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.

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.

Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a while now, but as its Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week it seemed the perfect time to start.

My history with depression and anxiety is short, I’ve only been on medication since January, however I’ve frequently found myself at low points over the last few years.

Like many I have had difficult relationships, including issues with my partner’s mental health and emotional and verbal abuse. Those five years caused me to withdraw and become emotionally distant with those around me. Not only that; it left me with low confidence in all aspects of my life and myself. Crying and arguing in a café in Paris will always dark time for me. I visited doctors at various points during these years however the boyfriends were used as scapegoats and I never received any serious attention. I sought non-medical routes as well, and though counselling helped, I only really recovered post-break up.

Lets jump to the end of 2015 and I’m in a new city, doing something I’ve been working towards for a while now (and love), and it all starts to slip away again. Stress and the need to be productive struggle against each other, ultimately resulting in more stress. By Christmas I was no longer sleeping properly and no longer enjoying anything. However, it was not until I went home for the holiday that I realised that it wasn’t normal. I was fighting back tears in the kitchen while my family laughed watching TV, but when I returned to them I was normal. I kept it all together, not wanted to ruin Christmas, until I was dropped back off at university and within hours I had a break down on the phone. It was only then I realised that this wasn’t normal, and its only now that I can see I haven’t been normal for a long time.

I had my first panic attack in January and with that sought help from my doctor. Since then I’ve been placed on anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants, they have helped. For me, however, it’s the anxiety that keeps coming back. Sleepless night and mornings of waiting for mild panic to subside are still a regular occurrence. I am coping better though, I am able to focus better on bad days and have concurred social anxiety at an international conference. My second panic attack occurred minutes before I was set to give a presentation, and somehow I managed to maintain my composure and deliver.

For the first few months I was ashamed. Why couldn’t I cope with things others could? Although I still have that question I can see now that the why doesn’t matter. What matters is that I don’t let it affect my life. I’m planning a trip over the summer and I refuse to back down due to my fears.

I’m very good at hiding my feelings, but I no longer want to. It’s a part of who I am and probably always will be. The further I bury it the more viciously it attacks; so its time to bring it to the surface.

Depression and anxiety are often hard to see, but for many it hangs over like a dark cloud. We need to be help, but not patronise. Support but not shelter. Awareness is the first step.