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The catch-22 of loneliness…

…is that I ache to communicate how sad I feel, but because the problem is loneliness, I’m silenced. If I say to a friend “I feel so lonely”, I make them feel bad, they probably feel obliged to try to help. So I’m manipulating them into offering something that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.

A book I read recently commented that loneliness is the last great taboo- it triggers shame and can’t easily be admitted to.

Relationships have to be freely given on both sides. I learned that through the painful years of dependent relationships. As soon as I express the need for companionship, if someone responds, it’s not entirely freely given. And therein lies the dilemma….

So what do I do? Feeling like this and being unable to share it just makes the whole thing feel even worse, I feel more isolated and outside the flow of life. When I see my friends I’m pretending – you know, the old “Hi, How are you?” “Fine, thanks”. That magic word “fine”… covers a multitude of emotions!

All I can do is stick it out, keep in touch without letting the mask slip, and hope that eventually the companionship I yearn for will materialise. But it’s so hard.


When your single friend is bereaved…

Two family bereavements within a few months left me reeling – more so than I realised at the time. Now, 8 months after the second, I’m just emerging from all the fallout. Only now, looking back, can I see how deeply I’ve been affected and how tough and lonely  life has felt for the past year or so.

The loneliness of this time is what strikes me now. I have so many friends, but have felt that I’ve been very  alone as I’ve worked through the impacts of 2 deaths. It’s really only now that I can see more clearly both what my own needs have been and how others might have helped. Consequently, I didn’t ask for  support, not realising how much I was in need of it – and once the first few weeks were over, friends presumably thought I was OK or that someone else was helping.   I’ve noticed  before that this happens: where people would be very concerned about a family member in this situation and would continue to watch out for them,  single people seem to be seen either as having  emotional resources denied to the rest of humanity, or, perhaps, as so lacking a normal emotional life that they’re not as affected by difficult circumstances!

For the past few months it’s been really difficult to get myself out and socialise,  to plan to do things, to invite people here. Yet those are vital for the mental health of the sociable person who lives alone : we always have to make that effort if we’re to have company and interaction. (I’m an introvert, but a sociable one, so though, on the whole, I appreciate my solitude, I do also need human interaction if I’m to stay more or less sane). I think that’s an issue that those living with others  often don’t understand: the day by day energy-demanding efforts that have to be made to stay connected. At difficult  times, that necessary energy isn’t always there and isolation quickly  results, at the worst possible time.

For those months I needed other people to make some of that effort for me: I needed my friends, I needed to be taken out of the trough of grief, to be given space to talk, sometimes to be distracted,  or just to be given a meal and looked after for a few hours, to feel cherished. I usually do all that for myself: but for the past year or so that has sometimes been beyond me.

I’m not writing this in self-pitying mode – at least I hope not. It was as it was, because people just didn’t understand or appreciate what would have helped, and I wasn’t in a place to articulate what I needed. Indeed, as I said above, I don’t think I understood what I needed either. Which is why I’m writing this.

Please, if you have a single friend who is in a traumatic place, because of grief or other loss, be aware. Be aware for months, maybe a year or two. It’s no huge deal, no big commitment – no in-depth counselling or having them move in with you – just invite them from time to time without expecting them to take their turn at the entertaining for a while; meet up and give them space to talk (I’ve become so aware of how I listen, listen, listen, and everyone seems to assume that I never need to do some of the sharing!);  take the initiative in suggesting outings; don’t assume that if they’ve gone quiet or are putting cheery posts on Facebook the grief must be over, they must be happily busy and don’t need to hear from you.

Grief goes on for some time for ALL of us, and the grieving process  can be particularly tough for those who have to process it alone and without the day to day companionship, support and distractions of partner and family. Be aware of the situation your friend is in, be unobtrusively alongside, don’t expect too much  – that may be all that’s needed. And, crucially, be prepared to give her that for the time it takes to begin to heal from grief, not just for the obvious first week or so.

It will be appreciated and remembered, and eventually she WILL invite you for a meal again, honest!

The empty container

Leo Babauta has just posed a great question on his  Zen Habits blog:

If [your life] were an empty container, with limited space, what would you put in it?

This was timely, as I’ve been pondering recently on this concept of time, space, energy all being limited, and the necessity of accepting that. It started when I finally ran out of space for more new books, and when I noticed that when I emptied the dishwasher several mugs were always left standing on the worktop because the designated spaces were full. There comes a point where choices have to be made: I need to donate some of my fine collection of mugs, even though I like all of them: it’s too inconvenient having the workspace cluttered by them. And just how many unread books is it realistic to have?! Unless I want to cull them, it’s time to have a firm rule that no more are bought unless I’m going to read them immediately.

That made me think more generally about this principle: is it wise to try to do more than I have time and energy for – whether that be social engagements, food, favourite blogs, trips away, craft activities, housework or regular commitments? This question has been around for a while, as I seek a simpler life. My progress has been very limited, and I think this is at the heart of it: the tendency to think that just one more mug/book/commitment/website/interest  won’t make much difference, until I begin to feel overwhelmed again, panic and either go for distraction from the mess or try to go to opposite extremes.

Leo describes the tendency of life to become more complicated and suggests standing back and asking the question at the beginning of this post. Obviously the answer is going to be different for each of us. I might consider which of the things I’ve listed I would want to put in my box – what do I want to be the basic pattern of my day/week/month? Of all I do or could do, what is most important to me?

I find this image of the empty box, with the boundaries  that limit its contents (such as  time, energy, space, money, necessary tasks), a good starting point, inviting me to visualise picking up the aspects of my life that matter most and deliberately place them in the box and, conversely, also deciding what has to be laid aside and not put in the box.  A good assessment tool to revisit from time to time.

The magnetic attraction of social media…

I know that this is all going to sound very familiar – I spend far too much time on Facebook, email,  Pinterest and surfing the Internet. I’ve noticed that if I’m unsure what I want to do, am tired, bored, lonely, my default is to get my laptop out and browse. I’ve also noticed that this does me no good: it doesn’t change my mood, energise or inspire me. Looking at that list  – at a loose end,  tired, lonely, bored – those are just the things that can also result in snacking on chocolate and other sweet goodies and I’ve been realising that the pattern is really the same – using the computer mindlessly to fill a gap that  needs to be filled by something more sustaining.

Several months ago I decided to limit my Internet time to about half an hour after meals, with a final check at 9pm, after which I try to have a screen curfew, because otherwise my sleep is affected. That’s still quite a lot, but FB and email do give me lots of enjoyable and genuine social interaction, and I just like Pinterest – it gives me lots of creative input. However, this good intention has inevitably drifted and a couple of days ago I noticed that I was “grazing” again, to keep to the analogy with food – I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated that day, and kept returning to the computer to see if there was anything new waiting for me. I know, from days when I don’t do this, that it’s not good for me – my thoughts become scattered, I have no hope of focusing or being mindful when posts, messages and pictures are continually pulling my thoughts in different directions. It becomes even less likely that I’ll get past my unmovtivated, “can’t be bothered” mood. If I stay away from the screen, my mind tends to be quieter, more present and focused.

Another, related, tendency is to let the allocated times on the computer get longer. I’m usually enjoying a cup of tea after my meal while I go online, and if I finish checking sites before I’ve finished the tea, I can start surfing more generally and unproductively.

I’m going to try again to keep to my set times, and if I use the computer for other things in between those times, not to check social media. I also need something to occupy me at those  times when I might otherwise go to the computer as my default or while I finish my tea – I’ve learned that it’s no good just taking something away; it has to be replaced by something more positive if a habit is to change. I have an embarrassing number of unread books, fiction and nonfiction, and I love reading, but it gets pushed out by time online. So I’ve pulled out a selection of books on different topics (including art, history, quilting, spirituality and poetry) and have a tempting pile sitting in full view, so that I can pick up whatever suits my mood when I’m feeling that emptiness and lack of motivation or need to drain that mug.

And now it’s an hour after breakfast and time I sent this and closed the laptop lid…!



Rather belated update

It was exciting to see that this blog was beginning to find some readers. Typically, though, the momentum has probably been lost because I haven’t posted for about 3 months. But that’s how it is with me – I come and go with my interests, enthusiasms and what is uppermost in my mind. Hence the title of the blog, and I don’t think I’ll ever completely change – it’s just part of who I am, and though I aim to improve my consistency and discipline in areas  where to do so would make life better/easier/more fun, I also accept the way I’m made, and where it doesn’t have any particularly negative effects I’m not going to worry unduly.

So, what’s been happening? The ongoing efforts to improve my diet and hopefully lose some weight acquired a new urgency around Eastertime, when I became quite unwell, apparently unable to process either salt or sugar  properly. It was a busy time and there was a delay before I could see the doctor. She asked for some blood tests and then it was a while again before I could get back to see her again. In the meantime I put myself on a low-sugar, low-salt, low-alcohol regime, and felt much better for it. By the time I saw the doctor again things seemed to be back to normal. The blood tests threw no light on what had been going on, so it remains a mystery. But it got me reading some books about sugar and I find the hypothesis that it, rather than fat, is the main culprit in obesity and many of the health problems that have become so common in the past 30 years, quite convincing. I’m still reading and thinking, and there’ll probably be another post on food soon.

I continued to make progress on establishing enough routine to keep up with basic tasks around the house – until I had some time away recently, then it all went to pot again and so far I haven’t got back to it. I think the issue was that when I got home I had several busy, sociable days, when I really needed some solitude and  recuperation after spending the best part of 2 weeks in company, and that left me out of touch with myself and feeling very drained. A lesson learned. I’m just beginning to stand back and look at things again and work out how to get myself back into a daily rhythm.

Several reflections are unfolding, so there may be some more posts to come…



Food, glorious (and problematic) food

I wrote in previous posts about my issues with food and weight, and here’s an update. I’ve gone back to the pattern that works for me: when I’m not socialising I eat 3 meals a day, with not much alcohol and as little refined carbohydrate and sugar as possible. If I’m too hungry in between meals I have fruit. I probably average about 1000-1200 calories, though I don’t count. When I’m out or eating with friends I enjoy myself – I still try to make reasonably healthy choices but won’t deprive myself – if I want chips, I have them! The rule on pudding is to have one if it’s something I really fancy, but not if there’s nothing that really appeals strongly. At the cinema to see an opera relay  last night, for example, I enjoyed a glass of red wine before the film and then a luscious tiramisu ice cream in the intermission. Those treats make it much easier to persevere with healthy choices day to day.

I’m also aiming to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, taking a wide view of what counts as exercise. Sometimes I go to the gym, sometimes I may have an errand to do that’s a 15 minute walk away, some days I’ll be cleaning the house or gardening.

As to what I eat. I’m not a scientist, my only study of nutrition has been via popular books and TV programmes. So the conclusions I’ve come to are completely personal ones. I do believe that we all have bodies that work slightly differently, and what suits one won’t work for someone else. So several friends have had a lot of success with the 5:2 diet, but fasting makes me irritable and confused, and so hungry that it overwhelms everything else. Others have cut out carbs, but my IBS reacts very badly to that.

It’s every cliché – in the end, I do best eating moderate amounts of a wide variety of real food. I think the rule “Don’t eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food” is an excellent one, as it cuts  out all the processed and artitficial “foods” that the food industry inflicts on us.

I eat real bread from a small bakery, not mass-produced bread -that definitely helps my digestion. I can’t drink cow’s milk or soya milk any more, but cheese is OK, so I have that for calcium, and don’t worry too much about the fat. I’ve been upping my protein a bit, especially at breakfast time, as I think that keeps my blood sugar steadier, so may start the day with egg, ham, houmous – whatever is around – or muesli with stewed fruit instead of milk and nuts for protein. Lunch will be a piece of bread, oatcakes or crispbread with some protein and salad and my main meal in the evening varies considerably, from meat and veg to pasta (wholewheat) to bean stew to quiche…. Again, lots of variety, as if I’m trying to eat less, I’ll struggle if I get bored.

I’m not counting calories as if I tell myself  that I’m “on a diet” I can get very obsessive and think of little else, which is tedious and probably makes it more likely that I’ll succumb to poor choices, because I’m thinking about food so much. The aim is to keep it very simple so that I don’t have to think about it more than necessary. Like most women, years of messing about with diets mean that I’ve got a pretty good idea of portion sizes and calorific content without having to do any elaborate counting

I’ve also given myself a long timeframe: I’m going to the US in May 2015 and would like to be well within the healthy range for my height by then, which means that 2lb weight loss per month is sufficient. I know that I need to make permanent changes to how I eat, and a quick-fix diet doesn’t change well-entrenched habits. It’s difficult, because I want to see quick results and it’s hard to be patient when nothing seems to be changing – I have to pick up a 2lb bag of sugar to remind me how significant that amount really is!

A huge challenge for me is emotional eating, the main cause of my becoming overweight. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to stand back and observe those times when I’m desperate for sweet food or alcohol. It’s confirmed what I’d already spotted: when I’m feeling empty, deprived, inadequate, lonely, I try to literally fill myself up. A huge step forward was managing to say no to a sweet comforter and instead to focus on enjoying a cup of tea and an apple and then some time with a book.

I also suspect that in the winter SAD plays its part. My most successful dieting has always been between March and September, then everything slides. All this winter my cravings for cake, biscuits and similar were so strong that I couldn’t imagine how I was going to stop eating them. Now, as the days lengthen and I’m more energetic, it doesn’t seem to be such a problem. I think I may have to get a full daylight spectrum lamp for next winter and see if it makes a difference.

But this is just me. None of this might work for someone else: it has to be personal observation and decisions as to what’s realistic and possible, what are the non-negotiables (no way would I stop eating chocolate or good bread!), what fits with lifestyle, personality and  metabolism.

It feels risky to post this because I might fail to reach my target, but I’m hoping that I can continue to practice the awareness that  every time I eat, I’m making choices, sometimes good, sometimes knowingly not so good, and to move away from mindless eating for reasons other than nutrition and enjoyment.

Finding the balance

OK, let’s see where this one goes, as I just want to sift some vague thoughts and leadings that are around this morning. Today is a fairly free Saturday – unexpectedly so, as an event was cancelled at short notice. After a busy couple of days away from home, I’d decided that it would be a good opportunity to catch up on some of the routine stuff and “to dos”, go to the gym and then to a local quilt show and maybe to an opera at the cinema later.(Written down, that sounds ridiculously busy, though I’d been thinking of it as a fairly quiet day!).

But I find that I want to let the day unfold gently at its own pace. I feel very connected and centered and want to stay with that and see how it expresses itself.

And it’s fascinating to listen to the inner voices that are responding to this desire. “But today isn’t a day off – you’ve had one this week”. “Three rooms are due to be cleaned today”. “That to-do list is so long  -this would be an opportunity to cross a few things off”. “shouldn’t you go food shopping?”  And underneath those, I hear a small, fearful voice saying “But if you let go of all that and go with your heart, you may never get any of the necessary practical stuff done ever again. Everything might slide back into chaos while you indulge in what you’d rather do instead of what you need to do. You need to stick to the patterns you’ve been establishing and be self-disciplined, ignore that desire to write and sew – do it tomorrow instead.”

There’s a dilemma here, because there is some truth in that last voice, in that I’ve often wilfully neglected practicalities over a period and have ended up not eating well, in a grubby chaotic house and with vital jobs undone – which in the end causes huge stress and undoes all the good done by the time spent creatively.

I don’t want to be ruled by “ought” and “must”. That has been a theme of my journey for a long time. Yet those “oughts” hammer away in my mind – I “ought” to be sensible and get all the cleaning, food shopping etc done and put the creative stuff aside till tomorrow. But that tug to the latter, to a day that’s allowed to find its own pace and activity, is so strong. And I have to rejoice in that, as one problem I’ve always had is finding inner motivation – I’ve so often lived fairly mechanically, by lists, because otherwise I just drift, unable to identify anything I positively want to do (or perhaps unable to allow it).

The inner desire is winning at the moment  – it’s nearly 10am, I’m not dressed yet and I’m writing this! And it feels good. I have to stay with this, because it feels like an important move forward, a stand against all those insistent voices demanding that I put the routine, the sensible, the practical, before the creative and the desired. My heart’s desire is to be living according  to my “true self” – “true Anne” – in line with the still small divine voice within, so I need to listen and respond when, as I think is happening this morning, I’m hearing that voice clearly. It’s so hard to ignore those other “ought”, “must”, “but what if..” voices, but they lead me away from the life-giving.

I’ve also just inadvertently given  my response to a question I was asked recently – “what’s your heart’s desire”? it left me floundering at the time, but I’ve just answered it.

So let’s see what happens, if there’s a despairing post in a week’s time saying that all my changes have gone to pot and I’m back in chaos! Or if practising living in tune with the inner call when my sensitivity to it is strong will also get the cleaning done…