2016: A Review

Everything changes so quickly these days.

Last year was my most academically challenging, without a doubt, moving into conservation has been gruelling at times. The course is relentless and I had to really fight to keep my head above the water at times. All the struggle aside it was a very successful year. My grades were good. I did some exciting work, I got to work at a couple of fantastic sites and institutions. However, this accomplishment has applied fresh pressure for this year. Not only do I want it, I now know that I can do it. With this will only come more anxiety. I’m afraid I’ll burn out, or burn up.

As part of my conservation training I travelled to Çatalhöyük, Turkey. This was my first time to the country, and I travelled just days after an Istanbul airport was bombed. It was a huge deal for me. I often feel I struggled with the social situations on site more than the work. I’ve always hated breaking into a group and the closeness of the team at Çatalhöyük was intimidating. They are wonderful people, and I am pleased to say I got there in the end. It really was life changing and has left a lasting ‘if I can do that, I can do anything’ impression.

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Awaiting the group photo. Photo courtesy of Scott Haddow.

For the family 2016 was another demanding year. After losing my Grandma the year before we said a sudden goodbye to my Aunt. It was a strain we all felt, but my father felt it the most. I’m very lucky my close family are so wonderful and supportive; we are all there for one another. I know it’s been worrying for my parents to hear of my anxiety and occasional depression, but they should know that it is their love and encouragement that has got me through the year. With the family’s first baby on the way, 2017 is going to finally bring us together after so many years of hardship.

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Kings Affair: budget Sadness and Joy from Inside Out

For the first time ever, dating has had not great impact on my year! What I did do was a waste of time. It can be easy to forget how difficult people can be. All I found was echoes of the disastrous relationships I’ve been in in the past. So: no boys until the dissertation has been submitted.

Academic and social confidence often still alludes me, but I am at peace with myself. I know who I am, and I know what I want. It sounds so corny to say. Since being unattached I have found time to develop my skills and interests; I’ve started this blog! For the first time I really put myself first. For my health, my education.

I’m beginning my applications for future employment and positions. It’s a competitive world, conservation, and that brings concerns. Article 50 is set to be initiated in March. I’m dreading the impact that will have on the, already underfunded, heritage industry. Now is not a good time to be an unemployed twenty-something. These national, and international, issues aside I’m hoping 2017 will be better. A fellowship, or job, a distinction, and a long overdue opportunity to relax. I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep since 2012.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety affects people in different ways. Many are nervous to make phone calls, join large crowds, talk in front of people. I’d like to address a couple of things I come up against every day.

I’ve always had a social limit. Working in retail, commuting to London, sometimes just listening to other people talk can be enough interaction. It is exhausting, being interested and interesting all the time. If I don’t feel I’ve had enough time to myself I become grumpy and irritable; only making myself harder to talk to. It can be frustrating at times; it makes it hard to commit to social occasions and can ruin others.

This antisocial behaviour is in direct opposition of my, sometimes crippling, fear of being left out. Left out of what? Anything. It can be even more frustrating when I’m stewing about events I never wanted to attend. I’ve spent many an evening scanning Facebook to see what I’m missing out on. It’s childish and only hurting myself. Things are only made worse when I’ve refused an event I later regret missing. It can make for a long night.

The way they affect me is different, and it is undoubtedly the latter that feels worse. Physical weight on my chest and shoulders only exaggerated by compulsively checking social media. Often only to be disappointed.

Overcoming the my ‘social limit’ has been relatively simple: accept the invite. I try to go to as many events as possible. Quite often, after a drink or two and some conversation, I find myself enjoying myself. It can be easy to forget that I am a social person. I like people. However, it is also important to know when to let it go. Days when I find myself lost in thought and music for hours, when my brain is unresponsive, are often ones better spent in my own space. Overall, I feel I’ve got a grasp on this one.

Controlling my fear of being left out has been much harder. Small oversights can easily be exaggerated and I can take offense from the littlest, or imaginary, things. I can’t rationalise myself out of these feelings. In my head I can see it clearly, but only for a second. Soon it will be clouded by nasty comments, imaginary insults and worse. It makes me feel immature and I try to distract myself and simply wait for it go away.

Both of these can makes things difficult, make me difficult. I can be quick to take offence, I over think and I can be distant. My head truly is my worse enemy.

You Are Still Here

Recently I’m finding myself revisiting the spaces in media where anxiety and depression are explored. It may not always be intentional but I’d like to talk about a few of them and why I feel they express something so important. A game, a song, a book, and an artwork.

A game: The Beginner’s Guide

I’ll start with the most recent: a game by Davey Wreden, creator of the Stanley Parable. It isn’t really a game at all. It’s a confusing, emotional, narrative about one man’s experience with anxiety and depression. At least, that’s how I have interpreted it.

For the first hour or so you explore, through Wreden, his friends Coda’s increasing isolation. However, things change (without giving too much away) as Wreden’s own fears come forward and grow desperate. From then it’s about feeling inadequate and needing constant positive reinforcement. But most of all, it seems to be about not being able to let go. Being haunted by mistakes.

It’s great to see these experiences conveyed in a different format and would recommend a purchase, or just a watch.

A song: Stronger Than Ever, Raleigh Ritchie

This song is more about the ‘making it’ and the pressures and sacrifices that we and our families deal with on the way. The music video is also very powerful so do give it a look.

I’d like to leave the house to this song every day. It reminds me that it is hard, but the results will outweigh the costs. For those interested; Ritchie is not only a successful artist he also played Greyworm in Game of Thrones. So he did make it. For me this just gives the song so much more power.

A book: Reasons to be Alive, Matt Haig

I’ve read a few books about anxiety now, most of which have been in regard to coping and provided tangible solutions. This one takes a different angle. Haig suffers from a strong panic disorder, and in his late twenties he almost went over the edge.

It’s full of wonderful quotes and great advice. It was encouraging to read someone’s triumph. For me, there was also a sense of relief. Haig was in a really dark place, much darker than I’ve ever been. But it didn’t give me that ‘people have it worse than you feeling’. That one is filled with guilt. This one is more encouragement. No battle is too hard, or too small.

An artwork: You Are Still Here, Mona Hatoum

I have these words on my wall. I don’t know what she meant, and I don’t think it matters. For me it’s a pat on the back at the end of the day. I am still here. I got through another day. I’m afraid that’s all I have to say for this one.

 

 

Do check them out.

Airports and A Military Coup

Travelling always makes me nervous, even familiar journeys. Since my general anxiety level has risen these journeys have only become more stressful. So flying to Turkey alone was a big deal!

On the 28th of June bombings took place at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. It killed a lot of people, and injured more. I was due to fly on 2nd of July and the events threw uncertainty onto the trip. Although I didn’t feel more at risk due to the events, it was a little close to the mark. Hugely reluctant to surrender my trip I decided to go as planned.

I flew from Gatwick airport in the morning. Knowing I’d be nervous I took extra medication but it didn’t seem to help. In the final half an hour before flying I held back panic. I couldn’t tell you what I was panicking about, but it passed and I swerved a full attack. Headphones in and book in hand I tried to avoid thinking about what was next. It was a very tense couple of hours. Once in the air I began to calm down, I even managed to enjoy my flight.

In Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen I wasted no time heading to their domestic flight area and prepared to wait the six hours anticipated. All the domestic flights were delayed and my extra forty minutes gradually became two hours. The departure lounge was a small area slowly filling up with more people. Again I began to stress more and more. I was hot and tired, but the isolation made it worse. I paid for 4G in order to talk to family and friends to calm my nerves. Again, I was able to find peace on the flight, delighted by the Turkish teenager who had taken it upon herself to translate for the flight assistant.

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On the 15th of July there was a military coup in Turkey, as I’m sure you know. The decision was taken to close the site early and send all those present home. In conservation we turned our attention to architectural conservation and cleaning the site.

Organising the departures of the approximately 70 people present was a huge job, and there was a lot of confusion. In this confusion some people slipped through and were left in less than ideal situations. Hearing about these situations contributed to the steadily increasing unease I was feeling about the situation.

Initially I was supposed to be travelling on the 25th of July. However, it was realised that I would be then be travelling alone. This was something the team were hoping to avoid and it filled me with dread. The plan was then altered and I was to travel on the 24th with a number of other people. We left Çatalhöyük and travelled to Ankara by train where we stayed at a hotel near the airport. The next morning we began our journey’s home. I found talking about my concerns very difficult, often putting the conversation off and accepting what I was given. It can be hard to tell a relative stranger why you’re nervous when you’re always nervous.

Overall the journey was quite smooth, and I managed to keep my nerve until it was just the final two of us and my gate was called. I was still at the bar when boarding was called and I felt a sudden panic. It always starts in my feet; it’s hot and it causes an increase in heart rate through the rest of my body. I resisted the urge to just bolt and said a hurried goodbye. I caught my flight in good time.

Overall it was a huge achievement for me, both personally and academically. I’m pleased I went and would like to thank the team and Zibby Garnet Travel Scholarship for their help.

If you’re interested in what I did in Çatalhöyük or my other conservation projects check out my other blog: https://chloepearceconservation.wordpress.com

Coping With Loss

It has been a long year, running alongside the difficulties in Cardiff has been the deteriorating state of my Aunt, Delia. She has suffered from Schizophrenia and after many complicated years and campaigning by my father, she had found herself in sheltered housing in Essex. In her final eighteen months she began to turn into herself again, enjoying walks on the beach, all the soaps on TV and going to lunch with my mum. With this development, the relationships she had once had with family began to heal, she took a special interest in my sister and I’s education.

Unfortunately, all the progress was halted when in early April Delia was diagnosed with stage four gallbladder cancer. We were told that nothing could be done and that she didn’t have long left. They were reluctant to give us any estimate, but my Dad guessed 4-12 weeks. We always knew that an illness would creep up on Delia, she smoked like a chimney and had not had a good diet for many years now. But we weren’t expecting it yet. My mum was also quite ill when the news hit so the family was under a lot of stress.

When I returned to Cardiff after being at home I wasn’t able to see her due to time constraints. It turns out the family dinner was my final opportunity. My time at home had really improved my mood and anxiety levels, and I coped better than I had before the Easter holiday. However, whenever I spoke to my parents I asked how she was, and found myself asking if we had any idea how long yet. Waiting for the news became worse than the news itself for me, and I was always looking out for that phone call.

Delia got an infection at the beginning of May and spent the first weekend in hospital. We were told she wasn’t going to make it. At the time I was working to reach the pile of deadlines I discussed in my previous post, I had one, maybe two, essays left to complete. The possibility that she may survive didn’t really cross my mind and I began to mourn her. Again, the bad news didn’t come and I became comfortable again with the situation. I had asked my mum to write her a card, as I had failed to do so due to work stress, and was glad I had. I wanted to be sure she knew I was thinking of her.

She was in hospital for a few weeks before being discharged. It took a little longer than expected as her dependency level increased and they had difficulty sourcing nurses. Once home, she stopped eating and my parents began to plan for the worst.

On the 27th of May she passed away. She had just seen my parents and her sister was present at the time. She was at home and had access to her cigarettes. She died surrounded by family, knowing she was loved. I found out while visiting a friend and struggled to enjoy the remainder of the trip.

Once back in Cardiff I spent all my time with friends, and tried to take my mind off it. I struggled to sleep, and if left alone with my thoughts too long I found myself breathing heavily. Coping with death is different for all, but for me it became physical. My chest was tight, a feeling I had became familiar with, and my shoulders  felt heavy. But I didn’t cry. I’d cried in May. During that difficult weekend, and the days that followed, I think I’d done much of my grieving.

The funeral was arranged for the 10th of June, and I spent the week leading up to it at home. I was glad to be home. I’d finished university several weeks ago and without my friends in Cardiff I wouldn’t have coped well with the news.

I became very anxious the night before, unable to sleep, and the feeling followed the next day. There was only a small number of us present for the service, making it feel incredibly personal. Although seeing someone I went to school with carry the coffin into the chapel was very odd. All the music choices were fitting, particularly the White Horses theme song performed by Jackie Lee. My Dad was unable to complete his reading, and that was perhaps the hardest part of the ceremony for me. I had seen him cry before, only a year ago at my Grandmothers, his mothers, funeral. There’s something very vulnerable about seeing your father cry.

The service was wonderful though, and the Three Counties Crematorium did a great job. Maybe better is the wrong word, but I felt at peace with the situation when we returned home. A peace I still feel now.

Five Deadlines and an Interview

As most of you will know April and May tends to be a tense time for students. We have deadlines followed by exams and if you’re unlucky other deadlines will follow. My deadlines have included three essays, one lab report, and a project note book (PNB, a long and time consuming summary of all the conservation research, work and thinking you’ve done). I was also offered an interview for a travel grant to help fund my summer placement in Turkey. Wonderful, and unexpected, but it took me back a bit. To cope with the incoming wave of stress I applied for extensions after the Easter holiday, and received them for all the essays and the PNB in the end. Without them I’m not sure I would not have been able to hack it.

For this post I wanted to talk about why some people need extensions. I know it can be frustrating watching people get more time on something that you’re working hard for, especially since everyone has something to worry about. As with everything it’s very personal. We all react differently to our problems and we all work differently.

My anxiety has always had a detrimental affect on my university work. Lack of concentration is my biggest foe. It’s taken me days to get through an article, and I cannot account for how I spent the time. The initial lack of concentration is then paired with a determination to do anything but the essay or research I had planned for the day. I loose days watching endless YouTube videos and turn my attention to more enjoyable projects. By the late evening the regret has started to set in. I write to do lists and think about how I should have done something. This will be followed by an hour or two of trying to work, often to no avail. Then I’ll go to bed. I won’t have achieved anything and I’ll feel awful for it. But that’s not a bad day.

On a bad day it can take me hours to get out of bed. These days aren’t racked by panic or fear; there’s nothing there. On those days I can’t do something I enjoy let alone something I need to do. The few months between Christmas and Easter were full of these days. But I’ve been lucky; spending a week or two at home over the holiday has helped a lot. I was able to keep going, and have largely kept my head above the water.

In the sea of things I needed to do and were worrying about in the run up to May the interview sunk. I did limited preparation and put off booking the train tickets. My train from Cardiff was late and I made it to the interview with seconds to spare. However, the lovely people of the Zibby Garnett Travel Scholarship made me feel very comfortable and I kept my head. Although my lack of prep came through I was able to demonstrate my enthusiasm (which I am not lacking!). I am lucky to say they have elected to provide funding for the trip. It’s a wonderful opportunity! The panic that rose and fell as I travelled was kept under wraps and I was able to be without it.

This is not the first time I’ve had extensions, as I struggled through an exam period during my undergrad. It is, however, the first time I’ve really needed them. It’s like trying to read a book in a language you don’t understand. Like trying to write an essay while someone throws things at you. Like trying to read a book while the words disappear.

I have worked very hard this year and I do not want my grades to suffer because my head has been elsewhere. Attending my classes regularly was a good way to get to me to the university and help retain a sense of order in my life. By using extensions I was able to prevent a disaster and keep my anxiety behind the flood gates.