, how last week had been POTSy so I hadn't got anywhere with my studies, but that I'd worked my socks off since Sunday and had got my Newcastle University project done. She was not only pleased for me, but said that she didn't know how I did it. To be honest, I'm not sure how I do it ... except that it's self-belief that I can do it and the knowledge that I want to do it. I want finally to achieve my academic potential, and when I'm behind at the moment I remind myself that my OU course will be finishing in about three months time, and on 16th September I'll be graduating. Me! Me! The person who under-achieved all through school; the person who got ill with depression when at university studying nursing when she was 19/20; the person who became immobilised by depression for many years and didn't achieve anything much (or didn't feel like she did). Me, I am going to graduate! ...I just need to get to the end of this current Open University course, and the end is in sight. And the plan after that? To continue with post graduate studies at Newcastle - finish the PGCert in creative writing and go onto either an MA or MLitt. I never used to believe I could achieve anything like this, like that. These days I do. My teachers weren't ever very encouraging, and I never got the impression that they believed I'd achieve anything much, although none of them ever said this explicitly. My father didn't believe in my academic potential. So many, including myself, didn't think that it could be done. Here I am doing it.

I have a book of poetry called The Swallow, The Owl, & The Sandpiper. It's a fantastic poetry book, and is published by Finks Publishing in aid of The Sandpiper Trust. The following is taken from their website: 'The Sandpiper Trust aims to provide Scotland’s doctors and nurses, who have been highly trained in accident and emergency skills by BASICS ( The British Association of Immediate Care, Scotland), with appropriate emergency medical equipment known as the Sandpiper Bag.' That's a very small snippet of what they do, but it's a great cause and a fantastic book, which you can buy directly from their website. On page 56 of the book is a wonderful poem that my mum read out to me on the phone one day when I was in hospital and I'd come through another life-threatening asthma attack (Mum originally bought me the book as well as a copy for herself). The poem is 'It couldn't be done', by Edgar Guest:

It couldn't be done

Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That, 'maybe it couldn't' but he would be one
Who wouldn't say no till he'd tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, as he did it.

Somebody scoffed: 'Oh, you'll never do that;
At least no one we know has done it';
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, as he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That cannot be done, and you'll do it.

- Edgar Guest

Friday, 4 February 2011

Master Chef meets Krypton Factor

You may know that I have a lot of allergies, most of which are anaphylactic, and many of which are to foods. The main things I'm allergic to are preservatives and colourings, and you'd be surprised at what you'd find these in, even in so-called healthy foods. One of the consequences of these allergies is that I can't eat any ready meals so I have to have all my food cooked from scratched. Yes, real cooking! I quite enjoy cooking, but I'm very limited these days in how much I can do because of my tendency to pass out when standing due to the POTS and vasovagal syncope. It's not very safe to faint whilst standing over a lit gas hob so these days I have carers come to cook for me three evenings a week. It can be a bit tying sometimes if I have things to do, or I want to be out, or if they turn up early, and I've never been the best at planning meals ahead so sometimes I get a little frustrated at having to be organised with this kind of thing. It's made a little trickier by the fact that they come at 4.30pm, which is far too early to have dinner so I need to think of things that I can either re-heat quickly later on or that take a long time to cook. Last year W bought me a slow cooker and that's been a god-send with these carers as they can do all the cooking bits then set the slow cooker away to do its stuff so that a few hours later I can have tea at a much more sensible time. Marvellous. All I need do is provide the recipe and ingredients...

It would, however, seem that cooking is an alien concept to many of the carers who come to me and the tasks I lay before them are akin to those on the Krypton Factor. Now it's not like I ask for anything particularly complicated - in fact that's another challenge for me as I have to try to find simple recipes - except that the mere thought of cooking anything other than a ready meal or heating up a takeaway appears to be very complicated. I have several different carers come to cook for me and I only really have confidence in one of them. They're all lovely people, yes, but you wouldn't find them on Master Chef. I had one who, on her first visit here, told me that her father is a chef so I optimistically thought that he may have passed on some of his culinary skills to her. Nope. She had to ask me how to cut the leek I'd put out with the ingredients for my dinner. On one of the days the following week a very sweet young carer (maybe in her late teens or very early twenties) came. She pointed at the pile of ingredients on the bench, made her face Dali-esque and squawked, 'What's that?!' It was a sweet potato. The day she came and I had a raw beetroot I'd been given on the bench I thought she was going to run away in fear so I had to reassure her very quickly that it wasn't part of that night's dinner; it was just on the bench as a place to put it. I then had to explain that it was a fresh beetroot, and no, not all beetroot comes pickled in jars. Bless her ... and God help me!

I guess I don't mind so much if the person who comes is honest about their cooking ability. I can allow for inexperience. I can prepare myself for perhaps not the tastiest meal I've ever had. So long as they make sure all the veg etc is suitably washed so that they don't accidentally kill me then I can pretty much let them off. It's when they're 'misleading' about their culinary skills that it gets me. I had one woman come - another friendly character - who, when I explained about my allergies and therefore the need to do 'from scratch' cooking, assured me that she was a good cook. She told me that she'd been married to a Morrocan man for seven years so had cooked all his meals from the raw ingredients and was quite experienced. After tasting the soup she made me I wonder if she's still married to the Moroccan man or if in fact he's dead. I set her the challenge of making me butternut squash and carrot soup with a little ginger and chilli. As always I'd set out the ingredients on the bench. As always I presumed she'd follow the recipe in terms of quantities, and I even provided scales for weighing out any ingredients she needed to weigh. I went off to have my bath (the heat of a bath or shower makes passing out more likely so I have a bath while the carer's around in case there are any problems) and left her to make the soup. When I returned to the kitchen I discovered that she hadn't actually fried the onions, garlic, ginger, chili, or any of the veg before adding the stock (homemade stock as I can't have the bought stuff); she'd simply chopped it all up, put it in the enormous pan, and filled said pan with all of the stock I had. And it was only after she'd left that I realised she had no discernment at all regarding quantities. She had used a whole green chili, a whole root of ginger, and a whole bulb of garlic! I let the thing, the concoction, the pot of poison bubble away in the hope that maybe it wouldn't be so bad really, but after I'd blitzed it in the liquidiser and tasted the tiniest of tiny amounts there was no fooling myself into thinking that this was edible. It had somehow transformed itself from appetising and tasty fresh vegetables to some kind of anti-food. I think I had boiled egg that night instead. The next time she turned up I lied that I was going to my dad's for dinner that night, but I still needed her there while I had a bath. I don't remember what I ended up doing for tea in the end, but I couldn't face sampling her cooking again, that was for sure. On the bright side, as she wasn't cooking for me that evening she offered to do other stuff so she did my ironing. The carer who comes on a Wednesday morning is supposed to do my ironing as well as the cleaning, but the one I've had most since my regular Wednesday carer left the agency is rubbish at ironing, doesn't like doing it, complains all the time she is doing it, and doesn't do very much of it. Needless to say, there was rather a lot of ironing to do. It all got done and I also didn't have to suffer her cooking. Bonus!

I had yet another carer come tonight. I have to say that she was ever such a lovely person, and she did in the end manage to follow the recipe and produce a very nice dinner in the slow cooker for me. However, I also have to say that it is quite miraculous that she managed to follow the recipe and produce a very nice dinner in the slow cooker for me. When I told her that she'd be cooking from scratch she looked terrified, aghast, distraught. She came clean that she doesn't cook. I told her not to worry as I'd put all the ingredients out along with the recipe, and assured her that a slow cooker is really easy to use. She'd never seen a slow cooker before. She doesn't even use a conventional cooker. She lives off sandwiches. This was going to be a challenge ... for us both. Right then, time for some education. I introduced her to the concepts of fresh vegetables, cartons of butter beans, and uncooked wholegrain rice. I gave her her first sighting of saffron, and explained that she should use only a very tiny amount as it's so blooming expensive. That scared her. I got her a pan and showed her how to light the hob. I showed her the recipe book. I thought she was going to collapse with repressed hysteria. 'Oh,' she squeaked through tightened vocal chords, 'I've never used a recipe before. I'm not sure that I can. I mean, I'll try, but I'm scared. I've never done it before. It looks so complicated.' We read through the recipe together, and I explained that yes, she would have to use the hob a little bit to brown the leeks ... and I explained what 'browning the leeks' meant, and I reassured her that she'd be fine, and I went off to hide in the bath. After a while I could hear a lot of clattering and I could smell burning, but I figured that being in the bath surrounded by water was perhaps the safest place to be if the carer was going to accidentally set fire to the flat, so I stayed put and hoped I'd still have a kitchen by the time I plucked up the courage to get out of the bath and back to the carer. Thankfully I do still have a kitchen, and despite the burning smell I see no evidence of there having been any flames. When I reappeared though she did say that she hadn't washed the butter beans, and asked how she was meant to do that so I said to use either the sieve or the colander. She looked at me blankly. I showed her what a sieve looks like.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Coming together

I'm getting sorted. I've slightly decluttered the flat, not by actually getting rid of anything (God forbid! ;oP ), but by buying some more book shelves. I've had books piling up on tables, my desk, on top of other books on shelves, and doubling up on each other too. It's been annoying me for a while, and I thought I'd run out of space for new bookshelves, but I solved the problem by replacing some that I had with longer ones and giving the old ones to W. A rather wonderful friend and his oldest son came round to put the new shelves together for me, and after some sorting and re-organising I now have some spare shelf space on all my bookshelves even though all my books now have homes! Hurrah! I find that getting my physical surroundings straightened out often helps to get my head a little less cluttered too, so it's a good thing all round :oD

As you know, I was feeling a bit vulnerable and overwhelmed by the whole swine 'flu thing. Way back at the end of October/beginning of November I wrote to one of my GPs after a series of infections and admissions. I was worn out - physically, emotionally, spiritually - much as I have been recently. I wasn't asking for anything from the doc; I just needed to off-load. When I was writing it I wasn't sure if I was actually going to send the letter. I wanted to, but it was very much an emotional out-pouring, that didn't necessarily make sense in places to anyone but me ... or even me, but in the end I did send it and I'm glad that I did. I hadn't necessarily expected a reply, but when I was at the surgery picking up a prescription shortly before Christmas, the GP I'd written to popped into the reception area so I asked if she'd got my letter. She said, with a friendly smile, that she had and to make an appointment to see her sometime to talk through some of it. After having to cancel the first one I made because of being in hospital in Edinburgh, I eventually got to see Dr P last week. I knew that she wouldn't be able to do anything - to change my situation - and I wasn't expecting her to, and as I said before (and in my letter to her) I wasn't asking for anything in particular, but all the same the appointment was really helpful. I dunno, it helped by just talking through some of the mess in my head from the relentlessness of chronic illness and repeated life-threatening illness, with an opportunity to cry about it without being presented with 'there's always something in the pipeline' syndrome that negates my anxieties and upset, and really only serves to placate the person who's saying it, and they're only saying it because they can't cope with any thought of the reality of death. *Ramble over and takes a deep breath* So yes, it was helpful. Dr P listenend, and understood, and offered some advice, and talked, and was fairly aghast that the health psychologist hadn't been able/willing to offer me anything, and she gave me loads of time. Appointments are supposed to be ten minutes, but she must have given me maybe forty-five minutes. Okay, so this won't have pleased others waiting to see her, but it was the time I needed and she was happy to give it to me. She, like most of the doctors in the practice, has known me for a lot of years now and has seen me through a heck of a lot - including very severe depression through my twenties - so she knows me well. We talked a little about how things used to be and how things have changed on many different levels, and I was of course right that she can't change my situation now, but just having that time to verbally vomit was invaluable, and I came away feeling a lot more together. Dr P assured me that it had been more than okay to have written to her, and even said that I was very welcome to write again, anytime that I wanted to, or if I preferred then I could make a double appointment to see her again, whenever. She was lovely. She just gave me the time and the space that I needed, and the opportunity to cry and splurge and say, 'Sometimes it's crap and it's overwhelming and exhausting,' and even though she may not have the experience of it herself she appeared to truly understand. I feel somewhat emotionally refreshed by the appointment, and will definitely go and see her or write to her again if I feel I need to.

And then car-related things began to come together. They're a bit long and complicated to go into the nitty gritty of, but the upshot has been that despite work needing to be done on my old car after its bump, I got my new car on Monday. I love it! I'll get a photo of it sorted out at some point and put it up here, but that might not be for a day or two. In the meantime, here's a link to the website for the type of car I've got - Vauxhall New Meriva. I do like my new car very much, and it's such a relief to have all the worry about whether or not the crunch in Crotchet (the old car) would mess up timing of getting MacTavish (the new car), and all the hassle with insurance etc. No, that's all in hand, all been paid for, and all sorted out :o) The stress is gone and I can get on with enjoying MacTavish, and trying to learn my way around all the controls and buttons and different lights, which reminds me that I must get the instruction books out and have a look at them to familiarise myself with some of it.

The next thing is study. As you can probably imagine, I'm a long way behind with my studies again after my recent adventure with the flying pigs (swine 'flu). I had an assignment due in for my OU studies on 7th January, and the End of Module Assessment for my last postgrad module at Newcastle University was due in on 10th January. Obviously I missed both deadlines. My tutors have both been great, with my OU tutor telling me not to worry at all about any assignment deadlines apart from the last one and the ECA that are notoriously difficult to get extensions for from the OU; and my tutor at Newcastle just asking me to let her know when I was home so we could go from there. I contacted them last week and I have a new deadline of 11th February, which is only Friday next week, but I got the impression that it may be a fairly flexible deadline. I kind of hope so, because although I would have liked to have got a lot done during this past week I've felt rather brain-dead, and for the first little while I was concentrating on that OU assignment that had been due on 7th January. I re-read the course material related to that and continued on with the few notes I'd made for the essay when O and I were away, then I set to and got the thing written. As ever, one of the most challenging things was getting in all the info that was being ask for into the stupidly low word count. I did it as best as I could in the circumstances, sent the essay off, and a few days later had the marked one back - 82% Not bad. Not a First (with the OU a First starts at 85%), but I'm pleased with it :oD I'd been going to get down to my postgrad EMA for my last module (Writing for Young Adults) today, but I haven't been feeling too well - absolutely exhausted, thumping headache all day, sleepy tired as well as physically tired. I've glanced in the general direction of study instead, and I'll let it tick through my mind overnight so that maybe I can get a bit done tomorrow morning. Having said that, tomorrow is rather busy with pulmonary rehab in the afternoon, followed by a quick return home for a bath and change of clothes before heading out to the first class of my second postgrad modules (Memoir Writing). I'll just have to hope that I'm feeling okay at the weekend and work hard throughout.

All in all, things are coming together, I'm feeling more together (despite being a little off-colour for some reason), the new shelves have been put together, my physical surrounds feel a little more organised, all the car stuff is sorted, and I'm all together rather pleased with my new car. Things ain't bad :oD