What is enough?
Finding out when 'That'll do'
When being continually challenged I have a tendency to over-focus on things, big or small, worming themselves into every waking thought. I regularly try to draw comparison to others, set myself unrealistic standards & goals, and apply unreasonable self-pressure. A lot of this has to do with a constant feeling that I need to prove myself. That pesky imposter syndrome never quite seems to stop. But it’s not just to others, it’s also to me feeling that I need to challenge myself, succeed, stretch and keep progressing. There’s that word again, need, defined as ‘Require because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable’. That’s a strong thing to be saying to myself. ‘Would like to’ is much more apt, it’s also less committal and less catastrophic if it doesn’t happen. Lately the feeling that things have been a ‘need’ has been challenging, depressing, and ultimately exhausting. Snapping at friends and family, being irritable and unfair.
At times it feels that the reason for this mindset is ambition. But I question how that can be the reason when I’m not sure what I’m striving for. After attending talks given by other professionals I feel I’ve been more able to put my finger on what drives this, and that’s Fear. Fear of feeling ashamed, fear of failure, fear of other people’s perception of myself.
In a society that focuses so much on work and performance it’s easy to be swept along and lose ourselves. Is who I am today who I want to be, or who society wants me to be? Only by reflecting on this can we see whether we’re losing who we are; our own authenticity.
“Authenticity is the sharing of self by relating in a natural, sincere, spontaneous, open and genuine manner.” — Dean H. Hepworth, Ronald H. Rooney and Jane Lawson
Making a list starting with ‘I want to be perceived as…’ and ‘I don’t want to be perceived as…’ may help to find things that shape how we act, what we do, and who influence us. These are also likely to be hand in hand with shame triggers. When I do something that goes against the list it’s natural to feel some shame, like I failed myself.
We find ourselves surrounded by people on a daily basis. These people all differ in experience; both level and nature. If there’s one thing for sure it’s that they’re better than you at something. It might be one thing, or a lot of things but there’s always something. Drawing a comparison here is setting oneself up for failure every time. But it’s possible to filter these comparisons. It’s easy to focus on what make you come up short of your competition is exactly that, competition. But if it’s admiration healthy pathways may present themselves. “I like the way they handled that meeting” can lead to some thinking as to why. How they came to handle it in the way they did, why was it the right thing to say? These thoughts are easier when they originate from someone we respect our admire.
It’s these people that our inner critic can listen to. These people have the qualities to earn your respect, which is a self-admission that we value their feedback above others. Despite knowing this the mind works in ways to prove to others, whom we do not respect, that we can do better. But then it’s a fight to fit in, rather than to belong.
Being social creatures, and given the tendency to be overly self-critical we rely a lot on others to gain another perspective on situations and life. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. Even if it feels like it a lot of the time. It’s the people that we turn to in times of suffering and pain they can make a difference. A good friend can try to comfort and listen to troubles. A bad one wouldn’t listen, or answer.
Being true to yourself is a tough thing to come to terms with. When we concern ourselves with how other people see us it’s difficult for us to see how we’re actually seen by others. There’s no need to put your effort in improving your appearance for an asshole. You won’t impress them, and even if you do the benefits will be short-lived. Before your efforts are discarded once again.
Taking to others, and most importantly, listening, lead us to develop what, personally, is the most valuable asset to have. Empathy. Once we’re able to feel empathy towards another person we have a shot at feeling it for ourselves.
Theresa Wiseman described Empathy as having multiple components:
- See the world how others see it
- Be non-judgemental
- Understand the other person’s feelings (listening, without interrupting)
- communicate understanding
These are all things that we can find value in on our quest to self-improvement. Striving to fit in, striving for perfection, and judging our self-worth on our output at work are unhealthy obsessions to develop. Taking a step outside of this vicious cycle and seeing it for what it truly is we allow ourselves a kindness. A respite from the continual beat-down of emotion.
Authenticity: Natural, Sincere, Spontaneous, Open, Genuine
When we allow ourselves to be us the weight on our shoulders can start to evaporate. There’s a beautiful word in Japanese, which fits extremely well to the human condition.
Wabi-sabi (侘寂) — in Japanese aesthetics meaning imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete
Once we accept that we are who we are, and that we’ve got where we’ve got by being ourselves we can work on actually instigating positive change based on the people around use whom we respect. Practicing self-compassion allows us to be kind to ourselves, we reach kindness through practicing empathy and understanding of ourselves. Our circumstances drive us, and shape us, but do not control us, we control ourselves. (Arguably) In the words of Edmund Burke — “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Remaining in control of ourselves and taking action must trigger change. Not all change is good, but if we were to set ourselves reasonable and reachable goals we can help ourselves change in the way we wish. It could be as simple as making yourself toast in the morning.
With self compassion we are able to have a greater understanding for personal failings. With understanding comes peace. Once we are at peace with ourselves it’s safer to look out for others we know and love.
A mirror in time
Learning to appreciate
A recent article I read, 100 Blocks a Day, had me thinking a little about the value of time and how I spent it, whether the ways I spent it bought me happiness. As my spare time has reduced quite drastically in the past year and a half I took stock. Some things were clearly beneficial and fun. Others things I felt rather hung up on. I didn’t want to react negatively, but trying different things out felt like a good thing. A few little changes felt like they could make a big difference.
It wasn’t too long ago that I realised I’d become addicted to something, not like drugs or alcohol but to my phone, or rather social media. A quick fix of other people’s photos, comments, shares and likes would be what I needed. But as time went on I discovered just how much time I’d spend actively looking at social media. Push notifications are supposed to alert you to new things, but somehow that wasn’t enough. I found myself regularly just refreshing, to see if there’s anything new. Before, timelines were chronological. You’d see the latest at the top, and could scroll down to see what you’d missed. But now what you see isn’t in your control. You’re given a prescription of your social fix. Something an algorithm has deemed worthy of your next fix. The illusion of control — ‘see first’ and ‘unfollow’ are options for you to have a say in what you see. Regrettably, I regularly find myself missing out on the things shared by people I care most despite this. Instead I’m shown controversial and already ‘popular’ posts.
Video games used to be my vice. I’d been addicted to them before. Like a glutton for punishment I’d return time and time again to a game that I wasn’t particularly enjoying just to prove to myself that I could do better. My spare time filled more with games than anything else. Before that it was TV, which took a back seat. I had a group of friends I’d play with online. But eventually the competitive nature of online gaming tested that friendship. Thankfully not beyond repair. Games came and went as the focus. I found even with the time I spent on them, far too much, that I was missing out on things. Numbers mattered, maximising damage, speed, efficiency. But gradually I came to the realisation that the accomplishment all felt empty. The fun and enjoyment from gaming as a child had evaporated and I was left feeling I’d wasted time. That feeling was almost incomparable to the one I felt recently playing Mariokart with friends and colleagues over the festive season. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from the faux-innocence response of ‘Oh did you?’ 😇 to your exclamation that you lost a life right at the end of an intense kart-battle from a friend! Far more fun.
Nowadays there’s an almost ‘no-wait time’ for things. You can buy something and have it within an hour without leaving the comfort of your sofa. Gone are those days of waiting in for the post to come and clunk on the floor, or a knock on the door. Will it arrive in today? Will it come before the weekend? We’re kept up to date more than ever before. Estimated delivery windows. Companies now update us on the stages of a package. We no longer fill in a mail order form and just hope that weeks later something arrives. We know when something’s being processed, packed, dispatched, out for delivery. We can track where our package is. It’s second nature to check. But now I find myself asking why. I’ve gone from checking the state, to just waiting for a delivery. The office I work in emails me that something is delivered for me. I don’t even have to wait until I get home. This is a huge convenience, especially as no-one has to be in for a home delivery, or missing it with a distant collection point and no car.
As child I eagerly anticipated the arrival of small K’nex models that we’d posted off small cut-out tokens from my Mum’s Weetabix cereal boxes to get. Occasionally I’d even be allowed to do this while the box was still full of cereal; if it meant I would have enough tokens to get the next kit. These seemed to take weeks to arrive, which might be wildly off, I was a lot younger then. So every day from the start of the shortest estimated delivery date I’d be hoping that the post would arrive before I had to go to school. This would of course do me no good — I’d just spend the school day wishing I was at home building them. Even when it did arrive I just pined after what I could make with them the whole day. Once I’d made a larger robot (dwarfing Action men, a formidable opponent) with moving arms, only to later augment it with racing car feet. So it could slide along with ease.
Takeaways were a rare treat growing up. I can’t recall more than a handful of Chinese or Indian takeaways at the dinner table. As I got older there were occasional kebabs after playing in the Orchestra on a Friday night — I knew how to live, right? — McDonald’s would be a rarity despite my best efforts asking, read - begging, for a happy meal. There was no chance at all that I’d actually end up with the toy I was after. But looking back I’m grateful of that, they’re still a treat because of their rarity. I much prefer to rustle something up myself.
Instant messaging is a great way to catch up with people, but it’s still weird to me to see ‘active x hours ago’. Conversations online have moved towards being open-ended. Slack at work is particularly prone to causing distraction. I feel a tendency to need to reply immediately. It’s instant-messaging after all, right? But I’m in the office with these people. I can see that it can be more disruptive to have a chat. But if work takes up more than half of your waking hours during the week nurturing those relationships is important.
In-person conversations regularly reference things online, a picture, a quote, a video, a gif. It’s often expected that you’ve seen it, or you’re soon bought up to speed if you haven’t. These feel like they’ve become a replacement for the news on TV, or radio. I find this quite welcoming. Good news feels ever-sparse. Applications have been changed from just having a link, to previews of the content, and even extracting the key part completely, to save even exiting the app’s experience. Visually pleasing animations for sent, typing, received, and read states all contribute to a pleasurable feeling. However, totting up the time I’d spend daily in these apps, in comparison to actually typing or reading was a little worrying. I recently read that in 2016 Facebook’s vast user base reportedly spend an average of 50 minutes a day in their app offerings; Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, not including WhatsApp.
It used to be that I’d only get notifications of new things through email, which I’d have to consciously decide to check. Now each app has their own mechanism. My phone buzzes, beeps, and lights up to get my attention. As does my iPad, and laptop it’s on. Three devices letting me know (nagging) that there’s something new to see. My reaction used to be to grab the device and see what it was. I’m now also reminded of things that happened years ago. Which I started to see as a “come back” plea for attention. There was a time when notifications would directly related to you. Now event pages I’ve liked notify me when they upload a photo. That show of interest felt like I opened a gateway of shoulder tapping notifications. They started to frustrate me, feeling tricked that it might be interesting. Being tagged in a post saying that you’re out and about felt like great way to tell everyone that I wasn’t home, instead of something nice. However, once I received one along the lines of “You haven’t posted in a while” I felt some sense of achievement in bringing about this change.
Picking up the phone, each time getting some more of that drug. The brain releasing a wave of dopamine. This habit has a danger of eating our time, draining energy, sapping self-esteem and it all adds up. In an era of optimising many aspects of life this certainly seems a good candidate. But how can that cycle be broken? Reducing my usage of something which is now regarded as a cultural imperative has been difficult but necessary. I found my mental health suffered greatly as the cycle continued. I would draw unfair comparisons to friends, and more often than not I’d see myself in an unkind light.
As we strive to optimise our lives we start to lose out on the little things. Part of it might be due to growing up, but there’s still plenty of joy to be found in the little things. Like seeing cards and gifts arrive for special dates. Unveiling thoughtful gifts and messages from our loved ones. Hidden surprises out of our control.
It wasn’t until I started a long commute — an hour and a half each way — that I really found the value of ‘free time’. I look back on occasion, depending on my mood I’ll see it as squandering time, or making the most of it.
Since I’ve taken a step back from social media I’ve given myself back time, felt happier, and have more mental freedom. Now, I look forward to the next Dance class, or Dance social. I can once again easily sit and watch something without checking my phone. It’s tiring to divide attention, heaven forbid missing a good bit!
I didn’t take an approach I’d read about — deleting apps. It worked for a while, but I felt a fear of missing out. Another way was to turn off notifications, so that it’s a conscious choice to check. But I challenged myself to tackle it head on and take back control. In hindsight the disabled notification route would have probably been an easier option.
For me, it hasn’t been about consuming less content, but more allowed me to pick and choose when. I can now take my time in replying to messages and properly appreciating what my friends are up to, giving them my full attention. Combining this with daily Headspace meditation, I feel more productive, accomplished, and happier as a result.
After writing I found the following:
Plucking up the courage
An ongoing battle with anxiety
A taste of things to come
I first experienced anxiety when heading into my Grade 8 ‘Cello exam. I knew from that day that I’d failed. I didn’t feel myself. I was under practiced and under prepared. But that didn’t stop the hopefulness my mum radiated. I’d progressed as far playing in front of hundreds of people as Lead of the Cello section of the Hastings Area Youth Symphony Orchestra. But here I was, stumbling. I didn’t do well with failure — of course I’d failed in things, like sports, before. But it didn’t matter much to me because it wasn’t something I cared about. Things we deem important matter far more. Even then if you’re having fun it doesn’t matter at all. I’d been playing ‘Cello since I was 4 1/2 years old. With a teeny tiny ‘Cello. It was so engrained in me. A huge part of my life. University was around the corner. I’d soon have to say goodbye to my friends in the Orchestra. Angry teenage me chalked it up to never having been my decision to learn it in the first place. Looking back I wish I could give myself a proper talking to. But I think everyone wishes that at some point. Here I am though, I wouldn’t be who I am today if that had been different.
I next experienced anxiety on a morning after a particularly heavy night out during my final year at university. I found myself huddled on the floor of my bedroom completely overwhelmed. This started a series of episodes during my final year exams. I was unable to eat breakfast on the morning of exams. I’d spend several minutes heaving over the toilet. People discussing their revision had me wishing the ground would open up beneath my feet. At least the cause for this feeling was clear and rational. Even if the extent of the effect was not. Since then it’s been an ongoing battle to regain my confidence, and accept that there would be things that I could not control during my life.
After my exams it wasn’t until I’d had a job offer and no place to live that I had any anxious feelings, aside the normal levels you’d expect when waiting for results. I’d always thought I’d have struggled with finding a job, it had never crossed my mind that finding a place to live would be the issue I’d face first. But there I was, distraught at the thought of living with strangers. Imagining the amazing job opportunity slip out of my grasp feeling trapped and incapable.
Thankfully a friend suggested that a friend of theirs was renting a room. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for a stop gap until I found my feet. I’d met them, but not everyone in the house. It’s surprising how much you get to know someone when you’re being plied with alcohol while playing a board game all in the name of research, but that’s a story for another time. So just days before I started work I moved in. Little did I know that this would be where I’d stay for the next 5 years. Sharing much of my young adult life with them.
The company I worked for was small, I was one of the first non-founding employees after a brief summer internship. My first day I had a nose bleed, which went down brilliantly with my new housemates, who had drawn up a welcome message on my whiteboard (left over from uni) when I got home, me with blood and all. The office was on the same university campus I’d gone to for 3 previous years. The company continued to grow as more work came in and several office moves, within the same building, later we had a sizeable team in both Reading and London offices.
This ongoing feeling lead me to decline offers to socialise — I made up excuses that were paper thin. On the occasions I felt able to venture out I quickly found myself overwhelmed, my throat feeling like it was tightening up. My appetite completely gone. Stomach churning. Normal glances felt like glares. I struggled to keep conversations going. All symptoms alleviated once I left and headed home. This regularly left me home alone, questioning myself. Why had this become me? Going from playing music in front of hundreds of people to crying alone at home. The thought of burdening anyone with it frightened me. I felt no-one could understand it. I wasn’t normal. I was alone. The spiral between anxiety and depression was vicious and prolonged.
At differing points since this starting work I struggled to find a means of coping. I consulted my GP, who was very understanding and helped to talk through my options for support. I opted for medication, a low dosage to see me through what I attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Anxiety had taken my life firmly in its control and this was what I felt would bring me back to a norma level. The loss of appetite returned.
This became my life for several years. My mood would start to stabilise, though never quite reach what used to be normal for me. It took a while to change that perspective to adjusting to what now is normal. Acknowledging this as the new me took a long time. Sure I can strive to improve, and still do, but it doesn’t happen overnight. There’s no quick fix. Day by day. Little by little things would change.
Stumble and fall
One evening in February 2016 I was riding home. High visibility vest and shoes on. Wrapped up in a winter coat I free wheeled down the hill I cycled up each morning. Puffing heavily by the top. This was the one bit of no effort riding I had. Spectacularly ruined by a lady in a car who pulled out to cross the road in front of me. Whether she was ignoring my right of way or hadn’t seen me didn’t matter. She stopped fully across my side of the road. I had to make a snap decision to pull across in front of her car, hoping there wasn’t a car the other side. Or another car trying to cross. This didn’t end up with me smashing into the car and flipping over the roof. However, sadly I lost the fight with gravity and made quite a spectacular stop as my bike slipped away from under me.
I was sprawled on the road, unsure why I couldn’t move my leg to stand up. Or quite how I’d get out of the road. A car behind hers was a great level of impatient and drove around her, barely any distance from driving over me and my bike. As she got out saying “I didn’t see him” I couldn’t help but think to myself: “That’s not what matters right now.” I was angry, in pain, and in shock. She helped me up, her husband felt the need to put my bike chain back on, fat lot of good that would do me now, rather than see how I was physically. More cars continued to drive past, ignoring me. Before I could take everything in the couple were saying how they felt bad about leaving me, and that they had to get to where they needed to go. Clearly not bad enough to drive away. I still kick myself for not taking down their details there and then. But that was far from my mind. I struggled to walk my bike down the road, with a searing pain down my leg, my wrist, and my hand. After barely managing to call my housemate to meet me and help me home I went to A&E.
This was my first time in A&E. I saw many people in far worse condition than me. The staff were very helpful in seeing me. But professional, rather than friendly. A couple of x-rays later I was on a trolley and my housemates were there again. Supportive and hopeful. I felt exhausted. Well aware of how adrenaline felt this was on another level. The good news soon followed that I was fit to go home, no obvious breakages. That was a relief, but didn’t really make how I felt ‘okay’. After getting off the trolley I started to see stars, the sound seemed to melt away. I’d felt this many times as a head rush. I caught myself just shy of fainting and sat back on the trolley. Heaving, wanting to be sick, I felt jolts of pain. They took my blood pressure, it was low. 2 litres of saline later it was still a bit on the low side, but they let me go. 7 hours in hospital. Time I wouldn’t get back.
Work was understanding and sympathetic. It felt gruelling to be in pain taking a shower, putting on pants & socks, lifting a mug of tea. This helped cement some already present feelings of being pathetic, useless and incapable. Not to mention out of pocket for some nice outdoor gloves, a bent wheel and the damage to my already crumbling pride. It was 2 weeks before I felt almost normal, but longer to fully recover.
Work had started to change when my mentor, and friend, left for another venture. Other colleagues began to transition to other jobs at different places until ultimately I was presented with difficult choice, which the company didn’t like presenting. I could either take redundancy, or do something I’d sworn off all of my childhood, and work in London. Naturally my brain began to panic. I couldn’t eat. Being a Friday I had nothing to keep my brain distracted for days. Numb and dejected I sat back at my desk and stared blankly at my screen. It all seemed rather pointless to do work now.
Naturally, I went straight to look for jobs online. I found myself getting more and more worked up. I quickly dismissed listing after listing because of distance, my skills lacking, not enough experience, or the fact I’d have to drive (something I’d been qualified for for years). Seeing what had become my life listed almost as checkboxes, which I failed to tick was a fast track way to feeling useless. I’d recently been to visit family in New Zealand. Seeing how different it was. How happy I felt out there. Travelling solo halfway around the world. Life crashed back down to earth. Coming back to dark mornings, dark evenings, and now this. I started to question what I wanted to do. Was my passion gone? Had I chosen the wrong degree after all?
London, a city of opportunity, was final my choice. After weeks of battling with myself, arguing with myself, and justing myself. Again my GP was available to help, explaining that there was a more long term solution that I should pursue, but they understood the timeliness meant I could certainly benefit from more immediate help.
This time around though the medicine had a quick-acting adverse effect culminating with me rushing to the loo, and up late on the phone with my GP panicking. My electing to try a different type of SSRI proved to be the cause. I’d hoped to avoid the nausea, loss of appetite, loss of interest, and apathy that I’d found with others. It helped numb the pain seeing my colleagues, now friends, leaving one by one.
This time though, I didn’t see it as an imbalance, I saw it as the need for a more fundamental change in my view of the world. A short while later I was enrolled on an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course. Things I’d seen before, but needing to take it in and practice them. I was hungry for the knowledge and was soon told off by my assigned therapist for progressing too quickly. Seeing my mood levels mapped on a graph did little to improve my mood. I thought the more information I could give the better view my therapist could have of the situation. I was grateful for the phone calls with them. But it was all over a bit too quickly. Attending group sessions in-person would take months of being on a waiting list. So that was that. I was left with medication and practicing what I’d learnt. No more one-to-one help. I found the most interesting portion of my online course was ‘Thought Errors’ helping label different thoughts to the point of absurdity. I found almost all of my thoughts, and as a result feelings, were accountable for thoughts.
A key scenario in my decision between going to London or not was ‘Getting stuck in London’ not in any figurative sense, but a physical one. Being unable to get home for the night was something I dreaded. Within 2 weeks of commuting to London this was very nearly a possibility. I left work the normal time (5:30pm) and made my way to Paddington — taking a route that night I’d learn was far longer than it needed to be. Sat on my train I watched as delays crept up online until the dreaded cancellation announcement sounded across the speakers.
A sea of people made for the barriers. I sent a message to my project manager for advice. She helpfully let me know that another colleague would likely be at the same station. So I sent them a slack message, selfishly hoping that they were in the same situation. I didn’t realise at the time how much of a journey it would turn out to be, nor the friendship this would kick start. So I joined the wave and headed back towards the barriers. I felt awkward about asking for help, but I needn’t have been. Conversation flowed happily and help was forthcoming.
A whistle-stop tour of the western tube network later, as per advice of network rail we made for Ealing Broadway to pick up a train. By now we knew it was a derailed train just outside of Paddington that was the cause. The tube stopped running 2 stops shy of the destination. But feet carried us the rest of the way. Ultimately we found no trains were running. We parted ways there, and I headed back across London to Waterloo. Reading benefiting from both Paddington and Waterloo lines I was grateful for the alternative, albeit a journey three times longer. At 11:40pm after travelling for over 6 hours I arrived home. Shattered, but looking forward to the next day — a company outing to Crystal Maze. At least now I’d experienced some of the worst that could happen, and came the other side.
Dancing was something I’d sworn off as a teenager. Winning a competition at a school disco as a youngster hadn’t kicked off a journey. I was no Billy Elliot. Yet one conversation with my friend lead me to saying that they’d have to make me go at least once. It was looking forward to it, and apprehensive at the same time. It was Lindy Hop, which I’d heard them talk about, but it wasn’t until I found myself watching a video on YouTube that I saw how fun it looked. Happy faces, spinning partners but free, it looked more rebellious than strict.
The day of the first lesson came. So did the butterflies. Low and behold a dance warmup in a circle. I felt extra gangly then. But no-one here was judging. Nervous laughter from other first timers let me know I wasn’t alone. But this was going to ramp up. The lesson was on the Swing Out. The quintessential dance move. I found myself fumbling a little over the footwork. Let alone when it came to a follow taking my lead. But everyone shared smiles and laughter at the shared difficulty.
The next month I found myself going to the Christmas swing ball. My friend was playing in the live band. I was glad to have a free lesson beforehand (hand to hand Charleston). I still didn’t know quite enough to quite hit the social dancefloor with any zealous but I gave it couple of quick tries.
Before, I’d never seen myself dancing. But now it’s part of a regular routine. Breaking the monotony of work, home, and commuting. Chatting with people from all walks of life with a shared interest is great. It’s a confidence boost. Learning new things, continual improvement; not to mention the exercise. It breaks the sad social norm of not talking to people who’re commuting with you. Walking past each other in the street.
Compared little over a year ago I feel more confident, more capable of trying new things. But it’s still not quite up to where I was when I left secondary school. Moods fluctuate anyway, even for people who don’t experience anxiety or depression in the same way. But for me seeing the positive trend is re-assuring. Seeing the low points compared to where I am now, the experiences I’ve had and friends I’ve made I wouldn’t turn back the clock. Life will carry on with plenty of blips along the way. But it’s all about experiences.
Things I’ve found helped along the way:
Headspace — a guided meditation app. It’s not free, but the price paid is more than worth it for me. You can try it for free.
/r/anxiety — helped me just chatting to people. There were points I felt I was a burden to friends. Here everyone was a stranger. But with some understanding. They had experienced it before. You can remain anonymous and rest assured you’re not alone.
Rainy Mood — a background soundtrack.
Commuter Chronicles — a bit of fun with my friend. It’s been good to just escape to a world of writing. Bringing some creativity into what is otherwise quite a structured and rigid discipline that is software development.
Lake District 2017
After 5 months without a break from work my parents offered me a room in a cottage they’d booked in the Lake District several months before leaving. Initially I was a little apprehensive, unsure what a holiday with parents would be like this far on from flying the nest. But partly through convenience, and the beautiful location I went ahead. During the weeks leading up to the holiday I had no expectations or plans for things to do. My past experiences of the Lakes involving temperamental weather to say the least. By the time it came to stepping out of the office and onto yet another delayed and busy train I was really looking forward to a total escape.
In classic last minute packing I filled my Brother’s hand-me-down duffle bag with clothes for all eventualities. Far be it from me to determine whether or not I’d need shorts and flip-flops or full waterproofs. The weather up there is a little delayed as the seasons move at walking pace northwards. I woke up in good time for the early pick-up to avoid the traffic. My parents, having always struggled with navigating in the car to where I live, hadn’t quite managed to pull up on my road, but rather at the end. A short walk later I was in the car feeling rather fresh with the early morning chill.
We made good time travelling up to the first stop at Warrick service. I was definitely ready for some breakfast by then. Sadly, as with any roadside cafe, the full-english must have been sitting on the hot plate for quite a while. My parents were trying to keep an eye out for the red kites along the way. Reading being relatively plagued with them it wasn’t something I really wanted to keep an eye on. I was quite content with gazing out across the chilterns.
It was another decent stint of motorway driving by my dad before we wound up at Lancaster services for another break. But after 406 miles from my parents house we’d made it to Stainton in the north-east of the national park. As we got out the car to scope out the cottage a Black Labrador had happily plonked down and was eagerly watching us while her walker was trying to jivvy her along. Apparently she had a tendency to assume any car had her owners in while she was with her ‘grandmother’. Despite the sun there wasn’t a lot of heat compared to the unseasonably warm weather I’d been having back in Reading.
Although we were a little earlier than the check-in time the cottage was ready for us. After entering a code on the outdoor coded key box - much like ones I’d been used to in the escape rooms that I’ve done with my housemates - we were in. Thankfully although I had to duck in through the door the rest of downstairs had decent headroom for a cottage of its age. We didn’t take too long to unload the car and unpack all the paraphernalia that comes with cottage rental holidays. We decided we’d have a wander around the village, naturally gravitating towards the local pub - The Kings Arms. It was good to see that Black Sheep ale was on tap, rather than the usual bottled offering you’d have to default to from Tesco back home. They also had some rhubarb gin, which I’d noted to try - but never actually got around to.
I was quite disappointed to discover that the notebook that I’d packed turned out not to be my travel notebook, but an old, and filled work one. So much for escaping and capturing things in detail. So the rest is from memory, and a smattering of notes that I made on my phone.
We ventured out after a nice meal to explore the village on foot. Although not particularly remote, there was not a lot of pavement, so we quickly ended up walking down the side of the road. Seeing the sheep on the hill grazing behind a church with sunlight making the green grass stand out more was so welcome after months of very little escape from urban areas. One house had a sign on the outside that made me chuckle bearing the words “Sod the dog, beware of the wife”. This played well with my parent’s sense of humour too. There was a beautiful pink flower that Mum pointed out to me and told me that it was a Rose Bay Willow Herb. My brain was barely able to take anything new in after such a stint of work without respite. Because of the season delay up there we saw Elderberries ripe and ready. This was combined on one plant the same time as Elderflower was in bloom, which I found odd.
There’s a running joke that I couldn’t tell the difference between Elderflower and Cow Parsley, which would make for some awful wine! Thankfully Kirsty knowledged me up and I can now.
It wasn’t long before we crossed a more major road and headed down another, with a small hub of industry. With Sunbeams music centre, Redhills Business Park, and business incubator. Minutes walk from The Lakes Free Range Egg company. The spot was idillic, but with a touch of modern architecture - one of the buildings rooftops were planted with grass. Although the food options would pale in comparison to the offerings of London’s square mile it’d be a literal breath of fresh air. Despite being next to an A road you couldn’t hear the road noise. This wasn’t to be our only visit as we’d made a note to visit the heritage centre we’d popped into along the way. It had a nice outdoor shop that was definitely worth more of a nose. Complete with a wall of Fjärllräven backpacks.
Saturday was the day Dad had picked to go on the Ullswater steamer boat. This was the one firm plan for the trip, with the rest being left up in the air. The start was Pooley Bridge, which had actually been destroyed by Storm Desmond in 2015. In its place now is a metal bridge. The weather for the day was the best of the week according to the forecast. So we made an early start to get the first boat across the lake. There was a small queue to buy tickets, but out on the Jetty it was a beautiful sight seeing the water so still and the sun shining. I tried to capture some of it on my camera. Some lovely, well behaved dogs had joined the boat. Sitting happily up on owners laps, ears flapping in the wind as the boat chugged along. The boat was no longer actually a steam boat, but played homage to its heritage with a bright red chimney. Being a man of little natural insulation I was glad of my hoodie and windproof. We had a few stops along the river to drop people off, and pick people up. This, of course, meant there were dog swaps which bought an inquisitive pair of dogs which came in for a sniff and a good fuss. You could see cows right up at the waters edge too - another lovely sight.
We disembarked at Glenridding, where we stopped for a quick bite to eat and a drink. I went with a nice Fentimans Ginger beer and a KitKat. I made a choice to pick up a sandwich too. This was much needed later on as the walking we were about to do helped work up quite the appetite. The Ullswater way wasn’t quite as well signposted as the pamphlet seemed to assume. Walking past Patterdale, which I didn’t know was there, made me think of a lovely little dog; Tilly. We rounded the end of the lake and had to gamble at which path to take. Up a beaten track that a post van somehow managed to get up we had walked a fair distance before we saw our first path marker. It turned out we were on the right track. We weren’t high enough to be up in the heather but we could see it, just after its seasonal prime, in a band above us.
We were passed by a couple of men running with large packs. I could only hope to reach that level of fitness. Just before lunch we saw why - a lady had fallen badly on the trail and they were mountain rescue. They had called across a rescue boat to get her to hospital, but there was still a fair distance to get to the shore. Some mountain bikers were making their descent so we warned them about it. Again, not a path I’d choose to take on my bike! After a spot of lunch we continued along Ullswater Way. The views opened up for a bit and we could look out across the lake. There just so happened to be a pub and tea room that we just happened to stop at. The bar was about 2 foot long, but there was plenty of room in the garden to sit on the grass and soak up some sun after making it about halfway. Mum hadn’t joined me and Dad for that, but instead enjoyed a tea and cake somewhere with an actual seat.
The next phase of the walk we saw other groups of walkers with full packs - who were doing their Duke of Edinburgh Gold award expedition. We passed by the other boat stops. Debating whether to take one of the back the remainder. But on seeing the size of the queues for each the wait would have been about as long as the walk itself. With the weather still being good we were quite happy to just continue. The end of the walk took us through a campsite, which had no signposting. But we knew roughly the direction that we needed to head in because we could see the jetty that we’d left from that morning. We could see the Herdwick sheep from the path. They seemed to be Mums favourite breed. We passed a couple of fields of cows, with a huge bull almost out of sight behind the wall.
The next day I set up my phone on the windowsill of the cottage - the one place I could get signal - so that we could have a Skype call as a family with my brother and sister-in-law in New Zealand, who’d recently welcomed Rose, my niece, into their little family. This was her big debut with having just seen her photos before. It was a lovely way to start the day. My brother as a dad would take some getting used to in my head. Let alone me being an Uncle. It was especially sweet when he turned the camera around to see his cat and dog laying side by side, staring at her. An undefeatable rival for attention.
Being a Sunday we’d booked the nearby hotel for a meal on the recommendation of the dog walker. I merrily misread the 2-4-1 Gin sign as being fine for the day. It wasn’t. But seeing as it was what Dad and I had decided to have we weren’t perturbed. I gave him my recommendation of Hendricks to try, a change from his normal Bombay Sapphire. I went with Sipsmiths because I don’t think I’d had it before. I was glad to have Whitebait as a starter, then roast beef, and then a dessert - something I don’t normally go for. I must have been hungry. We had another wander around in the afternoon after a good strong nap.
The next day we were off back in the direction of Glenridding but stopping short. We made use of Mum and Dad’s National Trust membership and had ourselves some free parking. There were quite a few other people there to see the falls. After a short walk up the hill we could see the falls. I took some time to take some photos here to show the flowing water. We continued up and away from the lake to climb up Glenbarrow. I was glad that we’d asked which way around to do the circuit, as the steps we were going up wouldn’t have been much fun to walk down. The clouds were low here and we were soon walking through them. The wind picked up as we reached the highest point where we posed for photos. Not that there was much in them but clouds. The path down meandered and the views improved again. Being the other side of the lake we could see where we’d walked before.
After the walk we sat on a ‘penny-d’ bench to eat our lunch. Then headed into Glenridding proper for a bit of shopping where I picked up some Kendal Mint cake for the office in a shop. Clearly I’m in the wrong business if you can sell offcuts of logs with a burnt-on smiley face for as much as they were! That evening was quite eventful - it was my turn to cook. The veg was on and boiling away quite happily. I turned on the oven, or so I thought. But 15 minutes later it was still as cold as when I’d started ‘cooking’. Oh good, now the timings were all going to be off. Making do with holiday cottage equipment I managed to sort out enough tray space for the burgers under the grill. Eventually they’d started cooking. I turned the veg down as low as the electric hob would let me. I nipped to the loo for just a moment and almost at the same time as I’d closed the door the smoke detector started bleeping. But it was too late, I was committed now. Sheepishly I went back downstairs to see smoke had done a good job of filling the kitchen. I’d like to point out here that the burgers themselves weren’t burning, but it was the oil that was splatting onto the grill. The red wine went down well with it.
Keswick was nice to spend some time in. More nice outdoor shops. But sadly still not one with quite the type of top that I’d been keeping an eye out for the whole trip. One of the pubs had a sweet little beer barrel and bowl out for dog water. The town was full of dogs and their owners. Border terriers seemed to be the most popular. The pub we had lunch in had a friendly landlord who’d mocked me for not insisting on paying for the whole meal and reminisced about his visits to Reading for the festival.
We had a brief walk around the edge of a reservoir, which sported some sweet wild raspberries along the path. We stopped short of wading through boggy marshland to get around the other side. We’d hoped that it would have been an easy walk but sadly not so we turned back to the carpark. A very low flying Hercules passed over the reservoir, shattering the peace and tranquility for a little while. Back at the carpark, we went up another path to another nice view, with Helvellyn as a backdrop.
We stopped in Grasmere, a small village, for a short time. This was easily one of the busiest places that we visited. Coach loads of tourists unloaded and carparks were full. Fortunately on the way through to the carpark I’d spotted somewhere that we could park for a couple of hours for free. Which just so happened to be outside the Grasmere ginger cake shop. I nipped inside to pick up some of it for work and myself. There were piles of it on the side pre-wrapped in the wax paper. It smelled amazing.
Coming back to work was quite a shock to the system after such removal from city life. But sometimes it takes changes to appreciate other things more.
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