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This picture popped up in my memory feed on Facebook.

screenshot of twitter conversation

Image Description:

First tweet: #GrowingUpUgly – When guys in middle school would get dared by their friends to ask you out and see if you say yes as a joke

Second tweet: How about growing up ugly and then turning out sort of okay looking but you don’t know for sure be cause your self esteem is shot and you’re convinced you look awful?

I started to write more on FB, but then could feel it starting into a rant, so I’m gonna blog about it instead. About why you should sit next to the people who look lost, lonely or not quite what you see in advertising. I’m 45 years old, and I still struggle with what I look like.

Melbourne, as has most of Australia has been stinking hot just lately. While not actually on fire in the CBD, heading into watch the cricket, I put on shorts and a t-shirt so I was comfortable. Of course my hair decided it was going to settle into a side part, I wore no make-up (CBA) and when I caught sight of myself in the mirror in the bathrooms, I sighed. Long and hard. I know I didn’t help myself today, but really?!

Body Dysmorphia is a funny thing. When I got diagnosed with it, doing my make-up meant looking at parts of my face in a compact mirror, because I couldn’t bear to look at all of my face. I am better than I was, but today and over the past few days, I’ve been struggling with it.

It’s a funny feeling, not being comfortable in your own skin. Wanting to punish your body for just being there.

I never was the most girly girl, but one thing that girls are expected to be is delicate, dainty, small. At 5’10” with ‘Maddie Man-hands’ and clumsy because I still don’t fit into my skin; my perpetual stoop to make myself smaller than I am is now causing me pain.

Thankfully my BD has never crossed into an eating disorder, instead I turned to alcohol to bury my feelings. As I’ve hit three weeks sober, my feelings are all coming up to the surface, hence me having to work through them.

Over the weekend, I had a bad stomach. I didn’t eat anything I shouldn’t have, but yesterday it was not happy. I got home from shopping and nearly wobbled over. A sure sign I’m frazzled. That and that between my shoulders is rock hard.

But I’m not scared of what I’m feeling, I still don’t understand it. Wish that it wasn’t my load to carry.

But without the bullying, would I be the one-person cheer squad that I am now? Would I be the person who says ‘Bless you’ to strangers when they sneeze? Would I be the one person who gave the CEO a kiss on her birthday, because it was her birthday?

I doubt it. I’m using it to my advantage, but boy do I wish I could go back in time and sit next to the little girl I was.

My leaving speech

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For those of you who don’t know me and are just here for the food, welcome! I’ve been here at Council for a while, almost exactly six years. Not as long as some of you; but to others I’m like the Oracle of Delphi. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll know someone who will. 

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As you all know, I am guaranteed to cry, so let’s just accept that now and I’ll muddle through this as best I can. If all else fails, I’ll do an interpretative dance.

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This is going to be hard for me to do, because as some of you know, working at Nillumbik nearly broke me and my marriage to Dan. So here are some memes to make you laugh through this bit.

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Working as an EA or PA, your life is dependent on the symbiotic relationship you have with your Manager.

Three weeks after I started working here, I met with CC and Mr T, lately of this parish, to ask WTF had I done? I’d left a job I loved, with colleagues I loved to work closer to home and was working for someone who did literally nothing and also had no idea how to mange anyone. When I asked ‘How are you today?’ his answer would govern my whole day.

Somehow, I muddled through, joining committees and starting up AdminChat, offering help across the organisation where I could so I had stuff to do to fill my days. My mental health and in turn marriage began to suffer. Several people along the way helped hold me up, not least J – whose opinion of me i valued over everybody’s else on the Management team, and still do. When R left, J was asked to step into the role; at our first meeting, he said ‘I’ve never had a PA before, what do I do?’

J’s life is compartmentalised into work and home; he’s cautious about letting life spill between the two. J is also not the most loquacious of people, so we worked our way out of how to work together through Doctor Who (I’ve met two of them) and working through issues logically and systematically as that is how our brains work.

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Officially I’ve lived in Greensborough for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else since I left home twenty five years ago, I’ve moved house over twenty times.

When you look at my CV, it can look like a shemozzle too, because I’ve done there, been that, living in a seaside town, being a chamber maid is a rite of passage; I’ve been a bar maid, worked in a warehouse; I’ve even done silver service, although not successfully. I’ve worked in retail, including a book shop (so – no I didn’t take home much money); memorably opening at midnight for the release of the Order of the Phoenix which may or may not have caused a sense of humour failure when I was still in the shop 18 solid hours later. At that same bookshop in Winchester, played it cool and chatted to Colin Firth about Rohinton Mistry’s books. I may or may not have photocopied his EFTPOS receipt for his signature. 

 

I worked for the Civil Service in the UK over three different training camps. Spending the longest time at Army Training Regiment, Winchester one of their basic training camps. I looked after A-Squadron; supporting a Major, Captain and two Warrant Officers in the office, and six other Captains with their staff as they trained the recruits. Across the camp, every two weeks, a new intake started for the twelve-week course, a sausage factory of people turning into lean, green, fighting machines.

[There is a point to all of this, I promise].

I sat in a little office with D, the payroll clerk for the unit, the two of us surrounded by paper, listening to Radio 2 all day. Recruits would arrive, followed by greats sheafs of paperwork. They’d either stay and create more paperwork that would continue to follow them through their careers: or leave and I’d have to generate and process their discharge paperwork, closing their files. This was also where I watched my signature get smaller and smaller as I signed my name hundreds of times a day.

D was painfully shy; he wouldn’t even blow his nose in front of me – he’d always excuse himself to the bathroom first. Can you imagine him being in a room with me for eight hours a dayThe poor boy.

Watching Pass-Out parades of recruits every other Friday was both joyous and heart-wrenching at the same time. It was a whole festival to celebrate the hard work they’d done, with the recruits doing various displays to show off their fitness, skills and confidence to family and friends. Just after 12pm, family and friends would sit down in bleachers, staff would appear from all over the camp, leaning over the back wall of the seating, listening to the excited murmurs underneath us. A full marching band would put on a display, assemble at the back of the square, then the Sergeant Major would shout, “By the riiiiight! Quick, March!” The drums would start and the recruits who’d changed into their second dress, all polished boots and brass buttons, would march on to the parade square.

I’ve worked here for longer than I’ve worked for anywhere else. The job I had the longest before now was at the Sovereign Centre; everything I learnt about team work stems from working in that busy leisure centre. 

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Staff training sessions were a hot mess of hangovers, running scenarios with casualties all over the building, most of us in hysterics and us practicing CPR until your arms were on fire and knees your have given way. I learnt more about customer service and tact and diplomacy by rebooking over a thousand children into swimming lessons, navigating the endless expectations of their parents and the children’s diary commitments, until (unbelievably obnoxious serial complainant residents) arrived in my inbox.

But I’ve been on poolside and fished people out. Knowing that if you have to go in for a rescue, your colleagues would have your back to clear the pool. 

I’ve done CPR and broken ribs to keep someone going long enough for an ambulance to get to them. 

I’ve taught ladies to swim, who thought they’d be the ones looking after handbags for the rest of their lives. 

People I worked with at the Sovereign Centre came to our wedding, I still email and message D and other people I worked with at the ATR. Also at our wedding were a couple who gave me a spare room rent free for a few months when my first marriage ended. I spoke with Furriner on her first day back at work after burying her father, I walked into the lunch room and unknowingly, I told her she looked like she needed a hug, so I gave her a hug. I reciprocated the love and care my best friend W gave to me in entrusting her two children to me after we met on poolside over twenty years ago, and made her Archie’s god-mother. His god-father is Hubs’ best friend, who joined the Australian Army on the same day as Dan, again over twenty years ago.

Here we come to the point of all this.

I share these memories of my life with you, because people you meet at work shape your lives in hundreds of ways, day in, day out. I lived in Winchester, working at Waterstones and the ATR for just a couple of years; can you imagine what I’m going to be able to tell people about working at Council for six years? What we’ve done, built, created, the people we’ve helped along the way?

At my interview, I said I wanted to work for Council because I firmly believe we provide services, opportunity, art, facilities for people who want to access them, but don’t have the money to. But I’m done with residents complaining because they think moving a car park would ruin the aesthetic of a playground; or residents complaining because we take time out to celebrate IDAHOBIT, health initiatives, prevention of violence and that is before we get to the Not In My Backyard NIMBYish attitude of people who want to subdivide their land to make money, but don’t want their new neighbours to build on it.

But, I still believe that and I’m proud to have worked here. But now I’m prouder of the friends I’ve made that will be with me for life.  

Work in progress

Sooooo, I learned that I do not honour or am proud of being sober yesterday. We had our Book Club break-up at a wonderful private house in Camberwell. We mooched around the garden, took masses of photos and were offered lemonade, fizz and Pimms. I asked for lemonade.

I got this.

Then my glass was empty, it got refilled with fizz and I didn’t say anything.

Then I asked for a glass of Pimms, because I’d already blown the week out the window.

Sigh.

I don’t got this. Today I looked up AA meetings. I need help as this is bigger than I can handle. :/

—o0o—

In other news, a friend at aforementioned party, took a photo of me that I posted on Instagram and Facebook with the following caption:

Those of you who know me, know I struggle with what I look like. It’s rare for me to have a candid picture taken of me that I like. But I love this one!
#bodydysmorphia #mentalhealth

I’ve had some messages come through about what Body Dysmorphia means, so I’m going to try to explain it; as best I can. I was in Wiltshire when I was diagnosed, so about 2001? I have hid the diagnosis, because like many mental health issues, I was ashamed of it. Only a few close friends, and I mean close, know how much I struggle with what I look like. Some days, it’s so bad, I can only do my make-up looking in a compact mirror, because then I don’t see all my face at one time.

I’m getting ready to go to work, or on a night out and I look at me in a mirror; I take care over my appearance and think, “that ain’t bad”. Then I take a selfie, because I don’t think I look too bad, and WTF is in the camera? Or someone else will take a photo and WTF is in the camera. Some photos of me will never be on my timeline, because WTF is in the camera. So far, so normal, right?

I have also been the height I am since I was 12 years old, I towered over people at school. On my first day at high school, I was told off for not telling someone the way to a classroom, because I didn’t know it. The teacher thought I was being difficult? a bully? obnoxious? who the hell knows.

I would sit down next to girls my age and feel huge next to them. I was taller than them; sitting down on anything, my thighs were bigger; my hands were bigger, I bit my nails through nerves. I took up so much space compared to everyone else. I’m lanky, gangly, walk into things all the time, stooping to try and hide it; so now at 43, my shoulders hurt.

My feet are bigger than my husband’s. I remember so clearly at junior school, one of my favourite teachers trying to address the problem of people picking on me by standing me next to the smallest girl in the class (hello Sophie if you’re out there). Talk about exacerbating the problem. It took a full meltdown for him to understand the impact of him slipping my shoes on to take the rubbish out before he understood how fragile my f*cking feet make me feel. Feet! I am so proud of them because they’ve taken me round endless KMs of running in the past few years. I’d no sooner got rid of one duff nail when Archie trod on two more and I’m waiting for them to grow out, so I’m still trying to hide my feet.

What with being mistaken for a boy for most of my childhood and teens, the feet, the entirely too big, too tall, not girly enough, short hair because it was easier while I was in a swimming pool all the time; who I am, what I look like, got warped along the way. What I look like does not match expectations and people have told me so, all my life. It’s gotten to be so normal for me, even if in reality most people don’t care, but that’s the thing with BDD, depression or anxiety, what you tell your brain make no difference, one iota.

Because the voice in your head is so loud, it deafens out everything else.

I completed a Mental Health First Aid course today, (I am aware of the irony). But you see, I’m perfectly placed to do this, because I know people. I pick up signs when you’re not 100%, I ask questions, peer intently at them, check in on you, because when you’re hiding in plain sight – I see you. Coz, I know all the secrets about appearing normal; functioning when you can barely function or hold it together.

The alcohol thing? Self-medication, because if I’m buzzing, I ain’t feeling the weight of perception on my shoulders. Perception to be all things to all people. Perception that I’m not enough. That I’m less than. That my make-up isn’t on point, as I’ve not contoured correctly, (really? ffs). That some days I can barely move from my bed because my soul hurts. That some days only the thought of Archie means I hold it together, because I don’t want him to be the child that grows up without a parent. That I am sick of people talking over me when I’m trying to say something.

BDD goes hand in hand with everything else I’ve got. But like everything else I’ve got, it doesn’t define me. It makes me, me.

I just can’t even

Waking up this morning to the confirmation that Robin Williams had indeed taken his own life, has left me unutterably sad.

A friend shared a status on Facebook last night, someone was venting “that 23 returned troops would also take their lives today, but no-one will hear about them”, as she said, it misses the point completely. The depth of despair and darkness your own mind can take you to is quite incredible, no matter who you are, what you do, how much you appear to have. I’m very lucky, my depression is now well-managed by a daily dose of Zoloft, exercise and talking to people I love; as well as learning more about myself over the years to recognise when I need to seek additional help.

I know that when dark images start creeping up on me, I need to take some time out of my life and look long and hard at what is going on. Do I need to have a heart-to-heart with my husband, best friend or brother? Do I need to grab a pen and write, let it out and then burn my scribbles? Do I need to take a long walk, no headphones, no company and just let my thoughts range far and wide until they settle? Do I need to make an appointment with my GP to say, ‘This is larger than I can handle on my own’. Knowing your own personal triggers is easy, knowing when they’re too big to handle is hard. So hard.

But the worrying thing with depression is that sometimes it can poleaxe you. Thinking you’re doing ok, it’s just a wobble, life is good, what do you have to worry about? Out of nowhere a yawning chasm can suddenly open up and swallow you, the ground closes over your head and while it make take only an hour or so to fall, it can take months until you see daylight again.

For everyone who suddenly feels fragile, who feels like they cannot cope with just putting one foot in front of the other, getting out of bed, getting washed, dressed, breathing: please raise your hand and ask for help. The voices that are telling you that you’re worthless; nothing; a failure – those voices are so far wrong. So far away from you, the world is a better place for you being in it. Every life you touch now, will be touched a thousand times over if you believe your mind.

For Robin Williams, it doesn’t matter what he had, what he brought, what he did. For a million and one reasons, his mind got the better of him. For the veterans that saw active service that also could no longer cope yesterday and their minds got the better of them too. For everyone who’s in pain today, do not let your mind get the better of you.

You are worth more than that. Yes, you. Just as you are. Right now, you’re perfect. You may be battle-scarred and weary, but we love you all the more because of it. Stay here, stay kicking and fighting, let us hold you up, until you can walk on your own again.

On vulnerability

I listened to Woman’s Hour on the way to visit a girlfriend today, Brené Brown was on talking about vulnerability. I’m going to listen to her TEDTalk, when I’ve finished this. I’m also going to buy her book. ‘Why?’ I hear you all ask excitedly.

Brené talks about perfectionism, and about how if you try to line all your ducks up in a row and outsmart your shame by showing everyone how ordered, perfect, fabulous your life it – it really isn’t.

Hello?

Universe, whack me over the head why don’t you?

People who show up in their lives, who accept themselves as they are, realising that they are enough, are much happier, have the ability to show they’re vulnerable, to ask for help, to just be. I keep hearing the same thing said in different ways, and still I don’t always get it. I let the external forces of (and in my life) dictate what I feel I should do.

Which is why I think this year has been huge for me. My integrity, honour and professionalism were being taken into question. My name is all I have at work, my reputation precedes me when I send an email. Trying to do what was the right thing, what had been the right thing, suddenly wasn’t. It threw me a curve ball that I wasn’t able to cope with, because I didn’t have the time in my life, in my day, to figure it out.

I spent all day working as fast as I could to get things done on stupid deadlines, because why plan to do things on time; when even if you asked for something two weeks ago, you’ll only get it back the day before. I’d run around to get home, to then run around to get everything ready to leave the next day again. While the systems I’d put in place were working, my health and mind suffered. I didn’t leave room for me, because, apparently it’s more important that my house was clean, rather than me going for a walk. It was more important to surf the internet, than to stop and think, it was more important to have a smartphone, than to actually keep in touch with the people it was meant to keep me in touch with.

Ok, I had a commute into and out the city every day, Facebook keeps me in touch with people, but does any of this add up to a hill of beans when I’ve a stack of books by the side of my bed I’ve not had a chance to read, because in my vulnerable state, it’s easier for me to surf the internet and look at crap, rather than channel my thoughts internally, in case I don’t like what I find?

No. A big, fat, rainbow yawp of a no.

This is my life. My only life. It’s not a dress rehearsal. Making a decision to leave where I was working, was the biggest decision I’ve made since we as a couple decided to get pregnant. I kid you not. I could have sat there, doing the same shit, every day. Complaining about how hard done by I was. But then I spoke up about something so fundamentally unfair and illegal, and got shouted down, after that choosing to leave where I had once loved to work – it was easy.

Finding a new job was problematical, there wasn’t a huge amount about, but on my second application, I got lucky. My ethics are still as strong as they ever were, I’m still here, I may have been a bit bent, bashed and battered, but you know what? I have lived through worse.

But I didn’t have a child to show ‘This is how you do what’s right’.

I hope that I can continue to grow and be vulnerable. Be enough. Just as I am.

On burnout and bedrest

Warning, rambling blog alert – I’m not going to try and edit it, I’ll leave you to follow my breadcrumbed trails of thought:

Changing of seasons can only mean one thing, the usual coughs, colds and flu-y things are doing the rounds. Judging by my train journey’s to and fro the city, it’s a stinker of a cold this year. So why people feel the need to share it with everyone else I don’t bluddy know. AND if you do have to travel on public transport, take some tissues with you…!

Hubs has had the full-on snot-fest (sorry), Peanut’s nose is running like a tap, I’ve been in bed with earache, a sore throat and coughing for two days. I’d rather have the congestion if that’s ok. Ear ache is the worst pain, my left ear and side of my neck is throbbing and sore. I tried to get a doctors appointment today, they could try and squeeze me in tomorrow or Thursday. For the sake of a doctor’s certificate, to be told it’s viral, I’ll hang on to my $60 thank you very much and wear the wrath at work.

So after listening to Poirot yesterday, where somehow the settings of the audiobook went skew-iff and I ended up listening to the same chapters being read on repeat. I managed to reach a height of new laziness, insofar the phone was beside me on the bedside table and I CBA to reach for it, unlock it and sort it out, today I listened to one of The Cat Who books. I can remember the first time I found one of these books in Eastbourne library. I’ve read nearly all of them, mostly through getting them out of libraries, and have about 7 or 8 on audiobooks on itunes. When I couldn’t sleep (even worse than I can’t sleep now) I started listening to audio books, I would write the words in my head, which gave my brain something else to think about and I’d slowly drift off. With the phone tucked under my pillow, it doesn’t disturb Hubs, but means that on those nights where I’m just lying there running through lists in my head, I can switch off.

Worryingly, for some people, I also listen to them while driving. Don’t ask me how listening to something that can send me to sleep can also help me concentrate, I don’t know, but there we have it, you’ll just have to trust me. I’ve ploughed my way through most of my podcasts now too, so am rapidly running out of things to listen to on my phone. I know I’ve got lots of music on it, but I’m in a bit of a spoken word fest at the moment. I’ve got four audiobooks to listen to from the library, but haven’t had a chance to sort them out just yet.

But the reason I started this blog was this article, which I will let you read at your leisure, if you so desire on Burnout. In the article is a little 15 question test on whether you’re experiencing burnout. I got 64 out of 75, and need to do something urgently to address it. Admittedly, I back dated the survey to what I felt about a month ago, before I was offered and accepted my new job, but it’s still a worrying sign, now I’m heading out the other side, I can share with you how rough it’s been. The article highlights five areas of concern:

  1. Inability to concentrate – my levels of faffing have reached epic proportions. I have to physically force myself to accomplish anything, including doing the washing, drying, folding and ironing. Something I usually love doing as it calms me down, by being so methodical.
  2. Guilt – so when I don’t do the washing etc. I feel awful. Peanut has gone into nursery in some really odd outfits, sometimes I’ve even had to reach into the charity bag for clothes too small for him, as he had nothing else clean to wear. I have also felt guilty for not doing something, trying to do too much, not going shopping, then going shopping. I felt like I couldn’t win.
  3. Frequent mood changes – I don’t know how many times I’ve dissolved into tears in the past six weeks. Or laughed hysterically at nothing, nothing remotely funny, like when I was weeping over Awkward Family Photos. I hate websites like that, yet have found myself reading them over and over, because that was all I could cope with.
  4. Social isolation – I’ve not wanted to see anyone, not wanted to talk to anyone, not wanted to blog, not wanted to share, but have been brain-dumping the stupidest things onto Facebook and Twitter. If you’re following me, I’m sorry for cluttering up your feeds.
  5. Increased drinking – I’m not guilty of this one, alcohol and my body are not mixing at the moment (no pun intended) after one or two small drinks, the hangovers I’ve been getting have been horrendous.

I’ve had a stack of books that my cousin lent me in the cupboard, but so far have only read one of them. I’ve retreated into Mapp & Lucia, Jeeves & Wooster and lost myself in the 1930s mix of social foibles and etiquette. My public face has been very, very different from my private one.

Another staff member handed their resignation in today. I walk round the office and say hello to people in the mornings, I can see so many people struggling, again I feel guilty for leaving them to it. But there comes a time when you need to look after yourself first, to make yourself the priority on your to-do list. I’ve a week off between jobs. I’m looking forward to clearing some stuff, I’m going to buy a new notebook, a new pen, find somewhere to sit and just write. Completely brain dump all the baggage I’ve been hanging on to, and then rip up the notebook and throw it away.