Monday, 27 February 2012

My Thirties So Far

Far from being the cue for a meltdown as |I expected my thirtieth birthday instead seems to herald the start of a new chapter in my life. As I was pondering the way I blog not too long ago I have therefore decided to try something a bit different for this post.

My Thirties

Day 1

High: Going to Scitech with two small children who were very interested in playing and too young to care about any thing as boring as science and why things did what they did.
Low: Being stupid enough to leave my iTouch on a table in the cafe. Fortunately it was handed in so it wasn’t as lost to me as my camera.
Overall: The high and fact myiTouch was only misplaced and not lost meant it was a GOOD day. Win

Day 2

High: Had a nothing day spent relaxing sans iTouch.
Low: Had a nothing day spent relaxing sans iTouch.
Overall: I like being lazy so yet another GOOD day. Win.

Day 3

High: Going to Donnybrook with a friend to stay with her grandparents house with a lovely views and even more lovely grandparents in residence.
Low: Missing out on The Winter’s Tale due to being away.
Overall: The play would be on again and I had a great visit. Win.

Day 4

High: Spending a day cruising back north with my friend stopping in random villages including a stop for mini pancakes with fabulous company. (Also I got iTouch back!) 
Low: A day involving mini pancakes cannot have a low in it.
Overall: Hello?! Mini panckakes and excellent company. Double win.

Day 5

High: a) Went to see the Winter’s Tale with a friend. Had sushi twice in one day .
b) Went to a house warming with a friend and her friends and met random people
Low: Was too tired to meet more than a few people at the party and felt sleepy far too early. Also managed to spill my drink within 10 minutes of being there.
Overall: Culture, double sushi and great company = triple win but minus points for clumsiness and tiredness = overall win x2 (there was a lot of great company)

Day 6

High: Went with a friend for a birthday treat pedicure.
Low: Started to pack a box to send home and get ready for heading east for the last leg of my Aussie trip.
Overall: A win. I hgate packing but I’m happy it means I get to see so many of my friend in the next month.

Day 7

High: Finished packing and had a lovely meal with my host family. 
Low: Gave up on printer and wrote blog instead. 
Overall: double win. Hello? I write this and my bags were completely packed before midnight.

Week One Verdict: Life is still pretty darn good.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Decade of Me

1 decade. 10 years. 3652 days. I’ll stop there, if the numbers get any bigger I may actually retreat into a full blown depression. I have finally reached that day. As of two days ago I am in my thirties and you know something? I’m not depressed and not just because I stopped counting at days.

I can sum up my twenties in two words. Jonathan and Physics. Jonathan is in every day, every minute and second I declined to work out. He was the heartbeat and then backbeat of my twenties. There is no denying the importance of that man in my life but there was more to those 10 years than one man no matter how special he was. The other important part of my twenties was studying Physics, it was the only thing in my life that ever came before Jonathan but my success was ultimately only possible due to his support and encouragement.

On my 20th birthday Jonathan gave me a stuffed dog I named Bear and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I was in my third year at university and lived in a flat with two other students. I cannot remember how we celebrated it. I do remember my 21st as it was and remains my best birthday ever. On my actual birthday we went for dinner at a very nice restaurant and then met my closest friends at the pub were they gave me many balloons and cards and much merriment was had by all. The following weekend my parents came to town. My parents, Jonathan, most of my university friends and I had dinner at a local diner type restaurant followed (unsurprisingly) by drinks at the student union. It wasn’t just that it was fun, I felt loved and I felt like I belonged like I never did when I was in my teens.

As much as I found a new level of acceptance at university it wasn’t all plain sailing. I was ill in my first year and in my second year I only just scraped into honours due to spending too much time making up for my lack of social life in my first year. I spent a lot of my first year in tears and on the phone to Jonathan and my mother. The following three years were much better but during the stressful times of exams and overdue assignments I would be crying on the phone again. Despite suffering major exam anxiety and fluctuating grades I graduated with honours, my relationships with Jonathan and my mother intact, a lot of fabulous experiences and with some amazing friends.

After finishing my bachelors I went on to complete a masters  degree and though it was partly long distance the majority was completed closer to home and my relationship with Jonathan not only survived but strengthened. During that year I was pleased to discover that as well as making new friends my old friends and I stayed close. At the end of my masters I did a placement in Glasgow and Jonathan and I moved in together. We were a strong and committed couple who had spent the last few summers basically living together at my mum’s house and it was therefore a shock to us to discover that moving in together was rather difficult. There were fights and there were tantrums. Doors were slammed and parents were ranted at, often in my case whilst drinking wine. All in all pretty standard for a young couple’s first attempt at co-habitation I’d say. Of course at the time I didn’t always see it that way. Not long after I stared my PhD I found myself suffering from anxiety, including frightening attacks where my self-esteem hit rock bottom. Fortunately through the university I received excellent counselling. With the support of Jonathan, my mother and my unofficial PhD supervisor I overcame the irrational fear produced by my brain and returned to the happy eccentric geek that I was before starting my PhD. Oh and the salsa dancing. It was during this low spell that Jonathan bought me my favourite Christmas present, salsa lessons for us both. As well as helping to increase my confidence and re-establish my AWOL self-esteem it became a life long hobby and passion for both of us.

The anxiety that surface in my early twenties will always be a part of me but now I know it and I know how to recognise it and live with it. I didn’t know it then but it was also a dress rehearsal for something much worse yet to come. Sadly I was fortunate as it gave me the tools to learn how to live with grief. After finishing my PhD I was in a great place. I was happy and my confidence though not 100% was strong and growing. I had a job dealing with many different people and companies which helped to build my confidence further and led to my job in Aberdeen. This lead to Jonathan applying for and getting a great role with the IT department of an Aberdeen based oil company. Life was good. We both had secure well paid jobs and were looking at houses with a view to buying our first home in the next 6 months. We had plans to visit Australia and salsa dance in Cuba. We were on our way to 'grwing-up' and setting the scene for starting a family. It wasn’t to be though. Jonathan died less than 2 weeks after moving to Aberdeen. Less than a month after my 27th birthday life as I knew it ended.

At first I was numb. Your brain cannot process that kind of information. It simply isn’t capable of it. It does it bit by bit. Step by agonising step. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I spent the following two days sitting staring at cartoons on the TV screen oblivious to almost everything around me. There was the funeral and then denial. I went through the motions of living and refused to acknowledge what had happened. Two things happened 5 months after Jonathan died. First I went for counselling and spent three sessions talking about him and crying to a complete stranger. Second I moved. I moved hundreds of miles away and went from the cocoon of living in my parents house to living on my own far away. Finally I let the grief in. I cried and screamed and I shouted and swore that it was not fair. That it was not true. That it was not happening. But though it wasn’t fait it was true and it was happening. Life was going on without Jonathan in it. The one allowance I had made in Aberdeen to my new widowed status was to join an online support group. Through this group I made friends with other widows in my new home town. My new colleagues were extremely supportive and I was fortunate to have understanding bosses at all levels. I learned to survive. I learned to get through the day without Jonathan and eventually I got to the point where surviving wasn’t enough anymore. At this point I formed Plan C. I handed in my notice, applied for my USA and Australian visas, booked the plane tickets and started this blog.

The end of my twenties was spent on the other side of the planet. It was an amazing send off to an eventful decade. In the last 11 months I have seen, done and lived more than I thought was possible. For all I had dreams of travelling in my teens back then I was more interested in where I wouldn’t be than the where I would be never mind the what I would do once I got there.

In my twenties I faced anxiety, grief, exclusion, self doubt, exams, disappointment, spiders on my own, worry, fear, terror, loss and more. I faced them and I over came them.

My twenties gave me strength, courage, attitude (good or bad I’ll let you decide), more friends than I know what to do with, more experiences than I know what to do with(!) and LOVE. I have loved and been loved completely and absolutely by one amazing man. I love and am loved by my family more today than I knew was possible in my teens. I have a whole other family simply because one man loved me and had the courage to stick by me no matter how crazy I got or how insane I made him feel. I have friends who are my family because they stuck by me when they didn’t know how and there isn't much I wouldn’t do for them. I have friends form the first time zone to the last. Basically I am one lucky thirty year old.

I thought I would be sad when I turned thirty, I thought it would be hard. I thought I would dwell on the life Jonathan and I have been denied but I’m not. I am sad at everything he will never have. I am sad for him. I cry for everything he should be seeing and doing but not for me. Though I didn’t get that life I got this one and it’s a good one. As I type this I’m smiling. It’s a smile tinged with sadness but it is a happy smile for all I have and all I am now. I am looking forward to seeing what the next decade has in store. I know there will be pain but only because there is joy and I know that as long as I remember that then the joy will make all and any pain worthwhile. So as I said so eloquently on my facebook page on my birthday. Thirties? Bring it. I’m ready for you and raring to go.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Thoughts on Writing My Blog

I was reading the Widow Chick blog the other week and she mentioned that when she started she was worried that in a few months she would run out of things to write. Since my blog is supposedly a travel blog and I am still travelling I never worried about that but it did get me thinking on how my blog has acquired a life of its own. It’s not really a travel blog, it's more my life in type. I never thought much about how it would be structured I just started typing and let it evolve which is how we ended up two distinct types of posts: the where I am and what I’m doing posts and the ‘thoughts’ posts like this one. In the last few months though I’ve started to question this. I can’t even articulate what this is: the layout; the content; my audience; the existence of the blog itself?

I write for myself. I have ‘posts’ typed that I will never publish because they are too personal and often to incoherent as I try to work through my thoughts and feelings without going quietly insane in when the thoughts go round and round my head like a dog chasing its tail. The where I am and what I’m doing posts are for my family and friends back home. It’s the easiest way for everyone who cares about me to keep in touch with my life and it acts as a journal that I can look back on and remember my travels. I love to look back at old travel posts and remember when I visited that winery or museum or gallery and who I was with and who I met. Then there are the thoughts from my head that I do post and it's these post that I have really been questioning recently. I know that some of my friends find them useful and that the ones about grief (as many of them are) resonate with many of you who read this but we’re all getting on a bit in the grief stakes. I am starting to wonder if my posts are helpful or are they self indulgent? I've kept them up because they are the ones I know are most read (also perhaps because they are the easiest to write?) but I'm starting to worry if they are doing more harm than good. When my family read them do they worry more? I write and publish my thoughts in a way that I would never speak them out loud. In fact if you met me and tried to quiz me on them I would most likely become shy and uncomfortable. This leads me to wonder who am I really writing for? I read a quote recently on the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation FB page that said ‎"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." -William James and I think that’s why I keep writing these posts. I suppose that deep down I hope they make a difference. I had so much help and support from unknown people in those early days who have since become well known faces and names and support me still that I really wish to make a difference. The thing is do I? I am no longer part of the widdahood as I once was. It’s been over a year since I last met a new widow. I don’t accept friend requests from people I don’t know. I don’t use the sites I used to use. I am no longer a member of the WAY foundation. When I first came over here I needed to break away from that life, in a way it had become my life and I needed to build my new life away from it. Now I have done that are my ramblings really helpful to anyone but me and if they’re not then why publish them if they only cause pain and worry?

In five weeks I’ll be heading back to the UK. Do I keep writing my blog, do I take a break, do I decide that it’s served its purpose and quit or do I take the opportunity to restructure it so it satisfies its original purpose as a travel blog? Honestly right now I don’t know. I stated earlier that I know my ‘thoughts’ post are the most read yet the purpose is meant to be keeping my friends and family informed about where I am and what I’m doing. I think my blog is having an identity crisis. Am I writing this for the ego boost of knowing that other people think my words are worth reading or is it for my friends and family to keep track of me? Maybe it has been a bit of both and maybe it’s time for that to change.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Deal Done

As much as I approve of the visa deal I am glad that I have done my time. Whilst I have kept to myself a lot I have still managed to make some good friends in Manji which I will be sad to leave behind. However as always I am looking forward and am happy about my current plan for my last six weeks in Australia.

My last three weeks in Manji have been very similar. I’ve kept up the swimming thought the circuit training and classes fell away very quickly. I had forgotten how much I enjoy being in the water and am determined to keep up with the swimming as much as possible as I travel. I may try and take up running as well as I now have the exercise bug in addition to my travel bug but in the heat of a WA summer I’m not sure how that will turn out. Work was a bit different as the orchard work quietened down and mostly I was in the packing shed. I’d like to say if never see another avocado then it will be too soon but I know on my return to Perth I will be lucky to avoid them as they are a favourite of one of Josh’s cousins. I’m not complaining. I had a decent boss and worked with lovely people for an hourly wage so I was happy enough but I don’t think a career in packing is for me. At the weekends I never did get round to joining in the drinking games but I did make my way through a few books and managed to see a few films on my must see list. All in all the visa deal worked out well for me and now I have my 88 day regional work completed I am free to enjoy the rest of my stay in Australia.

The plan (such as it is) for my last six weeks in the country is to spend the rest of the month in Perth before flying over to Adelaide and working my way to Sydney via Melbourne and possibly Jindabyne. Ideally I would like to drive the whole way but I will need to wait and see how much it will cost and look into getting my Australian drivers licence. I’ve only managed to see the southern half of Australia and even then I’ve not even seen half of it. I am sad to have missed out on seeing Tasmania this time round but now I have my 88 days I can come back and see hopefully Tasmania at its best in the middle of the Aussie summer. As I am heading back the way I came, all be it by a different means of transport, I hope to see some of the great ocean road. If I cannot drive it myself or tag along with a fellow backpacker then I am determined to do one of the tours, especially as they have worked out so well for me in the past and come highly recommended! Mainly though I want to catch up with some of the friends I have made during my travels. I am excited but a little sad to be seeing them as I am unsure when I will next be back their way.

Once I get to Sydney I will have just under two weeks before I am due to fly out. I will spend the first few days of that week with one of my closest Aussie friends before saying goodbye and heading in to the city centre where I hope to catch up with some more friends and see any tourist sites I missed on my previous stays. This time I plan to stay in the infamous Kings Cross district and definitely head out a few nights so I can say goodbye to my friends Australia in style:; only of course it won’t be goodbye, merely see ya later. I think that is why contrary to my expectations I am not sad to be leaving. I am excited about seeing everyone back home and only hope I can see everyone before I return to the southern hemisphere in July.  Roll on the next six weeks, it’s gonna be grand!